Entrepreneurship, Human Resources, Public Issues

Why we need a Liberal Arts School ?

Off the various experiences that I have had during my hostel life, this one in particular is worth sharing. Due to lack of better things to do at 4 in the monring, for good or bad – me and Saurabh – were discussing the biggest HR question – Where do you see yourself 15 years down the line ? “While I was thinking of an answer, Saurabh reacted almost insataneously – I would like to start off with a liberal arts school in India.

“What do you plan to do now ? How do you see your career shaping up – Would you want to join Mckinsey after 4 years – or do you have plans to go to Standford ? I don’t think you would settle for anything less than a harvard” If you have scored a rank in IIT JEE or any other premier entrance exam Medical, Law, Engineering- ( Just that Engineering Entrance has a touch of glamor to itself ) these questions are bound to come to you – from reporters who think students at IIT’s publish a patent every day.Then obviously there are friends_who_would_tag_you_as_god, the aunt who always called you Einstein, the Girl_You_Had_A_Crush on.

And now picture this – a spectacled guy who was locked in a room of a coaching institute for two years, probably 3 (if he wasn’t lucky the first time ), who was ignored by everybody including his family for 2 years -getting the world to attend him – including the girls who nagged him persistently for two years and the good friends who never thought that YOU of all people would make it to Stephens/IIT/NLU/NID  pampering you. And then comes the big advise – I think you should go for Computer Science. The placements were fantastic last year.”

career_flow1

Reality Check –

If you have completed your graduation or are doing a summer intern, the probability of you knowing what you would be doing next summer or a year later is the same as predicting fate of stock markets. Decisions like Which College and Which Branch, are more than often decided with help of  Family and Friends- who normally rely on “Market Trends” to decide which branch/course is better than the other. Decided by the placements and not the interest area, a majority of students end up opting for courses that have best placement history. And yes this condition holds without fail for all the student- be it  Law- Engineering- Commerce- Pure Sciences – Arts – Mass Media.

But to expect a 19 year old student to make an informed decision on the basis of his understanding of  available courses would be unfair. It takes a while to understand one’s areas of interest. However for good or bad the IT jobs have become the default interest area.

SO WHAT EXACTLY TRIGGERS OFF THIS CONFUSION ?

Until and unless one is an exception, the choice of the major subject usually proves to be a fairly important criteria during the placement and hence in deciding the career path.  The irony however is the fact that most of the students do not really choose their branch. end up choosing the nearest possible “best” branch.  Here is an excerpt from an inorganic chemistry lecture that I had attended

(This one in particular was targeted at students from the IIT’s but would fit in well for most of the UG students) –

A Degree is AWARDED to a selected lot of students, while it is GIVEN to a some of them but fortunately or unfortunately, to the rest of them the degree is “THRUSTED” upon.

