Are the recent CS graduates from India that bad?

In the recent couple of weeks, I had not found much time to check out blogs on a very regular basis. But today I did find some free time, and so I did do a routine round-up of the blogs. In the process, I came across a couple of interesting posts by Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi of IIIT Delhi. (Yes, it’s IIIT Delhi, not IIT Delhi.)

The latest post by Prof. Sanghi is about achieving excellence in Indian universities [^]. He offers valuable insights by taking a specific example, viz., that of the IIIT Delhi. I would like to leave this post for the attention of [who else] the education barons in Pune and the SPPU authorities. [Addendum: Also this post [^] by Prof. Pankaj Jalote, Director of IIIT Delhi.]

Prof. Sanghi’s second (i.e. earlier) post is about the current (dismal) state of the CS education in this country. [^].

As someone who has a direct work-experience in both the IT industry as well as in teaching in mechanical engineering departments in “private” engineering colleges in India, the general impression I seem to have developed seemed to be a bit at odds with what was being reported in this post by Prof. Sanghi (and by his readers, in its comments section). Of course, Prof. Sanghi was restricting himself only to the CS graduates, but still, the comments did hint at the overall trend, too.

So, I began writing a comment at Prof. Sanghi’s blog, but, as usual, my comment soon grew too big. It became big enough that I finally had to convert it into a separate post here. Let me share these thoughts of mine, below.


As compared to the CS graduates in India, and speaking in strictly relative terms, the mechanical engineering students seem to be doing better, much better, as far the actual learning being done over the 4 UG years is concerned. Not just the top 1–2%, but even the top 15–20% of the mechanical engineering students, perhaps even the top quarter, do seem to be doing fairly OK—even if it could be, perhaps, only at a minimally adequate level when compared to the international standards.

… No, even for the top quarter of the total student population (in mechanical engineering, in “private” colleges), their fundamental concepts aren’t always as clear as they need to be. More important, excepting the top (may be) 2–5%, others within the top quarter don’t seem to be learning the art of conceptual analysis of mathematics, as such. They probably would not always be able to figure out the meaning of even a simplest variation on an equation they have already studied.

For instance, even after completing a course (or one-half part of a semester-long course) on vibrations, if they are shown the following equation for the classical transverse waves on a string:

\dfrac{\partial^2 \psi(x,t)}{\partial x^2} + U(x,t) = \dfrac{1}{c^2}\dfrac{\partial^2 \psi(x,t)}{\partial t^2},

most of them wouldn’t be able to tell the physical meaning of the second term on the left hand-side—not even if they are asked to work on it purely at their own convenience, at home, and not on-the-fly and under pressure, say during a job interview or a viva voce examination.

However, change the notation used for second term from U(x,t) to S(x,t) or F(x,t), and then, suddenly, the bulb might flash on, but for only some of the top quarter—not all. … This would be the case, even if in their course on heat transfer, they have been taught the detailed derivation of a somewhat analogous equation: the equation of heat conduction with the most general case, including the possibly non-uniform and unsteady internal heat generation. … I am talking about the top 25% of the graduating mechanical engineers from private engineering colleges in SPPU and University of Mumbai. Which means, after leaving aside a lot of other top people who go to IITs and other reputed colleges like BITS Pilani, COEP, VJTI, etc.

IMO, their professors are more responsible for the lack of developing such skills than are the students themselves. (I was talking of the top quarter of the students.)

Yet, I also think that these students (the top quarter) are at least “passable” as engineers, in some sense of the term, if not better. I mean to say, looking at their seminars (i.e. the independent but guided special studies, mostly on the student-selected topics, for which they have to produce a small report and make a 10–15 minutes’ presentation) and also looking at how they work during their final year projects, sure, they do seem to have picked up some definite competencies in mechanical engineering proper. In their projects, most of the times, these students may only be reproducing some already reported results, or trying out minor variations on existing machine designs, which is what is expected at the UG level in our university system anyway. But still, my point is, they often are seen taking some good efforts in actually fabricating machines on their own, and sometimes they even come up with some good, creative, or cost-effective ideas in their design- or fabrication-activities.

