Monday, November 21, 2011

IITK Professor elected as an IEEE Fellow

Here is an email from our Dean of Faculty Affairs:

Another feather in now what is arguably becoming a very crowded cap of Prof. Kalyanmoy Deb! I am extremely happy to inform you that Prof. Kalyanmoy Deb of the Mechanical Engineering Department has been elected as an IEEE  Fellow.  This rare distinction has been conferred on Prof. Deb for contributions to revolutionary multi-criterion optimization techniques.

Readers of this blog may recall that Infosys Science Foundation has announced his name as the recipient of Infosys Prize just a few days ago, and just a few days earlier, he was selected for J C Bose Fellowship. Here is the link to his website.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Indo-EU Workshop on QA in Higher Technical Education (at IITK)

Today, I spent the whole day away from office. IIT Kanpur is hosting the Indo-European Workshop on Quality Assurance in Higher Technical Education. We had speakers from Univ. of Lausanne, Switzerland, Lund University, Sweden, besides the local speakers from IIT Kanpur. The speakers from Europe had done tremendous amount of research in higher education, and it was a pleasure to listen to them. Every time I attend such a workshop (I attended one in February 2011 at Delhi also), I learn more about the teaching learning process, and I start hoping that one day, IITK will feel the need to have a center for research in higher technical education, which could provide us advice on issues that we face in teaching. But the attendance was very disappointing. From about 15 faculty members from IITK in the morning, it dwindled to about 5 in the last session - and almost all of them were the organizers.

The kind of support that such a center in Lund University provides to its faculty includes all aspects of teaching learning process, and even how to improve interaction with PhD students. A typical response of a faculty member in most such matters is, "I am a PhD, and I have taught for so long. My students are doing so well in life. I don't need no training to become a better teacher." I hope that they would at least try and see how expert help can convert a good teacher into an even better teacher.

There was a talk on assessing and rewarding excellence in teaching. And I realize we don't do even the obvious. The speaker said that there are four stages of assessment - deciding criteria on which assessment is made, collecting evidence that criteria are met, standards to judge the evidence, and an open and transparent process to match all this. And he gave example of all this as they follow in their university. When I look at awards at IITK, the criteria are often broad and ill-defined, the evidence is hearsay amongst the committee members, there is no peer review, and there is no way to find out who were nominated, what were their achievements, and why the award was given to someone.

There was an interesting observation by one speaker. Most of us have no problems with peers reviewing our research, but we don't want our teaching to be peer reviewed. As a professional, why shouldn't all output of ours be peer reviewed?

The workshop continues tomorrow. I am really looking forward to it.

Here is the workshop homepage. I have been told that all presentations will be uploaded soon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

H K Firodia Award for IITK Professor

May be I should rename this blog as "IITK Awards Announcement Blog." Too many awards to keep track of. Yesterday, in a ceremony at Pune, one of my colleagues and a batchmate from IITK student days, Manindra Agrawal, was presented H K Firodia Award for 2011. The citation particularly mentions the cryptography work that he has done and the encryption algorithms that he has developed for Indian Armed forces. So here is a theoretician who solves practical problems.

And interestingly enough, just like the Infosys Prize that we wrote about 2 days ago, some other recipients of H K Firodia Award also have a strong IIT Kanpur connection. Prof. C N R Rao, not only spent the early part of his career in IIT Kanpur, he was also Chairman, Board of Governors of IIT Kanpur a few years ago. He received the Firodia lifetime achievement award.

Congratulations to both Manindra and Prof. Rao.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Infosys Prize 2011 to IITK Professor

The Infosys Science Foundation announced yesterday the winners of the Infosys Prize 2011, recognizing outstanding contributions in scientific research across five categories - Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science, Life Sciences and Social Sciences- Economics and Political Sciences & International Relations.

Prof. Kalyanmoy Deb, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, has been awarded in the Engineering and Computer Science area. Prof. Deb is a highly decorated scientist and researcher who has received every major honor that a scientist can get in India. This includes Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award too. He had recently received J C Bose Fellowship as well.

He has made extensive contributions to various areas of research: Optimization, Optimal Design, Computer Aided Design, Artificial Intelligence, Genetic Algorithms, and Soft Computing. One of his papers in IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation has received more than 2500 citations.

In the 4 years of its existence (it started with a sole prize for Mathematics in 2008), the Infosys Prize has been awarded to three professors of IIT Kanpur. (None from other IITs.) We also have many IITK alumni amongst the awardees. It is a matter of pride for all of us at IIT Kanpur.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

IITK Alumni amongst Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awardees

Here is the email (edited) we all received from Dean.

