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Plight of Tech clubs

Clubs are a very essential part of a college student's life. An escapism from the hectic academic lifestyle is always needed, and this is where clubs come into the picture and provide you an avenue to indulge in hobbies and interests with other similar people like you. A technical institute like ours, is synonymous with research and technology in the minds of millions of countrymen outside these walls. Though research and development is on, on the higher and formal level of the institute, the students, usually undergraduates, don't have any major recourse to flirt with the functional aspect of technology. Technical clubs come in to fill this gap.


Technical clubs are student organisational bodies working in the field of technology and research. They are formed by the motivated ‘engineers’ of the institute, who love to play with ideas and build products from scratch, competing against hundreds of institutes across the world in a jamboree organised by some enterprise or institute. Broadly speaking, there were 7 technical clubs in IIT Delhi that are presided over by the student body CAIC, of which six remain functional today.


AXLR8R:

AXLR8R works with the aim of practical implementation of machine theory to manufacture a formula race car. Over the years, they have improved on the technology of the engine and transmission, with most recent cars being electric. Their vision extends to designing and manufacturing the car every year, all inside their humble shed in the Central Workshop, which is used to bring laurels to the institute and the country in International competitions. In a first, probably in the history of the club, they cleared the scrutiny of the car to be able to drive it in the Formula Student Germany 2019.


Robotics:

Robotics club as the name suggests, is involved with the design and materialisation of robots to partake in esteemed competitions like Robocon and various technical fests. Apart from this, they conduct workshops and lectures and are involved in many summer and semester projects as well. Their Intro to Robotics course for freshers is the most interesting hands-on experience one can get in his first year: making their own robots using Arduino and sensors has a thrill of its own.


Physics and Astronomy Club:

Physics and Astronomy Club consists of a group of enthusiasts who come together to discuss various ongoing things about physics and the emerging questions in Science. They organise events which interests the general audience in the view of astronomy by organising various observation sessions and lectures. The club aims at increasing the general knowledge of the audience through the medium of such events. Even the polluted Delhi sky does not stop them from finding the right night to host an observation session of various celestial highlights.


Economics Club:

The club aims for a forum where people can come together to learn and discuss economics and to foster a culture of economics in the college.They conduct events like lectures, workshops and Tuesday night discussions. Competitions on Game theory are also organized by the club.


DEV Club:

The club aims to improve the technological and development culture using open source codes in the institute and use software to help students in general. They conduct different workshops, hackathons and lecture series and collaborate with startups as a part of their work.


IGEM:

The International Genetically Engineered Machine; An organization present in various colleges, the main is to research in genetics and represent IITD in the prestigious Jamboree held in MIT every year. Apart from that, it organises competitions in their field during Tryst. Due to the lack of enough guidance from the institute, the club did not participate in iGEM this time.


Aeromodelling Club:

The main vision is to further nurture the interest of students in Airplane and drone design and continue teaching them about its various aspects. It aims to encourage aeromodelling activities and provide a platform to students enthusiastic about it. It also organizes Boeing National Aeromodelling Competition (BNAC) Finals, which are held here at IIT Delhi annually.



PRESENT SITUATION AND COMPARISON WITH THE CULTURAL CLUBS AND SPORTS


The first and foremost difference between cultural and tech clubs is their organisation under a board. Cultural clubs have a separate board to look after their needs and requirements. Technical clubs, on the other hand, don't have that privilege of exclusive attention and are under the same CAIC which also constitutes departmental societies and schools. The structure of the cult clubs and tech clubs are fundamentally different as well. Cultural clubs have a uniformly followed organisational structure of 13 reps and 1 secretary. Each technical club has a different hierarchical structure and the number and authority of different PORs are also different. This non-uniformity is because of the fact that these PORs are not just administrative in nature but skill-based.


Technical clubs require a lot of time and effort on the student’s side, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the students who are interested in it would like to pursue it further as a plausible career option. However, the clubs do not currently offer any opportunities or options for them to do so, discouraging most of the resume driven students from continuing in the club beyond a certain point. This can be observed from the decreasing trend of the club members in the senior years. Also, the high potential of the clubs is not realised due to their lack of popularity among student body and professors. The cultural clubs and sports enjoy fully funded official ‘Inter IIT’ meets. Inter IIT tech meet isn't officially recognised by the Inter-IIT council and hence no support to the students is officially given in this regard, unless of course, the professor is gracious enough to give them a relaxation for it. This is reflected in the fact that IIT Delhi sent a contingent for Inter IIT Tech Meet last year, for the first time ever. The same is true for other international and national competitions wherein students participate at their own expenses, sometimes at the cost of their academics. While official provisions like make-up labs, ease in the process of reminors exist for people participating in Inter IIT Sports, the students partaking in tech competitions are left helpless with all the paperwork to be done even to claim attendance, while many suffer a grade down for not having enough attendance.



The things that make any club or organisation successful is a well-committed team, an adequate amount of budget, and the cooperation of the administration which presides over it. More than the funding and the participation, administrative cooperation is needed on top priority to make these clubs actively functional. Many pieces of the equipments that these clubs use are expensive and can not be bought by the students directly, something which the system demands and promises to reimburse later (after continuous requests and pestering). CAIC has a certain amount of budget allocated for each technical clubs based on their needs, however, that does not suffice their needs always.


AXLR8R receives nearly 8 lacs from the institute, but each car they make costs about 30 lacs. To cover up for these additional costs, they look for sponsors who could support them in some way or the other. Even if they get a sponsor who is ready to pay a monetary sum, it’s a long long time before the sum reaches the students as it gets stuck in the accounts department due to the account in question being an IRD government account. Thus, a strict scrutiny and audit system is present along with restrictions on money being withdrawn.

