4 E Model for Fostering Academic Research among Undergraduates

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Y.S. Bivji, the author of this article, is an IIT-B alumnus from the batch of 1965.

In January 2013, Insight 15.2 issue published an article, “Why don’t we study at IITB?”
Through the course of this article Insight tried to analyze and unravel the reasons behind the problem plaguing students. While examining the role that academics ought to play in life of an undergraduate (UG) at IITB, it noted the fact that most of the UGs in IITB would be

trying to figure out what they do want to do in life, and providing such avenues for exploration apart from academics is definitely in the best interests of the students. Simultaneously Insight admitted that

IITB provides a decently conducive environment to cultivate interests and passions of individual students.

Undergraduates and Academic Research

When a student joins IITB,

  • He often joins a branch depending on availability.
  • He is not sure of his interests.
  • He is often confused between interest, glamour, market forces and social pressure.
  • Lastly, his interest often fluctuates widely typically during his freshmen year in IITB.

On the basis of its survey too, Insight observed how a lack of zeal for the courses is one of the major reasons for academic apathy, viz. Pursuit of other passions. Passions seem to be the biggest driver for students in IITB in terms of where they choose to invest their time. ‘Research’, however, was way behind other passions like extra-curricular activities or coursework; least number of students preferring it.

This disinclination can also be gathered from figures of placement details. Merely 18 (out of 267 or 6.7%) R&D organizations offered 59 (from 1043 or 5.7%) positions to graduating students in 2012-2013.

This uncertainty, confusion, and fluctuations of interest in lifecycle of an UG can be turned into a blessing, if IITB can demonstrate the pleasure of academic research to him during his freshmen or sophomore year. By providing research focus during his stay in IITB, his academic apathy can be overcome and he can become passionate about academic research.

Here academic research implies, “Scholarly or scientific investigation or enquiry; close, careful study”’ in context of research carried out by the UGs of IITB, and excludes research carried out by postgraduate students and research scholars to earn a degree or file for a patent.

A well thought-out use of AIDA Marketing Model can help bring passion for academic research in UGs of IITB. Let us see how IITB can provide a more conducive environment to promote academic research to its UGs using AIDA Marketing Model.

AIDA Marketing Model

AIDA is an acronym used in marketing and advertising that describes a common list of events that may occur when a customer engages with an advertisement.

  • A attention (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer.
  • I interest: raise customer interest by focusing on and demonstrating benefits
  • D desire: convince customer that they desire the product and that it will satisfy their needs.
  • A action: lead customer towards taking action and/or purchasing.
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This model specifically caters to the consumer lifecycle and focuses on breaking down the decision making process into more defined components. Each step focuses on a progressive journey through the decision making process.

Using a model like this for Fostering Academic Research among UGs gives us a general understanding of how IITB UGs can be motivated for pursuing academic research more effectively.

4 E Model for Academic Research

Let us apply AIDA marketing model to academic research for UGs of IITB.

  • E ducation (Awareness): attract UGs attention in 1st Year.
  • E xploration: raise UGs interest by focusing on and demonstrating benefits in 2nd Year.
  • E xploration: convince UGs that academic research will satisfy their needs in 3rd Year.
  • E xecution: lead UGs in taking action to engage in academic research in 4th Year.

This 4 E model for academic research will similarly cater to the UGs lifecycle during their stay at IITB and will focus on breaking down the decision making process into more defined components. Each step focuses on a progressive journey through the decision making process. For ease of implementation the academic year is broken down into: spring semester, winter vacation, autumn semester, and summer vacation.

Implementing 4 E Model

For putting 4 E model into practice, Institute needs to be equally keen and show zeal in this program by putting 3 or 4 Research Scholars from departments having UGs in charge of this program. These Research Scholars can be assisted by 2 to 3 faculty from each of these departments and the entire team overseen by Dean (R&D).

This team will be further assisted by:

  • Current 3rd and 4th Year students sharing their research experience during internships
  • IITB alumni (who have recently graduated) sharing their internship experience
  • Research Scholars from IITB
  • Faculty of IITB
  • IITB alumni from Indian research labs
  • IITB alumni from foreign research labs
  • Researchers from Indian and foreign corporate labs

While activities during winter & summer vacations can be for duration of vacation, all talks can be of about one hour duration scheduled twice in a month.

