Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Extra-Curricular Scene - Need for Introspection

(This is a very IITM specific post. Please do not attempt to draw any conclusions unless you are realy well versed with the scene.)

When I heard that one of the Hostel Nites was scheduled for April 18th, I let out a whistle. I just couldn't believe it! The guys involved with organizing that Hostel Nite will have less than a week to go for the end semester examination. This is cutting it too fine!

But you could hardly blame them. They were waiting for the Lit. Soc. and Schroeter events to get over. You can't blame the Lit. Soc. Events Cores because they had to set dates which didn't clash with Schroeter or Tech. Soc. or one of the innumerable festivals. Surely, you can't blame Schroeter! That is the mother of all extra-curriculars at IITM. That is the definition of Hostel Spirit. Then why did Schroeter stretch? Well, even the mighty Schroeter needs to look at Lit. Soc., Saarang, Shaastra, Mechanica, Wavez, Amalgam etc etc. Why blame Mechanica, Amalgam et al? After all, aren't they small fests, mere two to three day affairs, nothing when compared to the bigger distractions of Institute and Hostel elections. And in all this mess, we have the coordinator selections as well! But one mustn't crib for that because the wheels of Shaastra and Saarang are too mighty and have to begin rolling in May or June!

You may counter that you are exclusively a Schroeter or a Lit. Soc. guy and therefore, this argument does not apply to you. Think again! Due to the plethora of events, schedules keep getting pushed. Therefore, you may find your event happening a couple of weeks before the exams even though you may want more time. That is why one has a Hostel Nite occurring this late!

There is a more subtle problem. In recent years, I have noticed that for a team assignment at least one more person is missing due to one of the above reasons. Worse, he/she may come late. That screws up the schedule even more and what is a one hour discussion becomes a two-three hour drag. So it becomes a ripple effect and in this madness some other nicer things are lost like the opportunity to attend the rare Extra-Mural Lectures that IITM organizes.

Ideally it would be nice if say Schroeter gets over by the last week of March. Then the Hostel Nites and then a clean two weeks for the end sems. I am assuming Lit. Soc. would have gotten over by February. Saarang, Schroeter, Lit. Soc. make for a packed calendar. Shaastra was pushing the limit but it is needed. But in our case things keep happening on and on.

Let me tell you one more thing that people never admit to but it happens nevertheless. After a good sleep you get up, all ready to attack the books, then something else springs up and that is very irritating and affects the momentum. Worse still people resort to night-outs. I hate night outs! I strongly believe it affects one's health. A night-out once in a while chatting or drinking with friends is not a problem at all. In fact, it is absolutely essential. But people actually put night-outs for exams, pass muster and feel happy about it!

When confronted with this people go into denial. I don't know what people think. The prevailing thought seems to be this: 'A few "studs" (A term which I now think is extremely misleading) can manage. Therefore, I must try to do so too'. Or 'Only if I have all this can I aspire for institute elections'. God knows what people think!

Often a crib is heard that students are not working hard enough. Bunkum! My crib is that students today are working too hard. There is a tendency in IITM to take our extra-curriculars too seriously. We push the limit and kickass. No two doubts! But my question is, is it necessary?
I wish people took more time off, just farting with friends trying to analyze and understand things. Do keep a lot of time to waste in addition to sleep time and academics time.

Do these credentials help? Yes and no. Yes because working for these events / competing for the hostel and winning gives enormous confidence, not to mention lots of Kodak moments. However, a lot of plans that are made require extreme professionalism. Other than for sports practise, no one here turns up on time for anything. If you can't assure me that basic discipline, then we can't go for grandiose plans.

Also, all these core groups are evolving into bureaucracies in themselves. You have one group to do the job and you have another group to monitor them! Interviews are held late at night for posts of coordinators. Recently, there has been discussion on increasing the minimum attendance requirement. Expectedly, this met with a lot of opposition from the student body. There the convenient villain was the Dean. However, no one seems to be reprimanding these cores for keeping interviews so late. Are we to believe that this practice has nothing to do with the bad attendance? But you mustnt blame the cores. They are stretched themselves.

