Integrated Circuits and Systems group, IIT Madras

MS versus MTech

A frequently asked question about the Master of Science(MS) by research program at IIT Madras is how is it different from the MTech degree and why one would want to do an MS instead of an MTech.

MS in analog/mixed signal IC design at IIT Madras

IIT Madras is one of the very few institutions in India that offers an MS by research program. On paper(for administrative purposes), an MS degree is equivalent to the well known MTech degree. However, there are several fundamental differences between the two programs. An MTech program is largely course-based. The students take a prescribed set of core and elective courses (about 10-12 in number). Knowledge/intuition/understanding results only when one does a real design - meaning a complete integrated circuit(IC) design. In the MTech program, one is required to do a project - however, due to the time that one needs to spend on course work, it is only a year long and it is usually not possible to do a complete and thorough design. This is a particularly bad situation for serious work in the analog/mixed-signal design area due to the following:

IC design involves
  • Choosing a set of challenging, yet achievable, specifications.
  • Designing circuits that meet these specifications over manufacturing variations
  • “Laying out” the components in a manner that does not degrade circuit performance, and adhering to the rules set by the chip fabrication house
  • Sending the design out to a chip manufacturing foundry (e.g. UMC, TSMC) for fabrication
  • Designing a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) to test the chip after it comes back from the foundry
  • Measuring the IC and making sure that the specifications chosen in step.1 are indeed met.
  • Communicating the research findings to a scientific audience through journal or conference presentations.

Due to the complexities involved in today's ICs, state-of-the-art Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools are needed to accomplish Steps 2 and 3 above. Our laboratories are fully equipped with industry standard tools (e.g Cadence/Mentor). We also have agreements with semiconductor foundries that enable our students to fabricate their chips. The fabrication process takes about three months. The whole design/fabricate/test cycle typically takes about a year and a half.

How much of the above can one do during an MTech

It must now be apparent why an MTech program in analog/mixed-signal design is necessarily incomplete - one spends most of the time on course-work, leaving little time for much else. Typically our MTech students are able to get through Steps 1 and 2, and in a very few cases, Step 3.

What happens in an MS

The MS program, on the other hand, is ideal for IC design. First, the course requirements are lot smaller (5 courses, as opposed to 12 for an MTech). There is more freedom in the timing and choice of courses - for example you could do two courses a semester, freeing up much-needed time for design activity. You get to go through the full design cycle - Steps 1-7 above. Apart from the (priceless) joy of seeing your own IC work, it gives you a confidence that can only be obtained by doing. Needless to say, our MS students are in very high demand by the industry, due to the completeness of their training. Contributing to papers in prestigious journals and conferences is another aspect that can enhance your career prospects. If you are eventually inclined towards working for a Ph.D, of course, the M.S is an ideal platform. What we wish to point out is that the MS is a better program even if you are interested in an industrial career. As an aside, no company would probably trust a fresh college graduate with a challenging IC design project due to the high cost of failure. In academia, you will get this chance - to even work on crazy-sounding ideas, which you may not be able to try out in industry.

What have the past MS students in this group achieved?

Over the last six years, our MS students have contributed to the design of several high performance ICs and published more than a dozen papers in international journals and conferences. See this page for examples. All our MS students have continued their work in analog and mixed signal IC design, either in industries such as Texas Instruments, Cosmic circuits, Maxim, AMCC, or academic institutions such as the Oregon State University.

How to join our MS program

MS admissions happen twice a year, typically in May and December, and are through a test/interview. Watch the newspapers or the IIT Madras website for the advertisement.