Thursday, October 20, 2005

Consistent performance ...

[Link to the IE story via Animesh]

... as opposed to one-off performance. Indian Express reported recently on an internal study conducted by the IITs.

Apparently, this study found that good academic performance in IITs correlated better with the students' academic performance in school than with the JEE rank.

It doesn't surprise me at all; more importantly, if this finding is confirmed by studies on larger samples (for example, a state-wide study in Karnataka, or an expanded study in IITs including the data from several decades), it would undermine our system of selecting students based on some one-off exams (offered just once a year!).

I am glad this study has been done. I would like more such studies on the IITs and IITans. There is a great gold mine of information sitting in the vaults of IITs -- if tapped by a skilled sociologist, we will know a great deal more than what we know about the 'creamiest of the cream' of science-and-tech-oriented students in India.

Wouldn't you like to know -- I mean, really know -- about other correlations among things like their school records, JEE ranks, their background, their parents' income and education levels, parents's occupation, urban-rural divide, whether they went through coaching classes, proportion of women and dalits (among JEE takers and in the incoming class), where the students go, and on and on. As I said, all this information is just waiting for a major sociological study. Since such studies have not come to light, it means either the IITs are not interested in parting with the information, or the sociologists are not interested in studies of this kind.

I don't believe the problem lies with sociologists' lack of interest. The argument is quite simple. The Indian society (and, more recently, the entire world) has shown an enormous interest in knowing more about these great institutions and the geeky subculture that thrives there. Anything that you say or write about IITs will sell, and sell enormously. Just ask Sandipan Deb and Chetan Bhagat.


  1. Anirudh said...

    Indians and particularly North Indians give a lot of importance to the IITs. Agreed they're good but I don't know if a socilogical study on them makes sense. Perhaps a sociological study on all elite institutions would help?

  2. Anonymous said...

    From my personal experience
    1. School records don't matter that much. In some cases it can be a hindrance since you to have focus on studying for the board and studying for the JEE. Though the report is right in saying that there is a strong correlation. All my peers (myself included) topped their schools. These are an incredibly smart and an incredibly hard working bunch of people
    2. I am not sure how much background matters. I am so lucky to meet the people from all walks of life at IIT. One of the greatest things about IITs is that it treats everybody equal - which is fantastic in a fractured society like India. One of my seniors had a private jet and a couple of my peers came from slums.
    3. Most of the students from urban areas. Come to think of it I cannot remember anybody from a village. Though many were from small towns.
    4. Most went to coaching classes. More often than not they keep you focussed on the goal. You have to work really hard to make the cut. Or you can be phenomenally intelligent. Most are not scaringly intelligent but intelligent.
    5. Proportion of women is abysmally low. This may be because of how our society is structured. My cousin (who made it to IIT) was the only one from her class of an all-girl school to take the exam. And she was ridiculed for doing that by her peers. US is no better - the proportion of women in engineering is abysmally low.
    6. Students mostly end up going to the US eventually. Some might hang around for a couple of years (like myself), eventually get frustrated and leave. Those of who end up going to business schools in India end up staying the most. Though I know of at least one senior who went to business school in India, worked for a couple of years and then went to Europe and got another degree.

  3. Artful Badger said...

    Apparently, this study found that good academic performance in IITs correlated better with the students' academic performance in school than with the JEE rank.
    There is a basic difference between doing well in the JEE and doing well in IIT. The JEE is more about speed and performing well during those3 hours. IIT is more like school, it's more about taking down notes, being regular to class, putting in regular effort. It's not so much a test of intelligence.
    I have known some very high JEE rankers who go on to do abysmally when they join. It's not because they don't have the skill to do well in IIT. It's just that the intensity of the entrance process demotivated them so much that they are disillusioned by academics.
    I would think most people fit into a very specific profile in terms of school, coaching centre and general background. But, it's stil very diverse .

  4. Ganesh V said...

    I have a reply here

    I thought my reply was general enough to be put as a separate blog. As regards the survey goes, I agree with most of what "anonymous" said. I guess the reason for the bad performance is that the students are literally burnt out by the time they enter IIT and as such they are told they are the "Cream of the Cream of the Country" etc. etc. Seniors and Friends play a very important role if one takes them seriously. A freshie who lives next to seniors who always play will tend to think that one must play all the while. With friends even more so. I don't see my seniors as role models at all. I just don't take any advice from them. I just take facts from them.

