Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kaam bada ya Naam - 2

Was putting off writing this for long.. Now I seem to have lost the context! Still...

The last part ended with asking questions about the support structure for people who are dissatisfied with the career options dished out to them in the college placements. This is where we pick up from.

During my two years at IIM-A, what became very clear to me is that the best thing that this institute (or most other good institutes) offers is not its brand, not the tools you pick up in classes, not even the job you land up, but the resources that it has to offer. This encompasses:

a) The professors: The variety of work that our professors are involved in and the depth of experience that they have is mind-boggling. But that remains hidden from us, the students, as long as the student-professor interaction remains limited to the classroom. At IIM-A, an overwhelming majority of students do not come to learn, they come just to spend 2 years here, get the degree, get the job and get out. Naive that I am, while entering WIMWI I thought this would not be the case, and I caught myself doing just that, and not just once.

Anyone can understand how calls and puts function, how you should do valuations, what ills plague Power Purchase Agreements in India and so on. These are just things that you spend a few hours on, and you understand. And yet, we spend most of our time on this. And judge ourselves by the marks we score in exams which test our capability of regurgitating what we learnt in the class. No disrespect to the toppers, they truly do put in a lot of effort, but is this effort really in the right direction?
Edit: This argument has nothing to do with people who score good grades. But everything to do with the mania of scoring good grades.

In my opinion, what requires real effort is to question the relevance of what you are being taught. And not just in the classroom. Why is the batch as a whole spineless in questioning the ethics of a company like Dow Chemicals coming to campus for recruitment? Why is the batch scared of antagonizing the authorities at IIM-A issuing diktats and leaving it to just a few sacrificial goats to fight it out for them? Why does the batch not ask the question that what is the purpose of this institute, for what purpose are we being educated here, and are we fulfilling that objective?

Such an attitude, such realizations, can dawn much more easily if we make a conscious effort to interact with our faculty outside the classroom. In their offices. Even their homes. I would like to judge the gift of a student, not by the GPA he gets or awards he wins, but by whether he can call upon his favourite professor at home anytime he wishes, no matter how many years later. These professors, and I am repeating my point here, have an immense amount of experience. They have seen & done it all. Many have spent decades in top corporates as senior executives, some have worked with the government and topmost policy planning agencies while others have spent countless years struggling to win people their livelihoods. We can find all kinds of people here. Of course, not all are good, yet. But we only need to look beyond our classrooms, across the LKP, and into the faculty wing.

And that is the first resource from where we can derive our strength to question. Specifically speaking, one can ask to work with professors on projects they are working upon in the gap between graduating and joining a job. One can even take on this work in the 2nd year, when the course load is pretty light. Professors will not only give you work, but also guidance, and get you in touch with people who they think you will benefit from after talking to them. They can open many doors for you.
I will take my example. I wanted to explore the education sector, so I got in touch with Prof. Rajeev Sharma. And he introduced me to Manish from Shikshantar, through whom I got to know Ravi Gulati from Manzil, Claude Alvarez from Multiversity, Sachin Desai from School Without Walls, Murtaza from GiftEconomy, Amit Deshwal and Dr. Gurveen from CFL, among others. (You can contact me if you want to get in touch with any of these.. or contact Prof. Rajeev Sharma directly!) Just one introduction from Prof. Sharma and like a chain reaction the doors started opening.

Similar is the case with Prof. Anil Gupta, Prof. Ankur Sarin, Prof. Mathur, among others that I have met.
So, please, talk to your professors. Take appointments, meet them, tell them your confusions, ask them from advice. There is no harm in seeking help. We can only come out the better from doing so.

b) The peer group: There is not much that I need to say here. We all know how important friendships are in life, and that most long lasting friendships are made in educational spaces.
Even the point on the need for a strong alumni network has been stressed often enough. But I still need to touch this. Alumns are also a good source of strength for those who are afraid of taking the leap. There will definitely be people who would have done something similar to what you are doing. Search for them and reach out to them, they will help you out. Don’t shy away!

c) The RAs: They are often not thought of at all! But they are the ones who are roughly our age and spend a lot more time here, and with professors, than we do. And consequently, they can be a goldmine for brilliant conversations, connections and ideas! I have been extremely lucky to have come to know Amey Sapre personally, all because I took a little extra interest in the Micro-Economics class in which he was assisting. And it is he who got me in touch with someone who converted the spark in me into a fire, pushing me across the line. My life would have been very very different had I not met Amey!
Reach out to them as well!

With the help of these people, a person who is confused and is looking for help can really build a counselling and support group for himself. IIM-A by itself will not give you one. Whether it should or not is a different question. But as long as it does not, it is up to us to take the initiative. There are plenty of people around us who question, but very few who actually try to find the answers. Look around, there will be people asking questions in your elective courses, look for people liking, commenting on or blogging about something that interests you too. Make the effort to get in touch with them. It will help. All the best..!

Edit: If you are at IIM-A and want IIM-A specific pointers on people to meet, do not hesitate to write!