What would it be like to reject a job offer from Ernst and Young and instead opt for a yearlong course aimed at broadening one’s horizons?
InsIghT finds out about YIF from MechE batch of 2011 alumnus Ankur Tulsian, ex-student mentor and co-founder of the Freshmen Forum.
The opinion and views expressed below are entirely that of Ankur alone and do not represent the views of any organization or institution mentioned herewith.
I discovered my interest in Humanities in my final year when I took up courses Reading Fiction and Professional Ethics as Institute Electives. It was a refreshing change from the Engineering courses in that they added a whole new dimension to my thought process. From studying about machines, fluid flows and thermodynamics, I was now discussing how our everyday actions, including the use of technology, have implications on real people and the society around us, and challenging our knowledge and assumptions.
Not that all of these were blind spots earlier. But, an academic discussion around these areas took the understanding to newer levels. And, I was left wanting for more. Meanwhile, I had also gone on the Jagriti Yatra and had returned somewhat disturbed by the limitations of the perspectives that I had got used to as an IITian. However, all said and done, I had a job offer at hand and was fully prepared to take that up. That is, if I had not heard about the Young India Fellowship.
YIF promised an opportunity to take a year off to study courses from very diverse disciplines from some of the best faculty in the world with a peer group comprising of lawyers, doctors, psychologists, filmmakers, literature majors, economics majors and other engineers. It was the first year for the programme, so there was considerable risk involved. When I asked people for advice, they told me that if I wanted to take risks, I should do it while I am still young. Of course, it was easier because I was getting a full scholarship.
So, what is YIF really?
The Young India Fellowship (YIF) is a full-time one-year postgraduate academic programme with a focus on Liberal Arts. It is founded as a not-for-profit initiative by some of the leading industry professionals who are passionate about the higher education space in the country. The Founding Dean of ISB, Hyderabad – Dr Pramath Raj Sinha (Founder of 9dot9 Mediaworx, ex McKinsey Partner) – is also the Founding Dean for Young India Fellowship Programme. The programme aims to provide opportunities for holistic learning & perspective building among the young people in the country.
The undergraduate universities in India don’t offer a lot of flexibilities in terms of coursework. Based on choices we make at a very young age, we end up specializing into narrow areas without having scanned the breadth of possibilities. I would say that at IIT Bombay we are one of the luckiest students to have the choices we get in terms of our Electives and Minors and in terms of the extremely vibrant extra-curricular culture on campus. However, loosely speaking, as an engineer, one develops a very strong objective analytical thought process, but there is little fodder (atleast academically) to appreciate the subjective viewpoints. Young India Fellowship aims to expose students to varied perspectives through a set of 18 to 20 courses from diverse disciplines. The belief is that the purpose of education is not to pick up skills for a particular job, rather is to inculcate a curiosity for learning and to develop perspectives that will help us grow as a person and add value in whatever it is that we decide to pursue.
Partnerships & Collaborations:
Currently, the Young India Fellowship is not affiliated to any university. It is a non-degree programme and it certifies you as a Young India Fellow in its own capacity at the end of the year. However, it has academic collaborations with Penn Engineering, Carleton College and Sciences Po which enables it access to some of the best faculty in the world, among other things. The Founders of YIF are also setting up a private university to offer programmes in Liberal Arts and Pure Sciences called the Ashoka University which is set to start in August 2014. The modality of how YIF will be associated with the University is being worked out.
Coursework and the overall Learning Experience:
There is no fixed curriculum of courses that YIF intends to offer year-on-year. Their belief is that learning is best when the faculty is inspiring and engaging. So, the YIF team tries to get a set of engaging scholars and professionals to teach about areas they are experts in, with the intention of covering courses from disciplines like Literature, History, Philosophy, Economics, Sociology, Fine Arts, Leadership, Communication and so on. Apart from the academic collaborations, the faculty members hail from various intellectual bodies including the likes of the Planning Commission. Each course is roughly 6 weeks long with ample reading and writing assignments culminating into an examination or a term paper. The classroom lectures are primarily discussion-oriented and the aim is not to make the Fellows experts in the subject matter, but to expose them to the broader perspectives of that discipline. For example, a course on History emphasizes on discussing the thought process and the ideologies of a personality instead of focusing on dates and events. The course asks you to move beyond the question of right or wrong, and encourages you to understand the context in which the different ideologies persisted. In essence, the courses do not try to give answers. Rather, they try to nudge you towards asking the right questions with the intent to leave you curious till the discomfort grows on you and you start being more comfortable with the ambiguity.
There are other components of the programme like the guest speaker sessions where eminent personalities from all walks of life share their experiences with you. It’s very inspirational and encouraging to have successful people tell you their life stories and lessons. Some of these sessions have stayed with me till date and have been source of valuable advice. There are also other aspects to the programme like Workshops, Experiential Learning Module and Mentorship, each of which is a very diverse and enriching experience in itself. However, among all the diversity that the programme offers, the mix of the batch stands out. Imagine an engineer, a literature graduate, a filmmaker and a lawyer working together on projects or discussing a particular topic. The breadth of perspective you gain is immense. You begin to appreciate where each one is coming from and begin to appreciate the various shades of gray.
All said and done, the obvious question that arises is what does the programme culminate into and what opportunities are available to Young India Fellows after completion. Given that the programme is still very young, placement opportunities are not the same as at IITs yet. But there is a team working full time to try to find the right opportunities for students based on their interest areas and skill sets. The Founders also put a word for you among their wide network for possible openings. The programme is not a substitute for an MBA for any sort of placement opportunities and it does not whitewash over your black spots. What it means is that the kind of opportunities you get also depend on what you have achieved in the past. Hence, being an IITian gives you an edge at times, however, most conventional and structure-heavy organizations view the programme as only an add-on to your undergraduation degree and offer opportunities at that level only. The scope is much wider when you are looking for unconventional career opportunities or continuing education. A lot of high-responsibility jobs opportunities are available in medium to large organizations if you are willing to look beyond the set of organizations that visit the IITs. While there is no guarantee, all I would say is that the effort from the team to get you placed at the right places is honest and sincere and it works out for the better in most cases.
Is it for you?
To put things into perspective, the essence of the programme is not in being the stepping stone to your next career move. It is in cultivating a certain level of curiosity within you and to help you round off some of the rough edges in your outlook. As they say, a liberal arts education does not prepare you for your first or second job, it prepares you for your 5th or 6th job. So, you need to evaluate for yourself if this is really for you. Are you willing to go through the one year of academic and intellectual rigour that YIF is, when the alternative is to work in your dream organization, start up or pursue another course with the promise of a secure and stable career?
On an concluding note, I have been often asked if this programme helps one to figure out what career options to choose from. My answer to that is that the one year helped me in understanding what matters to me. I became more aware of the patterns I operate in. Some of these learnings were eye-openers, some more subtle. I am not sure if I can say I found my passion at the end of the year. I think what matters is that I knew what I was getting into and why. Hopefully will find more answers along the way!
If you are curious to know more about the programme, you may contact me at +91 9920934439 or firstname.lastname@example.org. But before you do that, please go through the websites at www.youngindiafellowship.com and www.ashoka.edu.in