This statement came from a professor who had over 20 years of experience and more papers published than the average class strength of any UG college.  After 4 years of student life,  I can confirm that the statement has no extrapolation.  The big question now is – is there a way this statement can be rectified  – Where exactly is the flaw ?
Is it at the entrance exam level ? or Is it during the branch selection process ? Why do most of the students end up ranting about their course curriculum ?
IS THIS THE ACTUAL PROBLEM ?
Or lets actually take a step back and ask ourselves – When we were 18, did we have the slightest understanding of the difference between – Electrical or Computer engineering – Or What they meant when they used fancy terms like Computational Chemistry or Optics Fiber Communication.  Very few students are blessed with the ability to pick their courses that interest them. I was not. I ended up “opting” for chemistry for reasons beyond my control.  Do students really understand what they want to do at the age of 18 ? In my opinion No.
This is where comes in the concept of Liberal Arts School. Here is a very apt explanation of Liberal Arts School -(From Wikipedia)
A “liberal arts” institution can be defined as a “college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum.”  Read this for more .
While attending a liberal arts school is a trend in the US and Europe, the concept still needs to recognized in India.  I had another interesting discussion on Quora (an upcoming Questions and Answers platform).The question asked was – Are there any liberal arts schools in India? (Answered by Viksit Gaur)
From my understanding of the term “Liberal Arts”, a student studying them is expected to become well rounded in a number of subjects – from languages and literature, to science and mathematics and everything in between. One also gets to choose a Major (and/or a minor) as an area of focus. This of course is slightly broader than the definition that stems from the term “Classical Education” that included a narrower set of subjects. Liberal Arts colleges (if the seven sisters are a good model to go by) also tend to have smaller classes, and provide a greater set of activities to their students when compared to a larger university.
If we were to talk about a college that is exactly like the ones in the US, then no, it would be safe to assume there are no well known, purely liberal arts schools in India.
However, there are a number of colleges that offer similar courses to their students, although with differences. I’d say Delhi University’s top colleges – St. Stephens, Miranda House and others definitely keep up the tradition of providing BA or BS degrees in various Majors, while allowing students to study other core subjects from different fields. Other major cities like Kolkata and Mumbai have similar, well known colleges as well. All of these colleges are very, very selective  for their top programs – so much so that a large number of people who may get into top engineering or other professional programs may not even be on the list for say, a BA in Economics from them. (The dynamics of these admissions processes is a subject for an entirely new Quora post :))
Another point to note here is that increasingly, the rush to join engineering, law or medicine undergraduate programs has really taken over the focus of a lot of high schoolers. Combined with the selectivity of these programs, the relative shortage of options, as well as the inability to foresee strong career options post a liberal arts degree – lots of people never even consider these as their primary
Rather then seeing thousands of engineering colleges blossoming across the country, it would be great to see more Colleges on these lines – that help students really understand their interest and help in pursuing them.
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Public Issues, Web

Humans, Social media and Schadenfreude

Cross posted on Superchooha blog.

schadenfreude

When it comes to Human behavior enough is never enough.  One of the most  interesting traits of  human behaviour is situations we tend to find comfort and solace in. More then the situation its the conversation that happens that has a pacifying effect -but then conversation do not necessarily have to be relevant.  History has it that nothing is as pleasurable then watching your best friends fail at things – while I tend to disagree with that there have been cases where if not friends, but yes people have derived utmost pleasure from incidents absolutely irrelevant to them.

Welcome to whole a new world of human behavior – “Schadenfreude”

Here is a classic explanation of the german word – (More details here)

Schadenfreude — by Si Frumkin

Germans have a way with words. They created words that other languages simply do not have.

Schadenfreude takes 7 English words to define it: “malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others”. The dictionary explains it with a quote from historian Peter Gay — who felt Schadenfreude as a Jewish child in Nazi-era Berlin, watching the Germans lose coveted gold medals in the 1936 Olympics; he said that it “can be one of the great joys of life.”

Now picture this – 50 Million tweets per day. 60 Million Status Updates on Facebook  PER DAY.  Clearly we live in a world where reviews are written before a movie release, debates are held on naming of a product, and kids are named before a couple even has sex.

On a serious note, we are surrounded by opinions –  Good,bad,neutral and extreme,soft, hard. Opinions of every kind.  Thanks to the ease that platforms like twitter and facebook have provided to voice one’s opinion. While these tools have enabled companies to interact with their end customers by tracking their views about their brand, there have been cases where these opinions have created lead to PR nightmares. The human tendency of replicating negative emotion more vehemently over the positive one is not unknown any more.

For instance the Cleartrip Kiruba Incident (Cleartrip’s  Stand and Kiruba’s Stand ) was a issue between a company and a normal customer but the fact that Kiruba’s single tweet reached 1000’s of timelines and was further retweeted n number of times required the CEO of the company Hrush to step in and explain every action over a blogpost. Amidst all this close to 40 twitter updates were made that literally crucified Cleartrip for no good reason.  For some reason people RTed Kiruba’s tweet, while some enjoyed the drama – Amidst all this Cleartrip was defamed. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing but what the heck- people RTed whatever little they knew about the acutal story. Damage beyond repair was done to Cleartrip.

