With the Institute Elections afoot, the soapboxes kicked off on Tuesday, starting with the candidate for the post of Academic Affairs Secretary. Chaithra Navada, the Chief Commissioner of the SECC began the session by briefly explaining its structure: each candidate would have eight minutes to make their presentation, which would then be followed by cross questioning if the post in question is contested. The Executive Wing would then have twenty minutes to question the candidate, before the members of the GSB are allowed to ask their questions. Meghna M reports.

Presentation

The session began 30 minutes late, due to technical issues, to around 25 audience members. The only candidate for the post of Academic Affairs Secretary, Chinmay Agarwal, introduced himself. He is a fourth year undergraduate from the department of Chemical Engineering and has worked as a Core and a Coordinator for the Industrial and Public Relations (IPR) team. Chinmay began his presentation by congratulating the graduating students for achieving the best placements that the institute has seen yet. His vision was broadly divided into three parts. Firstly, he aims to provide the students with a better academic environment and broader career opportunities. Secondly, he wants to achieve better professional growth in students. Lastly, he promises to focus on rejuvenating research enthusiasm among the students.

Under the Academics section, Chinmay’s proposed initiatives include an extensive department research tour for all the second year undergraduates to promote research enthusiasm and spread awareness about the kind of work that the professors and students do there. One more initiative is an ‘Industrial Day’ to display the top innovations and research by the students to companies, thereby strengthening industrial relations, besides creating an additional avenue for recruitment. His third initiative is regarding the Interdisciplinary Dual Degree (IDDD) programme specializations and its entrance being only CGPA based. He plans to bring in new criteria and thus make it possible for students who have a comparatively lesser CGPA to get in.

Chinmay also spoke about the Career Development Cell, which is a new responsibility of the Academic Affairs Secretary. Under this, he plans to introduce an ‘Unconventional Lecture Series’ for the students who wish to pursue different things like music and design as a career path. He plans to invite people who are successful in these professions to come in and guide the students on how to pursue their passions. His second initiative would be the ‘Master Class’, which will be a seven day intensive program, where industrial experts will guide the students. The candidate plans to focus on Analytics and Finance, which are popular among the institute students. Chinmay’s third initiative under the CDC would be Crash Courses. Since the placement preparations begin in the odd semester – 7th semester for B.Tech students and 9th semester for Dual Degree students- the candidate’s opinion was that this was quite late as students don’t get enough time to prepare for the core and non-core options, these Crash Courses, conducted by the final year students who have already been placed, will help them in being better prepared for the tests.

The candidate moved on to his plans for placements and internships. He plans to address the continuous hike in the placement registration fee, which is the sole source of funding to cover the entire process, by charging a nominal fee from the companies. His next initiative will be introducing a set of common aptitude tests for the companies that register late, between the last week of October and the first week of November. This, he says, will help the students avoid writing around ten tests a day. Though this idea had failed when it was tried out a few years back, ensuring the quality will ensure its success. Thirdly, he plans to organize a Day X, which will be a simulation of the placement process. To be conducted between quiz week and end semester exams, it will comprise mock tests, mock interviews and GDs, conducted by alumni. This will help the students be prepared in important and in their weak areas for the placement process.

Executive Council Questioning

Chaithra opened the floor to questions as she asked him about what he is bringing to the table with the proposed Unconventional Lecture Series as there are already many lecture series like the EML, LLS and the ones that the clubs conduct. The candidate replied that the said lectures don’t address the problem on which he is focusing; that while he knows that the number of students isn’t very big, it’s still a good number of students that need the guidance. Replying to Chaithra’s next question on whether he is planning on working with Sangam alone, Chinmay said he is hoping to work on areas like journalism, public policy and the likes, initially. He was then asked by the Cultural Secretary (Lit), Harshith Gear Srinivas, about the structure of the series, to which he replied that while he won’t rely on Sangam completely and that he would only allot the responsibility of contacting the speakers to Sangam if the topic pertains to them. The candidate, along with his CDC team, shall provide Sangam with the database of the speakers and that CDC and Sangam will work hand in hand for this.

