Assessing a Faculty Candidate

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In the last six years I have chaired over 25 selection committee meetings for selecting faculty for our Institute, IIIT-Delhi. I have also participated as expert in many selection committees in different IITs. It is clear that there are a few key factors that research-focused institutions like IITs, IISc, some IIITs like IIIT-Delhi emphasize during their deliberations. I am sharing some these here in an attempt to share with potential faculty candidates about what is important for their career. Clearly this note is not a comprehensive list of factors that are considered; nor is it some kind of formula for doing well in selections. The aim is primarily to help candidates realize what is important for academic career, and hopefully they will take suitable actions during their PhD to strengthen these, if they want to pursue academic careers.

First, let us understand some broad ideas governing selection (and promotion) of faculty members in research-focused institutes. First, as the main roles of a faculty member are to do high quality research and high quality teaching, the focus of assessment is on these parameters. (Service, the third important role of a faculty member, is often not assessed during selections.) For assessing these, the quality of the past record, and the future potential of the candidate are both considered. The importance of these two differ at different levels – for Assistant Professor the quality of past record is important, but an assessment of future potential plays a very important role. For selection/promotion to Associate Professor, record becomes more important, and by the time promotion for Full Professor comes, record is the main factor.

This note is primarily about selection at the entry level (Assistant Professor). Main inputs during the selection process are: (i) research record as demonstrated by publications, (ii) pedigree, education record, and projects (iii) reference letters (which gives views about the record and potential of the candidate from senior academics and researchers), (iv) clarity, depth, understanding, and vision displayed during the technical seminar and interaction with faculty and selection committee (and in research statements required by some Institutes like IIIT-Delhi.)

The research record is mostly assessed by the quality of venues where the papers have been published, as it is expected that the impact, as measured by citation etc, may not yet be known. Here, a candidate with a few publications in top quality journals and conferences (and others in decent places) is likely to be strongly preferred over one who has a larger number of publications but all in average venues. In fact many average venue publications with no top venue publication can be a source of serious concern. I am aware of cases where candidate with very few publications have been selected unanimously, while those with large number of publications has been rejected unanimously. Research statement, where asked, is an additional input – a crisp statement which indicates some good understanding of the context, and the types of problems the person wants to work on in the coming few years is likely to be viewed positively.

Pedigree and education record is assessed by the quality of course work, including the projects one may have done. Projects are important to demonstrate that the person is able to apply theory to engineer and build systems – a capability that is very useful when one is teaching courses. Teaching statement is another input – it is important to clearly specify the type of courses one would like to teach – both at core level as well as advanced level, along with the approach. A teaching statement saying that the person can teach a whole range of diverse topics is not a good statement.

Reference letters provide support for the above as well as the last factor. Here I can provide useful input more as a letter writer. A graduating student is likely to get strong letter from professors if he/she has, of course, done good research work. But the letter is likely to be stronger if the scholar has displayed rigor, responsibility, innovation, and initiative during the years he/she has worked with the professor.

The last factor is extremely important and heavily relied upon and is very important for PhD students and those aspiring for academic careers to understand. While publications are clearly important and necessary to show your research capability, a good understanding of the area and problems, what is important and what is not, how the area is evolving and where is it going, etc is very important. This capability comes from deep scholarship, critical evaluation of the works in the field, and clarity of thought and communication. It is given importance as only with it can a person do impactful work or insightful teaching. In other words this capability reflects the potential for doing good research and teaching. Hence, besides building a good publication record, a PhD student aspiring for an academic career, should also focus on deep scholarship and understanding, clarity of thought and communication, vision, etc. It should be added that the area of expertise is also an important factor in assessment, but its importance depends on the needs of the institution.

Finally, let me mention a small point that can help candidates in their own decision making as well as during selections. When a candidate visits an Institute, it will help to have done some homework about the Institution prior to visiting – this understanding can even be reflected in small ways by suitably enhancing the research plan and the teaching plan. This not only will create a better impression during interactions in the visit and selection committee, it can also help the candidate better understand the Institute and his/her fitment in it.

Though the note focused on selections for academic positions, all these factors will clearly play an important role during recruitment by research labs (other sought after career by PhDs) also, though they are more likely to give a higher weight to the nature of the research area and its applicability.