Sr Semester Activity
1S Spring Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 3rd Year Students
1A Autumn Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 4th Year Students
1A Autumn Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 4th Year Students
1M Summer Vacation Assisting IITB Research Scholars & Faculty in Respective Depts.
2S Spring Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by IITB Alumni
2W Winter Vacation Literature Survey for Dept. Research Scholars
2A Autumn Semester Talk by IITB Research Scholars & Faculty from Respective Depts.
2M Summer Vacation Internship in Indian Research Lab
3S Spring Semester Talk by Scientists from Indian Research Labs
3W Winter Vacation Internship with Entrepreneurs (SINE Incubators)
3A Autumn Semester Talk by Indian Corporate Research Scientists
3M Summer Vacation Internship in Foreign Univ. Research Lab
4S Spring Semester Talk by Foreign Univ. Research Scientists
4W 4W Internship with Indian Corporate Research Labs
4A Autumn Semester Talk by Foreign Corporate Research Scientists
4M Summer Vacation Internship in Foreign Corporate Research Lab

Motivating UGs

Participating in this program is going to be entirely voluntary for the UGs. So, usual motivators for UGs like grades or credits are not linked to this program. Credit based IITB’s programs like Technology and Development Supervised Learning (TDSL) of CTARA or Collaborative Engineering of Mech Engg. are, therefore, excluded from the scope of this program.
Consequently Research Scholars who are in-charge of this program have to make use of varied methods to ensure UGs are sufficiently and continually motivated to participate in this program. Some of these approaches are:

  • Session is conducted by a team of researchers, not limited to a single speaker, as far as possible
  • having rigorous discussion with the team and pre-evaluation of the content of the talk
  • Sessions are not limited to a ppt presentation or a monologue by the speaker
  • Sessions are with maximum possible visuals like photos, flow charts, graphs, tables…
  • Sessions are made alive with audio/video/film clips
  • Sessions are made using actual hardwares used in research to the extent possible
  • no software or computational research (e.g. fluid dynamics)
  • getting feedback from UGs after each session, and
  • using this feedback to improve future activities.

In short, they have to make certain that all sessions are delivered in lively, interesting and interactive manner from UGs point of view.

Having said this, the benefit to UGs is not limited to exposure to academic research, even for those who do not wish to pursue research later in their career. Every UG, who is serious about this program, can be helped to publish a paper, and fully supported to file for a patent for those who are dedicated. The advantages of a published paper or a patent ending up in CV, in getting an internship or admission, (especially in a foreign university for MS, MBA) or for a career in MNC are self-evident.

Educating Students on Academic Research

During their first year in IITB, students are still trying to figure out what they do want to do in life. This is the best time to make them aware about the magnificence of academic research.

Sr Semester Activity
1S Spring Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 3rd Year Students
1A Autumn Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 4th Year Students
1A Autumn Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by 4th Year Students
1M Summer Vacation Assisting IITB Research Scholars & Faculty in Respective Depts.

This task is best performed by their seniors, viz. 3rd & 4th Year students by sharing their internship research experience, especially in foreign universities.

For first year students, the above team of Research Scholars has to make:

  • A list of 3rd and 4th Year Students having Internship in any Research Lab
  • A list of Research Scholars in Physics and Chemistry who can assist them during winter vacation
  • A list of Research Scholars in 8 departments who can assist them during summer vacation
    and ensure program is followed, both in letter and spirit, throughout the academic year.

Raising Student Interest in Academic Research

In second year students have marginally settled in terms of their coursework and have also realised their passions. This is the time to bring about change in mindset of students. They have to be gradually, steadily, and firmly veered towards academic research. This is ideally done by IITB alumni who have recently graduated sharing their internship research experiences.
In words of G Sreeta, “… because the 4th semester is an ideal time for experimentation”. (In Undergrad Research Experience )

Sr Semester Activity
2S Spring Semester Sharing Internship Research Experience by IITB Alumni
2W Winter Vacation Literature Survey for Dept. Research Scholars
2A Autumn Semester Talk by IITB Research Scholars & Faculty from Respective Depts.
2M Summer Vacation Internship in Indian Research Lab

University Internship

909 students of 2nd and 3rd year participated in the internship process in 2012-2013. Of these 801 (88%) opted for company and 108 (12%) for university internships, most (88%) of them for summer internships. These data merely confirms above finding, viz. academic research is not a ‘passion’ for most of the UGs.

