Internships for All – Interview with Prof. Chandramouli




Prof. Chandramouli became the faculty advisor of the internship office in February, building on his experiences of being the faculty in charge of ME internships. He believes that faculty intervention in the internship process will lead to transparency and increase the number of internship opportunities for students. Prof. Chandramouli gives an overview of the current internship policies of the institute and why they are so.


Stricter Internship Policies


We find that stricter internship policies have been put into effect this year compared to the previous year. What is the reason for this change and what new rules were enforced?

Stricter internship policies have been enforced this year to ensure that the institute does not lose out on any internship offers. Once a student obtains an internship through the internship office, he/she has to compulsorily pursue it. A student is not allowed to forgo the opportunity to take up a research internship.

When I took up this position, I had the unpleasant task of dealing with HR personnel of companies upset by the fact that by many students were refusing to join them for internships after being selected. We lost around 25 internships this year because these companies either did not turn up or have reduced the number of students they recruit. Moreover, these students took away opportunities from other students who would have otherwise obtained internships.

At the beginning of this year, policies were formulated to maximize the potential of placing our students into companies for internships. In addition, the institute has decided that no credits should be awarded to students who obtain internships through the internship cell but pursue internships elsewhere. We have excluded second year students from the process since our focus is on third year students and some of the students who did not take up the internship offers were second year students.


On Making Internships Optional


Recently, IIT Delhi took the unprecedented step of making summer internships optional. A few other IITs allow students to take up other engagements as well. Now that the curriculum has been revised, why are internships still mandatory at IIT Madras?

The task force formed to institute the new curriculum discussed this in detail and came to the conclusion that internships should be made optional for students. Their logic behind this was that the credits for doing the industrial internship are awarded based on the evaluation done by supervisors who are not part of the institute’s faculty. Therefore, the institute has no control over this and there is no assurance that the student has done satisfactory work.

A proposal was made based on their recommendations and forwarded to the Senate. The Senate, in its wisdom, declined the proposal stating that students must obtain the experience of exercising their academic knowledge in an industrial setting as a curricular requirement. As of now, it has been decided that compulsory internships will continue to be part of the curriculum. A change can possibly occur after 5 years – when the curriculum will be revised again.


What is your personal opinion on this?

From my experience as the faculty in charge of Mechanical Engineering internships, I believe that internships should not be mandatory. It should be left to the students to decide what to do in summer. If not industrial internships, they can opt for a research project, pick up a hobby project or pursue an entrepreneurial activity. It makes no sense to have a core engineering internship as part of the curriculum when only 30% of the undergraduate students actually take up a core job.

There is another reason to do away with compulsory internships. When it is a curricular requirement, it becomes the duty of the department/institute to find internships for the students. This problem is aggravated by the paucity of core companies that offer internships. As the faculty in charge of Mechanical Engineering internships, I had great difficulty finding internships for 160 students. Similar situations may exist in large departments like Electrical Engineering.


Suppose internships are made optional, will students still be serious about taking up internships?

As I said, making internships non-mandatory is a great idea as many students do them just for the sake of fulfilling the curricular requirement. But, students do know that Pre-Placement Offers can be obtained through internships. If a large chunk of students who do internships obtain Pre-Placement offers, students will start taking internships seriously. In this manner, internships will be sought after voluntarily by all students.


On Disparity Across Departments


We find that there is a huge disparity among the internship policies adopted by different departments. Can something be done to ensure uniformity?

The policies of each department are different because they are framed by the respective HODs. These policies change once the HODs change. For example, the Civil Engineering department is very strict on what type of internship its students can credit (and only at the end of the sixth semester) while an Electrical Engineering student can credit almost any kind of internship. We need to formulate a policy that is not as strict as the former nor as flexible as the latter, i.e., a via media. The director must must talk to the HODs of all the departments and evolve a common policy; the internship office can be the catalyst.


Do you have anything planned for students of the Engineering Design department who have to pursue 6 month long internships?

Oh! I did not know about this until you said it. The faculty of the Engineering Department are yet to approach us regarding this. Since the Engineering Design department has a different mandate (not just a six week internship), we will have to work with them separately.


The DD Internship Issue – An Amicable Solution


We find that Dual Degree students are at a disadvantage when it comes to internships. Most companies are not open to them when are in their third year because they are not pre-final years. Furthermore, they are not allowed to take up an internship in their fourth year without being slapped with an extension of 2 months on their DDP. What  is the reason for enforcing this rule?

