Answering Academic Queries: Prof. S.K. Patel and Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra

Answering Academic Queries: Prof. S.K. Patel and Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra

K Aditya Debabrata Malik | Jan 13, 2020

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With the commencement of yet another academic semester, Team MM brings to you another edition of Dean (Academic) Speaks.  Prof. S.K. Patel (Dean Academics) and Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra(Associate Dean, Academics) cleared the academics related queries, which were collected from the NITR Junta in a survey conducted by MM earlier this month.

Monday Morning: Please elaborate on the technicalities of Fast Pace which would be helpful for the students to opt for a 6-month internship. How many such internships can be taken? Who are eligible? Whose permission is required?

Dean (Academics) Prof S.K. Patel and Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra (SKP and NRM): The Fast Pace program is a great initiative that will help students finish their academic courses before the usually prescribed period and avail extra time to opt for long term internships and projects. As of now, the Senate has already accepted the proposal in principle. The detailed procedure for its implementation is being worked out to bring it into practice. We are working on it, analyzing the various aspects, the possible outcomes and trying to devise a sustainable mechanism. A student can do as many as internships as feasible withing that specified time.  We welcome the suggestions from students on how the fast pace initiative can be implemented effectively.

MM: Please clarify on the new amendments where a student can complete certain credits through SWAYAM.

SKP and NRM: The amendment has been passed in the Senate. All the departments have been advised to identify the courses that can be taken up through SWAYAM. Only the non-core courses can be taken up under this scheme.

MM: When will be the fee registration portal live? What was the reason for the delay?

SKP and NRM: It will take some time as we're going in for some radical reforms in the payment process to ease the process of fee payment for the parents and students. We're working on it and are trying to establish a more convenient and efficient system. That is why we're facing a delay.

MM: Why aren’t there any student representatives in the Co-ordination Committee for UG Courses?

SKP and NRM: First of all, you need to be clear about the role of the coordination committee. For cases where a particular subject is taught by multiple teachers in different sections, there are chances that different teachers will be evaluating and teaching in a different manner. So to ensure uniformity in the teaching and evaluation process regardless of sections, we have set up the co-ordination committee. It's for the subject faculties to co-ordinate among themselves regarding the courses they're teaching. So we feel there's no role of students in such a committee.

MM: By what time can we expect different grade sheets for Major and Minor courses?

SKP: It's for the first time we're implementing this. So a completely new computer software is being developed which requires some time. But I assure you that in the end such students will be given two different grade sheets and will be facing no problems. Probably by the end of this semester, we will be done with this.

MM: There are scopes for medical leaves for a person suffering from physical diseases, is there any plans to extend it to mental health patients?

SKP and NRM: Yes, it's already in practice. We equally value the importance of physical and mental health. Suppose a student facing certain mental ailment comes up with valid medical proofs, his/her case will definitely be considered.

MM: There were certain complaints that many instruments under CIF are poorly organized and dysfunctional. Many of the instruments are still not included under CIF which creates problems for the scholars. What’s the reason behind the delay? What’s your take on it?

SKP and NRM: Yes, we are aware of the issues and we're looking into it. We have Prof. Mahavir Panda, who is working really hard to ensure that the instrument procurement process is well organized and very soon we'll be having well-equipped labs with up-to-date facilities and instruments.

MM: What is the current TA/DA for a Ph.D. scholar? Do you think that is enough?

SKP and NRM: A Ph.D. scholar is entitled to travel four times inside India and once outside India during his entire period of studentship. The reimbursements are being done as per the rules approved by the institute. In the case of foreign travel, they get up to a maximum of 50% of their total expenses or Rupees One Lakh whichever is minimum.

MM: TA marks are awarded subjectively in this institute without any constant parameter as a result TA marks are often arbitrary because professors don't know every student in person. Shouldn't this have a constant parameter?TA marking should be more transparent and clear. While most professors say that they evaluate TA marks based on the student's honesty, sincerity, class performance, etc. In practice, it's an impractical procedure, because, in a class of over 100 students, the professor doesn't even know each and every student's name, let alone his abilities and performance. Hence, TA marks should be strictly evaluated either through class tests and/or assignments. But many professors don't follow this. Why?

SKP and NRM: There has been a discussion on this issue many times in the Senate. But the Senate firmly believes that the TA marks should be solely decided by the concerned faculty and there should be no external interference in that. We have clearly stated that the professors at the beginning of the course need to explain all the components based on which he/she will be awarding the TA marks. We are trying to ensure complete transparency in this process. In case of any discrepancy, students need to communicate with the concerned Prof. first and then to the HOD. But if still the problem is not addressed they are always free to approach us regarding this matter.

MM: Many 1 credit labs are taken for 3 hours. Does the institute have any plans for preventing this or giving an advisory in this regard?

