Department Stereotypes


Article by Niharika Gunturu, Aneesh Salelkar, Nihal K, Pranav Bhargav, Shweta Venkatesh, Rohitha Naraharisetty

“It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humour”

That being said:

“How many HS students does it take to change a lightbulb?
None, because even the bulb is brighter than they are.

If this joke sounds or feels familiar to you, welcome to the world of departmental stereotypes. In this article, we decided to compile a non-exhaustive list of few of the most well known, albeit infamous stereotypes that the students from various departments face on a regular basis.

Humanities and Social Sciences

If you have been in insti even for a few hours, you will have familiarised yourself with the basic protocol for any functioning brain around here: target the HS people. Why? Because they don’t science, of course. And what are they doing in an Indian Institute of Technology anyway? Over the years this has become a part and parcel of life here in insti, with the victims often taking it in good spirit and with a pinch of salt. What we have come to learn about our perception however, roughly amounts to this:

HS junta starter pack- a thesaurus for a brain, seven hundred different ‘ism’s and ‘ist’s, an antenna for picking up and attacking political incorrectness, fond of jargonising simple statements and quite capable of hauling you over the coals for addressing simple statements like ‘guys’ to a mixed group.

Not to mention, of course, the ever-present question- What do they actually DO for five years here? What do they study? And even after explaining in detail what you do study- ‘How on earth is this going to help them get a job? And of what earthly use is it, learning about people and events which happened centuries ago?’ Of course, by this, the entire course and its various nuances and aspects are vaguely termed as coming under that subject- ‘ History’

PS- I, an HS student, just made up the first joke to prove a point.


Engineering Physics

When an Austrian goes abroad he’s often told ‘Wow! You must have Kangaroos in your backyard!’ To which the Austrian replies, ‘No, that’s AustraLIA, not Austria.

The Austrian is then met with a blank face.

Change Austria to EP, and Australia to ED, and you have a similar conversation in IIT Madras. ‘EP not ED!’. We often find ourselves stressing on the ‘P’ too much, which makes for a highly awkward situation. So most of us just say ‘Engineering Physics’. No, it’s not just ‘Physics’, that’s a different course altogether. Also, no, we didn’t just scrape our way through JEE and into IIT Madras. I remember one of my friends once asked me, ‘Why don’t you try to slide to something better… like CIVIL?’

Let us all have a moment of silence (Civil people please don’t get offended).

There is, however, a silver lining to every cloud. Most of those who have written the JEE have been scarred by Physics for life. So, the mere thought of voluntarily putting yourself through 4 more years of the same is torturous. And for that reason, we are saluted for our courage and greeted with, ‘Wow! Physics aa?!’ Not Physics, EP! But we’ll take the compliment. With all the main Electrical courses along with some really tough Physics courses, we’re right up there with the Elec junta as the most ‘paavam’ people in Insti.

It’s difficult to have stereotypes for a branch that isn’t even recognized. The fact that EP intake is only 30 people a year makes us as rare as the blackbuck in Insti. We occupy most of the (ironically named) ‘Humanities and Sciences Block’, where if you ask people on the ground floor for directions to the B. Tech Physics Lab, they say, “No this is the Humanities Building”. And if this is our case within Insti, imagine it outside of Insti.

A typical conversation with an over enthusiastic factory child’s parent goes like this:

‘Wow Beta! You go to IIT Madras? Which branch?’

‘Engineering Physics uncle!’                                       

‘Engineering… Physics? There’s a branch like that also?’

*awkward  smile*

Oh, you can only do so much.


Mechanical Engineering:

A mechanical student walks into a bar, only to realise that he destroyed his experimental setup.

Forever ‘pained’ with courses and labs, mechanical engineering is one of the most competitive departments in the institute- where days spent without being called RG and maggu are days which are wasted. If the EP students are as rare as blackbucks, the mechanical students can be said to be as common as… well there’s nothing more common than mechanical students. With around 140 guys and 3 girls in the department the chances of dating a girl in mechanical are tougher than that of getting into the department and landing a 25 lpa job after that.

The quite accurate stereotype “There are no girls in Mechanical” is often understandably misconceived by a vast majority to be “Mechanical Engineering is not for girls”.  And so the branch is caught in a vicious cycle, where the original stereotype is bolstered by its common misinterpretation. Girls are often discouraged by the lack of peers of the same sex, and parents less likely to encourage their kids, however willing, to go to a branch that is “not for girls”.

This probably stems from the fact that people believe mechanical engineering has a lot to do with physical labour. While it’s true that this particular aspect is more prominent here than in other branches, being a mechanical engineer doesn’t mandate hard labour. Mechanical engineering also has a lot to do with intuition, intellect, creativity, and all the other more “refined” traits people assume are not required.  Especially as an IITian, you have a better-than-average chance of successfully going for research, design, teaching, consulting and such work that a woman can do just as well as a man. Leave the brute force for the stragglers.

But that said, mechanical engineering also receives a healthy respect for the broad spectrum of opportunities for study and work it provides, as the “evergreen” branch. So we probably come off on the lighter side of things, as far as stereotypes go.


Naval Architecture

‘I didn’t know they had marine engineering in IITM’

‘No, it’s actually Naval Architecture and ocean engineering’

‘What’s the difference?”

