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Today, I came across a New York Times article that was shared on Facebook. The summary read, “The changing landscape of movie and television production means graduates of top film schools aren’t finding traditional jobs, but it may also mean that opportunities will be available in fields like digital media.”.  The article, For Film Graduates, an Altered Job Picture, reminded me of another New York Times article written by Paul Krugman, Degrees and Dollars.  Here too, the view is that the jobs we have been counting on are fast disappearing.

I’m not sure if “traditional jobs” ever existed.  Haven’t we all had to weave our unique set of resources — education, interests, network, experience, etc. — into creating employment opportunities for ourselves?  None of the people I know have gone from school/college into a “traditional job” — simply because such a job does not exist.  I don’t believe it ever did and certainly it never will in a world of constantly changing technology.  This is the reality that all students need to recognise, expect and accept.

This is true of even that Holy Grail among professions in India — doctors and engineers.  For instance, I know of a cardiologist from Coimbatore who had worked in medical transcription so she could learn how American doctors diagnose and treat heart disease.

Unfortunately, the graduates I meet are completely unaware of this reality.  And that’s because their advisors — that’s us parents, teachers, employers, etc. – perpetuate (unintentionally perhaps) this myth about a “traditional job”.  In India, especially, we need to switch to a more realistic (and honest) message.

Maybe then we will stop having such ridiculous cut-off scores like 100% for college admissions.  Maybe then we would not have so many distressing instances of students taking their own lives because their marks aren’t good enough.  Maybe then we would see productivity improve and attrition drop in IT and ITeS since the employees are there out of choice and not due to unrealistic societal expectations.

A letter to the editor in today’s The Hindu puts it well – Having worked in the Silicon Valley for the last 15 years, I have come across many bright American students holding a non-science degree but who have excelled in software development or solved complex business problems. They have the aptitude and the right attitude — the mantra for success in a workplace. Perhaps Indian firms need to learn lessons from here.”.

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That’s the response of the dean of students to the suicides of three students in past year at IIT-M.  I wonder how many student suicides would be required for the learned dean to consider the tragedy as statistically important and therefore more significant than the patents registered by the institute.  I don’t know if the dean is a parent.  If he is, would its statistical lack of importance comfort him if his child were to commit suicide?

Yes, I’m appalled by the dean’s “response”.  Is it surprising then that students are reluctant to seek help from the institute’s Guidance and Counselling Unit?  If this is how the dean responds to a tragedy, how can the students expect compassion or empathy when they seek help?

The alarm bells should have gone off last May, (since they didn’t in Oct. 2008 when another M.Tech student ended his life) when R Sandeep became the second student in two years to take his own life.  That should have been the trigger for intensive counselling sessions and training for all – students, faculty and administrators.  Instead, it looks like the institute decided to bury its head in the sand and hope the problem would go away.  Well, it didn’t.  It has continued to stalk the campus.  And will continue to do so until it becomes statistically important.

It’s a pity when civil society in America can comfortably talk about “killing” Osama bin Laden – as if killing a person is no different from swatting a pesky housefly.  Even more dismaying is when the killing is described as successful.  I can only hope that when the celebrations are done with, Americans will begin to reflect on what really has happened:

By “treating him as he treated his victims, we simply go down and join him in the pit of immorality. We become the monster we hunt . . .”

“This way of ordering the world into worthy and unworthy victims, people to be mourned and people to be erased, is what keeps the cycle of violence ever turning . . .”

“It’s a pity that this event will do nothing to end the sheer stupidity and shameful waste of ten years of war and violence.”

These are excerpts from an opinion piece that appeared in The Hindu today.