Edited by Jai Santhoshi.S
Designed by Aryamaan
Students enter IITs with a hovering sense of uncertainty after a defined JEE journey. After having heard stories of lucrative packages, students very often choose to pursue placements. While placement preparation helps a student grow holistically, academia has remained the road not taken for the most part. The desire to do original research, while still prevalent, is relatively meagre in comparison. A BTP is one of the avenues that one can avail to explore research while pursuing their undergraduate degree.
This article will illustrate the significant features of pursuing a BTP and aim to quell common doubts students have before considering research as a serious option.
What is a BTP?
A B.Tech Project (BTP) is an opportunity offered by the institute to get first-hand research experience while still pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. It serves as the culmination of one’s degree and involves taking a deep dive into a particular topic by putting into practice the knowledge one has gained over the course of the previous four years.
It is an interesting proposition, to say the least: it offers you the chance to partake in meaningful research while ensuring you are also adequately compensated for your effort by awarding a commensurate number of credits for the same.
A BTP is pursued in the final year of one’s B.Tech journey. The exact timeline varies from department to department. For BTPs under the EE and CS departments, registration is done prior to the eighth semester. For other departments, it is done as part of the course registration process for the seventh semester. Interested students are required to enrol for the course ‘Project’ offered by the department they want to do the project under through SEAT (Student Elective Allocation Tool). Once enrolled, the student is required to select or propose a research topic.
The department sends out a list of projects from which one can choose a topic aligning with their interests. Professors of the respective departments propose these topics. Upon selecting a topic, students get to work with the professor, who becomes their advisor for the project.
With multiple students vying to work under the same professor, prior experience and/or relevant courses are a helpful distinguishing factor. Students can also individually approach professors with self-proposed research topics and work on them, provided that they are able to find a professor willing to guide them.
It is recommended that one completes most of their other coursework before the final semester so that they can devote ample time to focusing entirely on the BTP.
While it is mandatory for the Honors Degree students to do a BTP and the dual degree students a DDP, it is not compulsory for students pursuing a standard Bachelor’s degree. Students can, however, make use of a BTP to fulfil their credit requirements. In most departments, a BTP counts for 27 credits which is equivalent to 3 professional or free electives. However, a project completed under the CSE department is considered equivalent to 24 Department elective credits.
The duration primarily depends on the department of the project. Students pursue the BTP throughout the final semester or final year. Projects extending through the whole year are split into two parts: work done during the odd semester is worth one-third of the total credits, and work done during the even semester accounts for the remaining two-thirds.
Students must secure at least a B grade in the odd semester to be eligible to continue the project in the even semester. Again, these specifics might vary from department to department.
Can students opt for BTPs from other departments?
A student can choose to do a BTP under any department. However, one can pursue a project in other departments only in lieu of free electives. Projects which are taken under their respective department of study, on the other hand, are compensated against professional electives.
Sanjeev Parameswaran and Sai Srinivas Tippa, graduates from the Mechanical Engineering department, worked on a project centred around clean energy. The project was a collaboration between IIT Madras and a Canadian University. They designed a 1-BHK apartment that would be energy independent and powered by renewable sources, such as solar and wind energy, to meet its energy requirement. Guidance from a PhD student working in the same lab through the course of their project had helped them successfully present their project at the end of the year.
Sanjeev’s interest in clean energy helped him land this project. After looking for relevant courses, ‘Introduction to Energy and Environment’ interested him, and he reached out to the course professor looking for avenues to work. Upon performing well in preliminary tasks given to him, he was able to earn his opportunity to work on a BTP under the course professor.
His decision to do a BTP revolved mainly around the fact that doing a BTP would allow him to take three fewer courses during the final semester. This allows a student to be comparatively at ease and relaxed during an otherwise stressful final year.
As long as a project has the guiding professor’s approval to serve as a BTP, it can be credited as such, regardless of whether it is a new project or a part of a larger project in collaboration with other academic or industrial institutions.
Access to resources
Most projects do not require access to significant resources or presence in a physical lab. However, if need be, such requirements are always accommodated. For computational resources, one can always reach out to HPCE (High-Performance Computing Environment) and P.G. Senapathy – directly if on-campus or by mail if working remotely.