This is followed by a long paragraph of explanation only to be met with a Blank stare by the person at the receiving end. So the Navarcher quickly swallows his pride, and replies, ‘Yes, so I guess it’s very close to marine engineering.’

A smirk follows.

Welcome to the life of a Navarcher.

There was that one kid in every class, whom most of the classmates looked down upon, because he wasn’t particularly good in one single thing and would go off doing whatever he wanted- but still manage in the term exams. Navarch is exactly that, coming from the middle-bottom tier in the unwritten department hierarchy.

Regarded as the ‘Mallu Hub’ of IITM, Navarch is probably the only branch in insti where you find more Malayalis than Telugu speakers. So many that if we assign every branch a country, Navarch would take up all the Gulf countries. This is often regarded as the most ‘peace’ B-Tech stream. With people going as far as to equate easy courses with Navarch level courses, one certainly has to wonder if ‘your branch is so peace macha’ is really an insult or a compliment.


Civil engineering

One year into engineering, if your relative walks up to you and asks you if you could draw a plan for a building he wants to construct while you stand there weighing out the odds of getting out of that situation with minimal embarrassment- congratulations, you are in civil engineering.

‘At least you have girls in your branch’ comments by your mechanical friend have become a part of your daily life. From procrastinators to maggus, techies to thinkers, athletes to ‘Netflix and Chill’ one can find every kind of species in the pandora’s box that is civil engineering.

It is high time the motto of civil engineers was changed to ‘Civil Engineers, NOT ARCHITECTS,’ because we cannot remodel your dining room to make it more aesthetically appealing, despite you constantly asking us to. That’s just not what we do. Having said that being called an Architect is far better than people picturing you laying out bricks and concrete in a construction site. Caught between being called an architect and a construction worker , the life of a civil engineer is always in a mesh. But that doesn’t stop them from making really bad puns.


Electrical Engineering

A wise man once said ‘You can’t spell geek without EE,’ only to cause a major stir among current electrical engineering students who joined the resistance in order to fight the stereotype that was latching onto them.

Destiny prevailed and no matter what they accomplished past their potential, apart from a few occasional ‘studs’, the word ‘geek’ would always fly at them- a disadvantage of having perfect hearing, some would say.

With students taking the branch after just missing out on computer science, the first semester for most electrical engineering freshie is spent in mugging for a branch change to the best, only to realise that old habits die hard. So deeply dug into their books, by the end of their term at the institute an average EE geek is said to have explored only a couple of the innumerable opportunities that come their way

Known for being one of the most reputed branches of the institute, the saying ‘time is money’ isn’t followed a lot here, though an altered version ‘time is grades’ has been the motto they live by. It is only sensible to sympathise with the poor ones when their 2 credits labs are conducted as if they were 5 credit ones (Rumour has it).

Did someone say analog circuits?


Engineering Design

“What exactly do you do?” An ED student is often asked.

“You see, a product has a form and a function. Engineering Design deals with both, with an added emphasis on function.”

“So what is it that you do again?”

At this point the ED student gives up and says, ”We play with Play-Doh! And get grades for it!” Far from the truth, but that’s what everyone wants to hear anyways.

Often trolled for that one 1st sem course: Creative Drawing, ED students are ridiculed for spending their days drawing and moulding and doing all sorts of artist-y things, which, most definitely is not the case. Only they know the pain of trying to make clay grapes look like clay grapes, before being doomed by that one RG in the class who made a bust of a deer.

ED freshies are the most content souls in Insti. The entirely different syllabus rules out the prospects of a branch change, and thus they live content lives- devoid of the rat race to catch that ‘S’.


Computer Science and Engineering

How many programmers does it take to change a lightbulb?
It can’t be done, this is a hardware problem.”

Have you ever come across students who haven’t slept for the past two days owing to a blunder in their code caused by that one syntax error between lines 2600 and 3500?Is this a practice that they repeat every week?

Don’t judge them or even think about sympathising with them. These students have achieved what many dream of doing, getting into the most prized department of the institute, the Computer Science and Engineering Department; albeit never being able to get out with the exits in CS being harder to find than the Chamber of Secrets. 

With almost a cent percent assurance that life is set once they enter the department, one of the major challenges they face is navigation through the CS department. Known for being intricately adopted to resemble a labyrinth, rumour has it that the department has intentionally been made the way it is in order to constantly keep the students thought process active.

As the placement season comes closer, CS junta who have never left their rooms in the past 4-5 that they spent in the institute can be seen loitering around the campus, living life and RG-ing fellow batchmates; many with a PPO already in hand and the rest confident about the day one placement they will be getting. At the end of the day though, the CS department being top of the food chain, they have earned it all and they deserve nothing but the best. Or so they seem to think. 

A FAQ from the CS students is a must here “Maccha Maccha, what is non-core? Please tell me maccha!!”


And last but not least, here are two honorary mentions: 

Biotechnology/Biological Sciences

Seriously, is there any difference?
The students from these departments are the butt of jokes for not being too popular on the placement side of things.

Aerospace Engineering

An unfortunate consequence of being a student of this department is the tendency to fail US visa interviews because of a fear that you will hijack their planes; thus putting an end to the Great Indian Dream of IIT being a one way ticket to the American Dream. And all you other branches thought you had it bad.


Disclaimer– This article is not meant to offend anybody and is meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is not intended to be exhaustive or representative.

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