This hampers the pace of work and motivation of the students.



WHERE ARE THE CLUBS AT?


The survey was taken by 222 people, out of which 138 were freshers (both UG and PG) and 84 were non-freshers.


DevClub is the most popular club amongst the first year nascent who are yet to “join” it. With almost 60% of them describing some interest in becoming a part of it. While almost all the other clubs have almost 40% of students lured in them. Leaving out only a meagre 7% of the total surveyees clubless.



This statistics is may be foretelling the success of the DevClub, or are they? When asked about the major reason why they want to be a part of a technical club, 66% of the freshers replied with the eerie two-letter word - CV. Which begs the question, is it their unparalleled curiosity in coding, or is it the same interest which makes everyone from AIR 1 to AIR 60 opt for IITB CS?


As we go beyond the freshers to the more experienced and mature(?) strata of the student community, we ask some similar questions. When asked which club were they a part of during their first year, we see quite an astonishing trend to what we observed in case of interest among freshers. We actually notice that the most popular club for this question is actually the Robotics club closely followed by DevClub, with almost all the other clubs having little participation. This summit of Robotics club against DevClub either implies its efficiency in recruiting people or an unprecedented increase in the popularity of DevClub. It also describes how even though most freshers are interested in many of the technical clubs, the clubs fail to provide an environment which can hold these freshers to cling to them. With 33% of students not being a part of any club, the next question unfolds another amusing insight about the technical clubs. As per our survey, while most of the other clubs hold onto the people that join them in first year, Robotics Club ends up losing most of them. 75% of the students who join Robotics Club in their fresher year, leave it in the subsequent years. 75 is not a small number on any scale. This is a troubling observation about the functioning of the Robotics Club, with the most common excuses of leaving out being: “I got bored/ work was no longer fulfilling/ lost my interest” and “ Self funding was required/ I had to invest too much of my own money to actually do something useful”. The picture that our survey paints is not colourful, but it shows some positivity regarding their retention rates, and growing enthusiasm among freshers.




CAIC AND UPCOMING REFORMS


Q/A of the interview with CAIC G.Secy: Sarthak Kala


Many of the tech clubs have pointed out that they have very less involvement with CAIC and have only one or two meetings with CAIC per year. What do you have to say about this?

SAC and CAIC both are councils. So CAIC G.Secy can’t involve much with tech clubs since there are three parts of CAIC. So we will follow the example of SAC to resolve this, following the path of last G.Secy there will be a board for tech clubs. For this to happen, we will appoint a Secretary for all tech clubs (similar to BRCA G.Secy). There is a senate meeting at the end of October, in which this proposal will most likely pass. A committee will be formed and if the secretary does good work and the plan is successful, then a board will be formed just like BRCA was formed from SAC.


Why does IIT Delhi have very less participation in Inter-IIT Tech meet?

The inter-IIT council decided that they will not recognize Inter-IIT tech meet as official meet, unlike the cult and sports meet. So different IITs can come together for a tech meet but it will not be considered official. That’s why the participation is less from IIT Delhi. Also it’s not just IIT Delhi, but in other IITs as well there is less participation in tech, as compared to other colleges like NSUT.


Tech clubs don’t have a proper structure unlike cultural clubs. Everyone who works in a tech club has a POR. Do you plan to fix this?

This is not related to POR. This is a club dependent issue. Unlike cultural clubs, tech clubs have different requirements like junior executive, etc. The tech clubs secy will not interfere with the way the club functions. It’s up to the clubs to decide their structure.


Tech clubs have to face a lot of issues related to funds and reimbursement. What is the reason behind that?

The main problem is funds. The Tech club fund is under IRD, which is a govt account. So there are a lot of restrictions and there is strict scrutiny and audit system. This causes problems like late reimbursement, only able to withdraw a fixed amount of money etc. We are planning to move it from the IRD account to FITT account which will resolve the issues.


What do you have to say about the less popularity of tech clubs in comparison to cultural clubs?

The tech clubs are driven by some national or international competitions. They start as a student chapter with the vision of participating in these competitions, while expanding further. The popularity will come soon, as the clubs become properly managed.

There is more participation now than before. Clubs like PAC have grown. They recently invited a person from NASA. They have also held moongazing and other sessions. We have started targeting these clubs one by one. We have proposed a budget for this tenure. This will get discussed in the upcoming senate meeting. The reason that the PAC budget was zero last year is that their OC performed very poorly 2 years back, and this changed their status from club to student chapter. Eventually the dean wants more participation to give more funds. Now the recent OCs have worked very well and they are back as a club and hopefully their proposed budget will get passed in the next meeting.



CONCLUSION


It is apparent that the current state of the technical clubs in is not as good as should be expected in a premier ‘technical’ institute like IIT Delhi. One of the major problems is the attitude of the community to ‘work’ towards building a CV, which certainly renders technical clubs helpless because all they offer you is immense knowledge in the particular domain. The lack of clarity in a typical IIT student leaves them with no choice but to keep ‘trying’ out various opportunities available. This leaves tech clubs start off high with huge participation, but as they become demanding with respect to time, people cut themselves off from them to continue their pursuit of happiness.


However, despite these problems, tech clubs have seen improvement in recent years. The activity of these clubs has increased, with multiple keynote lectures and workshops being organised this semester, while AXL8R recently achieved the country best position in Formula Student Germany. Factoring in the promise to sort the reimbursement issues by the CAIC G.Sec and the possibility of formation of a Board of Technical Clubs, the future of these clubs certainly looks good.


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Individual articles represent the views of the writers and opinions expressed therein are not endorsed by and do not reflect the offiicial position of the BSP, IIT Delhi or its administration.

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