Engineering Enigma

My last blog received mixed feedback. While some agreed that I had objectively highlighted the loopholes of the course, a few friends from my engineering days, were not too pleased. According to them, I had generalized the engineering diaspora. I therefore decided to write further, to continue the conversation and also to make my intentions clear. After all, we’re all on the same side.

I remember when I was in college, a bunch of mechanical engineering students had made a small prototype of a car for the tech fest at IIT Kanpur. These students had meticulously applied the theoretical knowledge to use. That car till date makes it to the pages of the yearly admission brochures. Another feather added to the cap of our engineering college was the debate competition trophy that was bagged a year after by the students from my own batch. Then, there was this student who bagged the first prize in a similar elocution event that was held at Thomso, the cultural and tech fest of IIT Roorkee. The point is simple, in any educational institute the students are presented with umpteen opportunities beyond the regular curriculum to go and prove themselves.

The problem I see is the reluctance of the students who are unable to put in the efforts in the right directions and therefore fail to even identify their areas of interest. Let me tune in your attention to the engineering crowd. If we go back in time, two decades ago, the craze for engineering courses was at its peak. Lakhs of students appeared for the competitive examinations and opted from the different branches to pursue their dream of engineering. The impetus that lured many into this degree was booming corporate job opportunities. If in the year 2002, you were decently good at Math and Physics, Engineering was a default choice for higher education. It is a fact that there are lesser bars and gatekeepers to your entry into engineering. If you remember, until recently medical and legal professions were dominated by richer folks due to factors such as steep course fees and the class divide.

Scene from KOLAHAL

The result was, students from diverse backgrounds  who cleared the entrance exams got admission in reputed engineering colleges, which by the way were mushrooming at an unprecedented rate. Young kids from Bihar, Benaras, Gorakhpur and many more such states, found a home away from home in these courses and the offering colleges. Several colleges especially in Delhi NCR have catered to the engineering dreams of many such students who otherwise would have been stuck back home with limited and under quality courses.

I am a firm believer in the potential of an individual. The years spent during graduation provide the necessary impetus to discover it on your own. As an engineer by education, I feel like it is my time to pay back. And therefore, I find interacting with students and being a lecturer more satisfying than my previous job as a systems engineer.

Not so candid posing and endless conversations

To begin with, let us focus on the positive takeaways of the engineering courses. The best form of learning is on display during the annual fests across the engineering colleges. Students take charge from arranging sponsors to the setting up of pandals and also with respect to allotting stalls to food caterers. Students sit and religiously ideate innovative events that can make the fest enjoyable and interesting. Preparations around the events for technical, cultural and sports events are simple planning hacks that students master here. In our institute, Kolahal (name of the fest) was the time of festivities. It gave us an opportunity to explore the various departments and be a part of the interesting contests. I remember participating in a debate competition and meeting students from different colleges. It is a great way to learn how to network, which by the way becomes a life-saving skill as we grow professionally.

When my friends and I started the regular classes, our ideas of college was modelled on the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai curated image of a cool campus, with a bunch of Rahuls showcasing dangling pendants over their neon sweat-shirts; and a hipster Anjali for friends. Not to forget the life goals on love, life and fashion given by Tina. That impression did not last long. College was less glamorous, compared to that standard, saner and we were expected to also study! I must add our version of college was just as colorful but in our own realistic way.

Forever yours, kind of frames

We had students from different cities and varied financial backgrounds. The level of intellect and approach also varied. My friends and I set out judging students who were low lying, mostly into themselves and termed them the third world. Now I understand that those people were just introverts and we were being harsh on them because they wouldn’t chat about like us. All of these introverts are also doing well in life. Some had cleared government exams and are posted at high ranks, while some are in different countries utilizing their onsite opportunities. Cementing our belief that every student has talent to make a mark for him/herself.

The four year course of engineering gives us a lot of time to work on our skills. Long lab sessions are designed to be conducted in the second half of the day. Teachers are around to guide the student, however students mostly vile away this time. One of these days in college, we decided to bunk a physics test. Later the teacher reprimanded the class for the careless stunt. He made us have a look around his piles of handwritten and printed research papers. He mentioned how in his days, he had so much to ask but had no guidance, while pointing out that it was a shame that despite being served on a platter, we did not value our teachers. Till date I look back to that day and think about how true those words were.

I am reminded of a chemistry lab session in the first year where one of our professors mentioned that do not falter below 60%, an engineer with a lesser score is nobody in the job market. Later, I realized the importance of marks when I applied for an internship at IIT Delhi and it got rejected because I had not scored enough to qualify for the same. Having said that, the average scoring students of my batch managed to get placed in big IT companies and are earning well today.  The lesson I take is, in these four years, experiment and explore. You will never realize what your goals are unless you are rejected. The rejection will give you real life lessons.

Been there done that

No one can deny the vast curriculum. Some subjects need more attention than others. I picked up some last minute study tricks from the non-topper batch mates.  In first year, we were appearing for the EVS (Environmental Studies) exam and a bunch of classmates who had not prepared, came rushing looking for important topics to get through, I obviously obliged. Later, when the answer sheets were shown, the same students had scored more than me. I felt betrayed. Jokes apart, focus on core subjects. Channelize your efforts in the right direction.

The four years in the college will make for the best times, meeting new people, making new friends. Those long sleepless nights before the exams, the high pitched calls for last chai (tea) fill ups in the hostel dorms. Long hours of trouble shooting, coding and un-coding projects, lively banters in the canteens, blowing off candles over those simple pineapple flavored birthday cakes, bunking lectures to enjoy the weather, sneaking into the libraries for some air conditioning. Accidentally walking over the love birds in their romantic corners, partying over bittersweet breakups with drinks (strictly soft drinks) and sad songs and many more are memories worth looking back to.

Some joyous moments from those days

Needless to say that my life in the engineering college has been a beautiful journey. As a mentor, I wish to make my students aware of these hidden pros of the course. I wish to make these years into synchronized melodies, that they love to hear over and over again after they graduate.

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