Literature and other research papers are easily accessible using LDAP credentials through Shibboleth (an alternative to the Off-campus Access Proxy and Campus VPN services that allows direct login to a limited number of library databases even when one is not on campus). In any case, one can always contact the guiding professor for help.
The guiding professor helps the student stay on the right track throughout the year. They also conduct periodic meetings where the student can sum up the progress made. These meetings majorly serve as sanity checks for the proposed method/results obtained. However, ultimately, it is up to the student to take accountability for their progress in the project and report to the guide regularly.
Abhimanyu Swaroop, a senior in the Metallurgy and Material Sciences department set to pursue an MS in Data Science at Columbia University, talked to us about his BTP experience. The work involved conducting physics-based simulations to compute a nanoparticle’s plasmonic properties and use them in solar cell simulations to improve the efficiency of solar cells. Despite only being familiar with basic python before the start of the project, he could pick up the pace with the help of tutorials provided by other students working in his advisor’s lab. A Letter Of Recommendation (LoR) is an essential part of MS applications, and the LoR he received from his advisor helped his application even when the field he’s pursuing an MS in is entirely different from the domain in which he did his BTP.
Students are required to submit a thesis and present it at the end of the project. Evaluation is done at the end of both semesters for year-long projects and at the end of the final semester for projects done in the even semester. The presentation is made in front of a panel of professors that comprises the faculty mentor, the project advisor and an external examiner relevant to the project proposal.
Although all projects do not result in a publication, doing a BTP provides an opportunity to get a publication under your belt, especially if your results are novel.
Advantages of a BTP
The primary advantage of a BTP is the research experience that one gains throughout the process. It ultimately opens up new career avenues that are typically ignored in today’s day and age, favouring career choices that are traditionally considered more secure. Another advantage of a BTP arises as a natural consequence of this. Anyone looking to pursue an MS/PhD must demonstrate research aptitude to get selected to reputed programs. A BTP is an accessible way to do this.
Nikhita Damaraju, a dual degree student from the Department of Biotechnology, worked alongside Ramya Vijayram and Ashley Xavier on a project to use AI for Maternal and Child Health. Their project focused on predicting preterm birth early. Currently, India uses growth estimation models derived from US-based populations that were predominantly Caucasian. Their model, however, is based on a North Indian population and has already shown significant differences. Being the first entirely Indian-derived model, it promises great applicability when put into clinical use across the population.
Nikhita is currently pursuing a Masters in Biostatistics at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, where her program is concentrated in Statistical Genetics. It involves using quantitative methods to analyse genetic data for a particular condition or disease. Speaking about the influence of the project on her future decision, she says, “My project experience with Dr Himanshu Sinha was an important stepping stone to what I’m pursuing currently.”
Dr Himanshu’s affiliations with organisations like the Center for Integrative Biology and Systems Medicine (CIBSE) and Robert Bosch Center for Data Science and AI (RBCDSAI) opened avenues for her to present at conferences of these organisations. Further, interacting with professors like Dr Raghunathan Rengasamy helped her solidify the analyses better for the project.
In doing the project, Nikhita also did not compromise on other avenues of work experience. She was able to handle doing a summer internship alongside her research project.
She looks back at the project as a great decision because it set the tone for what she would do in the next few years. She fondly remembers the support shown to the whole group by Dr Himanshu as he ensured that their enthusiasm was always high and that their work was recognised. Recalling one such incident, she says, “I remember this one time in February 2020, where he sponsored a visit to the data collection centre, hospital and THSTI in Faridabad. It was unreal to see actual pregnant women that were just data points on our screen for all these ten months come to life. Each one of these 8000+ data points was a real woman going on a unique and beautiful journey, and somehow, this project would find a way to impact all their lives.”
Their work eventually resulted in a publication that can be read here.
So, why not?
A BTP can serve as a valuable learning experience in the final year of your degree with far-reaching positive implications for your future career plans. As a long time tradition in any engineering Bachelor’s degree, it is an intriguing option that is well worth taking in the future.