Lights off, coffee: How IIT Kharagpur aims to tackle student depression

IIT

 

Every now and then, one of India’s most prestigious engineering colleges cuts off power to its hostels for an hour in the evening.

The practice, at IIT Kharagpur, is not to save electricity or cut costs. It is instead part of efforts to get students to mingle — contact that officials hope will help cut stress after three of its students killed themselves between January and April this year.

IIT Kharagpur is part of the country’s marquee Indian Institutes of Technology colleges that lakhs vie for each year. Only a few thousands make it, entering a college of intense competition with some of the best minds to vie for top jobs at the end of their four-year course.

“Students are meeting increasingly less. This naturally creates a lot of problems as they end up being alone. This small step will help them connect when they take a 10-minute coffee or tea break,” said Manish Bhattacharya, dean of students affairs of IIT Kharagpur, while explaining another effort to draw students out by installing vending machines for free tea and coffee.

The machines, for which a Japanese company has been roped in, will be in place from the academic year beginning this summer.

The blackout hours are helping, students say. “It was like an outreach programme where the administration wanted to speak to us… tell us what had happened and how it was important to be connected with fellow students. Many came out of compulsion but realised that it helped. Students interacted with each other, even discussing the suicides that had been troubling for many of us,” said Anisha Sharma, a student.

The latest suicide was on April 8, when a fourth-year student was found hanging in his hostel room.

Other efforts include a programme for parents with psychiatric professionals, courses on happiness mental well-being, and reaching out to alumni who faced depression during their college days.

Depression is seen as among the main reasons and students say the institute lacks adequate number of counsellors.

Mental health professionals on campus reported depression, adjustment disorders and, in some cases, personality disorders as among the cases they often come across.

“The first thing that parents ask us when they come to drop their children to the institute is about placements and package. They need to stop this. It puts unnecessary pressure on the students. This is the reason we have decided to have an orientation programme with the parents too,” said PP Chakrabarti, IIT Kharagpur’s director.

Officials said they will also turn a microcredit elective on “the science of happiness well-being” into a 3-credit course for all students from the next academic year.

“We are evolving more courses so students will be able to go for micro-specialisation in science and happiness. The subjects that they take up include depression, grief, so these projects that they take up to engineer happiness are meaningful,” said Prof P Patnaik, IIT Kharagpur.

The courses are run by the institute’s Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness.

IIT Kharagpur has also decided to collaborate with an agency to identify the strength of students instead of their weaknesses, as is the case with current evaluation systems.

Officials are in touch with alumni for campaigns that will prod students to open up.

“Some of the alumni have approached us and they will share their experiences by recording it and circulating it on the website and Facebook page of the institute. There is a stigma attached with depression and this will address that,” the spokesperson said.

 

 

[“source-hindustantimes”]

How to tackle bro-culture in tech startups

Uber on mobile phone

Susan Fowler, an engineer who used to work at Uber, says the company prioritised bro-code over her complaints. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

March is Women’s History Month and if you’re a journalist writing about women and work, your inbox will be inundated with press releases from corporates. They all want to tell you about the amazing programme they run for women, the targets they have set, or the new female board member they have just appointed. If you believed everything you were told you would think the average workplace was female nirvana. And then you read a blog post like the recent one from Susan Fowler, an engineer who used to work at Uber, and you realise how far there is still to go.

In case you missed it, last month Fowler blogged about why she left the tech giant. She explained that despite registering complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination, the company prioritised bro-code over behaviour. According to Fowler, reporting any sexual harassment issues resulted in her being told that either she was overreacting or that the man in question was a high performer so his behaviour would be ignored.

As a response to this, Uber opened an investigation, with its CEO, Travis Kalanick, claiming he wants justice for everyone at the company. Perhaps it’s just me but his statement has the ring of defensiveness about it. Whatever the results of the review, it’s important to remember that Uber is not alone is this behaviour. There are a good many tech firms currently counting the number of women in their engineering teams and worrying that they might be next. As Sarah Lacy, founder of Pando Daily, tells Vox, the culture of Silicon Valley and the entire tech industry has changed.

The sort of bro culture seen at Uber recently might be expected in banking, a hangover from the Wolf of Wall Street days, but there’s an assumption that tech companies should be more enlightened. However, as more money has poured into tech startups, the culture has changed. The alpha male bro is reigning, and it’s not good for women.

In the spirit of generosity, here is some advice for tech companies. If you’re concerned that your organisation is about to be submerged by a sexual harassment scandal, this is what you should do:

  • Ask your female employees to tell you honestly what it’s like to work there. Whether you like their response or not, believe them. Don’t try to deny it, don’t try to explain it, and definitely don’t try to tell the women they have misunderstood the situation. Accept it and start to think about how you can fix it.
  • Institute a zero-tolerance policy to any form of sexual harassment or discrimination. In an ideal world this would have been the status quo for every company, but we know it’s not.
  • Take a serious look at your HR team. All too often HR is a second consideration for startups, something they have to do as they grow and when the founders get bored of managing people. Look at how you treat your HR team, do you listen to them? If not, start. Equally, look at how they behave with you. Do they tell you honestly what’s happening in the company? Are they more concerned with minimising issues than dealing with them? If you don’t have a HR director who will happily tell you when you’re wrong, then you need a different one.
  • Write to all the women who have previously worked for you and ask them for their help. Ask them to be honest about what working in your company was like, why they left and what they would change. Pay them to do this.
  • Grow with your business. Maybe you started a tech company because you had a great idea, thought it would be fun to be an entrepreneur and set your own rules. That’s great but, like humans, companies eventually have to grow up.

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[“Source-theguardian”]