Mathematics and Scientific Computing at IIT Kanpur

This is a repost (with some changes) of a piece published on Quora and Facebook previous in 2016. Please note that while most of the information still holds true as given below, both the authors have graduated from IIT Kanpur.

Hello, wanderers!

This is Akshat and Nihar, two guys who recently completed their three years in Mathematics and Scientific Computing at IIT Kanpur and we write this article to give people a correct impression of what this program actually entails.

Firstly, heartiest congratulations on clearing one of the toughest competitions on this planet. Really, it’s a major accomplishment and you should be proud of it! Though even after that, at this point of time, you must be pretty nervous wondering what if you choose the wrong place or the wrong branch. We know that feeling, we were just about there three years ago.

But having cleared JEE, you have already proved yourself awesome and as of this moment, know that whichever decision you take, will be the right decision. Having said that, here we go!

The first part contains general details about the campus and the four-year Mathematics and scientific computing program while the second part consists of some frequently asked questions (FAQs). These contain information about:

  1. The misconception that academics at IITK are unbelievably hard.
  2. The misconception that in IITK, math is one of the more difficult branches.
  3. The misconception that Math at IITK only leads to research.
  4. Mathematics at IITK vs Mathematics at any other Institute.
  5. Is Mathematics at IITK a substitute for Computer Science at IITK?
  6. A B.S. degree vs a B.Tech degree.

I. Why IIT Kanpur?

As you might have already read from Wikipedia : “IIT Kanpur is located on the Grand Trunk Road, 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) west of Kanpur City and measures close to 420 hectares (1,000 acres).” Hence IIT Kanpur is not only comfortably far from the chaos and noise of the city life, its larger-than-life campus ensures that even after your four-five years here, you still might end up not having seen everything it has to offer. One will find that all their requirements, from clothing to food, from cultural activities to sports facilities, and et cetera are easily fulfilled by the strong infrastructure provided. Due to the distance from the city, most people end up spending a lot of their time on campus, thus developing and strengthening a culture that has been here for generations. Follow #ThatsIITK to get more insight into the life and culture of IITK.

Apart from the social and cultural life, what really makes IIT Kanpur special is the flexibility it offers. There are a lot of options and choices available when it comes to deciding your courses, and thus one can continuously choose to experiment around and yet, pursue their passion simultaneously. If one doesn’t feel aligned with their department courses, they could go for a minor, a major, a dual degree or even a branch change (which continues to remain available up to the second year). As an example, if you come here with a mind completely focused on research, but as you go along and realize that it’s something like, say, entrepreneurship which you really want to go for, there will be options to pursue that. All in all, there is no strict linear path which one has to follow rigidly once they come here, and there are a tremendous amount of opportunities to deviate along whichever road you want to take.

II. What is Mathematics and Scientific Computing at IIT Kanpur?

The four-year B.S. (Bachelor of Sciences) Mathematics and Scientific Computing program (also known as the Four-year B.S. Math program offered by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics) is one open-ended road.

While the first year is common for every branch, and thus you get to do two core mathematics subjects (Introduction to Calculus & Linear Algebra) alongside courses from many other departments (Such as Electrodynamics, Mechanics, Biology, Engineering Drawing, Chemistry, Programming, etc.) which offers you a window to the basics of each and every department.

Your second year starts to put a little more focus on departmental courses (like Algebra, Ordinary Differential Equations, Logic, Probability, and Statistics) but also takes you around some core engineering subjects (Electronics, Manufacturing processes and so on) too.

Most of the third and fourth year courses are “departmental electives” (in the sense that you can choose these courses from a list offered by our department – that is, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics) or “open electives” (you can choose these to be courses offered by any department like the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Department of Civil Engineering, etc. including your own department).

Through these, one can choose to get into fields like economics, computer science, finance, electronics or learn more mathematics. There are also some necessary amount of engineering courses (like thermodynamics, Algorithms, etc.) and humanities courses (Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Arts and more) that you have to complete. These basically exist to ensure that you have some idea about what goes on outside your domain of interest. Going slightly specific, you get at least 8 “open electives” and 4 “departmental electives” (relevant to this is the footnote 1 at the end of the article).

With options like double major and minors, you can further model your template as per your wishes and interests (however, there is a small catch sometimes, do read the footnote 1). You can know more about this by following #ThatsIITK on Facebook and Quora.

At the end, I would like to say that while the program offers a lot of choices and opportunities for the student to build his/her own template, it also manages to thoroughly cover sufficient amount of fundamentals.

