The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are among the most difficult schools in the world to get into. The University of Oxford accepts one out of five applicants. IITs take in just one out of
100. While growing up, we observe the reverence our families have for cousins who crack
IIT-JEE, and how the newspapers never miss a chance to highlight the top salaries and other achievements of IITians. So it comes of little surprise that for any child with ambitions of becoming an engineer, getting into an IIT looks like the pinnacle of achievement. So, with a single-minded focus on achieving this goal, we start running the race to chase after “The IIT Dream”.
However, most of the people who put in the requisite work, and get the results they need to reach IIT and realise this dream, find themselves lacking the satisfaction that they always imagined getting when they put in the 2+ years of work getting to IIT. Constantly under pressure from their peers, and carrying high expectations from their families, and especially themselves, it’s not always an easy ride for a student at IIT. And with the rising number of cases of self-harm, mental health issues and suicides across IIT - it becomes imperative to find out why the joy of getting into one’s dream college wears off before it even sets in.
The purpose of this article is to try and find out the reasons for unhappiness among the spectrum of the student demographic and to appropriately gauge the happiness and satisfaction levels. Since measuring these levels is a difficult task, BSP floated the first-ever institute scale student happiness and satisfaction survey, to strike up the stigmatised conversation about mental health. It received an overwhelming response, gathering about 1038 entries over a period of 7 days from both UG and PG students, across various disciplines, years and backgrounds in IITD. Hence the data collected, and the analysis that follows should be a reasonable estimate of the IIT Delhi student body as a whole.
About the Survey
Containing around 25 questions and completely anonymous and voluntary, the survey was floated by BSP, IITD internally through webmail, WhatsApp and Facebook groups. It contained two sections - the first related to the social circles, sleeping habits, happiness and satisfaction levels of respondents, while the second asked about their use of Institute sanctioned counselling services (SCS, YourDost) and their opinion about these services. The survey
gathered over 1039 entries within a week - with 782 UG entries (roughly 21.5% of the total UG strength) and 257 PG entries.
Among those who responded, 378 were in the first year, 292 in the second, 176 in the third, 150 in the fourth, and 42 students in their fifth (or higher) years of study respectively in their particular fields of study. This also correlates to how long a time these respondents have spent in IIT so far.
The factors considered and analysed in this form are only indicative and non-exhaustive. Measuring stress and happiness levels is a challenging task - especially since stress levels are expected to vary greatly during the semester, and reach its peak before exams or important deadlines stacked one after the other. This survey was conducted in the third week of January, about 1.5 weeks before Minor 1. We also acknowledge that different individuals have a varied level of responses to different stress-inducing stimuli and a highly relativistic concept of what happiness is and how happy and content they are with lives in the status quo. Hence while designing this survey we set up some trustable precedents to look up to, to correlate the factors that cause happiness or contentment in most people, with how IITians themselves rate their happiness with their lives, both academically and socially. Finally, we talk about the institute sanctioned services to combat mental health issues - namely the Student Counselling Services (SCS), YourDost, and student’s opinion about these services. Let’s delve into the reasons behind those dark circles, stress lines and receding hairlines.
Ain’t no rest for the wicked? (Aliter - Sleep is for the weak)
Between classes, exams, assignments, club activities and deadlines, IITians aren’t getting nearly enough sleep each night, which can have a major impact on their physical and mental health as well as their GPAs. Sleep deprivation seems to go hand in hand with college life - where the only way to make enough time for everything comes down to sleeping less. But catching enough Z’s can help you earn more A’s. Everyone has heard that an average adult needs at least 6 - 8 hours of daily sleep, but sleeping early and waking early can be of benefit too, a study suggests.
The average IITian seems to deviate far from this ideal behaviour though. Here are the sleeping times for UG students of IIT Delhi on usual academic days.
Here is the same for the PG Students.
A simple analysis shows that people with extreme bedtimes (3 am - 5 am and 5 am +) remain a minority. Almost half (48.7%) of UG students go to sleep at 1 am - 3 am, and overall 76.7% UG studentssleep between 12 am - 3 am.Compared to 28.5% and 50.8% respectively for the PG students, there is a significant difference in trends of bedtime, with the PG students seemingly more capable of managing a schedule with a more reasonable bedtime. For example, 22.3% PG students sleep between 11 pm-midnight, which on the UG side is a meagre 9.1% of the total students. The most popular sleeping time is 1 am - 3 am on the UG side, and 12 am - 1 am on the PG side.