SKP and NRM: Earlier these labs used to have more credits, but due to a change in guidelines we had to reduce the credits of all the courses. When such a decision was implemented, most of the faculty members taking those lab courses gave feedback that even if the lab will be evaluated on a single credit basis, still they want students to perform the experiments completely over a duration of three hours. That's a good thing we feel. There are certain experiments that are impossible to complete within an hour. Rather students should take this up as a good opportunity to boost their practical skills.

MM: Attendance is taken during extra classes which are done on Saturdays or Sundays or any other holiday, it is unfair for students as they naturally make prior plans. Do you think attendance should be taken on days when it's otherwise a holiday?

SKP and NRM: I believe most of the professors usually inform beforehand about extra classes. Sometimes the professors are not able to complete their syllabus within time due to certain legitimate reasons in such a case it is natural for the faculty to take up extra classes. Needless to say that taking attendance is necessary whether it is a normal class or extra class. If a particular student faces any problem then he/she can directly state their issue to the professors. And I'm pretty sure the faculty will be acting positively on this if they find it is genuine.

MM: In most of the laboratory classes, professors come with some teacher's assistants and assign them the task of evaluation and leave. This gives TAs the unchecked power of marking the students and mark them randomly and unreasonably. Also, when a student asks for help, they tell them to come prepared. Why does this happen?

SKP and NRM: If students face such an issue, they should approach the concerned Prof. immediately and inform in a suitable manner regarding the problems they're facing. I'm pretty sure, the professors will take note of it and look for the redressal of the issues. If that doesn't happen the students can approach the HODs of their department. But if the HOD also, isn't able to come up with a solution, they are always welcome to approach us.

MM: Why does our institute follow an 85% minimum attendance policy while other IITs/NITs follow a 75% one? 

SKP and NRM: We don’t want our students to just prepare and give exams according to the prescribed syllabus. We expect a lot of teaching-learning process to take place between the student and the teacher. And thereby we can learn many things. This is the stage in which you learn the principles and discipline in life. You have to be dedicated to studies. Institutes like ours train students to be disciplined in life but if students tell that waking up in winters is tough, there’s no question of being forgiven. Suppose, you join a company and your reporting time is 8 AM and if you arrive later than that, the gate is closed. The proposal to reduce the percentage of attendance was discussed many times in detail in our senate and they denied to lower it. If students are not satisfied, they should submit a formal proposal and we may again take it to the senate. Suppose, an institute has a 75% attendance policy and they don’t have a provision of medical leaves and other leaves. Then it appears that their attendance rule is stricter than ours and so they have set the percentage lower than ours. Since we have a sympathized policy of granting leaves to students on the basis of certain reasons, so we have set a bar of 85% attendance.

MM: Why there is a need of 95% attendance for the supplementary exam for hospitalized student and if 95% attendance is not fulfilled it makes grade back in each subject?

SKP and NRM: Those who have less attendance have not been imparted with sufficient knowledge. Such students if they appear for the supplementary exam rather than repeating the courses they are discouraged by giving a grade back. But good students who have attended all the classes have learned a lot. So, this is one way to encourage students to attend classes. Students should attend as many classes as possible to gain knowledge. This can be considered an incentive for students to attend the classes regularly. We expect that the students should be interested to attend the classes. A sincere student might fail to write the examinations due to certain reasons like some family calamity or some health problem. Students who attended all the classes usually perform well in the exams because sometimes self-study might not help a student understand a subject. But one class can help you clear your concepts. Sincere students should always be encouraged and rewarded.

MM: Currently, the students in B.Tech, Dual Degree and M.Tech final year are facing a lot of problems in applying for long term internships(6 months/1 year). These long term internships are crucial for getting PPOs(in the industry) and Ph.D. offers(in academia). Why don't we have a special provision for it? There are a lot of industries that are not very keen to visit our campus for placements but are ready to give PPOs based on our performance in the internships. In such cases, why can't the students be allowed to spend a complete semester with the Industry? Can we have a formal procedure included in the final year such that students face fewer problems while applying for a long term internship?

SKP and NRM: There already exists a provision for MTech and Dual Degree students to do their internships at industries instead of doing it here in the institute provided their supervisor agrees. The supervisor is the examiner and he has to understand what his/her student is doing. It cannot happen that the student does some other work and there is no one to examine it. So, if the supervisor agrees, students can go outside for their internships. But B.Tech students have theory and lab courses in the final year too. So, if they go for long-term internships outsides, they won’t be able to complete the courses. If a student wants to do a ninth sem, he/she is permitted though. That’s why we have a fast pace program coming up soon, which would enable the students to take up extra courses in the second and third years in order to do a semester-long internship. Also, students’ suggestions regarding curriculum are always welcome and can be forwarded to the Curriculum Development Committee, like all core courses can be adjusted prior to the eighth semester while the electives and professional electives can be kept at the end.

