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The Pros and Cons of Being an IIT Professor

The Pros of Being an IIT Professor

One of the main advantages of being an IIT professor is the freedom that the job offers. As an IIT professor, you can choose the subjects that you want to teach, the syllabus that you want to follow, the methods that you want to use, and the evaluation criteria that you want to apply. You can also decide your own work schedule, and pursue the projects and collaborations that interest you. You have no bosses to report to, and you can even start your own company if you wish. You also get generous vacation leave, and the opportunity to travel to different places and countries for academic events.
Another benefit of being an IIT professor is the expansion of mind that the job entails. As an IIT professor, you can pursue new and interesting problems, and keep in touch with the latest technical developments, as well as the socio-economic-political issues around the world. You can meet and interact with eminent scholars, experts, and leaders who visit the campus, or who invite you to their institutions. You can also learn from your students, who are among the brightest and most talented in the country, and who challenge you to think about the subject in new ways.
A third advantage of being an IIT professor is the youth that the job brings. As an IIT professor, you remain in touch with the young generation on campus, who are full of energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity. You can inspire them and get inspired by them, and share your knowledge, wisdom, and passion with them. You can also relive your youthful moments through them, or with them (sometimes), and come back to the mature world when you want.
A fourth benefit of being an IIT professor is the respect that the job commands. The profession of teaching is respected in society, and the position of an IIT professor is respected by students and staff, especially in the Indian setting. But the best part is when you are respected for your teaching, research, or administration, and when you receive recognition and appreciation for your contributions and achievements.
A fifth advantage of being an IIT professor is the shelter that the job provides. In a chaotic world out there, with crowd, pollution, insecurity, etc., campus life is a cocoon. You can enjoy the greenery, the facilities, the amenities, and the services that the campus offers, free of cost or at subsidized rates. You can also choose to step out of the cocoon as and when you please, and explore the outside world.

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The Cons of Being an IIT Professor

One of the main disadvantages of being an IIT professor is the lack of pursuit of excellence that the system fosters. Faculty are not really answerable for poor teaching, and lack of research. Research output counts during promotions, but it is far from transparent how it is analyzed. One can still pursue excellence without a system to push for excellence, but the peer group’s zeal for excellence atrophies pretty quickly after joining as a faculty, which affects the whole professional environment. Think of the long tea breaks that the faculty takes, or the frustration with the system among some faculty who are professionally sound. There are no best-teaching awards, at least not at some IITs, although some other IITs have them. There are no forums to learn from each other about better teaching, mentoring, research, etc. There is not even a consequence of taking 35 minute lectures in 55 minute slots, or only 30 lectures, especially for some faculty. In general, there are not many vibrant research discussions or workshop style tutorials, especially initiated by senior faculty. Even casual discussions in coffee shops are complaining about colleagues, administration, students, teaching load, etc., and not about ideas. Even from the top administration, there is no vision of excellence that is communicated. Most statements sound like typical sound bites from a government office that lack clear vision. This also erodes their confidence, so they either blindly pursue foreign-given institutional rankings, or feel the need to defend why we are not high in those rankings.
Another drawback of being an IIT professor is the lack of more freedom and trust that the system offers. In general, a lot of policies are based on a lack of trust in the faculty and students. There are a few black sheep here and there, but many of them still go unpunished, while those who mean no harm to others or the society suffer. Although there are many freedoms in the IIT system, some restrictions go unexplained. For example, as long as one fulfills their teaching duties during the semester, one should be able to travel for professional purposes. However, unless you are going to present a paper at a conference, special casual leave is not granted, for example, to meet a company to discuss potential collaboration. Another example is: although one can collaborate with other faculty at will, there are no mechanisms for joint degrees. Another example is purchase of equipment. When one knows an equipment that they want to buy and shortlist a reputed dealer with competitive price, still they have to go through the indent, advertisement, 3 quotations, etc. Also, why do we need a faculty to supervise faculty invigilating exams? This has never been explained properly. There is also a limit on the amount one can make through consultancy during a semester. Setting teaching and research expectations would have been more appropriate instead. Let us not get into restrictions on students, which is not strictly pertinent to this question, although bothersome.
A third disadvantage of being an IIT professor is the lack of transparency and certainty that the system ensures. IITs are policy driven institutes to a large extent, but they have a lot more to go. Some policies seem to be a reaction to problems caused by a few black sheep that end up restricting freedom of well meaning professionals. For example, if one or two faculty misused their PDA money, now no one is allowed to buy things like flash drives or printer cartridges. So, there is lack of certainty about what expense will be reimbursed under PDA. Another example: guiding a PhD seems to be the requirement for promotion. Yet, one can find counterexamples on both sides without explanation. So, more transparency and certainty would be welcome from the upper administration. Many times they do not bother to explain why a rule is in place, although some do.
A fourth drawback of being an IIT professor is the lack of streamlining of processes that the system achieves. A lot of processes require several signatures on paper, back and forth communication, etc. What can be done in hours takes days or weeks. Process automation systems work acceptably for some processes only. Those in administrative position seem to be busy with busywork throughout the day, either because they do not have a vision for more useful work, or the process unnecessarily consumes their time. This is also tied to the lack of transparency and certainty. A culture of making exceptions to policies for emotional or political reasons also keeps administrators and others busy. For example, we spend hours discussing what to do with reinstatement applications of academically terminated students whose parents come and beg, or who have someone powerful give the administration a call.
A fifth drawback of being an IIT professor is the high teaching load that the system imposes. In core engineering departments, shortage of faculty means that class sizes are often 80+, and some faculty teach at least two full course loads each semester. This leaves less time for research. Not sure what the remedy for this is, other than hire more faculty. And if we want them to be quality faculty, a lot more freedom and monetary incentives will be needed. For example, allowing qualified industry professionals to teach a semester here and there, hiring foreign faculty for longer terms with flexibility of teaching every other semester, for instance, and lifting certain restrictions on how they make money outside of IIT.
A sixth drawback of being an IIT professor is the difficulty of attracting better PG students that the system faces. There seems to be no effort to actively reach out to campuses of good colleges around an IIT to inspire good students to apply for PG programs. Although, we are overwhelmed with applications for PG admissions, the quality leaves much to be desired. And, the admission criteria are often blanket ones that treat grades from an NIT on the same level as similar grades from lower quality private colleges.

Conclusion

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