According to the official placement report of IIT Bombay, every year around half of the B.Tech and dual degree students get placed in the Engineering and Technology, RnD and IT sector. This, we believe, is a decent trend for an engineering institution in the era of digital revolution, but looking at many of our friends eyeing to become investment bankers, consultants and product managers, we became curious to find out what is making these “non-core” positions so attractive; is it sheer interest, the bulky pay-check, career growth prospects or some kind of aversion to their “core” discipline?
To get our questions answered, we went straight to the students* of IIT Bombay with a survey. The responses from which are critically analysed and presented to you in this article.
*We would like to acknowledge that this article will be focussing only on the rationales and sentiments of undergraduates. This decision was taken by Insight after observing a significant difference in the opinions of UGs and PGs in topics related to career and a discussion on not-core/non-core is, in our opinion, not very relevant to the postgraduate students.
The factors influencing career decisions
There are a multitude of factors governing why one opts for a particular career path. At IIT Bombay, it would appear most students gain the benefit of following what they want, rather than something that is forced on to them by society or their parents or the 100 busybodies that vie to govern the life of a typical Indian youth. This was fairly evident through the survey responses where around 80% rated 4 or more out of 5 when asked to gauge the influence of “interest” in their career decisions. Interestingly, we see that interest is a more important factor for students inclined toward engineering and science as opposed to their “non-core” counterparts.
Now we tried to gauge the contribution of other personal factors in career decisions
Here, we do see that various other non-insti factors too play some role in students’ decisions. It is interesting to note that at least a quarter of respondents have mentioned Seniors/Alumni’s Career choice as a factor that has affected their career choice, which is important for any culture to exist and thrive.
With the factors poised in such a manner, we leave it up to you to infer what this signifies about the insti UG populace.
Core Aversion and JEE
A huge question arises regarding the reason why people choose non-core profiles over core profiles; is it because of a love for the non-core branch, or an aversion to the core branches that they have been exposed to? There is obviously a spectrum, but an aversion to core has an alarming amount of influence on this choice, with the largest contribution to this aversion simply being a lack of interest in the engineering curriculum.
This calls into question the whole method of selection for IITs, if it is resulting in disinterested students being admitted to the top engineering colleges in the country.
As we all know, the knowledge that we are tested on in the JEE exams has little to do with actual engineering, apart from the basic problem-solving aspect. So a lot of the students who end up in IITs actually have little to no inclination towards actual engineering. If the environment at IITs were improving their interest towards engineering, it would be great; but if not, the entire process, from JEE selection to going through 4 years at premier technical institutes, seems unable to produce actual engineers. Since the JEE is unable to successfully filter engineering aspirants, it naturally follows that there is a wide spectrum of career interests among incoming students, and these interests don’t seem to be converging with time, at least not towards core engineering.
Enthusiasm over one’s own department
One benefit of studying in an institution like ours is that we can explore as many fields, science or otherwise, as possible and find what interests us the most. Hence, it is not wrong to be interested in a branch different from what you are enrolled in. But after looking at the results from the survey, we ran out of optimism due to the fact that in most branches, less than half of the students (of those who took part in the survey) are interested in their own branch.
The current wind blowing towards computer science is one reason behind this skewness. But, we have two important questions to ask:
1. Are the students ‘OK’ with spending their precious resources studying something which they don’t find useful for their career ahead?
As per our survey, many seem to be fine with this. Under this scenario we would like to point out the inefficiency of the higher education system that we are a part of, assuming its entire motive is to prepare us for our career ahead
2. The next question, is the administration ‘OK’ with students spending their precious resources in training students for something they are not willing to pursue in future?
Our institution seems to be fine with this, it seems. There are no actions from our administration for lack of participation of “core” companies in the recent placement season. Even if they did take any action, we certainly haven’t seen any results. Out of the 64 companies that hired B.Tech students in the first three days of IIT Bombay placements 2020-21, only 12 were not from the non-core or IT/Software sector. Most of these 12 companies opened for only electrical engineering roles. With this we would like the administration to acknowledge the scarcity of reasonably good placement opportunities for core engineering branches, with an exception to electrical engineering.
As per the survey, students perceive that the lack of opportunities in the core branch they are pursuing is one very important reason behind their lack of interest in their branch. Sure, their perception may be wrong, but we can always argue that the administration does play a role in building up this wrong perception by their lack of adequate measures to correct it.
How interests change with time
We asked students, sophomores as well as seniors, about their interest at different times during their undergraduate program. The responses were separately processed for students of different batches, but the trend was similar (read: same) across batches.
The above depicted graph is from the analysis of responses from the UG seniors.
It is pretty clear from the graph that the majority of students interested in the “non-core” sector are those who were unsure of their interests when they came to this institution. So, it means the “natural environment” of our institute is tuned to convert a neutral student to get interested in the so called, “non-core” sectors, this contradicts the whole vision of the best engineering college of our country: “To be the fountainhead of new ideas and of innovators in technology and science. Its Mission is to create an ambience in which new ideas and creativity flourish and from which research and scholarship and leaders and innovators of tomorrow emerge.”