The Academic Affairs Secretary, Rahul Reddy, then enquired about the background work, the target audience, the funding, the role of the AAS, and when and where the proposed Industrial Day is going to be conducted. Chinmay replied that the undergraduates could consider research as a lucrative option through this and that the target audience would be the B.Tech, DD and M.Tech students. He also spoke about the possibility of collaborating with the RAS on this to target the MS and PhD scholars as well. He also mentioned that the Industrial Relations Officer, ICSR would be willing to share the data base of the industries that have visited the institute from 1981 to help him execute this plan. This database would be used to invite relevant industries according to the projects, thus leading to increased participation from the corporate sector. The candidate said that he plans on conducting this event in the even semester. He said that it could be conducted, depending on the number of students, in the ICSR or the KV grounds and that the funding from the alumni is not a difficult issue.  In response to being asked what exactly is the AAS’ role in this as the point is in the AAS’, RAS’ CoCAS’ and the SGS’ manifestos, the candidate replied that he would be the one responsible for industrial outreach, and getting participation from the students.

He was then asked about online ticketing system; Chinmay explained his proposed process by which the students could collect their transcripts. Rahul Reddy pointed out that there was already a similar process, and had the team open the website to show the audience. He then asked the candidate about the implementation to which the latter replied that the administration also wanted to change the current process to the proposed way. He was then asked about his contribution towards the process- given that the administration has five year plans of its own which cannot be added to the candidate’s manifesto- and Chaitra added a further question as to whether he had a proper timeline for this. The candidate replied that his role would be to get quotations from the vendors like TCS, and that the timeline remains to be predicted by the administration and himself. Rahul Reddy then pointed out that this will take at least five years to implement and it was impractical for something as small as transcripts. Chaitra further pointed out that his Manifesto point should have stated that he would get quotations from vendors to help in the process rather than claiming to implement the whole system in his tenure. Chinmay conceded that the point about getting vendors was not present anywhere in his feasibility report.

Chinmay was then asked about the difference between the proposed Master Classes and the proposed Crash Courses in terms of the course content, and whether he spoke to anyone from the Finance or Analytics Clubs to find out whether the same was possible. He replied that the primary objective of the Crash Courses was to help with placement preparation and the classes will be taken by the final year students for pre final year students in the even semester, providing the latter an opportunity to work on the same through the summer. The Master Classes, he said, will be open to all and was a 1 week 2 hours a day intensive classes. The classes will not be about explaining courses but key areas popular in particular industries. Rahul and Chinmay then discussed about why the classes will be for 7 days. He said that it would happen during the even semester so that the line-up of speakers can be finalised over the winter break. He also said that one week-long classes will give the students a sense of achievement, but if the lineup of speakers is long, then the duration is negotiable. Rahul then asked how it is different from his proposed Unconventional Lecture Series, to which Chinmay stated that analytics cannot be categorised under unconventional lectures as per his definition, and that the difference is that where one is a lecture, the other is a workshop. Chinmay also stated that he spoke to CFI Head Raghav, and aspiring CFI Heads as the Analytics Club falls under CFI’s domain. When asked if he had spoken to the current Analytics Club Heads, further mentioning that the Faculty Advisor of the same did not approve of a previous proposal to have a crash course for analytics. Chinmay stated that the initiative would be undertaken by the CDC.

