Friday, June 23, 2006

Rashmi Bansal's advice on the choice of institution to study in: an IIT or a non-IIT

Update(28 June 2006): Second part of this two-part series is here.

Rashmi Bansal has a Rediff piece addressing the question of which institution one should choose to study in: an IIT or a non-IIT? Under what circumstances is the latter choice actually 'better'? Here's how she sets up the problem:

... Clearing the JEE is a 'dream come true' for any engineering aspirant in India. But, once the initial euphoria fades, reality bites. Clearing is good, but topping is better. Without a good rank, you will never get the branch of your 'choice.'

And what are the branches the heart most desires? Computer Science, Electronics, Telecom, Electrical Engineering. The ones with the most 'scope'.

The mind says it's the branch of study that matters -- so, if you're getting admission into another excellent college, take it. But the heart desires the IIT chhaap.

Rashmi then analyzes the reasons for why one should choose a second tier institution under some circumstances (you love subject X, but your JEE rank does not allow you to study X), and goes on to rebut some of the objections to this view. I would endorse Rashmi's advice that if it is a particular field of study that you are after, why, you should pursue it in the best college that would admit you into that program. But, but ...

  • How many 17 year olds are sure about the field that they want to pursue? If at all they have such an intense interest in a field, I would bet that for a large number of them, it is one of the sciences!
  • How many 17 year olds can withstand the pressure (to choose an IIT) from their peers and their parents?

Since the most probable answer to each is "perhaps a few", I guess none of the 'lesser' disciplines in the IITs need to worry about students shunning them en masse.

* * *

Two (further) comments. First, remember the thought experiement about a similar question we conducted sometime ago? And its results? Well, Rashmi's prescription would, on the face of it, be opposed to the preferences expressed by many commenters and me. However, there's a crucial difference. In our little experiment, choice of field was not the main consideration; one's future academic performance was. So, the results (and the prescriptions that flow from them) are not all that contradictory.

The second comment is related to the following two quotes used by Rashmi in her article:

Sumit Sharan, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, advises low rankers to be 'intelligent' in their choice of branch at IIT. "I would recommend the person goes for a branch like Maths & Computing (it's a five year MSc course offered at IIT-Kharagpur) instead of Civil, Metallurgy, Mining in present times.

My son's rank in IIT --- JEE is 2288 and therefore he can opt for branches like Civil, Metallurgy, etc. Under such situation will it be a better choice to go in for Computer Sc from some other college?

As someone who studied metallurgy, I just went "Ouch!", and "Ouch!"


  1. Anonymous said...

    Dear Abi:

    Interesting article. I have an interesting example:

    1) Our alumnus, Thomas Ananthraman passed B.Tech. Electronics in 1988. He got (in 1984) IIT-JEE rank (AIR) # 2 ! He could have got admission to any IIT & branch, but as per his father's advice, he joined IT-BHU. (His father Prof. TR Anathraman was a Rhodes scholar, world renowned metallurgist and in the faculty of meta dept. and director of IT-BHU.) Thomas went to USA and joined IBM. He was among the 3-member IBM team which designed Deep Blue IBM super-computer, which defeated Gary Kasparov in chess match.

    This shows that more than college, it is individual's intiative and desire to excel that matters.

    2) Our college publishes monthly online newsletter called chronicle ( which contains success stories of faculty/alumni. Most of these stories are from students of so-called 'condemned' branches such as mining/metallurgy/ceramics.


    Yogesh Upadhyaya
    chemical 1977

  2. Abi said...

    Yogesh: Thanks for the comment. Thanks also for the link to the and to its newsletter.

    That anecdote about Thomas Anantharaman is wonderful. I too have heard about him, but never had a chance to meet him even though there I had a short overlap with him at Carnegie Mellon.