While we have covered the basic details, now we will address some FAQs:

1. I have heard that academics at IIT Kanpur are unbelievably hard and that I want to have an easy time in the next four years.

From personal experiences and friends from other IITs, we would say that academics at IIT Kanpur are definitely not more difficult than other IITs. Studying anything anywhere will demand its own sweat and gray matter and it should be rightfully given. The difficult part is the learning process which shapes you from a Just-cleared-JEE-kid into an IIT graduate.

But that does not mean you can’t have an enjoyable college life.

There is ample amount of time to manage your academics as well as extracurricular activities and social life here, and most students here end up participating thoroughly in at least one club/activity of their choice. If you follow the other articles about our campus, you’ll learn about many inter-college and inter-hostel festivals and competitions which alongside many cultural and technical workshops and events keep you occupied throughout the year.

As for marks, to be honest, three years of our experience says that you seriously should NOT be thinking about college grades right now. However, we will say that with enough dedication, anyone can score well academically! It is a misconception that academics here would demand extra effort than other places. And speaking from statistics, people do manage to find success here.

2. I have heard mathematics is impossibly difficult and so much so that it can take at least six-seven years for a person to graduate.

This is a rather tasteless joke that floats around in the campus saying that the course is actually a six-seven year program (because no one can finish it in the normal tenure. Get it?).

Yes, Mathematics is difficult. But that is true for all fields, be it the sciences or the engineering programs. College mathematics is much different (read: different, not difficult) from high school mathematics as it starts off with more abstract notions and terms and requires more rigor and formality when it comes to concepts. But given some time and dedication, it is easy to get used to. Three of our years here combined with the experience of our seniors has just told us that the “six-seven years to graduate part” is highly fictitious and just some silly myth with unsound origins. Adding to that, with sufficient enthusiasm and zeal, many people from our department have performed wonderfully in academics.

3. I have read that Mathematics at IIT Kanpur implies a further career in research only.

This is a misconception amongst many. It is not true that this branch is research oriented only.

The department have a strong background in both applied and pure math subjects which is seen reflected in the compulsory courses, as well as the department elective mathematics courses offered by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics (Enthusiastic people can actually check the 4 year programme template to see that there are almost equal applied and pure math compulsory courses). Furthermore, the students are at liberty to choose most courses to their liking. Many courses related to statistics and computational & applied mathematics find a lot of applications in the industry and other fields. When mixed well with courses outside the department, such a background often enables students to intern and get placed at various financing companies, banks, software corporations, etc.

The deal here is about what you want to make of yourself and only that, be it research or job or start up.

While we would prefer not to talk about placement/internship statistics simply because we do not believe in advertising a department on that basis, but it might be sufficient to say that people with that incentive have generally been very successful.

4. What about Mathematics at IITK vs Mathematics at some other institute ABC?

Honestly, both of us had been in some form of this dilemma during our period of JEE counseling. After coming here, both of us stand convinced that this was an excellent decision. But then again, that is our personal experience.

We have given some basic details about mathematics at IIT Kanpur. In our opinion, the curriculum that the institute offers is pretty open-ended and flexible – so even if you have an interest in another department or program, you can do the specific courses of that department which align with your interests instead of doing a plethora of general courses.

Furthermore, you always have the opportunity to move from research to job-oriented future and vice versa. It has been mentioned again and again that the department has strong faculty in both pure and applied mathematics and being in IIT Kanpur, one of the top tier Engineering institutes in the country, will also give you a lot of exposure to other technical and cultural activities in the campus that provides one with a broader sense of education.

Another notable advantage is that you get the option of converting a 4-year B.S program to a 5-year M.S. program during the course of your studies, which is a good opportunity that you get for free!

With that said, it must also be added that you will meet some very smart and intelligent people here and make friends that will make a place in your hearts for a lifetime.

5. I am mainly interested in computer science. Should I take IITK Mathematics?

It must have not escaped the scrutiny of the curious eye that the course template of the 4-year template does not contain many compulsory computer-science related courses. This is because, the program you will be enrolled into is from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and not the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Some of the laterally equivalent mathematics courses of other IITs do have more of such courses though. However, people interested in a career in computer science and engineering may exploit the flexibility of the program to select ‘open elective’ courses of Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) in which they can decide whether they want to pursue a specific sub-field of CSE or get a general background of the whole subject. (Again, please read footnote 1).

If you’re interested specifically in theoretical computer science, with the right selection of courses a mathematics background can significantly enhance your understanding of some fields in this category (Relevant to this is footnote 2).