Following this, he was asked about the low placement registration fee, and about how he plans on fixing a price for companies. Chinmay answered that the total tentative amount will be divided into two equal parts; given that the number of students registering for placements would be known, and that the companies who would be coming would not fall short of 300, one half of the total amount would be borne by the students and the other half by the companies, with the individual fee depending on the number of students and companies respectively. He was then asked about the Common Aptitude Test and the background work done for this; since the faculty of IIT Bombay has agreed to it, Rahul wanted to know which faculty members from IIT Madras had agreed to make the questions. The candidate replied that something of this sort has to be passed by the BoP, whose chairperson is the Dean of Students who said that it can happen if companies can be convinced to consider the score, it can happen, and that the number of faculty members in insti is too big for the candidate to speak to each of them. Rahul then enquired if Chinmay had spoken to anyone from the GATE office, without which the proposal would not be possible. He clarified the sections that the test would contain, and the team of faculty could not be decided by himself; Rahul stated in response to Chinmay’s assertion that he had the Dean of Student’s approval was that he needed the Training and Placement Advisor’s approval. The question then was regarding how faculty members would be chosen for the test; when questioned on the corresponding point in the feasibility report being the repetition of the same point, Chinmay had no answer and conceded that he needed to work on the same and formulate a model for it. Rahul proceeded to ask the candidate whether companies who accept this test score would agree to walk-in interviews. Chinmay replied that they would, because the test is not specific to any particular field and that the rationale of the test would be to reduce the number of tests that students would have to take. Rahul argued that companies that recruited prior to Day 4 would not use these test scores and that it would only be beneficial if companies that recruited post Day 4 accept these scores for walk in interviews. Chinmay agreed that this was the policy that he wished to implement

Sudharshan R, the Research Affairs Secretary noted that many research scholars register for placements only in the month of November, thus placing them at a disadvantage if the common tests were conducted earlier. He then asked the candidate as to why the new RAS would agree to a policy that would take away opportunities from Research scholars registering late for placements. Chinmay replied by noting that the companies who would be willing to accept the scores would be non-core companies, and the number of research scholars interested in non-core roles are fewer. Core companies aren’t being asked to consider these scores. Sudharshan replied that people registering post 15th November would be ready for any job; are opportunities being taken away from them? Chinmay replied that one more test could be conducted if required; and agreed that they would only have one option as opposed to being able to choose the best of three since they would be registering late. Sudharshan replied that there is a provision for MS and PhD to register any time. He further argued that they can’t register unless they have their guide’s approval and that it is not in his hands if they lose out on opportunities. Chinmay argued that the number of such students would be limited but conceded that he would be willing to conduct 1 or 2 walk-ins as per the requirement.

Rahul Reddy relayed a question from one of his core team members regarding internships, specifically the circulation of off campus opportunities among second and third year students. Rahul stated that this has been a common manifesto point of most Branch Councillors from the Mechanical Engineering Department for the past four years. He went on to note that the internship portal now offers interns to 65-70% of students and these opportunities could be pushed through the portal instead of giving it to second and third years who don’t need an internship as the goal is to provide internships to everyone registered on the portal. Chinmay replied that second year refers to B.Tech students, that 3rd years referred to Dual Degree students, and that the companies targeted are ones who don’t have policies to come on campus for hiring- such as NGOs and think thanks. Mails will be circulated regarding this, and the list of companies will also be uploaded on the off-campus opportunities tab that is already present in the internship portal

Chaithra then questioned why it wasn’t mentioned in Chinmay’s feasibility report that it would be second year BTech students and third year Dual Degree students who are competing. The latter answered that he isn’t restricting it that way, but that all second years and third years are being targeted; for those who are not sitting through office it would be through smail, and for those who are, through the portal. What are the criteria for IDDD and who will select them? With respect the the Dual Degree internship policy, Rahul brought to attention the major change that has been made such that third year B.Tech students and 4th year Dual Degree students would be competing for the same opportunity. Chinmay was then asked what he would do if the internship offer rates for B.Tech students turns out to be drastically low- would it be a policy failure or should it be continued? He replied that he would have to consult the entire core team, and that the opinion of the Internship Heads would matter the most. If the BTech students are affected very badly, he said there is a possibility of revamping the policy if the policy is changed such that the Dual Degree students are not affected much.

