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Coffee With Hemalatha Thiagarajan! – A Professor

28 February 2008 68 Comments

Hi Folks,

Its my pleasure to welcome Hemalatha Thiagarajan, Professor from the Mathematics department of NIT Trichy. She handles maths courses in various departments and also a few computer science courses. She is one of the best faculty members of NIT Trichy.
Its a great honour to have Hemalatha Thiagarajan maam on my blog!


Coffee With Hemalatha Thiagarajan! – A Professor!

Me: Sundar Rajan G S
HT: Hemalatha Thiagarajan!

Me: Hello Maam, Welcome to Coffee With Sundar! When did you start you career as a teacher? What are the subjects that you teach?
HT: I started way back in 1979 in Loyola College teaching Math to Undergrads. In arts and Science Colleges I have taught mainly “pure” Math like topology, Analysis. In REC/NIT, I have taught a various courses in Math as well as Computer Science. But I really enjoyed teaching courses like probability, Real Analysis, Discrete Mathematics, Linear Algebra and a course on Mathematical Thinking (The last two courses were offered through the IEEE chapter in NIT)and when these are well received by the students( which is only 50% of the time) I am immensely satisfied. On the computer side I have taught data structures, Algorithms, Theory of Formal Languages and Automata. Somehow these are better received by the students than the Math courses.

Me: Maam, you have been at various positions like HOD, Associate Dean etc? How does these roles affect your teaching process?
HT: If you take up admin positions your teaching does get hit. During this time I started using the black board less and relied on pre-prepared lecture material more. I was not happy doing it. These responsibilities do have their compensations though. You are more in touch with the students and get get a lot of feed back from the students. You are also in a position to implement some of your ideas at least.

Me: Some teachers feel that they should reach out to each and every student in the class.. Others feel that they need not wait for everyone to understand? What (and why) is your stance on this topic, which has a wide spectrum of opinions.
HT: I differ in this respect. I had a discussion with a co-teacher once, who said we have to go down to the level of the last student in the class! What about the bright students then? The answer was they can learn on their own. I disagree with this view. Each institute gets students of a specific standard, and the courses must be taught at that level. Further, I have noticed that if the expectation of the teacher is on the higher side, the students put in extra effort and reach at least 50% of that.
I used to be very upset about the fact that students do not put their heart into learning. But after some courses that I attended, I realized that while I can give 100% to what I do, I am in no way responsible if the student does not give his 100% to learning. I am at peace now and I accept the fact that students may have different

Me: Do you think teachers should have industrial exposure? Do this help?
HT: In the applied fields like engineering it is a tremendous input. You can easily relate what you teach with what goes on in the industry. In mathematics, in some applied courses like Operations Research, Statistics it is a great help. But the math teachers do not have such an opportunity in India.

Me: What is the most satisfying thing for a teacher? In your opinion, What makes a teacher really happy.. ?
HT: The most satisfying thing is to be remembered by your students, who get in touch with you after a long gap and help you in your activities.

Me: What are your other interests. What do you do in your spare time.
HT: I teach High school students. I am a part of the RMO training group in Chennai. I help disadvantaged students in choosing the right career.

Me: Finally maam, what would you like to say to people who want to take up teaching as a profession?
HT: I don’t find students taking teaching as a profession. It is a last resort if they do not get placed. Whatever be the case, you have to first learn what you are going to teach. Go very well prepared for your classes. If you do not know something accept it and invite the students to get the answers. You can learn from your students no harm.
We see the lack of good teachers affecting the high school students learning process. In no time this will spread to institutes of higher learning.
Sundar, time you took teaching as a good career option seriously.


Thank you so much for sparing your time for this interview Maam. I surely will become a prof. 3650 days down the line.. 🙂 I hope we have more and more good teachers like you. Readers, hope you enjoyed this episode of Coffee With Experts. This episode is the first one from academia. I hope to bring in people from different walks of life, have a chat with them & share the conversation/email over the blog.




  • Amit said:

    I agree to one of the above comments
    >> As she said, “students put in extra effort and reach at least 50% of that”, is what a national institute student should do.

    But I would also like to bring to the attention of the author that this was achieved in Michael Arock Sir’s class where every student knew very well that the more effort they put in the better were the rewards.. no favouritism whatever…

    In HTs class, even if you are good with your academics, rewards go to the select favorites. Why shall one put his efforts then ?