What is interesting is how it will compare with the amount of sleep. Here are the hours of sleep UG students get on usual days -
Here are the same stats for PG students :
The number of hours slept must be viewed in conjunction with the bedtime statistics. Last time we established how the PG students statistics show a trend towards earlier bedtimes.
As previously, people with <4 and>8 hours of sleep are a minority for both UG and PG
populations. Interesting trends emerge as we go higher. Only 32.9% of UG students sleep for
6-7 hours, and 31.2% sleep for 5-6 hours. 7-8 hours bracket shows only 16.3% population. When compared to PG students, they show respective percentage figures of 42.6%,18.8% and 24.2%. So overall trend points towards not only more reasonable sleep timings but also towards more sleep in general for the PG students. This might be attributed to more awareness towards health due to being at a more advanced stage in life, but that is hypothetical.
Note that a very considerable chunk of the UG population, about 46.7%, sleeps less than 6 hours a day. Their ranks are joined by about 28% of the PG population. That is below the recommended amount of sleep a healthy adult should be getting and might invite unhealthy repercussions for their minds and body. More interesting trends are revealed when the sleep times are analysed in conjunction with the bedtimes. Ideally, to wake up in time to grab 6-7 hours of sleep and breakfast for that 8 am class students should sleep by 12.30 - 1. This is where a huge chunk of both UG and PG population falls out by far, which could imply most people would be either inclined to miss breakfast or miss the morning class itself, which could affect their health and academic performance.
The exam season brings with it not just increased stress and business for the night mess, but also an aggravated period of sleep deprivation. As shown below, a whopping 76.3% of UG respondents reported getting less than the recommended safe 6 hours of sleep during this period, with 27.5% people entering the “less than 4-hour zone”.
Running a similar analysis on our PG respondents reveals a whopping 71.9% students getting less than the recommended safe 6 hours of sleep during this period, with 17.2% people entering the “less than 4-hour zone”. Unlike before, these numbers are almost comparable to the UG students. Does this imply students are panicky during exam time irrespective of their degree?
So, is IIT to blame for the sleep deprivation of its students? Is the hypercompetitive nature of our academic space literally taking our sleep away? Well, Yes…. But also No.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal sleep range for young adults (18 - 25 years) is 7 - 9 hours. A healthy 70% of students slept within this optimal range before coming to IIT but this figure drastically reduces to 21% after coming to IIT and to a very low figure of just 13.7% during minors. (with little to no major variations across the years of study). The foundation states that sleeping less than 7 hours also increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. It also debunks the current notion that studying more during exams at the cost of your sleep will get you good grades. Here are the data for UG and PG students -
This sleep deprivation isn’t without visible consequences. As per our survey, a staggering 63.2% of people feel unproductive during the afternoon which is also backed by the theory - the glucose spike in the body after eating lunch combined with the circadian dip gives you a period of fatigue between 2 - 4 PM. This is followed by the morning time where 53.2% of students feel unproductive. Note that the effect this has in students being able to be very attentive during morning classes and afternoon labs are left to the reader to infer. It is also known that sleep deficits cause sluggish attention spans and working memory and lack in productivity to perform efficiently to their fullest in day to day activities - which may lead to a loss in the ability of IITians to excel and cope with the pressure to the best of their abilities.
When asked which aspect of their lives they saw increasing the most with more hours of sleep, the response had little variance:
Productivity - 63.6%
Happiness - 54.8%
Calmness - 64.4% Physical Health - 56.2%
Finally, a whopping 73% of students thought that their mental well-being is affected the most due to lack of sleep, followed by Academics (58%) and Physical Health (52%). This is very important, especially considering people sleep too less during exam season when they find their calmness, productivity and academics affected due to sleep deprivation.
So what keeps IITians up at night? On plotting the major reasons given by the students, academics has shown to keep up 700 students out of 1038 sampled, showing a near 70% stay up due to study commitments.
It can be seen that 2nd and 3rd-year students majorly stay up at night due to academic reasons whereas 1st-year students, due to TV shows - which suggests that freshers are comparatively laxer than 2nd and 3rd-year students who recognise the importance of academics, faced with internship and job semester.
However, here comes a really interesting point: when a graph was plotted between the amount of sleep gotten in a day and CGPA of the respondent, the relationship came out to be almost independent with a slight dip in hours slept at around 7.5.