Chinmay was then questioned regarding the utility of crash courses by Abishek, one of the current IPR cores. Chinmay confirmed that the point of Crash Courses would be to improve the quality of students’ preparation for placements post Day 4, and that the quality of students dips significantly post Day 2. Abishek then asked the candidate whether all the companies would agree to pay the same registration fee if some of them were sitting on Day 1 and some were on Day 6, stating that if that were the case it would be troublesome to slot them. Chinmay replied that the amount was not very high. Abishek responded by pointing out that a company recruiting on Day 6 would have to pay the same fee as a company recruiting on Day 1 and argued that a company recruiting on Day 6 at IITM could go to say, IIT Roorkee on Day 3 without a fee. Chinmay retorted that it would be very difficult for a company that could get only Day 6 here could get Day 3 at any other IIT, and that if companies wanted to hire from a better talent pool they would not have a problem with paying a registration fee for recruiting at IIT Madras. Responding to a question as to whether this could be applied to internships, he said that if it works for placements where the number of students and companies is much larger, it can then be easily implemented for internships.

He was then questioned about whether he plans to conduct the Analytics Crash Course without Analytics Club’s help and how he hopes to do so. To this, he replied that while he is not decided how involved the club should be, he is optimistic that he can conduct it without its help with an entire vertical under him for this. He plans to use the Google Classroom offline for this and so make it different from what the clubs are doing. Following this, he was questioned by the current Student’s General Secretary, Sriram Kompella, regarding how and who will curate the courses, how subjectivity shall be eliminated in the curation, and what he plans on doing if negative feedback is escalated by the media. Chinmay replied that he plans to get feedback from students through the Branch Councillors. In response to the problem of negative feedback and subjectivity, that the data will not be made public and will only be visible to students on workflow. Chinmay also noted that the course contents on workflow are vague and not helpful. He plans to upload revised course content on workflow along with the feedback of students.

Chinmay was then asked by the current SLC Speaker, Amar Jyoti, about what is required of Executive Council members, say AAS, in regard to SLC. He replied that the SLC is a floor where anyone working under any Executive Council member can be questioned; the AAS would be answerable to any GSB member or legislator. Besides this, any Executive Council member must help with the ratification process by helping with sharing details of the core team. The Standing Committee should be aware of the things going on so that the reports on the particular Executive Council member can be periodically submitted to the SLC.

The candidate was then questioned regarding his duties with regard to Financial Accountability Committee, to which he replied that he believes the Placement body is a separate body and also that the only budget he would need would be for the travel and accommodation of the speakers. Chinmay agreed that his team would submit a budget to the SLC for the new activities under the CDC. On being questioned about submitting a budget for the ‘Industrial Day’, Chinmay argued that he would not require money from the Gymkhana and hence he wouldn’t have to answer to the SLC.

Amar Jyoti then asked the candidate about his plans regarding the placements and internships for the students of the HS department. He replied that he aims on tapping into untapped sectors like think thanks, journalism, public policy and the likes for internships and if this works out, to then extend the same to allow for full time opportunities. He believes that internships are a stepping stone to placements and working on these things could help in improving placements for the students of the department.

Dhruv Jain, the incumbent I&AR secretary then asked the candidate about the main role of the CDC. The candidate replied that the CDC is an umbrella, under which there are many things apart from placements. Skill development, he asserted, in any way should come under this. Regarding the focus area, he replied that the bulk of the work that CDC had already been doing will continue to remain important and additionally, will include his vision of renewing enthusiasm for research and providing mentorship to students. As far as placements is concerned, the Crash Courses would be taken up by the CDC to help. Thirdly, CDC would work towards skill development through master classes. To the question of where Unconventional Lecture Series fit in in this bandwidth, Chinmay responded that this initiative would help in skill development.