This year, three of our alumni have made the Institute proud through their outstanding academic contributions while working in three different institutions in India. They have been awarded the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for the year 2011. The details are as follows:
  1.  Dr. Sirshendu De, Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur, has been awarded in the area of Engineering Sciences. Earlier, he has also received several other awards and honors, including Fellow of INAE (in 2011), and IIChE-Herdillia Award (in 2010). Professor De has obtained three degrees from IIT Kanpur in Chemical Engineering (B.Tech. in 1989, M.Tech. in 1992, and Ph.D. in 1996). For project work in all three programs, his supervisor was Prof. P K Bhattacharya.
  2. Dr. Shiraz Minwalla, Professor, Department of Theoretical Physics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, has been awarded in the area of Physical Sciences. His earlier recognitions include Swarnajayanti Fellowship (DST, 2005) and Fellow of IAS, Bangalore (2011). Shiraz Minwalla was an Integrated MSc student in Physics and graduated from IIT Kanpur in 1996. He was the recipient of the President's Gold Medal. He got his PhD from Princeton, and then moved to Harvard, first as a junior fellow, and then became an Assistant Professor. Later he joined TIFR, Mumbai, where he has been since then. Shiraz Minwalla is a string theorist and has made notable contributions in many areas. Shiraz is a very inspiring teacher and his lectures are available on the web.
  3. Dr. Mahan Maharaj (formerly Mahan Mitra), Associate Professor, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Belur Math, Howrah, has been awarded in the area of Mathematical Sciences. Dr. Mahan obtained his M.Sc. (Integrated) from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics of IIT Kanpur in 1992, and obtained his PhD from University of California, Berkeley, in 1997. Dr. Mahan's research interests are at the interface of Kleinian groups, hyperbolic geometry and geometric group theory.
Hearty congratulations to these outstanding alumni!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Departments to participate in fundraising from alumni

The Board of Governors of IIT Kanpur has approved the creation of "Department Excellence Fund" in each department of the Institute.

Now any alumnus giving a gift to the Institute would have more options to specify for the use of his/her funds. Till now, an alumnus could specify the use of funds only if the gift was substantial, like setting up of a scholarship, or a chair, etc., or could contribute to the batch fund, or to a very small number of open campaigns at any point in time (like Prof. Sampath Chair). Most of the contributions went to the common pool of undesignated funds, which were used for excellence related projects across the Institute. Many alumni felt that an option to contribute to a specific department should be there, though one could still make an undesignated contribution to the Institute common pool.

This is also an attempt to involve departments in alumni relations. Departments typically have a closer and more personal contacts with alumni (through BTP/thesis supervisor, and other faculty members as well), and encouraging departments to use those contacts to build a strong relationship with alumni is certainly a need of the hour.

Whether this move will really bring alumni and institute closer, it will depend on both stake holders. If departments don't start reaching out to alumni to do fund-raising, alumni aren't going to designate their gifts for the departments. And if alumni continue to send their contributions to the common pool, departments won't feel encouraged to reach out to alumni. Some of us who have interacted with alumni in the past know how useful such interactions can be, not just for fund-raising but a large variety of support that these alumni can provide to us. And the Institute certainly understands that it needs to give this idea a strong push. And hence it has also promised to the departments that initial funds gifted by alumni to the Department Excellence Fund will be matched by the Institute (the time limit and money limit has not been specified, but still it is a good idea).

I strongly encourage all alumni to designate their gifts to the Institute for Department Excellence Fund of any department that they want to support.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nominations Invited for alumni awards

 Here is an email (edited) that I received from IIT Kanpur Alumni Association:

As you know every year prestigious Distinguished Alumnus Awards and S K D Award are given to alumni for their exemplary services in their field. The Alumni Association is initiating the award process for this year. 

1. Distinguished Alumnus Award

We invite nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus Award (DAA), which is the highest award conferred by IIT Kanpur upon its alumni. This award is given in recognition of achievements of exceptional merit. The past DA awardees can be viewed at Nominations can be made by anyone including alumni, faculty of IITK, Head or an appropriate person of the organization where the concerned alumnus/alumna has been working.

Nominations can be made under the following categories  ;

(i) Entrepreneurship (ii) Management (iii) Professional Excellence (iv)Academic Achievements (v) any other activity that benefits humanity at large.

Self-nominations are discouraged. For more details please see:

2. Satyendra K Dubey Memorial Award

Nominations are also invited for Satyendra K. Dubey Memorial Award 2011-2012. Satyendra K. Dubey Memorial Award was instituted by IIT Kanpur in the memory of Mr. Satyendra K. Dubey (BT/CE/1994/IITK) and his exemplary life and supreme sacrifice. He sacrificed his life to uphold the integrity and dignity of his profession. Any alumnus / alumna / faculty member / staff member of any IIT can nominate any alumnus of any IIT for the award. The award will be given to one who has distinguished himself / herself by displaying highest professional integrity for upholding human values. For more details please visit:

It is requested that nominations be accompanied by as much relevant material (in form of bio-data, Newspaper articles/profiles, information on other awards and commendations etc.) as is possible for the nominator to supply.

Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Satyendra K Dubey Memorial Award may be sent at the following address:

Secretary, Alumni Association
'69 & '80 Outreach Building
IIT Kanpur
Kanpur - 208 016
Email: and

The last day for submitting the nominations is October 31, 2011.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Student Commits Suicide at IIT Kanpur

Here is the communique we received from Director's office:

Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur deeply regrets to inform the tragic and untimely death of Mr. Mahtab Ahmed (Roll No. 11397), a first year student of B. Tech in the Department of Material Science and Engineering on September 22, 2011 at around 5:00 PM.

Mr. Mahtab Ahmed was born on June 18, 1994. He was a bright student and was quiet disciplined. Mr. Mahtab Ahmed hailed from Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh. He was staying in D-307, Hall 9 in the Institute.

The entire community of the Institute, comprising students, faculty and staff members is deeply aggrieved by the unfortunate death of a young and bright student of the Institute. The entire IIT Kanpur community is by the side of the parents and family members of the departed soul in this hour of grief and extends its heartfelt condolences.

We all pray to God Almighty for bestowing peace upon the departed soul and give courage to the bereaved family members for bearing this irreparable loss.

