Archive for August, 2006

What’s the RIGHT metric

Lots of thanks to Vinay for this amazing conversation.

We (Vinay and I) were sitting in the Night canteen, discussing about Campus placements at IIT-Bombay. Of particular interest was the amazingly large number of companies that had agreed to come to IIT-B, but recruit only B.Tech or Dual Degree students and not the M.Tech students. The underlying answer to this mystery was that the B.Tech/DD students have cleared a particularly tough exam called the Joint Enterence Exam, which the M.Tech’s had not.

Question> Is the IIT-JEE, the be all and end all of all examinations? Should all that is there to classify a young 17 year old as intelligent and hard-working be judged by the one exam?

Point in case, for this was that IIT’ans on an average recieve 6.5to 7 lac pay packages, while in other engineering colleges (which by the way, is again ranked based on some Common Enterence test), the pay package is 3-3.5 lac. My arguement is that Talent cannot be demarked on the basis of one examination. Vinay, argued, and argued correctly, if I may add, that for companies that look for placements, JEE is a easy metric. They find good people in IIT, they dont have to look elsewhere. The companies that have to look elsewhere, create another hierarchy in the remaining collegest in India. It’s easy and cost-effective for them. JEE (and the host of other enternce exame) does the screening for them.

Question>Still is it not cruel? What about students who are good, but are unlucky to miss out on JEE. After all, JEE selects around 5000 students out of 3 lacs, and you can’t expect only 5000 to be really talented. ( I expand this question a little bit more: Ranking of other engineering college also takes place based on toppers in some Common enterence test… RVCE was good because rank1-100 selected it, and so on!)

Once this question is identified, all the statistics that I have learned came to me. There is always this blue shaped Gaussian curve, symbolic of so many things in this world. Couple more. Most JEE’ians are in the talented Gaussian curve, while there are non-JEE’ians also on a Not-So-Talented curve. There are the outliers to the curve. We went for a flatter profile for the JEE and a more narrow one for the non-JEE ones.

To some extent, I do justify myself. I have seen, both the IIT students, and the one in RVCE (where I did my UG) and some other ‘TOP’ bangalore colleges (where I put the students right on the edge of the non-JEE curve) and some more students from other colleges, who fit in the middle of the Not-So-Talented curve. Here, by talent, I not only mean IQ/ intelligence, but also other extra curricular activities, organizational skills, soft skills etc. Based on my (and Vinay’s) assesment of JEE like Talented student outside IIT, we pretty much seemed to agree on the profile.

Question> It is the outliers on the Non-JEE ones who seem to lose out. They are Good, but are clubbed in the wrong graph? A talented student, good enough to be an JEE-ian, misses out on the goodies of being a JEE’ian? That particular set of students will feel depraved, feel that they are not getting what they deserve, because they are not in IIT. To refresh, we are talking about the huge array of opportunities that a JEE’ian gets compared to the others. What seems to be the solution??

We got really philosophical at this stage. What has to be agreed is that Life is cruel, everyone tries to optimize, get the maximum without as much as moving a finger. Given this background, the outliers of the Non-JEE have to lose out. Tough luck.

Question> (Here comes the business end of this post! and Coming a little closer to IIT placements)Consider a hypothetical situation, one of the non-JEE outlier’s are in IIT-B (i.e. A M.Tech student). A big consulting firm is here to hire. They say we look only at B.Tech/DD students. What can she do (apart from feeling frustrated)?

The option being explored now is requesting the company to open for all M.Tech’s. Ideal from a M.Tech student point of view. For the company, 500 more applications to screen. Yes, they may get a good M.Tech student, but then the B.Tech/DD pool is not dry that they need to look elsewhere. So, they say No to M.Techs. Our poor student is still there, feeling frustrated.

Taking a larger picture, there will be lots of such frustrated students (probably a little less than the IIT-PG student).

Question> Is JEE (or CAT) the right Metric to judge? Are these exams still relevant in differentiating the Best from the Rest?

It probably WAS! This craze about JEE, Undergraduate degree from IIT, has caught attention probably from late 80’s/early 90’s. Till then, we agreed, yes, JEE was a good metric. In the 90’s, there came an additional concept of dropping a year, preparing for JEE, there mushroomed coaching classes whic dissected the JEE, stripped it to it’s bones. Students were being ‘coached’ to crack the JEE. From what it set out, how well students have learnt and applied their 11th and 12th standard science, the JEE was made to stand out. Preparation for boards are different, preparation for JEE different.

Now, in the present scenario, JEE is not a good screening agent. It allows some rotten eggs to pass through it, while rejecting some good ones.

The same with CAT.

GATE, now probably, is still pretty good, but it is also on the decline, and in another 5-6 years, we will see commercialization of GATE as well.

All these exams, were created with a purpose, they served the purpose as well, but as with anything in the nature, it has to evolve. It has to capture the times that we are living in. Past does not gel with the present anywhere in this universe.

Presently, awareness, the number of students doing Engineering in India, competition is ever increasing. Considering the sheer numbers, IIT’s are too exclusive to capture all the talent in India. The corporate world as well as the academicia, must adapt to a new metric to judge talent in India, rather than the now existing one dimensional hierarchy, IIT-JEE>NIT>Top private colleges (top rankers choice in state level enternce exam)>Middle level colleges>Absolute dregs…

But then as Vinay pointed out, India is now ensconsed in this system. It is too much work, time, money to come up with a comprehensive overhaul to this system.

Till such time, to all outliers in the non-JEE curve, keep trying harder and harder. It is upto you to see opportunities and sieze it. JEE curve students will be luckier, but then if you are as good and doubly hard working, the gap can be reduced!