University Courses in Mechanical Engineering that I Could Teach

0. Hey fellowbloggers (or at least my blogreaders),

These are the times of recruitment for faculty positions in India. As you know, I, too, am trying (once again!).

In academia, my main interest is neither administration nor for that matter even teaching in the sense the word is often understood in India, but, mainly research, and also, course development (as is possible at autonomous institutes  (but Somaiya, headed by Prof. Shubha Pandit, who as a student was senior to me at COEP by just one year, didn’t even call me for an interview, or bother to reply my query emails.)).

1. A List of the Mechanical Engineering Courses that I Could Teach:

Here is a list of courses in Mechanical Engineering that I am confident I could teach, despite having had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees only in Metallurgy. The list is indicative, and not complete. I have tried to order the list in the decreasing order of my preference. Thus, the courses appearing near the top is what I am currently most interested in teaching, esp. at the master’s level. The level at which these courses get offered is also indicated in parentheses. The courses in italics are the courses I taught most recently.

  1. Computational Fluid Dynamics (BE/ME)
  2. Finite Element Method (TE/BE/ME)
  3. Fluid Mechanics (SE/TE)
  4. Heat Transfer (TE)
  5. Mechanical Vibrations (TE)
  6. Advanced Stress Analysis/Elasticity (ME)
  7. Fracture Mechanics (ME)
  8. Strength of Materials (SE)
  9. Thermodynamics (SE)

As you can see, they span over two sub-divisions currently routine in Indian universities: thermal, and design. But more troublesome to the Indian academia is the fact that I jumped from Metallurgy to Mechanical, and therefore, they insist, I must teach Materials Technology.

2. A Special Note on Why I Should Not Teach Materials Technology:

Despite my academic degrees, I am not at all interested in teaching Materials Science/Engineering/Technology at any level. There are a few reasons for that.

(i) My Own Personal Reason:

Teaching a course does build a sort of vortex of ideas or an “ideas-sink” in which your mind gets drawn, at least for the duration of one entire semester. But, at my age of 52 (soon 53), I don’t have enough time at hand in my life to still be led away from my core research interests: computational mechanics/engineering.

(ii) Empirically, and statistically, it’s also not very good for all the students :

I also honestly think that the existing professors/others do a better job teaching it, at least at the SE level. This, in fact has actually been the case.

When I taught Materials Technology last (to SE students), the “top” 10% of the class was happy to very happy, with some students on their own coming in and gushing an almost embarassing kind of praise on me. [Drop a line to me and I will give you some quotes, though for reasons of breach of trust and confidentiality, I will not divulge the names of the students themselves]. (The “top” students need not have been class toppers, but they did tend to cluster somewhere towards the top; certainly they were above class average.)

But the in the final University examination, more students failed my course than what has been the historical average at the college where I taught. Reason?

I tend to explain well (even “average” students have told me that, not just the “top”), but in a “theoretical” subject like Materials Technology, what the below-average (and even average) students need is a sequence of those point-by-point model answers, whether explanation accompanies it or not. I try, but tend not to actually deliver very well, on that count.

Further, the average or below-average students also need a lot of “drilling in,” and I am not as good at it as other professors are, because as I focus mainly on supplying explanations: on fundamentals and how they connect together, and how they lead to something of importance in practice. In the process, I either tend to forget the drilling-in part, or the lecture-time simply gets over. All the three parts of (a) finishing the syllabus and, (b) also supplying explanations, and (c) also drilling in for the below-average students, is practically impossible for me. I can do (a) and (b) but not (c). Other professors probably do (a) and (c) and tend to ignore (b). But they are more successful as far as University exam results are concerned.

So, it’s an empirically established fact that I actually do poorly (or at least not as well) on the Materials Technology course at the SE level.

As to the student praise, they have also rushed in and gushed an almost embarassing sort of praise, also for the other courses I taught. But in spite of praising me, their performance on the final University exams was not affected much adversely. In fact, in all these other courses, they performed either slightly better or even noticeably better, than what had been the past historical average at the college. Why? Here is my reasoning.

The University examinations for these courses involve “sums” i.e. quantitative problems. If I still focus more on fundamentals and conceptual explanations in the class, and discuss only an outline of the problem attack strategy (and the reasons why) in the class, and then assign the full solution for home-work, the students do “get it.” They somehow go home, try some “sums,” and thereby manage to get both: a better conceptual knowledge, as well as the development of the examination-taking skills. At least, statistically speaking. And, at least as per my actual, empirical, observation.