Is IIIT-Delhi the right choice for you

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IIIT-Delhi has established itself as one of the top institutions in the country for CSE/ECE research and education – it has modern curriculum and programs, its faculty is as good as the best in the country, and it has high quality and modern infrastructure. Its placement record is comparable to the best, and a good fraction of its students get opportunities for higher studies in good universities (visit placement page for records on these.) It is undoubtedly one of the best places for pursuing CSE/ECE.

However, it is also clear that the programs at IIIT-Delhi may not be suitable for all. Every year during the counselling I used to mention to prospective students some points about whether IIIT-Delhi is the right choice for him/her, and what traits a student should have if he/she is to effectively leverage the high quality education it offers. As this time there is no face-to-face counselling, I am putting down some key points here. (I had earlier written a note on my blog on the same topic. This one is more focused and tries to give a prospective student some specific guidance to self-assess whether IIIT-Delhi is the right choice.)

Based on observations and discussions with faculty and many students, we can identify three traits that are necessary for a student to do well at IIIT-Delhi. These are:

  • Ability to work hard. Each semester a student has to do 4 to 5 courses, and each course requires about 10 hours of total work per week (including lectures). This means that a student must be ready to work a few hours every day after classes, and 10+ hours during the weekend. If a student is not able to put in hard work consistently during the semester, the student may find difficulties in coping with academics at IIIT-Delhi.
  • Interest in programming. Students in both CSE and ECE will do many courses which will heavily involve programming in different languages like Python, C, Java, MATLAB. Many of the advanced courses and independent projects also involve considerable programming.  If a student does not like programming, he/she is likely to face difficulties and many courses can become stressful. For those who have no experience with programming judging this will have to be done indirectly. One proxy can be –  if you like doing logic-based puzzles and riddles, mathematical problems, analysing  different possibilities for a situation/problem, solving problems, etc, and have the patience for doing these, there is a good chance that you may like programming. Another way to find out is to ask a friend who knows programming to help you write and run some programs and use that experience to judge whether you will like programming.  (A clarification: you do not need to know programming from before – all students are taught programming in 1st Semester.)
  • Interest in learning. It is known that learning style of a student can either be surface learning or deep learning (a search on Internet on these will give many references). Surface learners focus on memorizing, learning just to pass the test, etc. – i.e. they don’t really like learning but do the needful to get the marks or pass the test (which often students do for Board or a competitive exam.) Deep learners focus on understanding the subject and apply their understanding to problem solving – i.e. they like to learn and understand and apply the knowledge, and do the needful for that. Most courses at IIIT-Delhi will challenge the students and require them to learn deeply and apply the knowledge in the assignments, projects, etc. Students who are surface learners can face difficulties.

We believe that a student needs all three traits to do well in IIIT-Delhi. If all the above three hold, then IIIT-Delhi is an excellent choice for you, and the Institute will love to have you as a student. Such students will blossom into top quality professionals through education at IIIT-Delhi.

If any of the above does not hold for you, you should seriously consider whether IIIT-Delhi is the right choice for you.

On another note – what a student does after graduation is a student’s choice, and it is expected that many students may opt for different kinds of careers after graduating. However, if a student knows at the time of joining the BTech program that engineering (CSE or ECE) is not his/her cup of tea, and is only joining the program to get a degree in engineering, then I feel there would be other options that will better suit this goal. The program at IIIT-Delhi is rigorous and strongly engineering focused. It is not a good idea to join this program if you already know that you don’t want to do engineering.

Preparing for your Future

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This is a small talk I have been giving to students in IIIT-Delhi on what they can do in their first 3 years of a 4 year program (or 1st year of their MTech program), so that in their final year, when they are assessed for jobs or higher studies, doors to exciting opportunities open.

Have converted it to a short video which is available here on IIIT-Delhi channel. The main theme/text of the talk is given below.


Most students in technical education programs – BTech or MTech – are hoping that at the end of their education they will either get good placements, or get good options for higher studies.  For a job in a company, a company will pay you a compensation of X to a person only if you can generate 3X or more value for them. And for this they will assess understanding of various subjects, skills in programming, design, circuit building, etc, and ability to use the knowledge and understanding for problem solving.  They spend a lot of effort to figure out the capabilities and skills – most good companies will do multiple rounds of interview by technical people. In other words, you cannot talk your way through – you must possess these skills and capabilities to convince them that you have them.

