I was recently at a University where I was addressing around 50 Masters’s students in the Department of Electronics and Communications Engineering. I spoke to them about the Internet of Things and how it is expected to be the next big wave in electronics and communications engineering. After the coffee break, the professor who was hosting me requested me to give the students some professional advice. I decided to have a conversation with the students and encouraged them to ask questions. It took much coaxing to get them to speak up. During our conversation, I asked them how many were members of professional organizations such as IEEE, IETE, or IET. Unfortunately, no hands went up. Later, when I was speaking to the faculty members of the same department, I asked them how many faculties were members of professional organizations. Once again, the answer was not encouraging. They told me that the department supports the annual membership fee for only one faculty member.
I began to reflect on when I became a member of IEEE and what motivated me to do so. I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California when I signed up as a student member of IEEE (1989). But my association with IEEE began in 1986 when I was a Masters’ student at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. I had decided to pursue my project with Prof. L.M. Patnaik, who was known as a tough taskmaster. In our very first meeting, he handed over to me a large stack of papers on the topic of hardware accelerators for VLSI design automation. The Internet did not exist in those days and the only way to “download” papers was to write to authors for “reprints” of articles. I was somewhat overwhelmed, but I realized later that I had only witnessed the tip of the iceberg. Each subsequent meeting, he would pass on more paper reprints for me to read! Soon, my reading desk in the hostel was complaining about the tyranny that I was subjecting it to. But all this reading was beginning to have an effect on me. I found myself being drawn to the world of research.
What was common to most of the papers that I read was that they were published in IEEE journals and conferences. I used to also carefully read the author biographies at the end of the paper and find that they were all members of IEEE. Prof. Patnaik later handed over a stack of “reprint request cards” to me and told me to contact the authors directly if I needed any papers. And I did! It was a pleasure to receive reprints from legendary authors, addressed to me, and delivered to Prof. Patnaik. During our meetings, he would produce an envelope or two and say, “Did you write to this author? He has sent reprints for you!” I felt touched that an author who was located thousands of miles away took the time to send reprints to a student.
When I spent time in the library of the Indian Institute of Science browsing through IEEE magazines, I would notice advertisements for IEEE membership. In the 1980s, the world was still not a global village as it is today and signing up for membership paying fees in dollars was at best a daydream for most students. I was finally able to sign up as a member when I was a Ph.D. student at USC. I began to receive the IEEE Spectrum magazine and the IEEE Computer magazine. Each issue was a collector’s edition. Indeed, I saved these magazines and wanted to bring them with me to India when I decided to join the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT, Delhi, as an Assistant Professor. Needless to say, I also had a large selection of reprints that I wanted to transport to Delhi. Alas, I found out that the transmission of paper is far more expensive than the transmission of bits. When I reached the post office next to the University with boxes of papers, weighing just about a tonne, the postmaster told me that I will have to repack them in smaller boxes and put them into sacks that would be provided to me. I immediately appreciated the value of the famous bin packing problem. I estimated that around 200 boxes would be needed and I would have to spend all my graduate savings on transporting my collection of technical literature. I applied all my knowledge of constrained optimization to finally select the subset that would have the pleasure to travel to India by sea.
Other than reading papers published in IEEE journals, I have benefitted significantly from attending IEEE events. The very first event I attended was the 25th Design Automation Conference in 1988. Prof. Viktor Prasanna, who was a Professor at USC, drew me to assist him in some of the conferences where he was involved. Even after returning to India, my association with Prof. Prasanna continued and I helped him in starting a conference on parallel processing in India, which later metamorphosed into HiPC (International Conference on High-Performance Computing). Prof. Vishwani Agrawal motivated me to get involved in the organization of the International Conference on VLSI Design. He also encouraged me to start the VLSI Design and Test Symposium. Prof. M.N.S. Swamy requested me to start a chapter of IEEE CAS in Bangalore. I have had the pleasure of knowing hundreds of great professionals through IEEE. I continue to attend IEEE events and find the most rewarding. I attended the International Test Conference in 2017 after a gap of a few years and it helped me in getting a great overview of the latest problems in the domain of tests, such as the application of machine learning and AI.
Students today may not have seen paper reprints. They may not even have seen published copies of proceedings. In today’s digital world, we simply download a PDF of the paper that we wish to read. IEEE has archived its vast collection of literature through “IEEE explore.” I do not deny that students today can easily download papers that they may be seeking. But I hope that students will also appreciate the importance of networking that IEEE events provide. Late Prof. Indiresan, former director of IIT Madras and a Professor at IIT Delhi, always emphasized the importance of surrounding ourselves with talented people. I believe professional societies such as IEEE enable us to do just that.
Whether you are a student or a professional, becoming a member of IEEE and participating in the activities of the IEEE will transform you for the better.
|Joining IEEE is simple. Simply visit www.ieee.org and click on “Join IEEE.” The annual student membership fee of $27.00 for Indian students is less than the cost of a pair of shoes. Professionals in India will pay $82.50 for electronic membership, less than the cost of a family dinner.|