Vinayak Garg :


Aug 2009 | In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at larger amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system’s resonance frequencies (or resonant frequencies). At a resonant frequency, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude vibrations, because the system stores vibrational energy. When damping is small, the resonance frequency is approximately equal to the natural frequency of the system, which is the frequency of free vibrations.

The diagram below explains the case of resonance frequency in a simple case.Resonance 1

Fb is resonant frequency here, and thus we can see that amplitude is much larger for Fb than it is for Fa or Fc.

We would now extend this to explain career choices, social pressure, student potential and career rise through the following case. In the following case, the main frequency has been superimposed by a noise frequency.

Resonance 2In this case Ff is resonant frequency, and Fe, say is a noise frequency. In reality we would have a wide array of noise frequency and little peaks but for simplicity I am taking just one here.

The point I want to make here is that any system attains maximum amplitude only when it is allowed to vibrate at its natural frequency. You can make it vibrate at a lower or higher frequency, but you would never get that kind of amplitudes. In the same manner, with our careers it is important for us to realize our interest and true potential and then realize that. It is only in that field that we can truly excel and reach the top.

It doesn’t matter whether the natural frequency is low or high, what matters is whether the system is vibrating at that frequency or not. Following others in making career choices can result in a disaster. No career should be deemed as low or high when making choices, what matter is whether the stream really interests you or not. Each and every field has its own peak, and only the one who is truly passionate about the job can reach that peak.

Point E may be confused as resonant frequency in a case when the full picture is not visible to a student. It is here that the importance of informed choices is truly represented, it is necessary to make student aware of the entire spectrum so that he can identify his true natural frequency!

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Electing Electives

fateJuly 2009 | A very important part of the curriculum in engineering institutes consists of elective courses. A range of courses are offered to a student, out of which he may choose the courses that he wishes to pursue depending on his interest and career ambition. Now the question that arises is the fact whether the student is actually able to get his choice in the current systems, or does it just reduces to a game of fate?

In IIT Delhi, elective courses form almost 40% of the total credit requirement for award of degree. It is these courses that enable students to create a distinctive profile and prepare themselves for the field which they choose to excel in. As per the system, the student just expresses his desire to attend a certain course as an elective, and what follows is a mysterious process which outputs whether the student has been allotted the course or not. For electives relating to humanities, a student is to fill a preference list and that is used as input for an even more mysterious process.

Though not officially declared, it is rumored that the courses are allotted as per the grade points (marks) of the student. Electives for humanity stream are said to be allotted on a mixed basis of grade points and the year of study. What results is the insecurity and loss of control of students on which courses they get to do and when. Even if I would really really want to do a course on psychology or internal combustion engines, there is no way to ensure that I do get that course. It is here that helplessness and the feeling loss of control over their career path gets seeded.

An alternative to this system is a system where students may bid for their elective courses. The system is followed in majority of MBA institutes in US, and also in top B-schools of India like IIMs. Under this system, each student is given a fixed amount of bid points for each bidding period. He may use these points to bid for the courses that he wants to take as electives. This system has far more benefits than just enabling subject of choice for students.

Firstly, it makes students responsible for their career path and they may choose the area in which they would like to take courses. It is important not only to enable informed choices, but also to create a system that respects choices.

bidding electivesSecondly, the bidding system develops students as individuals and fosters ability to take decisions. It is much easier to accept whatever comes your way than to actually demand for a particular subject. By assuring that any subject that they desire strong enough would be given, it holds them accountable for their choices.

Thirdly, quantum of bid points used by students for a particular subject acts like a feedback for the professor teaching the subject. It is a constant feedback for the teacher and would act as an encouragement. Nothing can matter more to a teacher than recognition from his students about his competence. This feedback is totally unbiased, unlike year end feedback form; here the students have no perceived benefits from giving a good remark. It is a feedback in which students are calling out to teacher to lead them to their career goals, and this is what really counts.

It is only in such system that I feel it is possible to sustain interest of students in academics and maintain high enthusiasm level of teachers. Afterall, each of them deserves appreciation for their efforts and decisions.

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Informed choices

A place to go, somewhere to be, I choose the way that’s right for me.

Others help, their hands are good, But they can’t help more than they should.

If others say who I should be, Then where is my identity?

God teaches me each step to take. Don’t block my path, my life’s at stake

choiceThese lines by Tim Kolb aptly capture the relevance of informed choices in a student’s career.

We make so many choices all the time in our careers, and some of them are big enough to actually govern who do we grow up to be; choice of subjects in class XI, choice of course/ college after 12th, choice of course to take for post graduation (or even choice not to do post graduate degree!) and also choice of jobs/ sector etc.

But how many of the choices that we make are actually informed choices? How many decisions do we take being fully aware of the consequences of not only our chosen path but also of the other paths?

During my time at IIT most of the students that I met had never given a second thought about becoming an engineer, or even about taking up science at class XI, it just seemed the obvious option that a student of their caliber was expected to do. But then that is where the problem begins, students would always contemplate what if they would have actually given it a thought in class XI, would they still have chosen the same path? And surprisingly this continues, at campus placement they again take up jobs that students of their caliber are eligible for and then they contemplate few weeks into the job whether they would have actually liked some other job better.

The problem with not having an informed choice is not that you would make the wrong choice, but the fact that you would never know if you made the right choice.

choices-for-deliberate-creatorsOne of the main reasons for continued traditional decision making is the social pressure and limited acceptance offered by society to people who choose to tread on their own paths. The society offers its acceptance strictly by a set of hierarchal perceptions. Even within engineering the stream selection is by norm in the order of computer science-electronics-etc etc ….. a student who is currently elated from his good performance in the entrance exams is offered advice by all the nearby relatives/ friends and friends of relatives on what branch he should choose, and the student who is clueless about what does each branch has to offer is forced to make the biggest decision of his career merely on the basis of public poll!

Secondly, students are being asked to make choices again and again without being properly educated about the various options. There is little guidance that is provided to students in a regular manner through the education system about various possibilities that lie in front of him.

INSA LyonInformed choices define the interest of student in teaching and the overall flow of education system that follows after the choice. In INSA, France, after school students are admitted into engineering institutes but are not offered specialized branches at this stage. The first year is dedicated to provide general awareness about engineering and provide students with adequate understanding so that they are able to distinguish offerings of one branch from the other. It is only in their second year that they are offered specialized branches based upon their performance in the first year. As a result the students are really passionate about what they are learning and almost all of them graduate to join core engineering services or research, because this is what they chose. Also another interesting observation in this system is that the ‘hottest branch’ keeps changing very dramatically each year, the batch I was studying with had civil engineering as the most sought after  discipline, and it was biotechnology the year before. Long internships, and a 5 year degree ensures that students have a good knowledge of the work life before they actually jump into it, and can actually choose the field they want to enter.

Most importantly making informed choices lets you to take control of your life, rather than vice-versa. It instills an unmatched confidence and lets you live life without any regrets (or maybe lesser regrets!) or ‘what if’ contemplations.

July 2009

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