“Industry is looking for people who can look at a problem, break it down into chunks that one can attack, come up with the solution and then communicate the solution by documenting or talking about it,” says Rudra Pratap, Vice Chancellor at Plaksha University. “Engineers are probably one of the worst communicators,” he goes on to add ruthlessly. “It has to do with education. If you are only told to think and talk in terms of formulas, you cannot communicate.”
At Plaksha, great effort is being made to get its students to master language and communication. “Mastering language is mastering life — it is language that encompasses the whole world,” declares Brainerd Prince, Director of the Centre for Thinking, Language and Communication at Plaksha. He argues that by writing, students can discover themselves. “We tell them to write as a way of self expression,” he says.
Over four semesters, the undergrad students at Plaksha are taught four courses — academic communication, personal communication, research communication and business communication — to help them think and create output. But the method of teaching communication is very different in keeping with the interdisciplinary ethos of the university. “We changed our entire taxonomy and converted everything into tech language,” says Prince. For instance, Literature review is called “Survey of past solutions to a problem”. This, Prince says, gets a better buy-in from tech students. “They surveyed more literature than we could have imagined!”
The college has held a Write-a-thon — a six hour live writing event — to create and tell stories of different spaces in the campus. What emerged from that exercise was a book full of stories called ‘Campus Lore’ that has been published and is available on Amazon. The book has managed to earn the institute ₹15 lakh since its launch in January 2022.
The college has also conducted a competition getting students to write on technology and grand challenges. Ten student authors were chosen after the competition and faculty co-authors were attached to each one them. They were then taken on an eight day writer’s retreat to Dimapur during which, “they were writing for 14 hours a day,” says Prince.
“We are also doing a lot of small projects to help students to publish their writing,” says Prince. For instance, the centre has entered into an MoU with a regional paper to publish one tech article every month and it is mentoring students to write this article.
The results are showing. “Out of 140 students, 120 are writing absolutely fantastic essays,” says Prince.
Other institutes too are trying their best to get their tech students to communicate better. At IIT Mandi, Thirthankar Chakraborty, Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, says that students are quite aware that it’s not just the exam toppers who get selected by the top companies. Rather it’s the way you present yourself on the day of the interview which really counts. “In this light, the basic communication skills course that I teach at IIT Mandi, is designed to give students a practical self-awareness of how they communicate, verbally and non-verbally, through presentations, impromptus, mock interviews and so on,” he says.
At IIT Guwahati, there are various initiatives to promote communication skills, says Lalit Pandey, Head, Centre for Career Development (CCD) at the institute. He cites how Anchorenza — the Anchoring Club of IIT Guwahati — plays a pivotal role in training students in stage speaking, effective communication and candid conversations.
“The Cultural Fest, Alcheringa, provides a competitive platform for students to excel in debating, mass speaking and other oratory skills. Student organisers of this fest engage in extensive communication with colleges across different locations, facilitating participant recruitment, sponsorship deals and seamless event execution,” he points out.
Providing an edge
The annual corpo-management conference, Nexus, held under Techniche, the Technical Fest of IIT Guwahati, emphasises communication skills development, he says. “It includes networking sessions with CEOs and executives of major companies, requiring students to communicate effectively with industry leaders.”
Emphasising how communication skills are directly linked with campus hiring, Pandey describes how CCD at IIT Guwahati organises frequent sessions and events to improve the students’ communication skills, leadership abilities and overall employability. For instance, a session conducted by Pride@BCG provided insights on authenticity in communication during recruitment processes.
While almost all the institutes say that attention is being paid to the English language, IIT Kanpur also focuses on Hindi. It organises Akshar, a three-day literature festival jointly organised with Shivani centre for the nurture and reintegration of Hindi and other Indian languages. The idea is to promote language creativity.