Coding as a facilitator and CS as core for non-CS students
While coding is considered as “core” for CSE students, the area of application should also be taken into consideration. Some CSE students use these skills in more application-oriented sectors which do not require “hardcore” coding, that would be better classified as “non-core”.
Many non-CSE students pick up coding for these “non-core” applications, to enhance their profile in sectors like Finance and Analytics. However, CSE is very overtly the branch that attracts the most interest from non-CSE students even in roles that require hardcore coding.
It’s the other non-engineering verticals that have seen a rise in automation and thus making even a hard skill like coding a facilitator or enabler of this non-core culture.
This graph is for Non-CSE 3rd year onwards students
We see that a big chunk of non-cse students do take up coding for non-core purposes and even with the recently concluded placement season phase 1, it was fairly evident that coding is definitely also an enabler on the non-core side of things, though this season saw it more as a must-have rather than just an enabler. This makes for a segue into an interesting section on Internships and Placements.
Internships and Placements
A major influence on a student’s career path tends to be the internships they undertake during their third year summers. A little over half the students ended up doing core internships related to their department, and about a third of all students settled for internships in sectors that were not their first choice. This seems to support the belief that students are not so interested in core engineering. However, among the students who did not get their first choice (of a sector), almost 40% of them wanted but did not get core internships. This implies a lack of opportunities for core internships available in the third year, which is not very reassuring. Even among the students who do end up with core internships, most are research internships in university programs; there are very few core companies that offer internships, especially near the start of the internship season.
The placement season also shows a lack of core companies coming in for recruitment, if we exclude software and coding profiles. This strongly supports the idea that the reason for a decline in core enthu people is because of a lack of opportunities. Since people usually start building their profiles for placements pretty early on, the lack of core opportunities acts as a deterrent to possible core enthusiasts, which in turn leads to fewer people preferring core companies when they do come for placements. And since the PT Cell allots slots to companies based on the preferences of the student community at large, this leads to them deprioritizing these companies further.
We see almost all of the world’s best consulting firms, banks, software companies take part in IITB placements, but very few of the world’s best engineering companies hire students. For B.Tech. students, it is even lesser. Placements is one key yardstick that students use to compare different career opportunities and in most cases they stick with it for life. If a brilliant engineer gets hired by a good bank on the first day of placements, it is very likely they’ll end up becoming a great banker. But our country lost one brilliant engineer who otherwise, professionally, would be doing something that no trained banker could do, under normal circumstances.
PoRs are a great way to explore one’s interests, and often exert great influence on one’s career choices. And while there may seem to be a prevailing sentiment that most people take PoR’s for the sole purpose of building their profile, it is usually intended as more of an attack on certain PoR holders than an actual indication of the nature of the choice to take up said roles. That being said, it seems rather clear that most people taking PoRs do so for the sake of improving their skills and profile, targeting non-core career paths. This follows naturally from the fact that barring tech teams, most other positions focus on organisational roles and improving non-technical skills. And since the primary interaction juniors have with seniors is through clubs and such teams, their idea of ‘machau’ seniors is largely based on various club seniors, the most influential of whom are usually pursuing non-core profiles. Given our obsession with placements, club seniors who get lucrative non-core placements are the most looked up to, and hence have the most influence on impressionable juniors.
Suggestions from our survey
We asked responders a subjective question:
“What do you think the institute can do to boost the interest of students towards a core path?”
While quite a few responses blamed the issue on the poor placements and senior advice based on these poor placements, these do not seem to be the institute’s problems, directly.
Focussing on what the institute should do, one response was
“Conduct the courses more project-oriented/practical application-oriented wherever possible. Courses evaluated solely on the basis of written exams fuel academic competitiveness and thus, affect the interest of students.”
This sentiment was fairly prevalent in the responses we received. Many students believe that integrating more hands-on and practical work, which might better prepare students for core jobs rather than academia, should be on the institute’s agenda.
“Have more research and tech expos where students get to know about the core sector and opportunities offered at IITB along with various other universities and industries. Encourage participation of students in these events and push forward for credited industry-based projects as incentives for students to pursue their future career in the core sector.”
Pushing for both research as well as industrial experience as a part of the curriculum, so that students, that are misinformed about the quality of core engineering opportunities down the line, can make better career decisions. An example of this is The Chemical Course on Wheels (CoW).
Early exposure to the positives of core careers is also something that responders think is pivotal, as junior students are the most impressionable, and many students believe that once a student loses their interest in core engineering, it is difficult for the enthusiasm to return.
While there were many responses to the above question, we can’t highlight all of them. However, this only goes to show that students do feel there is a lot more the institute can do to help students enjoy their core curriculum and persuade them to adopt careers in science and engineering. Whether or not the institute is interested and capable in effectively promoting the “core” side of things over the “non-core” side of things is still a point to ponder.