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“Make responsible career choices by trying out a few things!”- Dr. Ranjan Banerjee

Dr. Ranjan Banerjee, Dean – S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR), leaves a message for our student readers through an interview with Shraddha Kamdar.

As I share a cup of coffee with him and a few of his colleagues over this interview one Saturday afternoon, I gain a lot of insight into what goes in training young students to work in the industry. and how to enhance their skills to make them life-long learners. He also talks of several other aspects of management education and even though the afternoon passes by quickly with healthy discussions, his thoughts stay will resonate time and again. That’s the impact of Dr. Ranjan Banerjee, Dean – S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR), who has been teaching courses on Marketing, Strategy, Behavioural Economics, and Innovation at leading Indian and international institutes IIM Calcutta, Great Lakes, Symbiosis, IIT-SOM, Singapore Management University and Carlson School of Management, USA, for the past 19 years.

Talking of the idea that students need to score high marks to make progress in their academic lives, Dr. Banerjee points out that the need to score high is only part of the problem. “If marks are a consequence of understanding, then that kind of evaluation is not bad. In many dimensions of the education system, however, marks are awarded for fairly predictable things. One can score well even without a deep understanding of the subject. For instance, you could have a topper in a particular subject who does not have substantive knowledge of it. There is where the problem lies,” he says.

Overcoming the issue lies largely in the hands of the faculty, in terms of setting challenging examinations which test the understanding of the students. At SPJIMR, he elaborates, at the time of admission, a certain importance is attached to versatility of the candidates. “It’s like the student could have good marks, may not be the highest, but has exceptional performance in sports or say music, then he would do well, since he has developed a skills which would work exceptionally well when studying for his MBA,” Dr. Banerjee explains.
Going further, talking of related issues, the Dean mentions that SPJIMR is a value-based institution, it is mentioned even in the mission statement! “You see, since we are admitting 23- and 24-year-olds, we can strengthen their values, but not create them. So we recruit for values as well. Our entrance exam carries a question on a time when the candidate has failed, laying an equal importance to failure and learning from it. Similarly, in the interview process, we go by two things – what they say for themselves as well as how they react to what others say. In that sense if our selection process does not value only marks, I think it gives the right signal to the students.” In that way, also, he says, the institute by and large gets students who are academically oriented, grounded and real.

The idea is not limited only to the selection process. The curriculum at the institute also reflects a lot of learning by doing. “Apart with their corporate internships, our students also go for rural internships where they spend four or five weeks in the region, learning. Students are involved in a project called ‘Abhyudaya’, where social responsibility is inculcated within the students by working for underprivileged families. “All of these are marked courses. So students’ evaluation is linked to the things they are doing, and learning from. When the marks are related to skills that improve industry knowledge, are fine! It is only when marks are linked to an entry point for something, they become an issue. Unfortunately, the self esteem of many students is affected because of the ability of taking an exam,” he says.

This leads to the theme of students learning from different aspects, both inside and outside the classroom, with experiential learning. “Management is a discipline that takes in students with limited work experience, teaching a wide variety of subjects. These subjects need a little work experience to be understood. That’s why we have differently designed courses for our students, where they can gain some experience,” Dr Banerjee explains. One of these is ADMAP, where students form committees which are in charge of running an aspect of the institute. “Here, the power does not lie with the students, it lies with the faculty or with the administration.

So, effectively, students learn to operate from and get things done from a position without power! At the end of the course, the committees come together in a cross committee and talk of the learning they developed by doing all of it, and how to learnt to carry out operations from such positions,” he says, elaborating the process. There are other ways as well, where industry practitioners set and evaluate projects for the students, or how they shadow a particular professional for a day and glimpse into a day in the life of that professional.

All of this, undoubtedly, requires a certain engagement from the students, which needs to be generated. Enter faculty. The Dean admits that it could be a challenging task for a faculty member to hold the attention of 60, often 80 students for an hour and 10 minutes, but he says “we’re also good at teaching excellence”. He lists several reasons to say that today’s students look at more interactivity in class, rather than being delivered a monologue to. “We’re looking at the teacher creating a balance somewhere between lecturing and facilitating the class. And of course, tools like role play, case studies and videos help.” He also believes that students will relate to things which are in the context of what they do and what they care about. That’s why it becomes imperative to get a good mix of local and foreign case studies. And if the teacher can augment a case study from a few years ago with a video showing the current situation, the impact on the class will be quite effective. Essentially, in some of these ways, the class will become a class where students want to go.

As the afternoon meeting draws to a close, I ask him what the MBA institutes and faculty expect from aspiring students. Dr. Banerjee mentions a base level of communication skills and a certain amount of general awareness of what is going in the business world. Most importantly, however, he says that students should ask themselves why they want to do an MBA. “Even if the reason is that because you want a wider variety of options, that is fine, but come to that conclusion after examining yourself. If your choice is not dictated by peer perception of lucrativeness, then it is in the right direction,” he tells our student readers. “Conduct your choice in what you like or care about, what you have passion for. If possible, spend a little time in that field before you draw your conclusions, so that you make choices which are more responsible,” he adds.

For the teaching community, Dr. Banerjee’s parting shot is, “Teaching to me is an extended form of parenting, in the sense that you need to be a little selfless as a teacher like you are as a parent. If I have the opportunity to touch 60 students’ lives and manage to do so even for a few, then it is worth it. Teachers should have a sense of service and pride, and the world will come to respect teachers when they respect themselves!”

Original: http://www.freepressjournal.in/education/make-responsible-career-choices-by-trying-out-a-few-things-dr-ranjan-banerjee/1014258
By: Shraddha Kamdar
Posted: February 6, 2017, 11:48 am