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My husband is a guru. Or is it a god?

Michael had a faculty member visit this evening.  As a Fulbright lecturer, Michael is not just here to teach undergraduates, but also to mentor faculty.  One of the Indian lecturers here had just applied and been accepted to a US graduate school for a master's degree. The professor came over to our apartment for the evening, and he and Michael talked for a couple hours.

In the US, we joke about the slavery of underpaid graduate students. Here, it's actually true. In India, if you want a PhD, you find somebody who already has one and you become your advisor's peon. This includes doing laundry and errands and washing dishes and other menial tasks that have nothing to do with the field of study. If you're lucky, the advisor might choose to advise you too. Doctorates are heavily dependent on a PhD student's relationship with the advisor, unlike in the US where doctorates are University-centric and students might change advisors a couple different times. Very different. It helps explains the frequent spam from hapless Indian students who send unsolicited CVs to American professors, begging for their support.

Michael explained the American graduate-school systems as he understood them.  Most foreign students to focus exclusively on rankings, and US students (and employers) are only somewhat aware of them. Realistically, it's much better to balance the rankings against the possible funding available and the chances of getting in. Multiple applications are good-- you apply to a top school you would love but don't expect to get in, a lower-tier school where you're pretty sure you'll get in, and one or more middle schools where you feel you have a good chance. A program ranked #17 is not appreciably different from a program ranked #5. And funding is critical; if a university is a regional state school it can still have plenty of research dollars, even for master's students, despite that university being ranked 70th or 80th in the country. It still provides a very valuable US degree and often leads to success (with an American job and visa to follow).

In India, there are hordes of agents who students can enlist to take care of applying to American schools and coordinating all the paperwork. Our Desi friends in the US, who succeeded, generally said those agents are worthless. (Though granted, our NRI friends are stunningly brilliant people and are completely fluent in English. It might be different for a person who less talented or less fluent.)  Michael also suggested the professor contact the Indian student associations at the schools where he was applying. They can tell what the climate and atmosphere are like for Indian students at that particular school, and they'll have the inside scoop on if a program suddenly cut its funding. For visas, the existing students also know what days and times the nicer visa officials are on duty, and can advise each other on when to go to get a visa.

After their talk, when the professor was leaving, he caught Michael off guard by bending down and called him guru.  He asked Michael for a blessing and wanted to Michael to run his hands over him, like a god! The request felt very strange. But that's the sort of esteem in which Doctors of Philosophy are held here. It certainly takes arcane knowledge and higher-than-average luck to get a PhD, but in the US it is nowhere near as prestigious as it is here. One more difference.
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In India, undergraduate Electrical Engineering is all about power. It's very different from the normal US EE curriculum.

Today Michael met the electrical engineering faculty and finished touring their laboratories.  The undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum is quite different from the US.  He knew that something was different at introductions when, of fourteen professors, ten said that they worked in power, three in machines, and one in controls.  It reminded him of the scene in the Blues Brothers when he asked if their curriculum covers all areas of electrical engineering and they replied, "Of course we do.  We teach both types of Electrical Engineering: Machines and Power."

The labs are different too.  In US EE labs, equipment is along the lines of breadboards, oscilloscopes, function generators, or logic analyzers. There's no need for them here; they apparently don't teach much analog electronics, electromagnetics, radio, communication, logic, or digital electronics at the undergraduate level.  However, there is a single course in digital signal processing and a single course in microcontrollers. 

Michael really enjoyed the lab equipment.  It's like props from the Frankenstein movies (or his office and our barn back home, for that matter), with Jacob's ladders and other electrical devices buzzing with activity. They also have giant tesla coils, mammoth AC motors, and labyrinthine networks of relays.  Most of the machines emit giant sparks.  The "low voltage" labs deal with 240 and 480 volts (household wall-outlet voltages in India). The other lab rooms are surrounded by thick Faraday cages.  Students don't do much design work, but instead operate preconstructed machine modules.

There are plenty of jobs for Power engineers in India, with its electrical grid still in the formative stage. So it makes sense to have that focus. Michael's doctorate is in Electrical Engineering, but that means something totally different here.  That's why he's teaching "Information Technology" (which is really computer engineering by a different name).
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The Indian collegiate system here is very different from the US. At American colleges and universities, usually a single professor writes the syllabus, projects, homework assignments, and exams for a course; and the same professor teaches the class. That professor chooses what topics to teach and adjusts as needed; there might be some key concepts the department wants, but the subject matter is really up to the instructor. That sort of academic flexibility is not common here in Indian engineering schools, except possibly at IIT.  I think that was the biggest surprise to Michael.

Grading at Sankalcand Patel College of Engineering depends heavily on standardized final exams for each subject, given at the end of each term. SPCE is part of a consortium of a half-dozen engineering colleges and universities.  Most of each student's course grade is determined by his/her performance on the final exam, and the exams are developed separately by an independent examination board. Consequently, the subjects really need to teach to the tests.  Faculty at SPCE typically team-teach, with two or more faculty teaching each course's  "theory" lectures, plus lab instructors.  All students in a given year and major take the same classes together.  In computer engineering here, there are about 120 students per class. The classes are divided into smaller sections or "batches" for the more practical lab sessions, about 30 or 40 students per batch.

Scheduling the teaching will be interesting.  As I mentioned in previous posts, their semesters don't line up with the traditional Fall/Spring semesters at US colleges.  It didn't help that Michael had to wait for 4 weeks after his visa was approved. Those dates were more convenient for us, but the main SPCE semester ends in mid-October. They are still working him into the schedule on a supplemental basis.  He is supplementing Artificial Intelligence, Operating Systems, and Parallel Processing. The current faculty will continue teaching their course material and will cover the standardized exam topics.  Michael will cover specific extra topics in each course, that he feels would be good additions to the existing material.

Michael will also likely give some workshops and seminars, especially starting late October. The college plans to invite faculty from other institutions, and possibly some students too. He and Hiren worked out a list of teaching and seminar topics on Friday and Saturday.

The work week here is six days, Monday through Saturday, and faculty teach a certain number of hours per week.  The engineering class times range from 10 AM to 5 PM. There is a half-hour break for lunch.  A majority of the students stay in "hostels" (dormitories) on campus.  Some additional students stay off-campus, and commute from the surrounding areas.

The engineering college has fewer female students than male students; I think it's not as bad a ratio as it is in the US, but it's still about a two-to-one ratio. The girls sit separately, too; female students cluster together at the front of one half of the classroom, and male students on the other half and behind them.  They also have separate dormitories ("hostels") and eat at a separate dorm cafeteria ("mess").

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