A natural follow-up to this question is a query regarding placements and if B.S. Mathematics students are eligible to the same placements as computer science students. The answer to this is that each company restrict themselves to a particular eligibility and some companies do not open themselves to mathematics student (or in some instances, a company might only be open to mathematics students).

Important – If your interest is however in earning as much money as you can (which is perfectly fine!) and some “good samaritan” advised you to take this program as a substitute for computer science to get a “good” placement, then you need to reconsider your choice of “good samaritans”. Taking advice about placements and salaries at this stage can be highly misleading and dangerous. Mostly what we want to say is that NO ONE can ever definitely tell you how much you will earn in any branch in any college. (WARNING: Please make sure to read footnote 3)

6. Is there any disadvantage in taking B.S Mathematics (or any other B.S. Science course) rather than a B. Tech program?

Firstly, as per our knowledge, no one (apart from the government of India from whom you will possibly be availing a lot of money in the form of KVPY, INSPIRE scholarships for pursuing a B.S. program) cares whether you did a B.S. course or not.

The term B.S. instead of B.Tech. is neither is it an issue during placements or internships nor is it an issue when applying for higher studies. Whichever your choice, you will be still called an IITian (whether you like it or not).

Essentially, the 4-year program is after all, a science degree, in the sense that majority of the compulsory courses that are included in the curriculum pertaining to this course are scientific in nature. However, as remarked earlier, courses other than these compulsory courses also exist and you are free to make your degree as technical as you want.

_____________________________________________________

Footnote 1 – So we have mentioned the availability of open electives which allow you to do any course from any other department. In IITK (and as far as we know, in any other IIT too) the way you get to do a course is that you request/opt for the course from the instructor (the Professor who is teaching that course) and then the instructor decides whether to take you or not. In some instances, the instructor may reject you because he/she already has too many students or you may run into problems with schedules (two-course timings may clash). Again, this is true for every other IIT as well.

But compared to other IITs, in IITK, you will definitely get a significantly more number of ‘open electives‘ and considerably more number of courses to choose from and that too for almost all of your courses during your third and fourth year (If you go through programme templates of different programmes in different IITs – you will see what I am talking about).

Footnote 2 – So if you wiki/google Theoretical Computer Science, you might come across this line – “Theoretical Computer Science is mathematical and abstract in spirit”. We know some people who have pursued topics in the above category and we have always heard that you require a lot of tools from topics like Algebra (especially Linear Algebra – there is practically no running away from it!), Probability and Analysis. All of these are parts of pure mathematics that are introduced and taught in your second year and which are used thoroughly in Theoretical Computer Science. Furthermore, a lot of topics in Computer Science find themselves dangerously close to (if not completely intertwined with) domains of pure mathematics – things like Graph Theory, Combinatorics, Discrete mathematics, et cetera. This happens so often that many alumni from Computer Science departments all over IITs become professors in mathematics and many math students go work under Professors from CS departments! So a background in mathematics will definitely help you a lot in a better understanding of numerous topics in theoretical CS type areas.

Footnote 3 – A lot of people come up to ask us and other students/alumni about statistics of placements and salaries of graduate students during the counseling season. Many of these people may often encounter websites on the internet that will show you such numbers.

Most of the time, such numbers do not come from any respectable source and may even be farcical or a scam (especially if they are publicly on the internet)! Moreover, even if the statistics are from the Students’ Placement Office of IIT Kanpur, it is meaningless to rely on that data without understanding the sample space, distribution, variance, etc. (For example, if two students get placed with salaries of Rs. 0 and Rs. 100 per annum, their average placement package is Rs. 50. This statistic is a very stupid number to predict the behavior of placements)

The most important fact is that no number can predict how successful you will be. However, if you take a stream that you can stay motivated to work in for your entire life, perhaps you’re already a successful man.

_________________________________________________________

So if you actually reach this point, thanks for reading the whole article! We hope it has helped you in one way or another. In case you have any further queries or just want to know some suggestions as to how/why we came to choose Math@IITK, feel free to contact either me or Nihar on facebook/gmail.

Note: Queries about placement statistics may not be satisfactorily answered by either of us.

Akshat Mudgal – akshat95@gmail.com – Akshat Mudgal | Facebook

Nihar Gargava – nihargargava@gmail.com – Nihar Gargava | Facebook

Some important links you should check out:

1. IIT Kanpur BS Math program – http://www.iitk.ac.in/math/b-s

2. This is a note by a senior of ours on some of the various options available for jobs and research after completion of a 4-year degree in Mathematics and Scientific Computing – Why Mathematics and Scientific Computing at IITK

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