Update on 23rd Sep: Here are links sent by Pavan (In comments, they are not clickable, hence putting them here again):
facebook page of Mahtab where he suggests that he might not live long.
Another picture from facebook page of Mahtab

Monday, September 19, 2011

Distinguished Teacher Awards 2011

Like every year, we celebrated teachers day on 5th September. The following two faculty members were conferred the "Distinguished Teacher Award."
  • Dr. Arvind Kumar Sinha, Department of HSS
  • Dr. Swagto K. Ray, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Conflict of Interest

As faculty members of a premier institute, we get invited to be members of several committees. Sometimes, we have to evaluate others.

Consider a theoretical example. Suppose, I am asked to be a member of an AICTE inspection team which is going to evaluate an engineering college. After I have accepted to be the member, if I were to call up the principal of this college (and they, by now, know that I am on the inspection team), and offer consultancy on how to prepare for AICTE team visit. I am sure this will be considered as an obvious case of conflict of interest.

I have been offered consultancy assignments by organizations who have a large project in my area of expertise (and I am sure I can provide value for money). But I also know that if I was not in the review team, they probably would not have asked. Hence I have passed up all such opportunities.

But I realized this week that there are faculty members who don't see any problem in such an arrangement. Hopefully, such people are in a very small minority.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Branch Change

Yesterday, there was a meeting of Academic Senate, and one of the agenda item was to permit branch changes to undergraduate students who were admitted in 2010. As per rules of the Institute, no general category student could be allowed a change of branch (and only two reserved category students were allowed a change of branch). Of course, there is a tradition in the Institute that students who get all 'A' grades in the first year, and hence a CPI of 10.0, are allowed a change of branch of their choice. Continuing this tradition, 7 students, all with a CPI of 10.0, were allowed change of branch.

What is interesting is that the existing rules did not allow even a single branch change to general category students, and if we include every type of branch change, only one percent of the first year students could be allowed a change of branch.

Till 10 years ago, we had amongst the maximum number of branch changes in the IIT system, and now we have the lowest. Something has gone seriously wrong, and we need to fix it.

Conservative branch change rules are one of the many factors that get discussed on various admission counselling sites on the Internet, and therefore discourages at least a few students from choosing IIT Kanpur.

Also, a liberal branch change regime reduces the stress on students. They don't see JEE as the final word on their life. They see that they have yet another chance to do what they like. If we could liberalize our rules, we will be doing a service to the society by reducing stress.

Further, a liberal branch change regime encourages people to ignore last year's closing ranks and choose what they like. In today's context, a lot of students and parents argue that they should fill up the choices in the order of closing ranks since it will be easier for them to change branch to the "lower" branch next year. If they opted for the "less popular" branch this year, it would be impossible to go to "more popular" branch next year. But if there is a reasonable chance that someone can indeed go from "less popular" to "more popular" branch next year, at least a few brave souls would ignore the closing ranks data in filling up their choices, and start thinking of their innate passion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poor Hostel Facility for New Students

Today was the day when new under-graduate students started arriving on campus, along with their family members. Smart looking confident students, but yet a bit fearful about the new life. Worries about ragging were at the top of the agenda even as the Student Guides will tell them that there is no ragging. One significant difference from the time when I was one of those new kids and today is that very few of us had their parents coming to campus. Today, it will be difficult to find a student whose entire family is not on campus to drop him/her. But I digress.

I went with one such student to the Girls' Hostel to look at the entire process. I must say that while the student volunteers were very helpful, polite, welcoming, the process itself was not befitting an IIT. At the entrance, it said, new students should report at the TV Room, and there were no directions to the TV Room. We asked someone, and she was nice enough to take us to the TV Room. I am not sure if everyone would be able to find such a helpful person all the time. At the TV Room, there were 4 student volunteers sitting on the chairs right next to each other, and there was one family in front of us. I don't think all four of them were helping that family/student simultaneously, and could have helped us in parallel, but since all four of them were sitting right next to each other, there was no way, we could approach them till the family in front made way for us. For us, it was a wait of less than 30 seconds, but what if 3-4 families came at the same time. If the volunteers had spread their tables just a bit, they would be able to help people in parallel.

Then we got the key to the room allotted, and the bad news: Three girls had to stay in the room designed for 2 students. One of the Student Guides took us to the room. It cannot have 3 beds, 3 desks, 3 chairs, and one almirah (2 almirahs being part of the civil structure). So, of course, there will be no almirah, and somehow the 3 girls will have to share 2 almirahs. There won't be 3 tables and chairs. One could keep one table in the room, and have a bit of space, or keep two tables and have no space to move about. How are students supposed to study. Well, they can go to library and study there.

We came to know that the second year students have been given single rooms. This was, frankly speaking, shocking. Why couldn't there be double rooms for both first year and second year students.

And, even if triple-seated rooms were necessary, there was an alternative that I have seen elsewhere. You put 3 beds and one extra almirah in the room. Take out all tables and chairs. Put several tables and chairs in one common room within the hostel (instead of asking them to go to library) and to make it attractive for students to study there, make that room air conditioned, just like library is.

The walls of the hostel were dirty, the corridors were dirty, and this is when the majority of the students haven't returned back. I am sure there are supposed to be sweepers in the hostel cleaning all this. Couldn't we do this a day before the new students and their parents arrived.

I am told that what I have seen today is much better than what is available at other IITs. And I have no reason to doubt that. After all, all IITs know that they will get the best students even if the facilities were much worse. But it is not a satisfactory answer to me. We just need to do the best we can, always, irrespective of what the expectations are, or what our competition is doing.