The next question came from Nihal, the Hostel Affairs Secretary, about the problems regarding the accommodation during the placement season. In the scenario that a specific hostel is not available for placements, what is the contingency plan in place? Chinmay replied that they require at least 200 rooms for this, and mentioned that the Dean assured him that Cauvery hostel will be available for this for the next 3-5 years. Even if this were not to be the case, they could find some other way because the placements can be conducted anywhere with 200 clean rooms in any hostel.

With respect to Shiru cafe- a Japanese cafe to be set up in IIT Madras, Nihal explained that in exchange for free tea and coffee for sponsorship, the deliverable that is being offered to them is advertising space for off campus opportunities, mainly by Japanese companies. When asked whether Chinmay thought that this would pose a threat to his placement policies, he replied that he would not be okay with it as it would affect the four hundred companies coming to campus that the Placements team works very hard for, for the fourteen hundred students who sit for placements. He also mentioned that under no circumstances would this model be entertained, as it would open the doors for several other companies to do the same.

T5E Questioning

The next question was from the T5E team, on whether he would support a model where the AAS wouldn’t self-appoint himself or herself as the placement head, and if he does, what his other initiatives  would be since the responsibility of the placements are handled by someone else. The candidate replied that he would consider it and be willing to have a Placement Head, if the team chooses, and that this will free the AAS up to explore other avenues of academics. The second question was about his views on the attendance policy and whether he thinks it should be strictly enforced and his plans regarding this. He replied that the current AAS did propose the same on the floor of the Senate, and was rejected. In his opinion, he thinks it should be reduced to a certain extent, around to 75%. He was questioned about this number and how he came up with it. To this, Chinmay responded that other IITs have similar policies and would make the students’ burden lighter. Following up, he was asked by Amar Jyoti about his opinion on giving marks for attendance, above the minimum, giving the Delhi University as an example, to incentivise the system. The response was that while a few professors are doing this already, he does not want to formalise the same and have all professors do it since everyone is different in this regard. The AAS clarified that the reason for this not being taken forward in the Senate was the inability to arrive at a solution where the top 10% who don’t want to attend classes and the bottom 20% who should attend classes can compromis, and that without justification for why it should be reduction to 75% and not any other figure, nothing would happen.

GSB Questioning

The next question came from the GSB about the selection criteria in IDDD. Chinmay responded that it shouldn’t be solely CGPA based and that the conclusion to the discussion he had with the Dean Academics was that an interview could be added to the selection criteria, and that it was not completely up to the AAS. When Rahul Reddy pointed out that this was the third time this was being proposed and questioned him as to why it was rejected the first two times, he responded that with two batches in the pipeline and more faculty to conduct the process, it would be feasible from next year.

The second question was regarding fake resumes during internships and how they can be verified. The candidate replied that while he plans on verifying the CGPA, the other content on the resume will be too difficult to verify in any way and that the timeline was not sufficient to accommodate the same. This however, he said, might not be an issue since he believes that no one can fake it during the interview.

Akshay, one of the current internship heads then questioned the candidate regarding internships for the M.Tech students- when would the portal open for them, and what was his take on MSc students sitting for interns. He responded that, having talked to the M.Tech students, he learned that most of them have professional experience and would like to sit for internships in their first semester. As long as companies hiring them would not mind a CGPA that was not from the institute, the process would start in October while also giving them a month to settle down here. He further mentioned that he would start the same in January if companies insisted on one semester in the institute.

Following this, he was asked about the timeline for Day X. He replied that it would be between quiz 2 and end semester exams (test slots on calendar to plan accordingly). The candidate replied that it could be conducted in the CRC, HSB, same as internships. The final question was from the RAS, who asked how he would manage it if the number of people attending is far greater than the number of people sitting for placements. To this, Chinmay responded that he would be ready to conduct the programme multiple times to accommodate everyone, provided the alumni are available and there are days free.

With this, the first session of Soapbox Day 1 came to a close.

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