Dual Degree students are not allowed to take up internships at the end of their fourth year mainly because they are supposed to start their Dual Degree Projects in summer to satisfy the mandate that a DD student has to spend a minimum of 12 months working on his DDP. In addition, the students are paid stipends for doing the projects and are therefore supposed to stay in the lab for summer. The Senate has made it clear that DD students taking up internships in summer will be given an extension of 2 months on their DDP. Moreover, the degrees will be awarded only in October after they are approved in the first Senate meeting of the next academic year.


Do you have a plausible solution to this issue?

According to me, Dual Degree students should be allowed to take up internships after their fourth year because it leads to the possibility of a Pre-Placement Offer. Few companies recruit third year Dual Degree students for internships although we are trying to ensure more opportunities for them.

An amicable solution to this problem would be to conceive a process to ensure that students, who are given an extension for taking up internships in summer, are given their degrees in July – provided they find a faculty who will be willing to guide them through the summer. Also, students are not aware that they can start their Dual Degree projects earlier if they wish to take up internships in summer. Students can start their DDPs in winter or the 8th semester and finish in time. But, this can be only done with the permission of the Head of the Department.

An alternative solution to the problem would be to get some companies to offer internships in winter for the Dual Degree students. In fact, a better idea would be for the departments to allow their B. Tech students to do their core interns at the end of the 5th or 6th semester, while DD students can do it at the end of the 6th or 7th semester.


Just like the Dual Degree students, PG students have few opportunities to pursue internships. How can we solve this problem?

This problem is similar to that faced by Dual Degree students although it is complicated by the fact that companies usually offer internships of durations of 3-6 months to PG students. They are not allowed to take up any internships after their first year as they have to compulsorily work on their MTech. Project during the summer. Hence, they face a setback during placements.

Currently, internships for the PG students are not handled by the internship office but are handled by the respective departments on a case-by-case basis. Whenever any company approaches us looking for PG students for internships, we just pass on the information to the concerned departments. A solution similar to what was proposed for Dual Degree students can be implemented.


Internships for Second Year Students


You mentioned that the internship cell no longer allows second year students to apply. What options do they have to take up internships in summer?

As I mentioned before, we decided to exclude second year students from the process simply to manage numbers. They can go and look for internships on their own. Many students have been fairly successful in this endeavour. Some of them have found internships as good as those obtained by third year students through the internship cell. Also, some departments like the Aeronautical Engineering department do offer internship opportunities to second year students through the department.


Can we have something of the sort of a University Research Portal in IIT Madras for the first and second year students who wish to take up research internships?

Regarding a University Research Programme, I would say that faculty will not be cautious in putting up advertisements on a URP fearing a large number of unwanted applications. Yet most professors, including me, are on the lookout for good students to take up projects in their labs. The students should themselves take the initiative and talk to their professors if they wish to take up such projects.


Towards a Better Internship Office


Screenshot from 2015-10-27 16:50:50

The new internship portal


How is the Internship Office faring compared to the previous year? Can you support it with statistics?

As you are aware, the Internship Office was established only in February, this year. Earlier, the Placement Office was helping the student team to carry out the internship activities. Unfortunately, we do not have formal records to compare with the last year.

One of my first tasks was the setting up of a web portal for both students and companies. Prof. Babu – Placement Advisor – has been very helpful in getting this up and running. We had a trial run in March and April 2015 with about 15 companies using the portal along with the students which helped us iron out the issues faced by both sides.

This year we started the process mid-August 2015 and in the past two months about 37 companies have  come to IIT Madras and more than 140 offers have been made. Most of these are in Computer Science/Electrical Engineering streams. We are now seeing other core companies (Mechanical/MME/Chemical) register rather actively. Maybe we can answer this question the next academic year when we will have the statistics for students placed through this Office.


What is your vision for the Internship Office for your tenure?

As I have mentioned earlier, the internship process is being managed by many players including the Internship Office. Also, there is a wide variation in the definition of what constitutes a “core” internship as well as when it can be done.

Therefore, one of my major goals is to be a catalyst for the process of bringing all Departments on one page. The second goal is to eventually make this Office the one-stop-shop for all internship needs across the Institute; this will take some time I suppose.

As for my vision, I want the Office to look beyond our B. Tech/DD students. Whenever I visit any company as part of my work, there are at least a half a dozen of our PG alumni who make it a point to meet me. They are so happy and proud of their IIT Madras association. I really feel that “core” internships can make a significant difference for our PG students (including our research scholars). The internship not only improves their placement prospects but also adds significant value in terms of better technical and communication skills. This of course requires a lot of effort in convincing our faculty to embrace this vision. In the long run, IIT Madras, will then become the most sought after IIT for PG students.

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