Saturday, November 26, 2005

Let's all go to IIT

I came across an interesting post today...
...Here I Am: IIT Bombay v/s IIT Delhi

The blog compares IIT Delhi to IIT Bombay. Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.

Right.

First I must come clean: I studied Applied Statistics at the Math Department at IIT Bombay. I've never been to any other IIT.

The IITs are a real scam. There is a tough test to get in: the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and students spend roughly two years studying to get in. So far, so good. The test is actually quite nice: it requires a good sense of Math, Physics and Chem to get in.

The problem starts after you get in. The professors are lousy. Save one or two gems, the Math Department is staffed by some very strange people. One professor was so particular about layout versus content that he gave me a -1 in a homework where the answers were correct but not "cleanly written". Thereafter I didn't submit any homework, saving time, and getting higher marks in the process. Professors have massive egos, and every professor made it a point to remind us of how substandard we were (compared to them, naturally). A few professors were good, no doubt, and made class fascinating. But the mean quality of teaching was far lower than that at St. Xaviers, where I studied for my BSc. Prof Almeida, Gokhale, and Gurjar were lovely.

The second problem is facilities. IIT doesn't have any. In my hostel, it was not unusual for two students to share a 10 foot x 8 foot room. Usually the shared rooms had no space for a table, and one tiny window. The toilets were atrocious, the bathrooms were horrible, and many people did laundry manually. (I did mine by hand for a year, with breaks when the hostel washing machine was working: one month out of twelve.) There was a person who could do laundry for a charge, but he was notorious for losing or damaging clothes, and he was the monopoly provider. The Math Department had good computers, luckily. The IIT library, well, is a story for another day. The library is reasonably stocked with journals, but has nothing on general reading.

IIT takes polished diamonds and turns out polished diamonds (after losing a few to high pressure combustion). What is so great about that? I'm lucky that I only had to spend two years there. Any more and I'd have quit. The place is not conducive to learning or exploring. If you are a parent: don't get seduced by the IIT myth. Get your child to explore and learn instead of getting through the grinder.

Why must we be so inward looking? Why are we comparing IIT Bombay to other places in India. Put IIT to the test and compare it to the International institutions. Does MIT have cows grazing at the entrance to the Math Department? Is there cowdung in Princeton walkways? How much original work was done at IIT Bombay last year? How many successful companies did IIT students drop out to start? Give me an open courseware at IIT Bombay and let's see how good the lectures are compared to the ones on MIT's site. I want to see what makes the IITs a premier institution, because after two years there, I'm still searching.

Update 9 October, 2011: The IITs rank poorly on a global study of universities.