  • Feeling Hungry said:

    Hi all,

    Giving all due respect to great mam and you people i will suggest one thing.

    I think now we had enough coffee.
    I am proposing to have a “Sapad (Lunch or dinner) with HT” .

    All people who will comment on that post will be given one Bhajji each.

    Please come up with your suggestion .

    Waiting for your reply.

    I am very Hungry for different views.

  • Anonymous said:

    I want 2 bhajjis(appreciation), i am very very hungry… I assure you I will post big comments but I want two bhajjis with coconut chattni(Yummi…) for each post.

  • Anonymous said:

    Where are people?

  • pankaj kumar said:

    i m feeling proud that i m being taught by hemalatha maam and ill surely try my best

  • Ashish CAA0558 said:

    . i m feeling proud that i m being taught by hemalatha maam and i am having snap with HT MAM during data mining workshop,really feel proud.

  • Roshy John said:

    HT Mam, really proud of you. Keep up the good work.

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  • Ramanathan RV said:

    Hi Sundar,

    I have mixed feelings about this. Her enthusiasm and passion for the subject is simply amazing. But her philosophy when it comes to teaching is something that seems totally flawed. Even in the primary sense of imparting education. A true teacher should kindle the curiosity of students such that the learning transcends beyond the four walls of classroom.

    I was mediocre when it came to mathematics. Was always kept on the edge of the seat in all her classes because she would choose really tough problems to solve in the classes. But there were not many instances where your imagination or creativity was demanded. It was more of formulas and theories. Whether it is good or not, I did not know at that time. But now I am very confident that anything that doesn’t challenge one’s imagination is a waste of time. Because, the theories and formulas that we commit to memory at that time doesn’t last. Durability is missing.

    Her test papers were sort of a challenge. I fail to understand the logic of it. Every year, the number of students failing her paper would be much higher than any other paper. What was the point of it? We all know that she is very good at mathematics. We all know that there were few in the class who would rank in the top 10. The bright student would work hard anyway. You were a bright student. Tell me if there was any difference in your preparation levels for Data Structures and Discrete Math. Given that we follow relative grading, there was no need on her part to set the question paper that difficult. Was it just to prove a point that there were so many low caliber students?

    I have no qualms about teachers having favorite students. It is quite inevitable. The fact that outside the classrooms she took her favorite students to informal lunch sessions, scooty rides, etc. doesn’t sound quite right to me. A true teacher should always aim to push the thinking limits of students. If she had given you guys extra assignments which were even tougher and outside the scope of syllabus, I can understand that she wants more from her brighter students. If she had influenced the system to make you guys take more of her courses, then it would have made sense. But sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    At the end of day, we need to ask ourselves what yardstick is to be used to measure a teacher’s success. The fundamental requirement of a teacher is to have great knowledge of the subject. She raises the bar there. But that isn’t sufficient. Also, this has to be seen in the light that the general bar of faculty in NITT, unfortunately, is low (atleast at that time). So obviously, first bench students liked her, a lot. But imagine the case where every other teacher is as knowledgeable as her. Would you still have the same respect for her? Are scooty rides and lunches the only difference? She needs to ask herself some important questions like “what is the purpose of teaching”.

    Teaching in college is lot different from teaching students for IIT JEE, where formulas and techniques rule. It is unwise to follow the same style everywhere.

    The are quite a few teachers that I have great respect for. But she is not one of them. Her being intolerant towards mediocre kids and the public display of such harshness is so distasteful. Perhaps, I would have liked her if everyone in the classroom was as talented as Sundar was. And perhaps, that would have been like a dream come true for her as well. She would have been a happy teacher then. And that could have made all the difference. But not always is sprint and not always does the sun shine.

    I wish she were a great teacher.

  • Anonymous2 said:

    HT is a totatlly stuck up bitch! Looks like she did not change much even after 20 years. Hope she rots in hell.

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  • NIT student said:

    Hemalatha Mam might be brilliant but she is not students teacher.i still remember the days when i never used to follow her teaching.I apporached her for doubts and she used to curse me saying “you will never get to pass this subject in your lifetime and your not good for anyting”.I never had a good gpa in my college but i think i have been succesful in my corporate life.

    I feel the role of a teacher is to help students and not to show attitude and be biased with anyone.I did my masters from an american school and loved the way the professors taught me.I did have teachers from Harvard teaching me and it was the best teaching experience i had in my life. I got to score good GPA as well.

    Perhaps Hemalatha mam should learn from this.