Vikram Goyal

I joined IIIT-Delhi in the last week of October 2008. I was the first faculty to join after our director Prof. Pankaj. At the first time when I came to IIIT-D with him first semester’s mid-term exams were going. Due to  my joining being during mid-semester time I was asked by Pankaj to help the course instructor of  Introduction to Programming course in conducting labs, which were used to be held in one of the labs of CSE dept. of NSIT college. That gave me the chance to interact with our first batch of students. I found them really enthusiastic.

When I came to transit campus of IIIT-D (top floor of library building in  NSIT college), I found that there were only two rooms and a big empty space at that floor. One room was for the staff people and one room for our Director. Yes, our Director had a room. Which he happily offered to share with me and with other two faculty members who were supposed to join within 10 days- Dr. Astrid and Dr. Veena.  He asked the staff to put three more tables and chairs in the same room. Of course then the issue was how to arrange these tables in the room so that everyone can do their work comfortably without disturbing the other. That was sorted out finally when Veena joined after trying many different options. I enjoyed those moments a lot as I had gotten a chance to interact with three senior faculties. I do not think any fresher faculty had ever had a chance to share a room with director in his/her life.

Veena Bansal

I joined IIITD on 23rd Dec, 2008 when Delhi was covered with thick fog. I arrived at 7AM and the reached the guest house in the vehicle arranged by the institute. The institute was just about winding its very first semester. I reached the institute around 10 AM and discovered that we are four strong faculty – Astrid, Vikram, myself, and the Director (Pankaj). The first semester was run with with the help of NSIT faculty who could take IIITD classes only after regular working hours – early morning or late afternoon.

We had no classrooms, no labs and no library. Our classes used to run in NSIT classrooms, we used their labs and we purchased and shared books. The students had no engagement during the day and the institute expected them to utilize the time in studying. I looked at the student profile which was very impressive. Some of them had admissions in other NITs. I asked myself – what made them join IIITD over established good institutes.  I only had one factor to bank on- Prof. P Jalote, founding director of IIITD.

On 5 Jan 2009, our second semester began. In the mean time, our classrooms and faculty offices got ready.  We had to move out of director’s office; it was fun sharing office. His office was grand and the faculty offices were smaller (not small). We had our pick; each one of us had different parameters when we selected our offices. I was looking for a view and Astrid was looking for space. I found an office from where I could see Delhi Metro go by; that view is now gone because of the faculty lounge built on the other side of the corridor.  We had to offer 5 courses – we covered three courses (Astrid taught Theory of computation, I taught Data Structures and Algorithms, Systems Management was coordinated by Vikram and lectures were taken over  the network by a guest faculty from IITK who visited IIITD every 2 weeks), and two other courses were taught by NSIT faculty – a considerable improvement from the previous semester! By the third semester, when we had another batch and many more courses to teach, we were teaching all but a few our courses.

Astrid Kiehn

Though I hadn’t thought about it before I joined, I was surprised that many of the issues we had to deal with initially arose from IIIT-D not having its own campus, students having no seniors and their difficulties of adapting to a system of continuous evaluation. The first semester had mainly been handled by NSIT faculty, which left students with lots of free time as their instructors could only teach them before and after NSIT class hours. During that semester some of them developed habits which were not  that desirable from our point of view. “Setting the culture right” was thus one of the most used phrases in early days in the faculty.

In the beginning, everything was under discussion.  Class timings, the opening of labs at night, pool table timings, which clubs to start, holidays to be celebrated or not, who is sitting where, what kind of furniture to buy, tea to be served by staff or prepared by faculty, students being locked up in hostel rooms (mind the Indian bolt),…a variety of topics I hadn’t imagined before. Since we were only few, we could easily gather and make decisions wherever we happened to be.

What was unusual for a technical institution was the initial gender ratio of the instructors. And if students had an issue they would first interact with Veena or me. As a result students accustomed themselves to addressing faculty as “Ma’am”. So different from my experience at IIT Delhi where students frequently started talking to me by “Sir,…” it was now the director who  occasionally had to listen to “Ma’am,…”.

Once, during the first months I dreamt about IIIT-D as a small child that needed attention. The underlying issue was minor and soon sorted out but since then I compared the institute with a growing-up child. And now, after two years this child has matured into a young adult. Many more faculty have joined. Students are settled in the system and already take their role in research projects. An academic routine has emerged. The academic self-administration is functioning smoothly and is well supported by office staff. The library has a decent stock of books. From this semester onwards, an ERP system will take over or at least ease many of the routine tasks. The focus has shifted to successfully working research groups, their projects and new course programs. And there is an IIIT-D spirit like that of a young adult who wants to discover and conquer the world.

  • Looking back at the initial days, I am still amazed about two things:
  • The rapid pace with which the institute kept changing and growing.

The fact that an entire batch of 60 students joined an institute  that at the time of joining had one faculty only –  the director. I  find this even more amazing as from my current point of view they  made an excellent choice – both from the perspective of their  subjective well-being and of the education they are going through.

Mayank Vatsa and Richa Singh

Starting May 2008, towards the end our PhD, we were exploring jobs options in US and India. In India, we applied at IITK, IITD, and IITB. While these IITs were reviewing our CVs, we received an email from Dr. Jalote that there is a new institute coming up, IIIT-Delhi. Since we knew him from IITK, we started considering his email. During our India visit, we met him on Sep 8, 2008 (first day of IIIT-Delhi) and he explained the vision, plans, etc. We were excited about the vision but little sceptical whether these plans are feasible or not in India. In December 2008, we again contacted Dr. Jalote and formally applied to IIIT-Delhi. We appeared in selection committee interviews in January 2009 and received the offer letters within a week.

While taking the decision of joining IIIT-Delhi, we knew that there is a good amount of risk and challenges associated with this. Some of them were (1) IIIT-Delhi not being an established institution or not known in the community, (2) no regular faculty except Dr. Jalote,  (3) we were not sure how our research agenda will work out especially with hiring PhD students, (4) as fresh PhD pass-outs, we had no administrative experience but upfront we knew that we have to take some responsibilities and many more. However, we also had an idea, based on our meetings with Dr. Jalote, that there will be several opportunities for growth and progress. First and foremost, we realized that we can contribute in building IIIT-Delhi to make it one of the top institutions in India. Other important factors in favour of IIIT-Delhi were that, we were offered the support to establish Biometrics Lab, support in establishing contacts with funding agencies such as DIT and UIDAI, and a positive attitude. Other minor factors were lesser bureaucracy and proximity with our family members. At the same time, we were also excited that we would be the first tenure track faculty members of the institute.

We are now close to completing two years at IIIT-Delhi and have over 20 wonderful faculty and staff colleagues (and the count is still on). We have established Image Analysis and Biometrics Lab that has four hard working PhD students and several UG students. We have some funded projects running and our five year research agenda is on track. We see a clear positive progression: students are far more oriented and appreciate the learning environment, more and more faculty applications received, funding opportunities, good students are attracted to our UG and PG programs, several distinguished speakers visiting us, and recognition in the country.