About the Author: Rajat Seth, from BITS Pilani, takes us through his enriching journey at Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai.
BITS has a unique, standalone system in place which allows its students to get hands-on experience in the real world projects through a program called Practice School (PS). It’s an ideal platform for students to learn about an organization’s culture and functioning. I was lucky enough to get my first preference, given the mysterious algorithm that the PS division applies to allocate companies. Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) has a huge database and an Economics department in place, which definitely was an ideal place for me given my interest in Applied Econometrics. I reached Chennai during the afternoon hours; the scorching sun, jelled with the humid weather, welcomed us. After slogging through daylight hours and rejecting almost every other apartment, we finally found a decent enough place to stay.
We reached the institute next morning and our schedules for the next two months were explained to us. For the next two weeks, we were given orientations of the numerous departments by their department heads. Students during the same time were allowed to choose their own departments and the available projects on which they would be working. As I was certain about my preference, I went ahead and talked to the Head of the Economics Department. After a detailed discussion, the faculty was convinced and agreed to be my mentor for the project.
For weeks, I was made to look into the qualitative aspect of a project which in no way made sense to me. With the dilemma of expressing my concern or not, I finally decided to pay a visit to the faculty one day. I told him that the work allotted to me did not intrigue me enough and that I wanted to do a quantitative analysis of a project that I had already thought of. The faculty explained how he was from the sociology department and was not aware of the quantitative aspects and the previous scientist who was working there had recently retired. It felt as if the world had collapsed around me.
However, I was not ready to give up. I went to see the professor again and inquired whether he could possible arrange a meeting with the retired scientist. To my surprise, he had already spoken with that scientist. The scientist was going to visit the next day so that I could raise my concerns and talk about the project. The meeting was unexpectedly a fruitful one, and he promised to help me with my project. The next couple of weeks went in discussing the details and other plausible explanations to the various prospects of the project we chose. My project was to analyze the “Factors Responsible for the Export Performance of Leather Garments (Price) in India”. This topic required a great deal of knowledge about the leather and export industry, and so a considerable amount of time was spent in CLRI’s library to go through the previous research papers and other relevant materials. Once I had substantial information, I went on to meet the professors (usually twice a week) and discuss my findings with them. After a couple of weeks, when I had found my variables (factors), I went ahead to exploit the huge database of CLRI. Luckily, I was able to extract most of the data from there itself and for the remaining set (e.g labour wage rates), I was made to contact other outside institutions.
After collecting all the relevant data, a regression analysis was made to find out the significant factors that determined the price of the exported leather garments such as the availability of raw material (mainly leather) and disposable income of consumers. I drew the conclusion based on my findings (e.g. which factors had positive, and which factors had a negative impact on the price) and suggested to include other parameters like seasonal effects in the regression to obtain better results. The final report had some unexpected results and I was made to discuss the possibilities of them being true. It did open a new channel of thoughts for which I was praised, given the time constraint in which I had finished my project. I finally closed off my report with a remark for it being open to further probe before any conclusion could be brought out of it.
It will not always be the case that we will be served everything on our plates to ingest; sometimes we need to bend around and find the best we could rather than just giving up. This project for me was a successful one, given the versatile fields I explored and the challenges I faced along the way. It was a hell of an experience which will be cherished for years to come.
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