For higher studies, in particular for MS and PhD, the main assessment is whether you have the capability to do good projects or do good research. For this, you do need a decent CGPA, but after that they will look at projects you have done, and papers you may have written. Letters written by your professors are given a considerable weight – and a faculty member gives a strong letter only when he/she has seen your hard work, sincerity, commitment, and delivery.

The question for a student is: What should you do in your first three years (or first year of MTech) to have these attributes, so doors for exciting opportunities open in the final year. For this, we can classify the students in two categories.

Category I student: One who has in his/her first three (or one) years

  • Solved easier problems
  • Developed easy program/circuits
  • Learned enough to do well in the tests
  • Avoided hard courses, did few projects, few initiatives
  • Overall optimized the effort – did what was asked; limited effort for learning; copied when it got too difficult; …

So, such a student’s capabilities are:

  • Can write simple/short programs
  • Can solve simple problems
  • Have some understanding of easy subjects
  • Have forgotten many things I had learnt
  • Can work just enough to get work done

Category II students: One who has in last three (or one) years:

  • Attempted many hard problems and solved some of them
  • Tried to develop deeper understanding in most subjects – by asking questions, doing problems, figuring things out,…
  • Taken many “difficult” courses, though didn’t always get good grade in them
  • Built interesting systems / software / projects
  • Took initiatives, engaged in many ways in academics and outside

So such a student’s capabilities are:

  • Understands most of the subjects and concepts well, and can apply them
  • Have the confidence to build complex systems and software and can solve hard problems
  • Understands complex topics, and have strong ability to learn new (and difficult) subjects
  • Can work hard and beyond what is required

It should be evident to all students, that if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be in category II. And this not just for technology job – even for non-tech roles, category II student will be highly preferred.

And which category you belong to is entirely your choice. It is not about the institute, particularly institute like ours where excellent courses are being taught by extremely qualified and competent faculty. All the things mentioned above are choices you make. So, it is up to you to decide which category you belong to and which doors you want opening for you.

For being in category II, you need to reflect about the (i) your level of effort, (ii) your learning approach, and (iii) your level of engagement.

Finally, if you want to do something to be in category II, here is my suggestion. Reflect upon this and resolve to take some actions. These should be such that you can yourself measure and examine if you are following them. Write them down – the post it on your laptop, make it your wallpaper, or whatever is needed to be reminded. And then follow it relentlessly.

Assessing Students for Research Internships


Recently I participated as a member of committees which were to select candidates for summer internship for two major collaborative sponsored programs. Though the number of internships were decent in each, still the number of shortlisted candidates were about 10 times the number of internships – indicating the strong demand for such internships. Other members of the committee included Senior professor from the US university, some senior academicians from Institutions in India, and senior members of scientific organizations. Given the volume of applications, each application had to be assessed quickly. The discussions clearly indicated that all members were looking for some features in the application. Based on these discussions, I noted down a few important aspects which experts were focusing on, and then briefly reviewed them with the members of the committee. I am sharing these here so student readers have an understanding of what such committees often look for. This can help students prepare suitably, and perhaps also to assess if research is a career that is suitable for them.

  • Academic Preparation. In any such research internship, what is being assessed is the potential of the student to do research. Clearly, for such an assessment, academic preparation is of great importance. This is largely assessed first by the grades of the student, and the standing of the institution where he/she is studying. Normally, it is expected that for research internships the student should be in the top few of his/her batch. It helps if the student is from an Institution which is respected for its research capabilities and focus.
  • Projects and internships. The next important factor is the projects the student has done. Generally projects beyond the course work, e.g. those done as independent study, BTech project, internship projects, etc are looked at more carefully. If these projects are research oriented and are challenging assignments, it strengthens the case. If internships/projects are far removed from research (e.g. internship in a bank), it can be negative as it indicates an interest in a business oriented career.
  • Publications. If some project done by the student has resulted in a publication in a decent forum (international journal/conference), this is a huge plus as it is a strong indicator about the capability to do good quality research and take it to completion. Submission to good quality forums also counts favorably.
  •  Aspiration/Goal. Often the applications will require some statement about what student aspires to do in future. This is often looked at carefully – and it is for the students to convince that they are indeed interested in pursuing a research career. It is best if the statement is brief, concise, consistent, and convincing.