Of course, we can raise larger questions. When we knew the intake of 2011 in 2007, why do we have a shortage of hostel rooms. Is four years not enough to build sufficient capacity?

Friday, July 15, 2011

National Hero and International Zero

Recently, India Today ranked us as the best engineering college of the country. Here is the link to the news story.

In the last paragraph, India Today has quoted Prof. Sanjay Dhande, Director. He apparently said:

"Indian society looks at IITs as elite undergraduate institutions. This is unfortunate. IITs should have created an impact in research, postgraduate education, development of technologies for the benefit of society and providing effective academic and intellectual leadership to the society at large. This has not been the case. Society should demand more from IITs instead of merely glorifying them as elite undergraduate colleges. Being national heroes and international zeros is not going to work for long." (emphasis is mine)

I am sure that there is some miscommunication and Prof. Dhande has been quoted out of context. We are not comparable to the best in the world, but calling us "Zeros" is not a fair evaluation either.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lawn cleared of encroachment by trees

Three monsoons ago, a young faculty member, planted 35 trees in the area between Faculty Building and Lecture Hall Complex. He and many others had been asking the Institute for years to share the master plan for the campus and tell the residents what areas will remain green in the long run. But no master plan is ready, even after a decade. So he takes matter into his own hands, and plants several trees in an area where he believes and is reasonably sure, no construction will be done in future.

He is reprimanded by the Institute to plant those trees without permission, but miraculously the trees survive the wrath of the administration. The faculty member continues to take care of them at a significant personal cost. End of flash back.

This week, all those trees have been uprooted, without assigning any reason. (Whether the trees have been given any reason, I don't know. At least, the campus residents have not been kept informed.) This is strange. If the trees were planted at a location which was to be used for future construction, or if trees were planted in a way that it was inconsistent with the landscaping plan of the Institute, then they should have been removed three years ago. If there was no such problem, and the only issue was lack of permission at that time, then this encroachment by trees :-) could have been regularized.

Interesting discussion going on in the Institute. People feel that the death warrants were issued only because the birth certificates were considered illegitimate by the Institute administration.

I have added the two URLs of the photos that Prof. Prabhakar has posted in the comments. They are not clickable there. Hopefully, they are clickable here.

Old Photo: With Tree

New Photo: Without Tree

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Should IITK Courses be Open to Public

Recently, a resident of Kanpur approached me. He is BTech in Computer Science, and is running a small company in web designing. He wanted to know if it was permissible for him to do some courses as non-degree student at IIT Kanpur in an official capacity. I suggested to him that he could just talk to the instructor and seek permission informally. But he wanted to do all assignments, give exams, wanted them to be graded, and be assigned a grade. Sorry, we don't allow this.

He sent me a link from IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay. Both IITs allow this. Any instructor in either of these IITs could inform its Continuing Education cell that s/he has no objection to allowing people from outside to sit in the class. They could be working in industry, or in another academic institution, own a company, or whatever. But they do want the person to have adequate background to be able to do the course. If the instructors permit then those courses are thrown open for public on payment of specified fee. Sometimes, if a course is popular, they may even change the timing to evening classes to enable more outsiders to attend the course. At the end of the course, the non-degree student gets a certificate specifying the grade received. This is one way the Institute can help people in the neighborhood.

Of course, IIT Kanpur offers short term courses for industry folks. These courses are typically 2-10 days compressed courses. And all IITs offer them. The goal for compressed courses is that people from outside the city can come for a short duration and upgrade the skills. But there can only be a few of them. By allowing people within Kanpur to sit through its regular courses, the options to local people become more by two orders of magnitude.

Even new IITs like IIT Gandhinagar allow this.

When I talked to a few faculty members about it, the immediate response is - there is no demand for such a thing in Kanpur. May be there is very little. May be this person who contacted me is the only one in the city who is interested. What is wrong in allowing such a thing anyway. (And based on my experience with IITK, I know that if tomorrow there is a lot of demand, we will not start it because there is too much demand and we can't meet that demand. Our quality of education for our own students will go down.) And I do believe that there will be several people in Kanpur who would want to do courses at IITK. For example, many of the project staff, who have done bachelors from poorer quality colleges would want to do a couple of courses "officially" where they have a certificate at the end. And we have a couple of hundreds of them at any point in time.

It is things like these where leadership can play a very important role. Since the perception is that there is hardly any demand, most faculty members would neither do anything to make it happen, nor would oppose this, if the Dean or Continuing Education Coordinator were to propose this.

Friday, July 8, 2011

IIT Kanpur is Ranked Number 1 by India Today

India Today has ranked IIT Kanpur as the top engineering institute in the country. The rankings have been delayed this year and have been published in the July 18 issue of India Today. Here is the link to the online article.

IIT Kanpur was also ranked number 1 last year by India Today. Six of the seven old IITs are in top 10, along with IT BHU. (IIT Bombay is not in the list, perhaps they did not participate.) Outside the IIT system, the three institutes in the top 10 are: BITS Pilani, DTU (earlier known as DCE), and NIT at Surathkal.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Call for Nominations for Distinguished Teacher Awards

As most readers of this blog would know, IIT Kanpur has been recognizing some of its best teachers through the "Distinguished Teacher Award" which is given in a function to celebrate Teachers Day on 5th September.

Nominations are sought from faculty, students and alumni of IIT Kanpur for this award. More information on who is eligible, the process of nomination, where to send nominations, etc., is available on the website of Dean of Faculty Affairs, IIT Kanpur. Here is the link for the same.

The deadline for the nominations to be received by IIT Kanpur is July 15, 2011.

