Wednesday, August 18, 2010

IISc's UG Program

IISc's 101st batch of students (who will join in August 2011) is also going to be special: it will include the first batch of students admitted into IISc's real undergraduate program.

Do check out the program's website; right now, it has an overview of the UG program, the course structure, and the six streams of specialization, including Materials. Yay!

[Quite a few of the links at the website are empty right now; they'll be filled up in due course.]

IISc's UG program represents a unique experiment in India: it's a four-year program leading to a bachelor's degree -- abbreviated as BS, to distinguish it from BSc -- in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, materials and environment.

A couple of excerpts from the FAQ page:

Which are the entry channels to get admitted to the programme?

To save additional burden of an entrance exam on the overtaxed 12th standard students, IISc is planning to exploit the existing highly competitive national level entrance exams such as KVPY, IIT-JEE, AIEEE and AIPMT. Mechanisms by which rural and women candidates are encouraged in a major way to apply for the programme are also being explored. Students desirous of applying to the BS programme must watch out for the above examinations.


How is this programme unique?

The uniqueness of this programme lies in its interdisciplinary approach, strong flavour of engineering, exposure to disciplines in social sciences, and a one year research project. The graduates of this programme will obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in a Specialization. This programme is carefully designed to offer specialization in a Science stream but the knowledge imparted carries a strong flavour of engineering and an exposure to social science disciplines. The students admitted to a stream are encouraged to take courses from other streams, thus maintaining the strong interdisciplinary flavour of this undergraduate programme. One full year of participation in a research project identifies the programme as unique and innovative. This research based interdisciplinary undergraduate programme is well suited to meet the present vocational and post graduate requirements of the ever demanding modern world. The undergraduate programme is embedded in an ambience of a mature and highly sophisticated research culture which has an equally strong base of both science and engineering. This research culture has evolved over the last hundred years, primarily engendered by an exceptionally well endowed faculty, graduate students and post doctoral fellows. The academic environment is open, free, pedagogic and non-hierarchical.


  1. Venkat said...

    Finally, my dream of seeing real undergraduate programs at IISc is nearing as also humanities being taught. I hope they teach to turn into real intellectuals (not a mere conduit to recruit captive candidates for research programs). I will watch for the course structures and content.

    When will my larger dream of seeing a med school at IISc materialize?


  2. pradeepkumar pi said...

    Teaching undergraduates is all together a different ball game, and it takes lot of efforts and time. Also a good researcher is not always a good UG teacher due to various reasons One reason being lack of interest in teaching. Therefore, I wonder how IISc faculty (mostly seniors), who enjoyed very little PG teaching for years, will cope up with their new task. I think this will be the litmus test to measure the success of this ambitious initiative.

  3. anon said...

    Very exciting development!! Thanks for the update.

  4. Pratyush Tiwary said...

    This is splendid!

  5. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    I note with mild regret that the line "primarily engendered by an exceptionally well-endowed faculty" has been altered on IISc's FAQ page (your link is broken, btw)... Thanks for immortalising the original wording!

    On a serious note, this is certainly good news. And hopefully other institutions will follow suit now.

  6. Karthik said...

    I am curious to know about the scope of a four year science program in India. Is it equivalent to a three years B.Sc. program or 3+2 years M.Sc. program, especially in view of the minimum requirements set by other universities for admission into a Ph.d program. any ideas?
    why can't the whole country follow a single system?!!!!

  7. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Karthik -- change must start somewhere, no? Actually, until now, all of India did follow the same system for science -- at the UGC's insistence I believe (I heard this is the main reason why the IISERs have a 5-year masters programme). Now that IISc has set a "precedent" maybe others can follow.

    For PhD admission it can be treated as equivalent to a B.Tech. degree -- which is adequate qualification for a PhD in many universities/institutions.

    And for those who want a master's degree and not a PhD, perhaps IISc can offer a 1-year MS-by research thing for students who have finished a 4-year BS -- but my guess is most such students will want to do a PhD anyway.