It is well known that while academic preparation is necessary, to do well in research (or any career for that matter), motivation and drive is extremely important without which not much can be achieved. Most of the factors above not only indicate the academic credentials of the student, but also indicate the drive and motivation of the applicant – that is why committees look at these, and other such factors. I also believe that committees are able to assess whether the student is just claiming interest in research or is truly interested in it. Consequently, I feel that if a student is not interested in research as a career, he/she should perhaps not apply for these internships, leaving them for those who want to pursue research and for whom these internships can be truly a turning point in the career.


Advise to Incoming MTech Students


This note is based on my experience and interaction with MTech students in the three institutes I have worked: IITK, IITD, and IIIT-Delhi.

In India now, the number of students appearing in GATE is over 10 Lac – not too far from the no of students who take JEE Mains. Based on my interaction with students, It is clear that most students are doing MTech primarily to strengthen their knowledge and skills, as the UG education did not provide these sufficiently. That is the main reason why they try to get into Institutions that have good faculty which can provide higher quality education, like the IITs, NITs, IIITs, etc.

As the basic goal of MTech students is to strengthen their background, knowledge, and skills, so they can improve their career opportunities, it is absolutely essential they view their MTech program differently than they did their UG program – otherwise they risk ending up with the outcome of their UG program – getting a degree with little value. Towards this goal, here are some suggestions:

  • Choice of courses. Many students, when they come to Institutes like IITs/IIITs, where almost all courses are electives, often chose the “easy” courses, largely due to the desire to get better and easy grades. This is exactly the opposite of what they should do. Given the limitations of their UG degrees, in their MTech they should go after the courses that will teach them new subject/area, that will make them work hard to develop new skills, that will test them hard and push them. It is these courses where learning will happen. A course in which there is overlap from previous courses, may be easier, but is of little value to an MTech student in terms of strengthening knowledge or skills.
  • Develop problem solving capability. Most programs in engineering colleges teach concepts at a shallow level, as they often don’t have the faculty or capability to do the quality teaching needed to develop the critical skills for applying them for problems solving. Consequently, while students may have learnt (or, more likely, memorized) enough theory to do well in GATE and other exams, the translation skills of applying the knowledge for problem solving are generally highly inadequate. Therefore, to strengthen the problem solving skills, MTech students should do many exciting projects (as part of courses or otherwise), participate in programming contests / hackathons, academic/engineering clubs, engineering or research competitions/challenges, etc.
  • Strengthen the background. MTech programs are supposed to be composed of advanced courses. Even if there are one or two courses which Institutes may include to strengthen the background, courses in MTech will generally focus on special or advanced topics. However, the background of incoming MTech students is weak. Rather than ignoring the background weakness and just somehow continue with the advanced courses they do, it is better to take some actions to improve the background – more so since when it comes to placement, companies frequently ask about basic concepts and foundations. These two approaches can be used for strengthening the background: (i) every time some concept is covered in an advanced course that uses an earlier concept which you don’t understand, rather than ignoring it and somehow manage to proceed, make the extra effort t to go read up on the earlier concepts and understand it. This extra effort will be well worth it – since course load in MTech is lower than in UG, it can also be managed. (ii) MTech students are often TAs for UG courses. A common comment from students as well as faculty is that the MTech students are not prepared and do not have sufficient background to guide the UGs well. TA work is an excellent opportunity to “catch up” and strengthen some aspects of the background. For this, do the TA work with more diligence – attend the lectures and understand the material for the course you are TA for, do the assignments you need to grade yourself, explain the material to UGs to help them – the process of explaining will help you understand the concepts better…..
  • Develop Research Capability. The above will help build skills that often a good UG program will develop in good Institutions. Building research capability can provide MTech students an edge over UGs. Many top companies also look for research capabilities, besides the engineering capabilities. For developing the research capabilities, some approaches are: (i) Do the projects in advanced courses, which often require some researching, sincerely and seriously – read more papers and reports than needed, spend time and effort understanding them, write a good report following good scientific writing practices (there is a lot of help available on writing style, copyright, …), make a great presentation using sound principles of presentation,…. (ii) Do a strong thesis – again many students look for “easy credits” – how to do the thesis easily with minimal effort. Instead go after thesis and professors that will require you to work hard, will challenge you, will make you acutely aware of your lack of skills and knowledge, will require you to read a lot, apply a lot, engineer a lot,… Then write a good thesis – aim to publish it by writing good paper(s) from it. A strong thesis can not only improve the training and skills, it can provide expertise in some area, which is always valued. It can provide a good launching pad, provide self confidence, and a lot more. A strong thesis is the best thing an Mtech student can do in his/her program.
  • Hard work. Most student will admit that their UG program did not challenge them – small amount of effort, often around exams, sufficed. There is no short cut to learning and building skills – one must study deeply and hard to understand the concepts and must challenge the understanding by trying various problems and assignments, and one must do various projects to apply the knowledge to solve problems and build solutions. Both take time – learning deeply will require deep reading, discussing the subtleties, doing assignments, etc – all these take time. And applying the knowledge through projects, assignments, and the like takes even more time. My advice is: ensure that you are putting at least 10 hours per day for 6 days a week. Without this level of work none of the above is possible.