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Retirement from CSE Department

We had another bit of history in making yesterday. Prof. R M K Sinha had his last working day in the Computer Science and Engineering Department. The special thing about him is that this is the first occasion, a faculty member is leaving the department after superannuation. In the last 27 years, all the faculty members have left by resigning from IIT Kanpur. He belonged to the era when we had faculty members either shift from other departments to Computer Science, or had a joint appointment between another department and Computer Science. Prof. Sinha had a joint appointment between EE and CSE.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Last Professor from Kelkar's Era Retires

Today is the last working day for Prof. Sullerey in Aerospace Engineering Department. He is the last of the faculty members who joined when Prof. P K Kelkar was Director of IIT Kanpur. We still have people in the faculty who were students during Prof. Kelkar's time, including one who joined a temporary job during his time, and later became a permanent faculty. And, I am sure that the legacy of Prof. Kelkar will continue long after everyone who had any interaction with him is gone from the campus. But, in some sense, an era is coming to an end today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should New Programs at IIT Kanpur be Available to Existing Students

In the last few months, IIT Kanpur has made its academic programs more flexible. For example, it has discontinued admission to five year BTech MTech dual-degree programs. Now, the students take admission to the BTech program, and in the 3rd year decide whether they want to spend an extra year to get an MTech degree as well. Similarly, it has started dual-major programs, whereby the student in the 3rd year can decide to get a second BTech degree in one extra year. Yet another change is re-introduction of minor programs, whereby a student can do 3-4 courses in a specified area and the transcript will mention that s/he has completed a minor program in that area. The flexibility is same for science programs also. The student gets admitted to 4-year BS program, but will have an option to do BS-MS dual-degree, or BS-BS or BS-BTech dual major, or a minor in another discipline. IIT Kanpur has also introduced an Engineering Science degree for which there is no admission through JEE, but students can chose to get into this program as a branch change option.

All these changes are applicable to students who are getting admitted to IIT Kanpur in 2011.

In my opinion, the Institute should attempt to make all options (or as many as possible) available to existing students as well. What that means is that the existing BTech-MTech dual-degree students should have an option to change to BTech degree only (this should be easy to implement for Y10, Y09, and Y08 batches, if not Y07 batch). It should be possible for an existing student to spend extra time and get another undergraduate degree. Again, this should be easy to implement for Y10 and Y09 batches, while Y08 batches may have to spend not just 2 semesters extra, but 3 semesters extra. It should be possible for existing students to opt for a minor. Again, trivial to implement for Y10 batch, and certainly something can be worked out for most Y09 batch students.

Why should such a flexibility be extended to existing students is the question many faculty members have asked me.

My argument is simple. Whenever we decide on a change, it is because we think that in today's context, the new rule/system is better than the old rule/system. Otherwise, we would not have decided on that change. If the new system is better, then the benefit of that "better" system should be available to as many people as possible.

So any change that we approve for Y11 batch, we should also look into the possibility of making it available to existing students. Of course, we may come to the conclusion that there is no easy way to incorporate the new system into the old, and therefore, we can't extend the benefit to the old students. But, in general, the benefit of any good idea should be extended to as many stake holders as possible.

Now, of course, those stake holders may have a different point of view, and they may consider the old system to be beneficial to them in some way. Therefore, most good universities, when they decide on something new, give an option to the existing students that they can follow either the old system or the new system (except, as I said above, in cases where adapting new system for old students is very difficult).

Faculty members argue that if we extend any benefit to existing students, then we will be unfair to those students who did not take admission to IIT Kanpur, because they were told about the existing rules then. Hmmm. So we want to be more fair to those who did not take admission to IIT Kanpur, and less fair to those who did take admission to IIT Kanpur.

By this logic, we cannot provide any significant benefit to existing students that we did not announce at the admission time. We cannot, for example, change branch change rules for existing students. An extreme example of this logic would be the following: We should not allow existing students to use the latest sporting facilities, since they were not told about it at the time of admission. If we had told about the upcoming facilities then, perhaps others would have been attracted to IITK, and the current students would not have been able to get admission. So by allowing such an access, we are being unfair to all those who did not take admission to IITK then.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prof M P Kapoor is no more

Last week, IIT Kanpur family lost one of its most illustrious member. Professor M P Kapoor was one of the founders of IIT Kanpur, having joined its faculty in 1961. He served the Institute in various capacities including Dean, Deputy Director, and officiating Director. His contributions to the technical education in India go way beyond his contributions to IITK. He was Vice Chancellor of Thapar University for 10 years. He also helped setup NIIT University in Neemrana. He was also helping several other universities. I have been meeting him frequently for the last one year, and he would often share his passion for education and ideas for new universities. His sudden demise is a big loss to the Indian Higher Education sector.

IIT Kanpur has setup
this site for anyone to leave a message for the family members.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grading Statistics for 2010-11-II Semester

Recently, Dean of Academic Affairs informed us of some statistics about the grades received by our students in the previous semester.

A total of 16,818 grades were assigned (not counting courses where grades are not given as 'A' to 'F', but Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). Out of this the 'F' grades were 528, about 3 percent, significantly higher than the 2.5 percent in the previous semester, but much smaller than what was the norm a couple of decades ago.

About 26.5 percent of the grades were 'A', 32.2 percent were 'B' grades, and another 26.2 percent grades were 'C' grades.