Once again, let me remind you: I was talking about only the top quarter or so of the total students in private colleges (and from mechanical engineering).

The bottom half is overall quite discouraging. The bottom quarter of the degree holders are mostly not even worth giving a post X-standard, 3 year’s diploma certificate. They wouldn’t be able to write even a 5 page report on their own. They wouldn’t be able to even use the routine metrological instruments/gauges right. … Let’s leave them aside for now.

But the top quarter in the mechanical departments certainly seems to be doing relatively better, as compared to the those from the CS departments. … I mean to say: if these CS folks are unable to write on their own even just a linked-list program in C (using pointers and memory allocation on the heap), or if their final-year projects wouldn’t exceed (independently written) 100+ lines of code… Well, what then is left on this side for making comparisons anyway? … Contrast: At COEP, my 3rd year mechanical engineering students were asked to write a total of more than 100 lines of C code, as part of their routine course assignments, during a single semester-long course on FEM.

… Continuing with the mechanical engineering students, why, even in the decidedly average (or below average) colleges in Mumbai and Pune, some kids (admittedly, may be only about 10% or 15% of them) can be found taking some extra efforts to learn some extra skills from the outside of our pathetic university system. Learning CAD/CAM/CAE software by attending private training institutes, has become a pretty wide-spread practice by now.

No, with these courses, they aren’t expected to become FEM/CFD experts, and they don’t. But at least they do learn to push buttons and put mouse-clicks in, say, ProE/SolidWorks or Ansys. They do learn to deal with conversions between different file formats. They do learn that meshes generated even in the best commercial software could sometimes be not of sufficiently high quality, or that importing mesh data into a different analysis program may render the mesh inconsistent and crash the analysis. Sometimes, they even come to master setting the various boundary condition options right—even if only in that particular version of that particular software. However, they wouldn’t be able to use a research level software like OpenFOAM on their own—and, frankly, it is not expected of them, not at their level, anyway.

They sometimes are also seen taking efforts on their own, in finding sponsorships for their BE projects (small-scale or big ones), sometimes even in good research institutions (like BARC). In fact, as far as the top quarter of the BE student projects (in the mechanical departments, in private engineering colleges) go, I often do get the definite sense that any lacunae coming up in these projects are not attributable so much to the students themselves as to the professors who guide these projects. The stories of a professor shooting down a good project idea proposed by a student simply because the professor himself wouldn’t have any clue of what’s going on, are neither unheard of nor entirely without merit.

So, yes, the overall trend even in the mechanical engineering stream is certainly dipping downwards, that’s for sure. Yet, the actual fall—its level—does not seem to be as bad as what is being reported about CS.

My two cents.


Today is India’s National Science Day. Greetings!


Will stay busy in moving and getting settled in the new job. … Don’t look for another post for another couple of weeks. … Take care, and bye for now.

[Finished doing minor editing touches on 28 Feb. 2017, 17:15 hrs.]

See, how hard I am trying to become a (Full) Professor of Mechanical Engineering in SPPU?

Currently, I am not only cashless but also jobless. That’s why, I try harder.

I am trying very hard to be a (Full) Professor of Mechanical Engineering, especially at the Savitribai Phule Pune University (or SPPU for short).

That’s right.

And that’s why, I have decided to adopt an official position whereby I abandon all my other research and study interests, especially those related to the mechanics of the quanta. Instead, I have officially decided to remain interested only in the official problems from the Mechanical Engineering discipline proper—not only for my studies, but also for my research interests.

