Edited: Neha Anand | Design: Prashanth
Some senior gyaan and fundaes a.k.a. The Non-Freshie Perspective:
Almost every undergrad coming into insti has considered putting fight for branch change. Each person has their own experiences and reasons for wanting a branch change, but quite often, there are some common themes.
It all starts with JEE and the branch allotment process that follows. After at least two years of intense preparation in physics, chemistry, and mathematics, students are faced with having to choose between a wide range of engineering disciplines.
What does a JEE aspirant know about the difference between Aerospace Engineering, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and Naval Architecture? Is Chemical Engineering the same as Chemistry? What on earth is Engineering Design? Aren’t Engineering Physics and Physics the same…? But why?
– Freshie, confused unga bunga
And so, most students resort to the opening and closing ranks from the previous year to decide – surely, if everybody wants CS, it must be good! As the Netflix show ‘Alma Matters’ grimly points out, there, in the arbitrariness of branch allotment, begins the detachment from their disciplines that a considerable number of students feel.
Once students arrive on campus, the initial wonder and excitement of having made it to IIT wear off, and they start to realise some grim truths:
Do people get jobs with salaries in the 40+ LPA range?
No, only a handful of CS students get that.
What about the 80% placement statistics?
A vast majority of people outside of the top three branches get placed in non-core profiles. In departments such as Aerospace Engineering, for example, precisely zero B.Techs get placed in core profiles.
And there you see- the hazy beginnings of an extension of the JEE rat race with the internship season and the placement rush!
For some, the memories of attempting branch change are vivid. The 2017 batch surely remembers the day the results of the branch change were announced –
It was during the EDM night of Saarang 2018. While the beats of Aron Chupa’s “I’m an Albatross” blared through the speakers, I looked around to see all my friends staring down at their phones.
“I just got BC’ed to Mech!” a batchmate of mine said. Standing there blinded by the scintillating lights, I felt a wave of despair wash over me as I realised I hadn’t received the same email that he had.
For some, the pressure around branch change can be all-consuming, despite being in an enviable position in the eyes of others. An Electrical student who attempted branch change to CS remarks, “BC was like a second chance for many of us, and I worked really hard to get a good CG. I dedicated my entire first sem just to get a 9.7+ CG. I didn’t participate in any club events or explore anything new just to get a BC. It all feels so stupid now. I regret not joining clubs and meeting new people in my first sem.”
Some students despise the fact that one needs to do well in subjects seemingly unrelated to the branch of their choice. A 2017 senior with a great passion for CS but couldn’t do branch change remarks, “It was mostly just like school. You have to do well even in subjects you hate- for example, chemistry and engineering drawing of the first sem! It’s ridiculous that you get into CS depending on whether or not you ace chemistry. It’s really an extension of JEE.” This speaks of the inherent flaws in the entrance and admission processes.
Eventually, however, everybody makes peace with their situation. It takes a while, but we realise life goes on. Another 2017 student who was unable to BC comments, “Definitely a reality check that I couldn’t brush off too easily, but I think from the third sem onwards it passed like water under a bridge.” The Elec student who couldn’t get BC to CS adds, “The good thing was that when I didn’t get a BC, I participated in many things I wanted right from my second sem, and those connections I made definitely helped me reach where I am now”.
Students who are deeply interested in a particular subject pursue it regardless of their branch – through the wide array of electives and academic freedom that IITM provides. Students wanting a high-paying corporate job struggle to build their non-core profiles but often manage to pull it off.
Dr Malcolm in Jurassic Park said, “Life finds a way” – similarly, IITians always find a way…
What changed this year?
The senate of IIT Madras passed a resolution to suspend the option of branch change for the batch of 2020-21 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the option is unavailable to the ‘20 batch, the institute is yet to make a call on reinstating the opportunity for future batches.
When inquired about the changes for the incoming freshies of 2020, Prof. Jagadeesh Kumar, Dean Academic Courses, IIT Madras, replied, “This is not an impediment. IIT Madras admits about 1,300 students, and only about 25 to 30 students get a branch change. So, the probability of a student getting a branch change is really small. On the other hand, a student in the fourth semester or fifth semester can upgrade to a large number of interdisciplinary programs, ranging from fields like nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, computational engineering, data science, energy system, robotics, and Quantum Science. [sic]”
The freshie outlook from a fellow freshie:
Surviving the rigours of JEE amidst the pandemic, the batch of 2020 barely made it to the IITs. The big step after this was the selection of our preferred courses. Usually, the generic misconceptions about branches we chose are cleared once we arrive on campus. The interactions with seniors and professors help us make further informed choices that suit our passion with regard to branch change and selection of elective courses. But this time, the rulebook was thrown out of the window.
Although the freshies are yet to grasp the reasons for their inability to swap branches, this thought has oddly taken a backseat amidst the whole pandemic hullabaloo – a mighty contrast to the raging popularity of BC among a regular freshie batch on insti.
One of the major reasons for ‘20 freshies not missing the BC process is due to the limited interactions with seniors and professors. Seniors who advised and guided us about the hurdles in the courses over the years have transformed into voices speaking out to us while we stare at our blank screens. The acquaintance of students with professors is at an all-time low as we are identified by our roll-numbers rather than our names or faces. This lack of conversation has left us freshies in an all too familiar scenario, i.e. mulling in the same cluelessness of the initial few days of joining insti. Most freshies are still largely naive and unaware of the rigours awaiting them over the years.
Adil Sidan, an Engineering Physics freshie, remarks, “I always aspired to join the Electrical Engineering department. If I had the opportunity for a branch change, I think it would have given me an added motivation for studying. As of now, I hope to upgrade to an interdisciplinary program later on [sic].” Similarly, many students believe that the incentive for pursuing other branches would have pushed them to work a little more. And a little more sounds good when we all are yearning for hope in any form.
While some freshies lament the missed chance, others believe that the change is for the better. After coming out of the cutthroat world of JEE, they feel that more competition was the last thing they needed.
Abhishek Goyal, a Civil Engineering freshie, comments, “After the entire JEE fiasco, I really needed to take a break from this kind of competitive, self-involved stuff. Also, busting myself for grades in these online semesters is enough stress for me. Honestly, I feel comforted about not having the added pressure of branch change [sic].”
On the other side of the spectrum, some freshies are also somewhat unaffected by the decision to scrap BC- mostly because they are extremely passionate about their present courses. A freshie from the Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Department, Afthab Mohammed shares the sentiment. However, he feels that his batchmates do not deserve to miss out on such an opportunity, “I don’t think that I am suited to any of the courses students usually upgrade to. I feel pretty challenged at my current course. So, I don’t think that I would have considered a branch change even if I had the opportunity to do so. However, I feel that it is unfair to deny our batch an opportunity that has been available over the years. Anyone who wishes to make a switch should not have been denied the opportunity because, despite the difficulties, we are still attending classes and taking exams.”
The current freshies, who are finishing up their exams as I write this article, are crippled by the effects of the pandemic and the lack of insti life. This is contributing to students taking a laid-back approach to their academics. In this situation, there is a general consensus that an opportunity for branch change might have led to students stepping up their game. However, other than this wavering thought, none of the freshies seem to be gravely affected by this change.
For freshies learning to navigate this branch-change-less environment, to RG or not to RG, that is the question.