If students are performing so well, then why are some faculty members keep criticizing lack of attendance, keep demanding that Internet be disconnected from hostels in the night, keep asking for reduction in the number of festivals. The students have proven that they can manage their academics along with their other activities very responsibly. It is high time we start treating them as responsible adults and with the respect that they deserve, instead of micro managing their lives.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

IIT Kanpur in JEE 2011

Yesterday, JEE announced the first round allocation of programs to all candidates. Newspapers today are full of statistics. Here are some numbers.

Only 4 out of top 100 JEE rankers chose IIT Kanpur. 70 of them have chosen IIT Bombay. This is the least number of students that would be joining IIT Kanpur from top 100 in its history, and perhaps reverse is true for IIT Bombay. The consolation prize is that IIT Madras is behind us. Last year, we had 5 in top 100, and Madras had 7. So we have "improved our ranking" amongst top 100 from number 4 to number 3.

Out of top 200, the story continues in similar fashion. 89 joined IIT Bombay, 70 join IIT Delhi, 23 join IIT Kanpur, 15 join IIT Madras, and 2 join IIT Kharagpur.

Out of top 500, 180 join IIT Bombay, 129 join IIT Delhi, 101 join IIT Kanpur, 68 join IIT Madras, 20 join IIT Kharagpur, and one student joins IIT Roorkee.

Amongst the top 100 girls, 26 join IIT Bombay, 26 join IIT Delhi, 18 join IIT Madras, 12 join IIT Kharagpur, 11 join IIT Kanpur, and 6 join IIT Roorkee.

At IIT Kanpur, the most sought after program continued to be BTech in Computer Science and Engineering. The unreserved seats closed at 317.

IIT Kanpur seems to have been helped by the introduction of all 4-year programs, and making the 5-year dual degree programs optional. All 5-year MSc programs have closed earlier in their new avatar of 4-year BS.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Safety and Welfare of Construction Workers at IIT Kanpur

Death of two construction workers in quick succession has caused a lot of charges and explanations. First, a report was created by a campus group called "Hamara Manch." The Dean of Resource Generation and Planning, Prof. Manindra Agarwal, gave a rebuttal of the charges in the report. Then an alumni group called "IIT Kanpur Citizens Forum" refuted several statements made by Dean. Here are the links for the websites of IITK Citizens Forum and the response by IIT Kanpur.

What do I think of the issue. Well, I believe that IIT Kanpur administration have no intentions of hurting anyone. They have no intentions of saving money. They would like to see that contractors follow all laws of the land, and if there is any cost associated with obligations under any law, IIT Kanpur would be happy to pay for it.

However, ensuring safety and welfare of construction workers require more than willingness to spend money. It requires supervision of contractors, and essentially forcing them to carry out all the obligations (for which costs are built in to the contract amount). And that is where, something goes wrong. There are lapses in terms of not forcing the contractor to do everything that they are supposed to do.

In such a situation, what should be the role of alumni, if any. Is Citizens Forum playing that role effectively. In my experience, if you just hope that an accident on campus will force the administration to become more pro-active in terms of providing a safer work environment for construction workers, you are going to be disappointed. So a pressure from community is important. All the gains that we have made in the last 10-15 years over the issue of ensuring minimum wages to contract workers have been primarily due to community pressure (both internal and alumni).

But I find Citizens Forum to be too harsh. It is unfortunate that alumni have to use such language for their alma mater.

On the other hand, IIT Kanpur also has to come out of its belief that they are the best (even if imperfect). They may be the better than most, even all, government organizations. But, many private organizations have become much more conscious of the safety requirement. And why not. Safety does not cost much money. It really has to do with mindset. And every accident dents your image. So, why not just do what it takes to create a safer environment. And, frankly, I have personally seen safer environments outside IIT Kanpur.

At the end, I hope we will now be providing a much safer environment to our construction workers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Suspension of all Civil Construction at IITK due to Accident

Here is the office order issued by Director's office:

Sub.:Suspension of Civil Construction activities

In view of the recent tragic incidents that have occurred at the civil construction sites in the Institute, it is hereby notified that the Institute authorities have taken a serious view of the safety of the workers at all the construction sites in the Campus and it is hereby ordered to suspend the work on all the civil construction sites of the Institute with immediate effect, till further orders.

SE, IWD is hereby advised to inform all concerned persons, including the contractors, to immediately suspend work on all the construction sites of the Institute with immediate effect till further orders.

This order comes into force with immediate effect.

Sanjay G Dhande

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rajeev Motwani Building

IIT Kanpur announces the construction of Rajeev Motwani Building, which will house Computer Science and Engineering Department. The foundation laying ceremony will take place on May 28th at 8:00 AM in the presence of members of Rajeev Motwani family. You can read more about Rajeev Motwani Building on the project webpage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Prof. Balaram to be Chief Guest at the Convocation

IIT Kanpur will be holding its next convocation on Saturday, 28th May, 2011. Prof. Balaram, Director of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, will be the Chief Guest. He is our own alumnus, and is a Distinguished Alumnus Awardee of IIT Kanpur. This is the second time an IIT Kanpur alumnus will be the Chief Guest at its convocation. Jeet Bindra, another IIT Kanpur Distinguished Alumnus Awardee, was the Chief Guest at 2009 convocation.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Chaired Professors at IITK

Here is an email from Dean, Faculty Affairs:


The Institute is very happy to announce the following Chair Professor Appointments. These appointments are effective for a period of three years with effect from May 10, 2011.