Though many incoming MTech students struggle in the start – a pattern I have seen in IITK, IITD, and IIIT-D – most of them generally manage very well in the end as they are bright, ambitious, and put in a lot of effort to make the most of the MTech opportunity. Most end up significantly improving their placement opportunities due to their training in MTech. But a few, largely those who treat the MTech like they handled their BTech, end up with only limited value from the degree. I hope the advice given in this note will help all Mtech students to derive the benefit of the rigorous MTech programs that places like IITs/NITs/IIITs have.  

Effective Study Habits


Most students want to do well in their studies – they want to learn, get good grades/marks, and do well in opportunities that good education can provide. In College life, besides studies, self growth is also an important goal for students. Therefore they need to effectively balance the two goals, which often conflict. In this pursuit, effective study habits can be very useful. They can help to learn effectively and efficiently, thus leaving sufficient time for other activities in life without compromising your academics. However, we have realized that many students are not clear on how to study effectively.

There is literature on this subject available – indeed there is a full book on it (multiple copies of which are in IIIT-D library). However, students often think these are too idealized or impractical, or that they do not apply to their environment or situation.

To better understand what works well in an environment like that of IIIT-Delhi, one of our graduating students (Digvijay Singh) interacted with a set of students from his batch who were known to have good understanding of various subjects, who we will refer to as effective students (this set of students we determined not by grades but by their performance in interviews and exams conducted by best companies that visited us and general input from faculty and students about their understanding, knowledge, skills.) We further validated the outcome of this study by interacting with a set of students of the current batch who have been doing well. It should be noted that not all of them are in the high CGPA category – many of them are below 8.0. It should be pointed out that this is not a statistically and scientifically rigorous study. Also, the habits mentioned here are the common ones, which most effective students we talked to followed. It does not mean that these are the only methods. However, I believe if these practices are sound and if students follow these, they can expect to be effective in their learning.

The three main effective study practices that emerged are:

  • Lectures. Attending lectures regularly and taking notes in them, even if the lectures are not very exciting/engaging, is a practice most effective students followed. This makes sense –students who do not follow this in the hope that they will “make up” for the lectures they miss, generally do not end up “making up”, and soon find themselves lost with too much to catch up. And missing lectures can easily become a habit, which is clearly to be avoided. The two aspect of this practice are (i) attend the lectures, (ii) make notes in the lectures – not copy what the faculty is writing, but making notes in your own language. The second point is important – copying from the board/slide is a passive act which does not help in learning, but making notes in your own words is an active learning task, which engages the student and helps in learning. Paying attention in lectures actually helps save time – a student is likely to take much more time to understand and learn the topic by him/herself, if he/she does not attend the lecture, or is inattentive.
  • Assignments. Do the assignments yourself – most effective students did most of the assignments themselves, even if it took them more time or even if they were not able to complete in time. While lectures introduce the topics and concepts, the real learning and skill building of a student happens during assignments – this is where the students practices and tries to apply the concept/method. So, without doing assignments yourself, there can be really no learning. It should be noticed that taking help (not copying) from friends in assignments is fine, particularly when one is stuck. Indeed taking and giving help in form of discussions, explanations, guiding is a good way of learning.
  •  Weekly revision/sync-up. All effective students have some method of ensuring that they have revised the material covered in the previous week or so, and that they prepared for the next week’s lectures and work. This practice I am calling weekly sync-up (even though students might be practicing this over somewhat longer periods.) Some revise regularly, some do revision with the assignment, some during the weekends, etc., but one common theme is that they sync-up regularly and ensure that they are not behind or lost, as they realize that if they continue while being lost, they will not recover. (One student said that if he could not follow two lectures well, it was a big warning sign and he would put extra work to catch up.) This practice ensures that even if they missed a lecture/assignment, they make up for it and do not fall behind. Without this practice, there is a real risk that a student can fall behind so much that it will be very hard to catch up,…. In a semester of 4 months with a student doing 5 courses, one simply can’t really afford to fall behind too much!