… If only I were to have my first degree in Mechanical Engineering, instead of in Metallurgy! (It was some 37.5–33.5 years ago, with my decision to choose Metallurgy being from some 36.5 years ago.) … If only I were to choose Mechanical right back then, this problem wouldn’t have arisen today. …

Tch! …

…But, well, thinking of my first degree, its circumstances—where I got it from (COEP, the engineering college with the highest cut-off merit in the entire Maharashtra state), in what class (First Class with Distinction, the highest class possible), and, most crucially, for spending all my time at what place (The Boat Club)… You know, looking back some 3.5 decades later of all those circumstances—the circumstances of how I chose Metallurgy, back then, as I was sitting at the Boat Club… Hmmm… Boat Club. … Boat Club! Boat Club!!

It gives me some ideas.

So, to better support my current endeavors of becoming an Officially Approved Full Professor of Mechanical Engineering in SPPU, may be, I should solve some Mechanical Engineering problems related to boats. Preferably, those involving not just fluid mechanics, but also mechanisms and machine design—and vibrations! [Oh yes. I must not forget them! Vibrations are, Officially, a Mechanical Engineering topic. In fact even Acoustics. …]

Thinking along such lines, I then thought of one problem, and sort of solved it too. Though I am not going to share my answer with you, I certainly want to share the problem itself with you. (Don’t ask me for answers until I get the job as an Officially Approved Full Professor in Mechanical Engineering at SPPU.)

OK, so here we go.


The Problem Description:

Consider a boat floating on a stand-still lake. The boat has a very simple shape; it is in the shape of a rectangular parallelpiped (i.e., like a shoe-box, though not quite exactly like a punt).

In the plan (i.e. the top view), the boat looks like this:
mechanicalengineeringboat

 

 

 

 

 

As shown in the figure, at the centers of the front- and back-sides of the boat, there are two circular cylindrical cavities of identical dimensions, both being fitted with reciprocating pistons. These pistons are being driven by two completely independent mechanisms. The power-trains and the prime-movers are not shown in the diagram; in this analysis, both may be taken to be mass-less and perfectly rigid. However, the boat is assumed to have some mass.

We will try to solve for the simplest possible case: perfectly rigid boat walls (with some mass), perfectly rigid but mass-less pistons, complete absence of friction between the pistons and the cylinder walls, etc.

Assume also that both the boat and the lake water are initially stand-still, and that there are no other influences affecting the motions (such as winds or water currents).

Now, let’s put the pistons in oscillatory motions. In general, the frequencies of their oscillations are not equal. Let the frequency for the left- and right-side pistons be f_L and f_R Hz, respectively.

Problem 1:

Build a suitable Mechanical Engineering model, and predict how the boat would move, in each of the following three scenarios:

  • f_L = f_R
  • f_L > f_R
  • f_L < f_R

In each case, determine (i) whether the boat as a whole (i.e. its center of mass or CM) would at all undergo any motion at all or not, (ii) if yes, whether the motion of the CM would have an element of oscillations to it or not, and finally, (iii) whether the boat (i.e. its CM) would undergo a net displacement over a large number of pistons oscillations or not (i.e., the question asks whether the so-called “time-averaged” net displacement occurs in any one direction or not), and if yes, in which direction.

You may make other minor assumptions. For instance, in each of the above 3 cases, you may assume that at time t = 0, both the pistons are at their innermost positions, with each piston beginning its motion by pushing outwards. Also check out the effect of assuming, some other, suitable, values for the initial phases.

Though not at all necessary, if it will help you, you may perhaps consider the case where the higher frequency is an integer multiple of the lower frequency, e.g., in the second of the three cases, assume f_L = n f_R, where n \in \mathcal{N}. However, note that eventually, you are expected to solve the problem in the general case, the one in which the ratio of the frequencies may be any real number. The cases of practical interest may be where the ratio ranges from 0.0 to a real number up to, say, 2.67 or 3.14 (or, may be, 5.25).

Notice that nowhere thus far have we said that the oscillatory motion of the pistons would be SHM (i.e. simple harmonic). You may begin with an SHM, but as a further problem below illustrates, the piston motion may neither be simple-harmonic, nor even symmetrical in the to- and fro-directions.