MM: Why was there a circular stating that classes must be continued until the last day before the exam?

SKP: My words were misquoted. I had rather told the professors to give one day free to students just before the exam. One day should be provided to students to prepare for their first paper as there are some professors who want to continue classes till the last day. Maximum professors do not take classes till the end. In our institute, we don’t have the concept of a fixed syllabus. There is no end to knowledge. Students should in fact force the faculty to revise or go deeper into a subject if at all the syllabus is completed in advance.

MM: Some professors never show mid-semester papers and they directly upload the marks on NITRIS. When questioned about the same they don't respond. What to do in that case?

SKP and NRM: It is compulsory for professors to show the mid-semester examination papers. We have not received any complaints from the student’s side. Students should complain to us through proper channels whenever such a thing happens. It is in fact mandatory for faculty to show even the endsem exam papers. Inform the HOD in the event that the midsem papers are not shown to you.

MM: NIT Durgapur has MoU with CERN Geneva, why don't we have an MoU with good foreign research labs?

NRM: We are trying. We have MoUs with some faculty members but not with students as of now.

MM: Why do we not have any student exchange programs with top international universities like Aalto and UC Berkeley?

NRM: We are trying our best and are on the job.

MM: Is there any provision to have a final year project outside the institute? Or scope for Inter-branch final year projects?

SKP and NRM: Yes, with the introduction of the fast pace program, it would be possible if a student’s guide agrees to allow him/her to do so. Coming to inter-branch projects, it is allowed provided that there is a guide in the student’s parent branch as well. And then you can take another guide from another department and do a project in that department and execute it.

MM: As of now, the Industrial Design department lacks experts in the field of Design. The professors are not from the design field, rather they have degrees in some other fields. Then why is it that we do not have any proper design professors available. This is affecting our skills and competence. We aren't being trained well for the industry. Recently the professor who was supposed to teach us sketching left and now we have no competent professor in this field to learn from. Why aren't these problems being addressed?

SKP and NRM: Regularly we are recruiting faculty depending on the expertise in which there is a vacancy. Once a faculty member joins, we cannot force him/her to stay here permanently. They can stay or leave as per their own wishes. At the B.Tech level, all the faculty members are expected to teach all the courses irrespective of their expertise. Suppose in the mechanical department, I belong to Production and am told to teach Thermal, I can teach it. At the B.Tech level, a faculty must be able to take any subject. As per requirement, regular faculty are being recruited. Presently, recruitment is on and hopefully, many new faculty members would be recruited. The number of professors is less against the sanctioned strength as many have left the institute. Coming to visiting faculty members, departments can have them as per their requirements.

MM: Why is there no relative grading? Even when all of us do bad in exams, why do all of us get D, shouldn't we all get a better grade? Shouldn't it be relative as per your guidelines or is it just for show?

SKP and NRM: If everyone gets a good grade, say EX or A in a subject, then the grades would be downgraded. So, how can we do relative grading in some subjects while absolute in some others? You should look at both sides. We should maintain a balance through a uniform rule of grading. Students should perform their best and as per their capabilities, they will get their grades. Some courses are tough but they can also be handled with effort. And when something is tough, it is tough for everyone not only for a single student. But still, in cases where the subject is tough and bad grades are awarded to everyone, we take up the matter and discuss it with UGPEC/PGPEC, discuss it with the Senate. If possible, we do something because we can sense something wrong if no one is able to secure good grades in a particular course. But as of now, it is the absolute grading system that the institute follows.

MM: Why is there not a fixed date to show end semester papers as well?

SKP and NRM: This is not true. We give 15 days' time wherein students can come and see their end semester answer sheets depending upon your and your professor’s suitability. And now there’s a provision to show the papers even before the result declaration if the faculty member is willing. We are the only institute which has such a provision. The Senate had passed this provision to show the end semester results to the students and we give a huge time for this. We have observed that the students who are very interested to see the answer sheets run behind professors from day one itself. I received around 20 calls this time and saved their numbers and emailed them once I had finished correcting all the papers. And even if they have gone home, students tell other localites or other students still on the campus to see their papers. If any professor refuses to show, you can report to the respective HOD and if there’s no action even from the HOD’s side, you can report it to us.

Concluding note

Students should be proactive and attend all the classes. If they feel that they have come to NIT with the purpose of gaining knowledge in their subjects and if they are not getting it, they should report. Academically, if you feel that you are not getting the justice you are always welcome to suggest and report us. No matter how many extracurricular activities you do, the first priority should always be to excel in academics. Students should strictly follow the instruction that mobile phones are not allowed into the examination hall. Even if he/she doesn’t use it to cheat, it will lead to dire consequences such as semester back or being debarred in multiple subjects automatically. The Senate takes it very seriously and punishes such students severely. Make it a habit to leave your phones in your room, whenever you come for an exam.

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