Blok period, and all the contemplation that comes with it

One of the most interesting phases of student life at KU Leuven is the blok period. It is the two weeks before the final exam (we only have one exam in a semester anyway) where you try and go through the subjects that you did not go read the entire semester because you just hated them!

But anyway, blok period for an electrical engineering student is really crucial. Most of our time during the semester is spent on projects. (Electrical engineering projects are extremely demanding, but you go away with so much of knowledge!). And this really the only time we are left to study properly for the exams.

I ran into Sujoy, a post-doc scholar in the COSIC group of ESAT yesterday at the Carrefour market. He was the TA to a very interesting course last semester, ‘Design of digital platforms’. We were just normally talking when he advised me to diversify my courses (read: take more fundamental maths and physics courses) rather than take more and more circuit design courses. Any new research field or any new novel idea is really an implementation of the basics.

And today I was reading Antenna. A dreaded course. Dreaded because my basics in electromagnetics are not that strong because I never had a good teacher in my bachelors university. Then a thought came to me: I understand (for most part) the material that is covered in the slides. But, today if you ask me to design a point to point antenna, will I be able to do it? Honestly, no. Given a current distribution, I can use Green’s function to calculate the magnetic vector potential, and then use it to derive the magnetic and electric fields. And then derive the impedance. But that’s all in theory. I don’t think I am confident enough to be able to build an antenna. But then, I have been taught the basics of the mathematical tools to do antenna design.

And it hit me. If today, I am extremely good in electromagnetics, I can pick up antennas much more easily than the other way round. If I look at analogue circuit design, if understand the basics of electrical circuits and feedback really well, I can go ahead and design a circuit. I don’t need to know a hell lot about MOS or a BJT to begin with a synthesis problem. If I am good in mathematics, I can be good in algorithms. Case in point: I studied a lot of mathematics while I (used to) solve problems from project Euler. I came up with algorithms and the formal proofs of them from the first principles.

In Belgium, they focus a lot on the basics in the first years of their engineering degree. Those exams are hard. Only after the basics, they introduce them to ‘engineering topics’. This was never the case in India. The basic courses were too easy, and the teachers who taught those basic courses were from the Faculty of Science, and they could not give a shit about the engineering students even if they wanted. That really stunts the ability of future engineers to be able to solve synthesis problems. If you are smart, then analysis problems can always be solved. But to solve a synthesis problem, the basic mathematical and physics tools need to be sharp. This is clearly lacking in the Indian education system.

Ok enough rants! Let me get back to my books! *Fuck!*