This can be viewed as the LAW for effective studying. Follow the LAW, with suitable enhancements/ modifications to suit your style, and the chances are that you will become an effective learner, and derive the benefits that come from that.

There are some other practices which some effective students also used:

  • Prioritising work. When there are many tasks from multiple courses, as well as from other activities, there will clashing deadlines. Prioritising will clearly be important in such a situation to achieve the most in the limited time. As one student said: “In such a scenario, life becomes a lot easier when you manually set down targets to be achieved by what deadline (which maybe before/ same day as your submission deadlines). Use sticky notes as gentle reminders to yourself so you can use your time wisely when brunt of work is more.”
  • Group study (though many prefer individual study)
  • Group and individual projects. As said by one student: “While it is good to do projects in team to learn teamwork and leadership qualities, I used to push myself and sometimes go forth with individual projects. Undoubtedly, it takes more effort and time, but it boosted my confidence in my own abilities to handle projects single-handedly and made me more self-reliant and self-sufficient.”
  • Help other students – explain to them as explaining helps them understand better (my note: by discussing/clarifying you are helping your friend, but by providing your assignment to your friends for copying you are actually hurting them as you are discouraging them to learn, besides taking them the slippery slope of using unfair means.)
  • Take help from friends for understanding – most students indicated that face-to-face discussion with friends was the first and most common approach they used for clarifying doubts/material. If this did not work then they will go to discussion forums, instructor,…
  • Academics gets the first priority – this is more a value statement but was commonly echoed by most of the students. While they all engaged in other activities (most of them are quite active in clubs, events, etc., they are clear that academics get the highest priority

Besides these practices, there is one attitude/trait I would like to highlight, which I have seen in many students who have done well in whatever they do after college education – and that is curiosity and initiative to go beyond the courses. Many effective students engage in some technical activities that they do which are not needed for their courses – i.e. they take the initiative to go beyond the courses. Examples of these initiatives can be: participating in competitive programming, participating in technical clubs, learning on your own about topics that interest you, listening to some technical lectures on YouTube/Coursera/EdX, trying out some concepts, learning some programming language on your own, teaching students who are facing challenges in their courses (teaching, it is well known and established, is the most effective way to learn – teaching to someone else truly clarifies the topic in one’s own mind) etc. I believe that those students who are ambitious and want to reach higher in life, developing this trait/style is absolutely essential.

I hope the students will devise their own methods for being effective students using the LAW, and going beyond. I hope this little study will be helpful to them in devising their own strategies.

Advise to Incoming BTech Students


I often ask incoming students “What do you want out of your 4 years in college”. Replies are generally like: become a great programmer, engineering, mathematician,…., get a good job/career, gain deeper understanding of subjects, do exciting project/ research/ innovation; get good overall education, become a better professional, help for entrepreneurship career, make good friends, enjoy life, etc.

 Most of these can be grouped in two basic expectations from college education:

  •  It provides strong platform for good career opportunities
  • It provide environment to grow socially and as a person/individual.

 Let us discuss each of these. While in school, particularly class XI and XII, the main outcome you, your parents, and your school are looking for from school education is admission into good colleges/universities. And for that, performance in exams is what maters the most – whether in board exams or competitive exam. Hence, you, rightfully prepare for mastering the factual and theoretical knowledge that is tested in these exams.

The situation changes dramatically when your desired outcome from college education is good career opportunities. And to achieve this you need to take a fundamentally different approach to education than how you approached it in school. Let us use getting jobs as the primary career goal, though the argument will apply to other types of career opportunities as well.