  5. Abi said...

    Anirudh, Anon, Ramani, Ganesh: Thanks for your comments.

    It seems clear from the discussion that there is quite a bit of disagreement about what really matters both for entering IITs and for doing well academically in IITs. Such disagreements are not surprising; these are our personal observations. However, what we have perceived or observed need not be so in a statistical sense; which is why I would strongly argue for serious sociological studies using the data sitting in IITs vaults.

    As for whether we really need such studies that focuses only on the elitest of the elite institutions such as the IITs, I would just point to a study on the history of admission policies followed by Harvard, Stanford and Yale over some eight decades. This study culminated in a book that was recently published. I don't recall the book's name, and I am too tired to google it right now.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Ganesh I would agree with most of your post except for the burn-out one. From my experience, the IITians (I am one - the same anon from the post above) drink too much of the Cream-of-the-society kool-aid. Imagine a 17 year told being told that and living outside the confines of his home for the first time. It is a potent mixture for ditching studies and do some other stuff. IITKgp (where I went) actually encourages you to do that. There are numerous interest groups - ranging from sports to music. And IITs have some of the best sports infrasctures among colleges in India. I had a ball of a time and I thought I struck a balance between studies and sports. Yes, I could have studied more but I wouldn't have had that much fun. Nevertheless all my peers, irrespective of their grades, have gone out and are doing really well for themselves. The bad thing about IITs though is that they have completely failed at basic research. My adviser is amazed that there is this institution which produces these fantastic undergraduates but has close to zero research output.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Ganesh, I couldn't get to your detailed reply because the link is broken. But I read it after fixing the link and I have to say you totally nailed it!! I don't think any other college in India gives you so much independence to explore things in such a protected environment, where you are not docked for failing. That along with the opportunity for hashing it out with some of the smartest folks of my generation and building the strongest bonds I have with people outside my family. These things and not just academics made my stay at IIT totally worth the slog of high school.

  8. Aswin said...

    Let me add my own thougts:

    0. We talk so much about JEE ,admissions to IIT, coaching centers etc etc in our hostel rooms/mess.. if a social scientist is willing hear us, she/he is most welcome! More specific data on the background of students, what they end up being would be truly awesome.
    And there are a few who do get into IITs without taking the coaching center route.(yours truly included). Their views could be interesting.(So.. u better listen to what I say :) )

    1. One BIIIIG disadvantage of the coaching culture is that self-learning is virtually killed. IITs still load their students with much more courses than any avg undergrad institution in say, the US. Not that this is a problem..but the teacher-dependence tends to stick on and the end result.. IITM's library devoid of undergrads except during the Quizzes :). Crudely put, outside coursework academic activities are close to nill for most. I guess this would have been one of the major concerns before the set of pple who went about changing the structure of JEE. If anything can be done to cut into the coaching culture.. it would be GREAT.

    2. The things that set the IITs apart from the other undergrad institutes is the excellant academic atmosphere, freedom(both academic and otherwise) and top-class facilities. The huge gap between the IITs(+ say BITS,BHU,a few NITs) and the others is too much. As is well known, the no. of seats in good colleges is far lesser than the no. of good students. Thus, the dependence on dumb exams like JEE become a little too much. I am afraid that the coaching centers would continue to thrive unless this situation changes. The plan for new IITs, upgraded NITs are probably the best ways to get out of this.

    3. And all this cream-of-india stuff does get overboard at times. An air of over-confidence does lead to people neglecting academics.

  9. Abi said...

    Anon, thanks for coming back for more comments.

    Aswin: you have made an important point: more IITs. The move has already been initiated, and let us see when it gets completed.

    Let me reiterate: the diversity of views expressed here reinforce my point that a serious sociological research (and perhaps some psychological research, too ;-) into the IIT archives would be a great idea.

  10. Anonymous said...

    Good topics and nice comments.
    One of the comments is regarding the lack of basic research. The reason may be that the coaching and other focussed studying during high school tends draw away from the learning and the curiosity that a bright 17 year old is capable of. If this were not true , India could and would be producing top-notch physicists in the world because more of the brightest ones might be focusing on Physics instead of engineering.