    Also, with the increasing number of "integrated PhD" programmes, perhaps universities will stop dropping the idiotic insistence on a master's degree regardless of higher qualifications. Thanks to that insistence, most "integrated PhD" programmes do award a masters too, but it should really be reserved for those who don't want to or can't complete the Ph.D.

  8. Gautam said...

    Like Rahul, I too mourn the subtle vanishing of the remarkably felicitous phrase "exceptionally well-endowed faculty" from the original but am cheered by the fact that it will live on in your blog. One could have imagined a whole line of serious inquiry concerning the rigorous selection procedures required for identifying such "exceptionally well-endowed faculty". Testimonials? Alas, we may probably never know.

    On a more serious note, given that this is a flagship program of a research institute with a large number of remarkable scientists, why can't IISc come up with a description that is less cliche-ridden? "Balanced blend", "launching pad", "embedded in the ambience"; there are more, but you get the point. Its not as though there aren't faculty members at IISc who can write with clarity and directness; the Director of IISc is one and I know of several others. Why shouldn't the same standards of excellence that individual scientists at IISc apply to their research also be applied to the creation of such public documents, given that their readership will be a very considerable one.

  9. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Gautam: absolutely. But it's no worse than any media announcement. I'm sure the pages were put together by someone in the admin, certainly not by IISc's director who is always worth reading.

    I am reading Hitch-22, where he says of Martin Amis (excerpts here):
    'If one employed a lazy or stale phrase, it would be rubbed in—no, it would be incisively emphasized—with a curl of that mighty lip and an ironic gesture. If one committed the offense in print—I remember once writing “no mean achievement” in an article—the rebuke might come in note form, or by one's being handed a copy of the article with a penciled underlining. He could take this vigilance to almost parodic lengths. The words “ruggedly handsome features” appear on the first page of 1984, and for a while Martin declined to go any further into the book. (“The man can't write worth a damn.”) He was later to admit that the novel did improve a trifle after that.'

    Over here, the rare thing is to find an original phrase. This starts in school, where they make you memorise lists of "idioms" and "proverbs" (in all languages), and hold up cliche-ridden prose as examples of beautiful writing. I think this is not off-topic, actually. If the goal is to cultivate originality (necessary in science), an example should first be set in language.

  10. Pratik Ray said...

    This is an exciting development indeed. And I am glad to see that one of the six disciplines offered is materials. Hope this program takes off beautifully :)

  11. Anonymous said...

    I hope several of the IIT JEE top 100 would join this program. That would be awesome.

  12. Ungrateful Alive said...

    As an esteemed colleague in IISc has joked, this step removes the last impediment to certain IIT faculty members who would like to move to IISc for its better research atmosphere --- now they won't miss undergrads!

    I will withhold jubilation for a decade and watch how it's going. Someone wrote here: "Why shouldn't the same standards of excellence ... be applied to the creation of such public documents?" --- this is symptomatic of a deep and possibly incurable malaise that the O(1000) world-class science and engineering researchers who somehow still rough it in India have no way to amplify their work and existence through their surrounding system.

    The drop in quality right outside that periphery is breathtaking. IIXs command plumbers, carpenters, masons, system administrators, office clerks, janitors, who are uniformly and seriously inferior to those who work in the private sector. I have taken a long hard look, and there is nothing up to the horizon that will improve the situation.

    So my obvious big worry is, will IISc end up not doing great undergrad teaching, while at the same time giving up some research turf as well.

    Anyway, I intend to keep watching closely, as will many others.

  13. Karthik said...

    I got this reply from the Dean, so it will be treated as equivalent to M.Sc. cool !!

    Dear Karthik,
    Thank you for your interest in the undergraduate programme of IISc. We expect that the BS degree that the students of our undergraduate programme will receive after four years will be treated as equivalent to the standard MSc degree in science. So, the graduates of this programme are expected to be eligible for all opportunities that are currently available to holders of MSc degrees.