Companies give you good jobs, and compensate you well, if you have deep knowledge in areas in your discipline, and possess strong skills for applying that knowledge to develop solutions – since it is these skills which generate value for the companies. Any good company, when it comes to a college for recruiting, thoroughly checks how well the student understands his/her subjects, and how well has (s)he developed the skills of applying the knowledge for problem solving. Top companies will do as many as 3 to 4 rounds of interview to assess various facets of this – e.g. in computer science, they will try to understand how deeply you understand programming, data structures, algorithms, operating systems, and how effectively you can use this knowledge for solving problems. Unlike exams, which are conducted on a large set of students and are limited in what they can assess, due to the thorough one-to-one interviews they conduct, companies do figure out how deeply you understand the subjects, and how good are your skills and capability.

So your goal for education in college is not to get marks, but to develop the skills, gain the knowledge and understanding of subjects. Marks are going to be a bye product – any good university will have decent assessment methods to ensure that if your understanding is good, you will get good grades. I have not met any student in my life who has good understanding and skills but has poor grades – may not have the best of grades, but still good grades. And inevitably these students do well in career.

 This is the main shift incoming students need to make in their approach to studies – study with the purpose of understanding and building skills, not for getting marks, as this understanding and skills is what will get you the jobs/career you seek. There are two other direct implications of this in how you approach your studies in college:

  1. Use of unfair means in assignments, exams etc will be counterproductive. When you copy an assignment, say from a friend, then it is the friend who has done the learning from it, not you. A universal truth is that nobody else can learn on your behalf – only you can do your own learning; even the richest of people have to do their learning themselves. So, you must do your work yourself and must not resort to “short cuts” like borrowing from the Internet, your friend, as these short cuts hurt you in achieving your goal, besides also taking you down the slope of moral decline.
  2. You have to work hard and put in sufficient effort. Learning takes effort and time – nobody can learn a new skill or obtain mastery in something without putting in hours and hours of practice, reflection, studying. Anybody who thinks otherwise is fooling him/herself. There is simply no other way to learning, but to learn, and that takes both physical time, and mental and physical effort.

So, to achieve your first goal, these two must be cardinal principles guiding you during college life, and your approach towards education should be to build skills, deepen understanding, etc.

Second overall goal of these 4 years is your social and personal growth. This is the period that will have the maximum impact on your life. Growth here means that you are a much better person, have an improved understanding of things, people, friends, world, … improved social and people skills, a better friends support system….., improved ability to enjoy things like art, music, dance, literature, and other things that bring joy and happiness and satisfaction to a personal’s life, etc.

For this goal, ensure that you are actively engaged with the people around you, with the college you are studying in, various activities like reading, watching films and discussing them, debating with friends about contemporary issues, existentialist issues,…. in learning and playing different sports, instruments, arts,….

These two goals of college life will often conflict. While they do often conflict, you must not pose it as an “either-or problem”. You actually do not have to make a choice between the two – you can and must achieve both. There is sufficient time to do both – assuming that sleeping, eating, commuting,… takes 12 hours each day, you still have about 85 hours per week available to you – this is plenty to achieve both goals. But this requires you to develop two meta-skills, which will serve you not only in these four years, but also in life: Balance, and Discipline.

In college, you have more freedom than ever before – in fact you have more freedom than you will have after college life. And you have two somewhat diverse goals. To use this freedom properly so it helps you achieve both your goals, it is imperative that you develop some discipline and sense of balance. Balance means that you spend your effort and your energy judiciously among the different activities to ensure that not only are your growing professionally/academically but also personally.

Discipline means that if you plan to do something, you are able to do it. So, if you want to study x hours every day or week, or go for a jog in the morning, or play computer game only for one hour per day or only during weekends, you are able to follow it. Most students are smart to make decent plans. Yet, they often end up not following their plans because they have not developed the discipline to execute their own plans.

To end, college life has two basic dimensions: grow professionally through the education a college offers, and grow personally through the variety of outside-the-class opportunities that colleges offer. Go after both – and you can achieve both through discipline and balance.

Note: This is based on the welcome speeches I gave to incoming students at IIIT-Delhi as Director, and to students in DTU as interim Vice Chancellor.

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