If IITB makes it a prerequisite to undergo university internships after 2nd year, to those students who desire internship in foreign countries after 3rd year, number of students choosing university internship in 2nd year will show a sharp increase, because internships in foreign countries are hugely preferred by students for obvious reasons. And hopefully university internships after 2nd year will swerve many students to opt for academic research (in Indian or foreign universities) even after 3rd year.

For second year students, the above team has to make

  • A list of willing IITB alumni (recent ones) having Internship in any Research Lab
  • A list of Research Scholars in every departments who can assist them for literature survey during winter vacation
  • Create a database of Indian universities (including all IITs) where they can pursue their internships in a research lab during summer vacation

and ensure that the program is rigorously followed throughout the academic year.

Convincing Students to Opt for Academic Research

By this time third year students have been made aware of what is academic research and their interest in it has been kindled. Internship with entrepreneurs (SINE incubators or others outside IITB) will give them a hugely different experience. Sessions by Indian Research Scientists and incentives of Internship in Foreign Universities/Research Labs during their summer vacation will further motivate them.

Sr Semester Activity
3S Spring Semester Talk by Scientists from Indian Research Labs
3W Winter Vacation Internship with Entrepreneurs (SINE Incubators)
3A Autumn Semester Talk by Indian Corporate Research Scientists
3M Summer Vacation Internship in Foreign Univ. Research Lab

For third year students, the above team has to create:

  • A database of research scientists from Indian research labs (both universities and corporate) who are willing to address IITB UGs.
  • A database of entrepreneurs with whom UGs can pursue their internships during winter vacation
  • A database of foreign research institutes which can be persuaded to enroll our third year students for internship in their research labs
    • Engaging Students on Academic Research

      Getting foreign research scientists to address our students is going to be toughest for the team for our 4th year students. Above team has to approach such people both in India and outside for addressing our students during spring & autumn semesters and offer internships during vacation. Our placement office, which has a data base and excellent connections with them, can be of considerable help.

      Sr Semester Activity
      4S Spring Semester Talk by Foreign Univ. Research Scientists
      4W 4W Internship with Indian Corporate Research Labs
      4A Autumn Semester Talk by Foreign Corporate Research Scientists
      4M Summer Vacation Internship in Foreign Corporate Research Lab

      A majority of fourth year students should have been convinced by now to pursue academic research, if the 4 E model has been implemented in its true spirit. Insight poll, if conducted among these students, should reveal a significant rise in preference for academic research as compared to earlier years.

      Needless to say, this should reflect in placement figures too. Positions offered by R&D organizations to graduating students should jump to a sizeable figure from the dismal figure of 5.7% in 2012-2013.

      Monitoring Progress

      This program can be considered to be a resounding success if each and every UG either publishes a paper (not necessarily in a research journal) or files for a patent (yes, a patent) before graduating from IITB.

      Until this ideal is attained, we can monitor progress of this program by number of patents filed and papers published by UGs of IITB every year, year after year.

      Conclusion

      Market researchers, advertisers, and academicians invest huge amount of time, efforts, and millions of dollars in studying and developing AIDA model and its variants to focus on customer lifecycle and the progressive journey customers take in their decision making process. Their ultimate aim: to lead customers towards taking action (watch advertisement) and/or purchasing (goods/services).

      IITB can make use of a variant of AIDA model viz. 4 E model in ‘Fostering Academic Research among Undergraduates’. A program based on 4 E model can ensure UGs are gradually, steadily, and firmly veered towards academic research.

      An unintended benefit of this program would be many more UGs would be predisposed towards core engineering in their studies and later in their careers, instead of crunching numbers in some foreign bank or strategizing on how to sell more soaps for some consultants.

      In short, IITB would have created a more conducive environment to promote academic research among UGs.