This leaves the individual. The blame then is on the individual. Yes. It is tough for anyone to kill something. Cores will make grander and grander plans.(I hear the craze now is to do a MIT. Well, most of the pseud things in MIT are done by grads. Whoever has heard about MIT undergrads? My my, there must be a reason, mustn't there? And just because of the Narayanamurthy comment on 60 Minutes, when a guy passes the JEE he suddenly feels obliged to take inspiration from MIT. Well, Einsteins, we must realize the JEE of these days is nowhere near the class of the older JEEs. So stop comparing, cock up and just do whatever gives you intellectual fulfillment. That is why you are here for.)

In this kind of a scenario, the individual has to make up his/her mind. The implicit promise/expectation when you leave IIT is that you are academically competent. You could have a low CGPA and still be very good. Lots of people are uncomfortable with the quiz system, but it is still a good system. And IIT has to grade students in some way. So if you have a problem with that, live with it, but there is a lot of other things one can do. The excuse is not to put off doing any sort of intellectual activity to the night before the exams.

The biggest casualty of the one-night mug concept is the art of figuring things out for yourself. Sure, when people work for these fests they do figure out a lot of things for themselves. Agreed! But after a point the learning is incremental. That is why 2 coordships = 4 coordships = 6 coorships = Core = Insti. Sec. in this respect. Anyway, coming back to the initial issue of one-night mug: since only one day is left, people get fundaes from a group, use older question papers and pass muster. But then you lose out on studying from text books. To give an example, however good one may be in say, chemical engineering thermodynamics, if you have not read Lewis and Randall, you have definitely lost something in terms of intellectual experience.

Therefore, you define your involvement. Extra-curriculars help for bullet points but not at the cost of academic and intellectual competence. You decide the trade-offs. if you think you can't meet expectations or the expectations are stupid, don't apply, don't participate, walk out. We may love our friends and seniors but a line has to be drawn. I think the tipping point has been reached. My God, April 18th it seems... and Saarang interviews are not even over! What the fuck!


anand(tharamani) said...

Nice post macha.. There is a need to draw a line when you take coordships...We have lots of examples of people who have no coordships/extra credentials as such but still are very good at whatever they do...Thats it is needed in today's world..As steve Jobs said " pursue your passion,you will definitely succeed"..

P.S: Saarang Coord selection is going to be done only next sem! All good (probable)spons coords are taken in shaastra and god knows what will happen to saarang 2008..

themiddler said...

@ Anand

Good move on the part to keep Saarang coord selections in the next sem.

Don't worry about the Spons thingy. It will work out, at the last minute as always :)

Shankar said...

nice post .... abt shaastra and saarang ... the coordship in my opinion is good for building student interaction ... having been coord 5 times and vol 3 times ... i have met and know a lot more people whom i wouldn't have met otherwise. also, what needs to be addressed, in addition to too tightly packed schedule, is to make students a less of a slave to lan and net .... needless to say 90% of insti is addicted to it. and banning in my opinion is not a good way to go abt it.

we know that all students love to taking part in hands on activities like project x or make thing work etc. it would be a good idea to centre the acads around it. that would make social interaction a necessity. a project involving randomly chosen teams in, say, a couple of courses a sem would do a great job in developing interpersonal skills ... this way acads wont take a back seat.. addiction to lan/net can be brought down. of course this requires dedicated course planning team to make it work.

Mohan K.V said...

"Well, Einsteins, we must realize the JEE of these days is nowhere near the class of the older JEEs"

EXACTLY my point, too! Very nice post!

themiddler said...


Another nice comment! But passing the onus back to profs is slisha vague da. 'Guru Devo Bhava' is in my opinion the best credo.

If you have an innovative prof. good. Otherwise, one must keep mugging irrespective is the best way to deal with the system.

themiddler said...


Hmm.. I was wondering if junta would agree with that!