In constrast, when it comes to Materials Technology, home-work assignments doesn’t work, because students simply copy from each other, or write some shortened versions of paragraphs from a locally published book, without ever pausing to think what they were writing. They, in essence, they take down a dictation from the local book. (Some had even had their brothers and sisters take down the dictation from the book, complete with a noticeably different hand-writing.) So, when it comes MT, my teaching + home-work is not an effective strategy. (Copying goes on also in other courses, but the fact that the problem on examination would be an unknown “sum” (at least one with different numerical values!) induces them to at least work through some of the assignment problems.)

But for Materials Technology, since the University examination emphasizes descriptions and not quantitative problems, or not even some “theoretical” but objective questions really probing deeper aspects, it requires a different kind of a drilling-in technique on the professor’s part. I am, as I said, not good on that count—and in fact, never was, ever in my life, even when I was a student myself. My lack of the “skill” shows in the results of my students.

This is an indication of the kind of reasons why I should make for a better professor for the listed courses rather than for the one course that seems to be a favorite one for the interview-committees: Materials Technology.

The interview committee members, if they read this blog, would now know how dumb a question it is to ask me why I don’t want to teach MT, and how much even dumber it would be for them to do resource planning or time-table scheduling assuming that I would handle MT. The empirical facts concerning the University examination indicate otherwise, despite my sincere and honest try at it (even if the matter was against my explicitly stated preference). And, if you now doubt my sincerity (as Indians are likely to do), go ask my students of MT—including those who failed in the final University examinations (or on my class tests). They themselves will tell you the real story. Then, if you wish, come back and share it with me. I remain open to that possibility—if you take some effort over and above that requiring to be a Doubting Tom.

3. Guiding Student Projects:

Apart from these, feel free to peruse some 7–8 ideas for student projects at the ME (Mech.) level that I have indicated in this blog recently. … Some of these (and other) ideas, suitably expanded, are good enough to guide at least one or two PhDs in Mechanical Engineering.

I also have quite a few other ideas that I have not even mentioned. For instance, I once wrote extended abstracts for a couple of papers, anticipating that an ME student would join me to work on these, and both these extended abstracts were accepted at a high quality international conference. The papers were based on an idea for an ME project that I haven’t mentioned on this blog. I had to withdraw the papers after acceptance, because I didn’t have an ME student to work with me. (You see, the papers were about CFD, and my friends in Mechanical engineering were busy avoiding polluting their branch with Metallurgy graduates, throwing as many obstacles in my path as humanly possible to them.)

Apart from it all, I could easily co-guide a few projects from the CS and Civil fields.

4. Co-Curricular Development of the Post-graduate Students and Junior Faculty Members:

I could also conduct special short-term courses for final year BE/ME students and/or junior faculty in random areas such as:

  • LaTeX and Beamer (including scalable graphics for manuscript submissions)
  • Python and Its Ecosystem
  • Open Source Packages in CAE
  • CFD with FVM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or using FiPy (but not OpenFOAM))
  • FEM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or SfePy, etc.)
  • OpenFOAM. (Only introductory, but certainly going a bit beyond the tutorials included in the official documentation, or IIT Bombay’s Spoken Tutorials.)
  • GIS using QGIS (Mostly based on Ujaval Gandhi’s tutorials, going just a bit here and there beyond it.)

5. Never Lose the Focus:

But just in case we lose the focus: Please go through the list of the routine courses in Mechanical Engineering proper that I can teach, as mentioned at the beginning of the post. That’s what really counts for the interview process.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

Not to be noted for this post [unless I change my mind later]

(Western Classical)
Composer: Franz Liszt
Work: Liebestraum No. 3

[I could not find on the ‘net the rendering that I first heard and still like the most (and as usual, have lost the cassette for it by now). It was quite modern-sounding (it even had drums!), but without ever getting loud, gaudy, or ever overshadowing the original subtlety. Sorry, but I didn’t as much appreciate most of the renderings now thrown up on priority in a Google search on Liszt. (The rendering I heard must have been from ’70s or ’80s, because I had bought the cassette in India, in the late ’80s.)

… The post is technically over, complete with this section on the songs I like too, but I still can’t resist the temptation to share this bit. It’s a quote concerning Liszt which I found being quoted as a part of a doctoral study in music at the Indian University [^]:

“…When Liszt was teaching his famous master classes in Weimar at the end of his life, one day a student brought to him his famous Liebestraüm No. 3. After he played, Liszt was very mad because while performing the cadenza written in small notes (found on the second last page of the piece), the student had played exactly what was written on the printed page. `But you are a pianist now, you have to make your own cadenzas!,’ Liszt spontaneously exclaimed after he played.”


[Minor editing after publication, as usual, is still possible.]