What this suggested was people trying to overburden themselves with performance pressure and ending up giving up on their sleep ended up being under satisfied with their performance. It must be understood that even though hard work and effort are necessary for a good score (as is also suggested by the plot), mental well-being and physical health should not be completely ignored.
Finally, diving deeper into the data reveals a few more interesting analyses. Comparing the sleep habits of students across various years of study in IIT reveals as student seniority increases, or equivalently as the amount of time spent at IIT increases, students’ bedtime gets later. It appears that freshers retain their pre-IIT sleeping habits before they start burning the midnight oil eventually. The number of people who slept between the hours of 12 - 1 was most prone to a change to later bedtime as the number of people sleeping at that time decreased by 14% and the number of people sleeping between 1-3 AM increased by ~16% as the year increased. The post 5 AM bracket which had almost no takers in the first year despite the large sample size had more takers with seniority despite the lesser sample size of the population.
Here is the data for better visualisation for each year of analyses.
Study commitments, being a cause of loss of sleep for students leads us to look at how sleep of students is affected when academic stress is at its highest, the examination period.
On moving from regular workday to minors, the % of students getting less than 5 hours of sleep increases from ~15 % to ~50 %. This % of people who sleep less than 5 hours during minors can be seen to be highest among 2nd, 3rd and 4th years which tend to be the most academically stressful years, allegedly due to difficulty in juggling between extra-curricular activities and academics led to increasing stress and decreasing happiness levels. The pressure of securing internships and third-year PoRs can also be attributed to the increasing stress levels and pressure to perform academically.
The portion of people sleeping less than 4 hours drops in the 4th year, the portion is still higher than those found among the first years. A major chunk of time in the freshman year is spent in exploring different activities resulting in laxity towards academics, which is why more people in higher years reported studying as a major sleep delaying reason in higher years and freshers reported the main reason to be non-academic, chiefly club activities. This laxity, in turn, causes higher academic pressure in the later years.
Lastly, we draw a distinction between the sleeping time and schedules of students based on gender.
Sleeping times: There doesn’t seem to be any real difference between the two groups while it would be safe to say that the females prefer to sleep a bit late as compared to the males.
Almost no female prefers sleeping before 10 and their subsequent percentages are higher for later timings as compared to the male counterparts.
Sleeping Hours: Here as well, there is no major difference between the two. However, a higher percentage of females have sleeping times closer to healthier limits (somewhere between 6-8 hours) as compared to the males who have a slightly lower percentage in this group and higher percentages towards the extremities.
An IIT degree is what you make of it?
Before students go to IITs, they spend one or two years in a bubble where getting into an IIT is all that matters in life. When they get admitted, they are suddenly put on a pedestal by everyone. From such a bubble of adulation, it can be very difficult to adjust with the reality at IITs where 50% of them will be below average, 20% of them will be at the bottom of their class and quite a few would fail and drop out as well. The 2017 freshman survey conducted by BSP revealed for 80% of UG students, it was the first time they were staying alone and exposed to a life of minimal supervision. This independence comes at a cost - It is very easy to fail and very difficult to live with failure - especially if you have never experienced it before and are completely alone when you are experiencing it for the first time. In most cases, you cannot even confide in your old friends, parents, relatives, siblings etc. because they have put you on a pedestal.
In this section, we will analyse the Happiness and Satisfaction levels of the IITD student body. We will then proceed to link it with various factors like social circle, empathy towards their peers, CGPA, optimism about future, and of course, sleeping habits. Let us begin.
1. Satisfaction with IIT Delhi
- When we talk about negative responses, close to 500 UG students and 110 PG students were unoptimistic about the future, and believed IIT had failed their expectations. On the positive side, 250 UG and 110 PG students seem to have a positive and optimistic outlook.
- We have approximately 790 UG students and 230 PG students who have filled up the form. Hence, approximately 63.2% of UG students foresee a gloomy future and are unsatisfied with their lives, as compared to PG population which is split roughly halfway between having a positive and negative outlook. The significantly more gloomy UG state of mind may be put down to having had more recent ‘life set hai’ propaganda outside IIT, as well has not being used to this new level of competition and stakes yet.
- The students on campus, on asked about their satisfaction level with IIT said that they were overall disappointed with IIT, with dissatisfaction levels increasing as the year increases but dropping in 4th year (albeit always staying above 50%). This might be due to the survey being conducted right after job semester and 4th years becoming complacent about leaving IIT.