On the fluid mechanics side: In your analysis, assume that the length of the boat is much, much greater than the stroke-lengths of the pistons. Essentially, we want to ensure that the water waves produced at one end do not significantly affect the local dynamics at the other end.

You may assume a highly simplified model for the fluid—the problem is not supposed to have a crucial bearing on what kind of a fluid you assume. I mean to say, we are not looking for so detailed a model that you would have to perform a CFD analysis. (That task, we will leave to the Naval Architecture engineers.) However, do make sure to note how your model behaves for an inviscid flow vs. for a viscous flow.

So, in short, the problem is to determine the nature of the motion of the boat, if there is any—i.e., to determine if its CM undergoes a net displacement in the time-averaged sense or not, and if yes, in which direction it occurs.

Problem 2:

Assume a relatively smaller stroke-length for one of the pistons, and repeat the problem.

Problem 3:

Assume that one of the frequencies is zero, which is as good as saying that the boat is fitted with only one cylinder-and-piston. Repeat the analysis.

Problem 4:

Continue to assume that one of the frequencies is zero. Now, also assume that the outward stroke of the moving piston happens faster than its inward stroke. Determine the nature of the motion, if any, for the CM of the boat.

Problem 5 (Optional):

Assuming that the prime mover outputs a uniform circular (or rotary) motion, design a suitable mechanism which will help implement the idea of having non-SHM motions—e.g., different stroke-times in the outward and inward directions. Conduct an informal (or a more formal, calculus-based) displacement-, velocity- and acceleration-analysis, if you wish.

Give it a thought whether this entire idea of transforming a circular motion to a nonuniform reciprocating motion can be done away with, thereby saving on energy—in real life, there is friction—using certain ideas from electrical engineering and electronics.

Ooops!

No, no, no! No!! Throw out that horrendous idea! I mean the very last one!!

We want to remain concerned only with the Mechanical Engineering Problems proper. That is the Official position I have adopted, remember?


That’s right. What I described above was, really, really, really only a Mechanical Engineering Problem.

It really, really, really has nothing to do with anything else such as electrical engineering or quantum physics.

[And if even Prof. Thanu Padmanabhan (IUCAA) does not know quantum physics (he told me so once, right in person), why should I be concerned with it, anyway?]

Anyway, so, Officially speaking, I made up this problem only because I want to become an Officially Approved Full Professor of Mechanical Engineering at SPPU.


If you are interested in some other Mechanical Engineering problems, especially on the fluids-thermal side, check out my recent posts on the Eco-Cooler, and see if you can take further the analysis given in them.

I myself had made a much more advanced engineering analysis right at that time, but I am not going to give it—or its results—until some time after I land and join the kind of job I am looking for—a Full Professor’s. (And I hope that you do have the sense to see that this is not a “prestige issue” on my part.)

The post having a preliminary (quantitative) fluids-thermal analysis is here [^], though the qualitative analysis of the problem begins with an earlier post, here [^].


[Guess the problem, as given, is enough for the time being. I may even come back and add one or two variations on the problem! But no guarantees.]

Update right on 2016.12.02: OK, here are a couple of minor variations. What happens if, when a piston comes to a rest at the extreme stroke, it continues staying idle for a while, before resuming its towards-the-center motion? What if the piston motion is such that the point of zero displacement does not occur exactly at the middle of its overall stroke-length?

I may post some further variations on the problem, or suggest alternative analogous problems, in future.

Currently, I am not just cashless but also jobless. That’s why, I try harder.


More, may be later. As to the Song I Like section, I don’t have anything playing at the back of my mind right away, so let me see if something strikes me by the time I come back tomorrow to give a final editing touch to this post. In that case, I will add this section; else, I will not!


[After the update right on 2016.12.02: I am done with this post now, and if there are any errors, I will let them stay. If you find the post confusing somewhere, please do drop me a line, though. Best, and take care.]

[E&OE]