    Best wishes,

    Chandan Dasgupta
    Dean, Undergraduate Programm

  14. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Karthik: a cautious person would note that the dean saying "he expects that the BS degree will be treated as equivalent to a standard MSc" is not the same as the average bureaucratic university saying that they will, in fact, treat it as equivalent.

    On the other hand, (a) most graduates of this programme would probably not end up at average bureaucratic universities -- at least, not without completing a Ph.D. first, and (b) hopefully this programme will set a "precedent" (to use the bureaucrat's favourite term) and not only bring down these requirements of masters' degrees for candidates with higher qualifications (IISc's reputation should help), but also inspire more such programmes.

    I don't see why the IITs that currently offer 5-year "integrated MSc" or 4-year B.Tech in "engineering physics" shouldn't now offer a 4-year BS in physics (or other sciences), either...

  15. Nappinnai NC said...

    Its good to hear that IISc is implimenting novel ways to enrich education. I hope it doesn't turn out like its ME Integrated Program. These days few goes for Bachelors degree in Math, Physics, Chem. I wish they introduce BS in Microbiology/Molecular Biology too. With 1.2 billion population, we need to strengthen our Medical Research Programs and Applications.

    All the current 'stupid' quota systems have to take the exit. Only then can we see India flourishing in Science & Tech. There is no shortage of brain power. We just have to be smart enough to utilise that brain power. Look at China's growth. I feel US sucks.

    We lost Ramanujan and Chandrasekhar. I hope India learns to respect brain and do 'anything' in its power to preserve,and own it. IISc doesn't recognize its own PhD. Every PhD student of IISc has to have some Post Doctoral experience in foreign countries, preferably from top schools in US, Germany, UK.
    I feel they should assign some hours of Teaching Assistantship to PhD students. That way, they get some training in teaching. Like Feynman says, Research without Teaching load becomes ridiculous. In 1953/54, the Physics Nobel Laureate Max Born was supposed to become the Director of IISc. Then due to some internal politics, it didn't happen. I can only hope IISc maintains the standard and execute it effectively and efficiently.

  16. Murthy A V N said...

    Finally some young blood on IISc campus! :-)


  17. Unknown said...

    I am interested in theoretical physics.I have got the opportunity to join BS program at IISc and also 4 year BS program in physics at IIT Kanpur commencing from this year.I am apprehensive that BS at IISc would be leaving me with just 2.5 years for "majoring" in physics leading to a "shallow" concept building. Which one would be better? I am in a big dilemma,please help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Vivek: I'm not sure I understand your question, but I'm guessing you are worried about the "non-physics" subjects you are asked to study at IISc during the first 1.5 years. If so, I'd urge you to have a look at any recent physics journal (like Physical Review Letters) to get a feel for the diversity and breadth of what passes for "physics" these days. I think, in the 21st century, it is essential for a physicist to have a working knowledge of many other disciplines.

    Also, part of the point of exposing you to other disciplines is to expand your horizons. Today you may be absolutely, positively certain that you want to become a physicist. After a couple of years and a dozen or two courses, you may change your mind. These days, biology departments (in India and elsewhere) are actively looking for PhD candidates with a physics background, and a prior exposure to modern biology can only help. Physicists have also made their marks on mathematical finance, computer science, climate science, and many other fields.

    This is not to say you should not join IIT Kanpur. They have years of experience in teaching at the undergraduate level: if you are looking for well-oiled machinery, you should go there -- the IISc people will be feeling their way through an unfamiliar situation for at least a couple of years. But I think your reasons, if I understand them correctly, for being nervous about IISc are not valid. Also, I think you can learn a lot just by being on the IISc campus and absorbing what is around you -- but I'm probably biased: I'm an IISc alumnus, and not an IITK alumnus.