- When plotting the satisfaction levels of people with their life at IIT with the amount of sleep they get, satisfaction levels can be seen to rise from 17.4% among people who sleep less than 4 hours a day to 51% among people who sleep 8 hours or more, indicating clearly more sleep could lead to higher levels of satisfaction.
- On comparing satisfaction levels with reported levels of happiness, 29 out of 397 people who rated themselves below average on happiness, we’re satisfied with how they spent their time in IIT. The remaining 316 were unsatisfied. 199 said their unsatisfaction resulted from career opportunities, 221 blamed it on their social lives, and 53 were generally optimistic about the future and had an idea of what they wanted to do after graduation. “I don’t really know about academics, they're fine.. but I feel unsatisfied in terms of what I have been able to do in extracurriculars.. and feel like I’m not enough if I’m not being ‘machau’", one such person said.
- Out of all, 236 people were satisfied by their use of time in IIT (their average self-rated happiness scale is 3.12 out of 5). 615 people said IIT failed to fulfil their expectations, and of these, 422 blame it on interpersonal relations, 350 on their career. 480 of these people also reported being “generally optimistic” of what the future held for them.
2. Happiness Levels
- We asked students to rate their happiness levels in life right now on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being Extremely Satisfied and 1 being very Dissatisfied.
Average Happiness: 2.82/5
For people who’ve sought professional help: 2.59 For people who haven’t: 2.86
For people who’ve been to SCS: 2.67
- Clearly, these numbers, which on a scale of 1-5 seems to hover around a mid 2.5, is alarming, and here is why.
- Here is how the UG students rated their happiness
1 - 14.56% 2 - 22.78% 3-34.17% 4-20.25% 5-8.24%
- Here are the same numbers by PG students
1 - 12.6% 2-23.9% 3-33.07% 4-22.17% 5-8.26%
- Hence, we observe very negligible differences across the UG and PG population. The stats are roughly Gaussian, tending towards unhappy for both. Unhappy students outweigh happy students on both sides and those who are truly happy seem to be a minority.
- Here is how the happiness levels depend on the time you spend at IITD:
With a closer analysis, we found that percentage of people with happiness rating 1, 2, and 3 (ie below average) remains same in all years, except the rating of 1 takes a 10% jump after 5th year. Only 5th years have a significant variation with the rest of the years and have higher % of people with a lesser happiness rating as compared to the other years.
- We further analyse how happiness levels may (or may not) affect the student’s CGPA. Our intuition, of course, dictates here that students with higher CGPA will be happier or satisfied with life, but the reality is there doesn’t seem to be much difference in reported average happiness levels of people with CGPA 7-8 and those with 9-10. In fact, drastic change in visible happiness levels is only observed when a student’s CGPA falls below 7, which might be attributed to the fact that 7 is the Cut-off for sitting for placements or internships in many companies, or for contesting and holding most institute level PoRs.
(FIG: the happiness index increases from 2.109 at 5-6 to ~3 at CG 9-10)
- We tried to find a correlation between student’s satisfaction with IIT Delhi and their reported happiness levels. We discovered that irrespective of the happiness level, students were the most dissatisfied with their social circles and interpersonal relationship with IIT Delhi.
- These findings are represented in the graph below. Here the most unhappy population in IIT Delhi refers to those who rated themselves with a 1 (on a scale of 1-5). While the happiest population rated themselves with a 4 or a 5.
- Comparing satisfaction levels based on gender revealed that the males tend to be a tiny bit more satisfied/ happy as compared to the females whereas the ones who didn’t prefer gender disclosure don’t even seem halfway satisfied. However, neither of the groups seems to be very happy with the way their lives at IIT are. The averages are mostly around the halfway mark and thus need to be considerably improved.
3. Social Circles and Interpersonal Relations
- We asked students to tell us about their social circle and the friendships they formed here at IIT Delhi. This section analyses the responses and attempts to relate them meaningfully to the other factors that seem to dictate happiness.
- Talking about UG students first and trying to look for any broad trends in friendship, we observe four major categories: 26.4% of people have a lot of friends but feel close only to a few. 10% people do not feel close to their friends, 12% feel they can rely on their close friends for anything and 13.8% have only a small group of friends, with whom they feel close.
- For PG, there is much greater homogeneity as compared to UG students: 29.7% are friends with a lot of people and few close to a few of them. 13.3% have friends but don’t feel close to any of them, 15.6% have only a few close friends. A new category emerges of people who don’t have friends