  1. Prof. D. Kunzru: Chevron Corporation Chair
  2. Prof. S. Verma: Sri Deva Raj Chair
  3. Prof. R. K. Thareja: Gireesh Jankinath Chair
  4. Prof. K. Deb: Dr. Gurmukh D Mehta and Veena M Mehta Chair
  5. Prof. S. Ganesh: Joy Gill Chair
  6. Prof. S. P. Mehrotra: Umang Gupta Chair
  7. Prof. T. K. Sengupta: Pandit Ramchandra Dwivedi Chair
  8. Prof. D. Chowdhury: Dr. Jagmohan Chair
  9. Prof. M. Katiyar: SBI Chair
  10. Prof. O. Dikshit: Prof. B. B. Lal Chair
  11. Prof. G. Deo: Indian Oil Corporation Chair
  12. Prof. J. N. Moorthy: Lalit M Kapoor Chair
  13. Prof. A. Joshi: Pradip Sindhu Chair
  14. Prof. A. K. Sinha: Prof. S. Sampath Chair
  15. Prof. R. N. Mukherjee: Poonam and Prabhu Goel Chair


Finally, more than a year after the nominations were sought, the decision has been taken. Congratulations to all those who have been selected.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Summer courses at IITK

Come summer, and we are confused. Every year, we will argue whether summer courses offered at IIT Kanpur are same as the courses offered during the regular semester, with the same amount of rigor. Or are they "easy" courses designed to help the backloggers with an easy grade. And, of course, nobody will directly agree that the courses are easier. But, if they are same, then why can't someone who has not failed in that course, register for that course.

Some people will offer a weak defense. Only those people who have gone through a course once can go through a compressed version of the course. Instead of 3 lectures a week in the regular semester, we have 5 lectures a week in summer. So the pace is higher. Give me a break. Do you really believe that someone who never attended a class in the regular semester (that is the only way to fail in IITK) can adjust with the pace of the summer course, while someone who has routinely been getting B and C grades cannot. And if the pace of the course is really the critical issue, why does the Institute allow someone who failed in psychology course to register for a sociology course. But someone who passed the psychology course, is not allowed to register for the sociology course.

The other issue with the summer courses is that they are supposed to be optional for both students and faculty. But ask any backlogger. They are desperate to do something in summer. They are not very excited about spending an extra semester at IIT Kanpur. So, it may be optional for them, but they want to do them. Since it is optional for faculty, the course offering in summer is very limited. Only a few faculty members want to help out the backloggers, by staying put for the whole summer, and teach a lecture every day in such hot weather. Therefore, the weaker students do not often get the courses that they need to clear their backlogs.

In fact, the two issues are linked. Since very few faculty members teach in summer, the Institute wants to make sure that only the weak students with backlogs should register for those courses. Allowing good students in even some courses would mean that they may demand to be allowed in all courses. Hence all good students have to be barred from all summer courses. And a course with only weak students will invariably have lower standards, since the grading is still relative.

If we encourage faculty members to teach courses in the summer, either by having a good honorarium associated with such courses, or by encouraging departments to have policies whereby the summer courses by faculty is counted towards their teaching load for the academic year, and once we have many courses being offered, we could open them up for good students as well.

This will allow good students to do courses which they are unable to do in regular semesters due to scheduling conflicts. They can also then take it easy in the regular semester, if they are involved in some projects, or some major extra-curricular activities like organizing a student festival. And this will also ensure that faculty members don't have to give dishonest answers to questions about summer term.

So we should allow all students to stay back in the summer and register for summer courses. And if that results in early graduation for some good students, all power to them.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Large classes or Small ones

There is a debate going on in IIT campus about the teaching model that IITK should follow. The debate has been ignited by the need of building additional lecture halls to handle the large batches that we have been admitting after the OBC reservation and the consequent 54 percent increase in the number of seats. Should we build a large lecture hall of 1000 capacity, or assume that the batch will be divided into two, and hence largest lecture halls should be about 500 capacity, or should we go for even smaller classes.

IIT Kanpur from early days has been following a model of "large" classes in conjunction with tutorials. A tutorial was a place where a group of 25-30 students would meet a tutor and discuss problems, which could not be clarified in the large class. The class size typically was between 200 and 250, till the mid 90s, when the government forced us to double the intake to over 500.

We had hoped that we wouldn't have to do this. The pressure had started building on us around 1992, and we kept resisting for 3-4 years, before we cave in, and as a result, we were totally unprepared for the hike, and we had to resort to things like 3 students to a room in the hostel, and even large classes, etc.

I believe that at that time, we had gone for a slower increase, and doubled over a longer period of time, we probably would have stayed with the maximum class size of no more than 300. There were enough opportunities to recruit faculty at that time. But because we had to increase in a hurry, and we had large lecture halls available, we just increased the class size to 500+, without much debate on whether the "large class, small tutorial" model was scalable to this size of class.

We did a few things like closed two exits of the largest lecture hall and put up more chairs to accommodate the larger class (and now we have only 4 exits for a lecture hall of 525 capacity - a serious fire hazard in my opinion). We increased the maximum size of tutorial sections from 30 to 35. We started using graduate students for tutorials (which was good, except that there is no training for these students, and even if they do a poor job, the departments are not concerned and their assistantship cannot be stopped).

When the batch-size went up from 500+ to 800+, again this happened in a hurry - in a short period of 3 years. But the difference this time was that we did not have a single classroom of 800+. Otherwise, we would have started teaching classes of 800+, and today, we would have been near unanimous in demanding just one more 800 size lecture hall.