Chetanblock -Another classic example where people drew pleasure from a conversation between Chetan Bhagat and Fly youfools. Consequences – #chetanblocks trended for almost a day on twitter. Some body went on the extent of buying a domain chetanblocks.com. What next – they now intend to make tshirts saying #chetanblocks. All this while hundred’s of people used the hashtag #chetanblocks and thousands of tweets were  exchanged with very few people actually understanding what happened.

While there a dozen other stories where brands have been crucified, people have started deriving sadistic pleasure out of this trend of defaming. I still believe that most of the people don’t actually read facts before they actually share a negative opinion, without actually understanding the consequences their actions might have. They just do it. And yes as a friend of mine puts it – Sadistic pleasure is better then the real version of pleasure. Welcome to the world, the world you live in surrounded by Schadenfreude

I am no expert at understanding the human psychology but then yes Humans are Humans and social media platforms are no exceptional places for them to behave differently.

The next time you retweet a negative thought or share one on FB, for a moment put yourself in the shoes of the brand manager of the brand and ask yourself – Is this what I actually signed up for – To give justifications to people who believe that their brand is bad.  Food for thought.

From my personal experiences on twitter and facebook

Vivek Khandelwal

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Business, Technology, Web

What next -Social Search ?

connectivity_image

We live in a world connected better than ever before – An era where   wireless and broadband have enabled seamless connectivity powering creating and sharing of information never experienced before.  Accessing or searching information no more continues to challenge people. It is the filtering mechanism that is drawing more attention. Thanks to the endless information created every second, information consumption and not information seeking is the new question

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other tools of mass content creating have been contributing to the web mountains of data at a rate more faster than they can understand / rank/ index them.  Amongst this information explosion what would be interesting to observe is the information seeking behavior and how the end user adapts or adepts to the millions of links thrown after every search made.

The year 2006 saw close to 2.7 billion searches on Google. By 2008 this number grew by over 1000% to cross 30 billion searches on Google.

The post Google era clearly had simplified information accessibility for the end user but the question that pops up is that during this time what were people using to search for information ?. In fact an interesting question to ponder over is how was information sought in B.G (before Google)era. Possible easily accessible resources to everybody were –

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. Extended Family and Friends

Referring to one’s network was something that everybody did as they sought answers to their queries – a trend that is starting to revive. People are exchanging information in real time and with tools like Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Aardvark the idea of seeking knowledge from a person instead of a link in real time is gaining traction. And here is the reason why this this trend is here to stay –

  1. spaceballBetter Connectivity –   We live in an over connected world where people at one point of time are logged onto to multiple platforms- including IM, Twitter, Facebook . In fact as people are spending more and more time online , getting connected to a knowledge expert is simpler using tools like Getafixx, which allows users to interact with experts rather than surfing through static content.
  2. Easier Information Consumption – Since the core motive of social search is to connect people to experts, there is no  bombardment of information, no overflow of millions of links –Meaning lesser spam.  Simplified information seeking path ensures that only relevant and accurate information reaches the user.
  3. Everybody can share – The concept of wisdom of crowds distinctly states that everybody is an expert at something.  The most important part of social search is identification of knowledge experts – and as users identify their expertise,  the system would validate their expertise by taking into account their contribution as experts.

Loaded with most of the features mentioned above- Getafixx is our first attempt to introduce the concept of Social Search over their IM. A gtalk bot that allows you to connect to knowledge experts and share it with others.

While the mechanism of seeking information is changing, the concept of social search and getafixx adds value to the entire process as it keeps interaction as its core objective – a feature that Web Search compensated with spam information. The next version of web search would predominantly be dominated by Social Search, for people are searching for people.

Search – a feature of the web that has evolved on the lines of Darwin’s theory – nearing perfection all the time now needs to be redefined.  Or maybe it’s time again to search for the right people

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