After writing my last exam in Computer Science, I had posted an entry here, in which I said “And at the end of it all, even if I am not much of a computer scientist, I am glad I had joined this department. Now, why it was a nice department to be in and why I could not become a computer scientist – both need one article each.”
I guess its time to write at least one of them – why is it a nice department to be in. But I would write on a comparatively broader issue – why I feel glad that I spent these four years at IIT Kanpur and to add to that in this particular department.
I must clarify that if I feel proud of being an IITK alumnus and a Computer Science graduate, it must not be confused with IITK-Comp. Science arrogance. Its not that – its simply not that. I am not proud of getting xyz rank in JEE, which allowed me to take up Computer Science at IITK, or of the thought that I am a more talented person because I studied Computer Science at IITK. In fact in many of my earlier blog entries, I have rather ruthlessly rejected any such propositions of superiority. But I am proud of the fact that I stayed in that place for four years, in a capacity that allowed me to take the best advantage of it. Why I am inclined to write this long deferred article now is because in the form of IIM Lucknow, I have some clear examples of what was different at IITK which made me like it. And almost all these differences were more pronounced in my department.
Though I would have loved to deny it, but the reason of this difference is the perception of being at the top. You do not have to be apologetic about your existence, you do not have to compare yourself with the best and try by all means to prove yourself. You can be what you are and do what you are supposed/want to do. Its true that you run a risk of becoming complacent, but after looking at the overall result, I would prefer running that risk than being apologetic or unnecessarily boastful about my existence. The perception of being at top gives a sort of satisfaction with oneself and that prevents people from becoming sadist or frustrated. Teachers in such an environment are expected be more open-minded, less inclined to adopt forceful means of getting respect and with an easy-going and fun approach to learning rather than believing in holding stick (not literally). The teaching and evaluation methods are also likely to be more mature with such teachers. I know, I know that someone would flare up saying that IITK, too, has ample examples of the professors with negative traits I am talking about and I would not deny that. So, I would be careful enough to mention that its all relative stuff I am talking about. But even this relative difference is great and that is what makes me write this article. The effect is more pronounced in the department, because this department has still stronger perception of being at the top and hence even inside IITK, this is the department of some of the most healthy practices. We do not keep writing quizzes till last moment of our stay, we have maximum number of open as well as departmental electives, ample opportunities of pursuing research interests and much more sensible evaluation, which does not aim at merely causing trouble to students. Again, its all relative, since you will find examples which prove otherwise. But again, this relative difference is great. I am not so particularly proud of having a B. Tech. Degree in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Kanpur. But I am proud of having spent four years at IIT Kanpur, particularly with the people in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Being considered to be at the top may not matter, but the non-apologetic, non-boastful, confident attitude it brings does matter, even if you do not realize it until you have felt the difference for yourself.
Last bit of disclaimer: The way being at the top is not the guarantee of each individual of the system possessing the positive qualities mentioned here, not being at the top is also not a guarantee of not possessing any of these positive qualities either. So, do not flare up trying to prove that people not from IITK (or institutes at the top) also possess these qualities. I am not denying that.
And I do hope, that you do not find it an outburst of arrogance. If you do, well, you have just proved my point that “Attitude Matters”.