We have done the next best (or worst) thing. We have divided the incoming batch into two - 500+ and 300+, with one set of students taught in the largest lecture hall, and the second set of students being taught in the next largest lecture hall. And now the question is whether we should build a new lecture hall of capacity 800+ (or 1000 to take into account any further increase in the next few years) so that the entire batch can attend the lecture together, or should we build another 500+ lecture hall so that we can have two equal divisions of the batch, rather than unequal division.

Unfortunately, the debate has focused primarily on availability of faculty and the technical feasibility of a student watching the instructor from the last row. There is hardly anyone talking about the quality of education. Most people who have taught a 500-size class (and I attended every lecture of one such class last semester) would admit that this is not the right model for quality education. Even in the Faculty Forum meeting, everyone who supported large classes supported it exclusively on the basis that there is a shortage of faculty. Not even one faculty member from science departments (who teach maximum number of core courses) said that we can have quality education with 800-900 students in the class. But anyone who talked about quality of education (like myself) was termed as "impractical idealist," and shut out from the debate. So the debate remains between a class size of 500 versus a class size of 1000. You can't suggest a class size of 250 or 300 in such an atmosphere.

Come to think of it. If there is a student sitting in the last row. She cannot see the black board directly. Cannot look at the instructor. Instructor cannot look at her. And she is basically looking at a screen near her seat, and she probably has a device which can let the instructor know that she has a question. What is the difference between that screen being in the lecture hall, versus that screen being in another lecture hall, or be the same as PC screen in her hostel room. If the instructor and the student cannot see each other, there is no eye contact, then they might as well be in different geographies. Beyond 500, the only logic for large audience is when there is a performance, and you soak in the experience of being there. Yes, there are some faculty members capable of giving that performance 3 times a week, week after week. But I am afraid there are not too many of them, and we can't plan our education model on the assumption that there will be enough of these types, and they will be the ones who will teach such courses semester after semester.

My own feeling (after attending the 500-size class for the whole semester and talking to a few instructors who have taught a 500-size class) is that even 500 is too much. We need to think of restoring the maximum class size to around 250.

So, we should go back to the drawing board, with the assumption that the batch size will be 1000, which will be divided into 4 parts for core courses. With these assumptions, we should plan the requirements of all lecture halls and tutorial rooms.

I don't blame those who are suggesting a class size of 500+ on the basis of faculty shortage. They have seen the faculty to student ratio deteriorate from 1:8 a couple of decades ago to 1:14 now, and do not have any hope of arresting this trend. The difference between them and me is that I think it is possible to not just arrest but reverse this trend, even in the environment of increasing faculty shortage in the country. I have seen in some other institutes how a few small changes and a bit of leadership has changed the faculty profile in a relatively short period of time.

I believe that we are currently not focused enough on faculty recruitment. We are not aggressive enough. In my 17 years at IITK, I have never had any Dean of Faculty Affairs come up with a document which says, why are we not attracting enough faculty, and what do we need to do to attract more and retain them. I am sure, if today we had 400 faculty members instead of 350, we would not be thinking of 500+ class sizes, and I also believe that going from 350 to 400 can be achieved in 1-2 years, if we focus on this.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A PhD Student Dies While Giving the End-Semester Exam

Here is the official communique from Director's office:


Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur deeply regrets to inform that Mr. Varun Mishra, a student of Doctoral programme in the Department of Material Science & Engineering passed away at approximately 2:30 p.m. on May 2, 2011. Mr. Varun Mishra complained of severe chest pain while he was giving an examination in the Lecture Hall complex. He was immediately rushed to the Health Centre of IIT Kanpur. However, the doctors noticed that Mr. Varun Mishra, upon his arrival at Health Centre, had passed away.

The Institute has informed the local police authorities as well as the family members of the student. From the friends and teachers of Mr. Varun Mishra, it appears that Mr. Varun Mishra was suffering from High Blood Pressure and mild asthmatic condition. Mr. Varun Mishra completed his M. Tech in Material Science Programme of IIT Kanpur in the year 2008. After working for some time, he joined the Doctoral programme in Material Science & Engineering Department in December 2010.

Mr. Varun Mishra was a friendly person and a scholastic student. His family is from Deoria, Uttar Pradesh.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Ethernet to all campus residences

IIT Kanpur was one of the first campus in the country to be completely wired up. Every hostel room, every office room, all labs, and every room in the guest house had an Ethernet connection. The residences in IIT Kanpur being very spread out were connected through ADSL. But ADSL could only give download speeds of a couple of Mbps. And finally, Computer Center decided that a fiber network needs to be laid in the residential part of the campus as well. The work is almost in its finishing stages, with Ethernet access enabled in most residences.

Big thanks to Navpreet Singh, and his team at Computer Center, along with Prof. Amalendu Chandra, Head of CC.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prof. Suchitra Mathur chosen for Distinguished Teacher Award

From an email from Dean, Faculty Affairs:

"Prof. Suchitra Mathur of the HSS Department has been chosen for the Gopal Das Bhandari Memorial Distinguished Teacher Award-2011. This award is to honour, annually, an outstanding teacher from the perspective of the graduating under-graduate batch. Prof. Suchitra Mathur was chosen by the student community for this award."

I am not surprised. Anyone who has been taught by her would only ask, why has it taken so long. I remember that as a tutor in the course on "Communication Skills," I attended one lecture of hers, and after that, it was not possible to miss those lectures. If any faculty member or a budding academician wants to know what is high quality teaching, they only need to attend one lecture of hers. I have definitely picked up a few things from attending her lectures, which I try to follow in my own lectures.