Some stuff in this post may appear controversial and a little condescending towards some of my past/present classmates. I apologise for all egos I’ve hurt in the process and maintain that I am not taking a personal dig against anyone. I am just putting in some of my observations.
When I attended the summers process a few months back, half the interviews started with the question, “How do you compare IIT with IIM?” and I spoke volumes about culture, RGness, attitudes and the like. Given my 5 years of experience in these institutes of national importance, I thought I’ll put down some stuff which I didn’t mention in the interviews due to the pressure to be politically correct. I’ll leave the oft-mentioned things such as culture, hostel life, etc. and focus on the attitudes of the people towards acads.
I spent four years in IIT Madras. Having gotten a good JEE rank, I was fortunate to sit in the same class as some of the other top-100 JEE rankers in the country. Many of them had decided on a career in research in Computer Science at a time when I was learning my tables. Extremely focused, extremely RG, extremely muggoo I must say. Except for a few freaks, my class of 30 odd was a largely homogeneous bunch. And I was among the most vela guys around in my class, I believe.
IIMs, for a long time, have stressed that academics isn’t the only metric and they try to maintain a good balance of people from all walks of life in their classrooms. My class of 60 odd here has a few IITians, some engineers from ‘second rung’ colleges, some economics grads from some of the ‘pseud’ colleges, some commies (BComs for the uninitiated), a couple of CAs, a medical doctor (!!!) and a vast majority from engineering colleges whose names I hadn’t even heard of before I came to IIMB.
Way back in school, we had a nice bunch. People who have now ended up in all walks of life. The general level of academics wasn’t too low. Still, I, as the class representative, could easily manage to unionise the class in order to get things done or to get classes/assignments cancelled. I simply loved the arrangement.
After this, IITM was a rude shock. I seemed to be the only guy in town who had no clue of what to do in life (this is specific to my branch). People were so focused. Everyone used to listen patiently in class. They would come up with good pertinent questions when called for. People would select courses saying, “This will be a good resume point when we apply for the post of professor 15 years from now”. They welcomed any extra assignment load saying it would be a “wonderful learning experience”. They used to get extremely pally with profs right from day one – extremely important for that all important recommendation. And the “untransparent” system in which grades were given (most profs refused to show us our end-term papers) ensured that this licking would bear dividends much before that recommendation was asked for.
This class was extremely tough to unionise. Only on one occasion I managed to lead a dharna to the professor’s office and get a couple of assignment deadlines postponed. The only result of it was that by the time I was done with my assignment, my classmates had all gone two steps ahead – the end result being that I was penalized for my marks. Through a mix of careful selection of groups and judicious freeriding, I somehow managed to get my way through.
After this, IIMB was again a rude shock (I am writing this based on my last 8 months’ experience). People here seem to be least interested in most courses. People here too have a fair idea of what they want to do in life but the number of such people is few. Despite having fixed seating, everyone rushes to the last row in class. Sit there, sleep sometimes, eat, chat, etc. Most profs here don’t seem to mind then – only they screw us in the grades at the end of the course. In IIT, the one time I slept in class my prof gave me a zero on five for Class Participation (CP) and my grade fell from A to C because of that. And the generally high decorum meant that the average grade was pretty high. Here, people consistently piss off profs due to low attendance, sleeping in class, no CP at all and the like and in the end get screwed by the profs in the grades – and then cry to academic council to do something about it.
Another downside to the system of selection here is that in some courses there are few “studs”. In IITM, whatever be the course (including those I topped by a huge margin), whenever I had a doubt, there would be definitely half a dozen people in my own batch who were able to solve them. That doesn’t happen here in a few courses and I feel kind of _________ (can’t get the word for it now).
I am not generally cribbing about IIMB and my classmates. In fact, the system here does have numerous positives. For one, the class IS unionisable – which means it is easier to get assignments cancelled/postponed. Then, the level of RG here is much lesser. And it is easier for me to do pretty well in some courses which involve some degree of analytical thinking (a lot of people (not all, mind you) from non-IIT backgrounds have a little trouble in this). The list goes on.
The only thing that comes to my mind right now is that neither system is perfect. They seem to be like two opposite ends of the pendulum. If you consider them to be two stools, I fall right between them. Why is it that I don’t “perfectly fit in” to either system? Has either IIT or IIM been a mistake on my part? Does there exist at all a premier institution which is balanced in this regard? Or is it that such a place simply doesn’t exist, for then the world would be perfect?
Whatever it is, I am extremely happy that I have the “IIT-IIM” tag on me which I hope will help me in a big way in getting ahead in all walks of life.