Thursday, July 12, 2007
an affair to remember.......my mama and mami!!
An Affair to Remember
By Vernon Fernandez (’04 EEE) & Sandip Gangakhedkar (’05 EEE)
In the year 1960, a young Brij Bhushan entered the gates of the Birla Engineering College, to study for his Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. His batch was the first of the newly conceived five year course. His batch also achieved another first when they graduated in December 1964, the first batch of the newly formed Birla Institute of Technology.
Mrs. Champa Bhushan finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics and Communications at the Jadhavpur University of Calcutta. Her brother, who was teaching at Pilani at the time, convinced her to do her Masters at BITS, instead of IIT Kharagpur which was her first choice. She joined BITS in 1964 to do her Master’s in Electronics and Communication. For Mr. Bhushan, fate played an important role here…
Mr. Bhushan returned in 1965 after being offered a teaching position by Prof I J Nagrath, the then HOD of the Electrical Department. While he taught here, he was also working on his Master’s degree. Mrs. Champa Bhushan also taught here, from 1966 to 1969. They met while teaching, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mr. and Mrs. Bhushan hold the distinction of being the first couple in Pilani, as they were married here… (The reception was catered for by Volga). After their marriage, they headed to the United State of America for higher studies. After working in Bell Labs and Bell Northern Research, they moved to Washington DC in 1980.
In 1986, Mr. Bhushan was asked by his employer at that time, GTE Telnet to start and head a consultancy division. Feeling that, if he could do it for their company, he could as well do it on his own, he started the Reston Consultancy Group. In 1993, Mrs. Bhushan joined the company as well. Today it is a thriving business, well known in the networking sector.
In 2006, Mr. and Mrs. Bhushan returned to BITS, as guest lecturers for one semester. We spoke to them about their life, their work and BITS.
Can you tell us a little about your life at BITS?
Mr. Bhushan: We never had any festivals like Oasis in our day, but the level of participation in sports was much higher. We used to participate at the state level in Inter-collegiate events. I captained the Badminton team in my third and fourth year. At that time, the NCC was also more active among students. I reached the rank of Sergeant in the NCC, which is the highest rank a student cadet can achieve. C’Not, which even at that day housed old favorites like Annapoorna and Volga was also frequented a lot.
What was it like to start your own company?
Mr. Bhushan: It was a bit scary at first, but I knew I could do it. Since she (points to Mrs. Bhushan) was working at the time, I knew we wouldn’t starve. It feels better to be my own boss.
Why did you decide to come back?
Mr. Bhushan: Prof. L K Maheshwari, had extended an open invite to all the alumni, asking them to come back and share some of their experiences. We met him once or twice in the past few years when he visited the States. In fact, this is like a sabbatical for us. We felt that we had to give back something to the Institute.
How do you feel about coming back?
Mrs. Bhushan: I was a bit apprehensive at first, but he convinced me. We made a trip down here last year to check out what we might need. The institute was very helpful, from receiving us at Delhi to taking care of our every need.
Mr. Bhushan: I usually plan for every contingency, leaving nothing to chance. I had even bought a set of condiments from Delhi, not sure if we could get the same in Pilani. On the first day we arrived, we found that the Institute had taken great pains to cater to every single need we might have. They even went to the extent of ensuring we had a tea-strainer. With the new facilities like Akshay, we have no trouble getting everything we need.
You’ve come back to teaching as a profession after more than three decades in the industry. What are the biggest differences?
Mr. Bhushan: Teaching is a profession that requires a lot of dedication. The lack of monetary recompense is a huge deterrent for people wishing to become teachers. However, if you are sure that this is what you want to do, I say go for it. In the industry, though such a large number of people are well paid, only a very small percentage of them are happy. The teaching profession has a much larger percentage of people who are happy and satisfied. You can see it in Pilani. Once you’ve taught for five to ten years, you can stay a teacher forever. There is a barrier between the industry and teaching in India, which will reduce gradually as more and more Research and development work in universities occurs.
Now that you are teaching at BITS again, do you find the attitudes of students have changed?
Mr. Bhushan: Well, the students are definitely a lot more disciplined and eager to learn. In our time, the teacher would be tested to see if they could control the class. I guess this focus comes from the amount of competition these days.
Seeing as you’ve studied both in the United States and India, what do you find different in the style of teaching?
Mrs. Bhushan: The textbooks, course materials and course structure are usually all the same, but the universities in America lay a lot more emphasis on hands on experience. They teach you to think critically, while here, students are taught to learn critically. I’ll give you an example from my class here at BITS… the students were given a problem for an open book test, that was exactly the same as the problem in the text-book. Only a few values were changed. However, most of the class the problem copied directly out of the text, and thus lost marks. The skills to think rationally are not imparted.
Mr. Bhuhan: The Indian way of teaching is different. You can’t change one institution. You need to steer the entire education system. I believe it’ll happen slowly in the coming years. In any case, Indian students do well over there, learning the skills needed really fast.
Mrs. Bhushan: There’s another difference. In the western countries, students are very curious. They question everything; from their teachers to the textbook. They are encouraged to do so. For some Indian students, the textbooks are Gospel truth, even the misprinted ones.
The inevitable question: How do you think BITS compares to the IITs?
\Mrs. Bhushan: The IITs and their alumni are much better organized. Among BITSians, the Alumni network is more social than business oriented. The IITs also have much better PR, which comes from their organization. Otherwise, there isn’t any difference in the students.
Mr. Bhushan: Most of the Indian engineers working in my company were IITians, and they would rib me about being a BITSian. I said, ‘you may be from IIT, but at the end of the day, your paycheck carries a BITSian’s signature’. I also feel that in the coming years, with the quota system and other factors, the quality of students entering the IITs will reduce. At this time, BITS should capitalize by widening the dragnet and getting an even better quality of students. At least BITS has not spawned an ancillary industry which prepares people for our entrance exam. We should maintain the quality, perhaps by a constantly changing exam pattern.
What advice do you have for the students of today?
Mr. Bhushan: One of the first things I would like to tell them is not to be content with only one degree. There are only about 35 PhDs in computer science in India every year, while the jobs requiring PhDs are almost a hundred. You might take four to five more years to get your higher degree, but you’ll make up the money in the next five years because of the difference in the pay scales. Never think you can come back to studies after joining the industry… it just doesn’t happen. So decide now which higher degree you wish to pursue, and do it.
If studying for a higher degree, should students prefer going for an MS or an MBA?
Mrs. Bhushan: The choice completely depends upon the student. Based on his or her skills, abilities and interests, the student must make the choice. You might not be mature enough to make it just now, but the world is too competitive to wait for you. There is a need for proper career counseling and career advice.
Mr. Bhushan: The student should decide which stream they’re heading into by the end of the third year. Once you’ve made your decision, you ought to stick with it. And yes, career counseling could really help at this time.
In your opinion, are there any downsides to studying in Pilani?
Mrs. Bhushan: Pilani is an excellent place, but the students lead a very sheltered life here. They aren’t exposed to the outside world. The students have no experience with bureaucracy before they start their jobs.
Mr. Bhushan: The Practice school training does help, but the students are still very sheltered. However, they will soon learn what they need to in the school of hard knocks.