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My experiment with GATE

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If you’re an undergraduate engineering/science student in India, and you plan to do your Master’s degree in some of India’s premier institutes of higher education (like the IITs or IISc), then you’ll have to write the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE).

The test is similar to the subject GRE. It consists of 60 multiple choice questions over a duration of 3 hours. The first 20 questions are worth 1 point, while the last 40 are worth 2 points for a total of 100 points with negative marks for incorrect answers. The engineeering test contains two sections. There’s a general engineering mathematics section as well as the specialized engineering subject.

In the summer of 2008, I had a wonderful experience participating in an undergraduate research project at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. As a result, while I had applied towards a number of graduate schools in the US, I was also looking at the possibility of doing a ME degree at IISc. This meant that I had to register for and write the GATE in 2009.

The “online” registration process is actually a bit of a misnomer. I had to download the documents from the webpage, and fill in the relevant details and submit the printed documents at the GATE office. For details of the admission procedure and the structure of the test, visit the GATE website.

A couple of months after I had registered for the test, but before the actual examination date, I received an offer of admission towards a PhD at a well-recognized graduate program in the US which I plan to accept. So, I decided to write the GATE anyway for fun without any preparation. After all, what better way to test the conceptual knowledge that one is expected to acquire in four years of undergraduate education?

On the morning of February 8th 2009, I was off to write the test at the Santhom Hr. Sec. School, comforted with the knowledge that it didn’t matter one bit even if I completely messed it up. The location was pretty decent, and there was drinking water available, although the desks had less legroom than a typical Indian Airlines flight.

The engineering mathematics part of the test was pretty straight forward. Many of the questions were on multi-variable calculus and complex numbers. Since I don’t remember signing a non-disclosure form, I’ll reproduce some of the questions below.

  • The direction of largest increase of the function xy^3-x^2 at the point (1,1) is ?
  • The value of the limit as {x \rightarrow \pi/2} of (\cos{x})/(x-\pi/2)^2
  • Using the residue theorem, the value of the integral \oint (8-7z)/(z-4) dz around a circle with center at z=0, and radius=8 is?
  • Use the Gauss divergence theorem to evaluate \int \int (2x \hat{i}-2y\hat{j}+5z\hat{k})\cdot \hat{n}dS over a sphere of radius=3 centered at the origin

I was confident that I’d got most, if not all, of the math questions right, and was pretty pleased with my progress. That is, until I hit the chemical engineering section.

  • How does the power number vary with the Reynolds Number in a mixing tank operating in the laminar regime?
  • The active component of catalysts used in the steam reforming of methane to produce synthesis gas?
  • What is the Thiele modulus?
  • How does the frictional pressure drop across a packed bed vary with the superficial velocity in fully turbulent conditions?
  • How does the mass transfer coefficient vary with the diffusion coefficient in the penetration theory of mass transfer?

Embarrassingly, I had also forgotten which way the Biot number was defined (ie, convective/conductive or the other way?). I guess that since most of my exams in undergrad were open notes/open book, there wasn’t a need to actually commit definitions and formulae to memory, and my lack of preparation was very evident in this section.

However, further into the test, there were numerous standard “homework” problems which you could immediately identify if you’d done the relevant courses on heat transfer, transport phenomena, reaction engineering and process control, such as calculating the outlet temperatures of streams in heat exchangers, number of stages in distillation columns, mean residence time calculations, stability of control systems, etc.

Overall, I though that the test was set pretty well.

However, I get the feeling that the GATE doesn’t test the innate analytical skills of the student, as much as it tests a particular method of undergraduate education (the problem solving/number crunching method, which many students may not be exposed to). In my highly subjective opinion, I don’t think that the GATE should be required for admission to a graduate program. If there is a need for a “leveler test” to attempt to compare applicants between the multitude of universities in India, I think a test which focuses on basic analytical and verbal skills (like the GRE) is preferable.

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Written by parseval

March 16, 2009 at 4:51 am

Posted in education, engineering, personal

Tagged with ,

Why are most US college professors not republican or conservative?

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An old yet very relevant article by Paul Krugman.

An Academic Question

It’s a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we conclude from that?

One answer is self-selection – the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

But there’s also, crucially, a values issue. In the 1970’s, even Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan conceded that the Republican Party was the “party of ideas.” Today, even Republicans like Representative Chris Shays concede that it has become the “party of theocracy.”

Think of the message this sends: today’s Republican Party – increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research – doesn’t respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn’t be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

Conservatives should be worried by the alienation of the universities; they should at least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the professors, but in themselves. Instead, they’re seeking a Lysenkoist solution that would have politics determine courses’ content.

And it wouldn’t just be a matter of demanding that historians play down the role of slavery in early America, or that economists give the macroeconomic theories of Friedrich Hayek as much respect as those of John Maynard Keynes. Soon, biology professors who don’t give creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face lawsuits.

Here’s a link to an article which discusses the study which Krugman had mentioned.

Written by parseval

September 22, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Posted in education, politics

The Gutenberg Method

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Some of you would would be well acquainted with that “origin of species” of organic chemistry, aptly titled Organic Chemistry, authored by Morrision and Boyd.

Now, I recently came across this fascinating article by professor Robert T. Morrison titled The Lecture System in Teaching Science. A short excerpt,

Meanwhile, back at the classroom, the lecture is drawing to a close. Just as the bell rings, the lecturer, if he’s a really smooth operator, comes to the end of a sentence, a paragraph, a nice neat unit. He lays down his last piece of chalk — he knows exactly how many pieces the lecture will take — picks up his precious lecture notes, and goes out. The students, tired but happy, rise up and follow after him. Their heads are empty, but their notebooks are full. Their necks are a little tired; it’s been like a sort of vertical tennis match: board, notebook, board, notebook. But other than that, everything is all right. Any student will tell you, “I never had any trouble with the course until the first examination.” There hasn’t been a chance to ask any questions, but that’s all right; they haven’t any questions to ask, anyhow. They’ve been so busy writing hey haven’t had time to think about what was being said; it ran in their ears and out their pencils.

What I have just described is perhaps exaggerated, but not much. You wonder how on earth such a system ever arose because you know very well that nobody in his right mind would invent a system like this today. What I’ve heard, and I imagine that this is correct, is that it started a very long time ago, when books were rare and very expensive, and the only way to transmit information was for the teacher, who knew, to tell the students, who did not yet know. And they would write it all down and take it away with them, like a bunch of scribes. Remember, scribes were very big in the Middle Ages

What does the Gutenberg Method involve? Simply this. You assign the students portions of the textbook to study before they come to class. When they come into the classroom, they are already acquainted with the material. You don’t waste your time, and theirs, outlining the course. You don’t waste time telling them that butyric acid smells like rancid butter, and that valeric acid smells like old socks, and other difficult intellectual concepts. The textbook has taken all that drudgery off your hands. You don’t waste your time doing what Frank Lambert calls “presenting a boardful of elegantly organized material with beautiful answers to questions that the students have not asked.”

So, what do you think? Personally, I feel that this is a very nice idea and a good way to spend class hours, rather than “copying” what’s being said onto a notebook.

Notes
Morrison, R.T. 1986. “The Lecture System in Teaching Science,”

Written by parseval

October 16, 2007 at 6:48 pm

Posted in education, science