MS Candidate in Technology and Policy, MIT: Arun Singh, ChemE, Class of 2011

Arun Singh graduated with a B.Tech degree in Chemical Engineering in the year 2011. He then went on to work with Reliance Industries Limited and The Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) before heading to MIT for his Masters in Technology and Policy program. After IITR asked him about his experience at IITR and at his jobs, his decision for graduate studies, and his future plans.

 

What expectations and ambitions you had when you entered the institute as a freshman?

Like many of us, I came to know about IIT and JEE in 11th standard, and my initial perception of IITs was based more on hearsay than on actual facts. This is not to say that the hearsay is exaggerated, but just that it shifts the onus of a freshman turning into a notable alumnus from the student to the institute. Many of us thus walk into the institute thinking that the institute will somehow magically turn us into one of ‘those’ alumni that the IITs are known to produce, no matter what we do while we are there. I must accept that I, too, was under this misconception and such were my expectations. My ambitions were, thus, shaped by these expectations, in the sense that I wanted to achieve a lot but was uncertain about what should I do (or not do) to achieve. I was frankly not even very certain of what I wanted to achieve. What I was certain about was my excitement to be among the top brains of the country. Here a word of caution is necessary: It is very important to note that IITians are a subset of the top brains of the country and notexclusively the top brains of the country — as many students ignorantly and rather smugly believe, some of them even several years after graduating.

What were the options you were looking at in your senior year?

In my junior year (third year) itself, I had made up my mind that I wanted to go for a core job. I liked Chemical Engineering, but not sufficiently enough to pursue higher studies, thus GRE was out of question (this was to change a few years later). MBA had never allured me for some reason (this, too, was to change a few years later) so I didn’t prepare for CAT at all. I am also somewhat of a loyalist to the purpose of IITs, which further added to my decision of going for a core job.

Among core jobs, I was of course fascinated by the glamour of Schlumberger and Rio Tinto, but I couldn’t make it beyond their last round interviews. I was also interested in oil refining as I had found it very fascinating during my 3rd year intern. Thus Reliance didn’t appear to be a terrible option, although I had heard about the high attrition there.

Overall, I was fairly certain that I didn’t want to take a non core job, thus I didn’t take the processes of top non-core recruiters (mainly Deloitte and Oracle in our time, but also ZS and Verity) seriously.

I think that during placements, it’s very important to be certain of what you want to do immediately after graduation, and wade through the placement process accordingly. What you go on to do later in your life is a different matter, but taking jobs you don’t want to do leads to couple of years of frustration and this frustration then leads to further ill-thought exits from these jobs. Thus you should try not to mindlessly sit for any random company that’s offering a job. This should be your recourse only if you are absolutely uncertain about what you want to do and just want some job. And of course this can be your recourse if you are unable to get one of your preferred jobs a few months down the placement season. Placements are stressful, but don’t let the stress shroud your judgement. As it has been emphasised in the famed Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic! 🙂

How and Why did you move to J-PAL? 

I was somewhat interested in the broader Energy and Environment domain from the later years of college. After moving to Reliance, I started getting interested specifically in Energy and Environment Policy as I read and understood more about the massive need of reforming these policies and the work going on mainly in the developed world on such reforms. I wanted to be a part of this transformation and thus started looking for jobs where I would be able to get a better sense of how environmental policies are formed and implemented. I was in touch with Anunaya (2012 batch) who informed me about the project he was working on in JPAL — Emissions Trading Scheme for Particulate Matter — and that the project was in close collaboration with MoEF and Pollution Control Boards of India. As they had vacancies, I applied and eventually got the job after a couple of interviews.

A few words about JPAL (Jameel Poverty Action Lab): It is a “global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty.” The global headquarter is at the Economics Department of MIT and projects in India are mainly carried out under the South Asia Office, of which I was an employee.

How was your experience in J-PAL?

My experience in J-PAL was amazing for the most part. I think three major reasons that made it amazing were:

(i) The project I was working on was very interesting and novel in the context of Indian pollution regulation. Besides, as most of the things were being worked out from scratch, there was a feeling of working for a startup where you have to figure out a lot of things instead of following set methods.

(ii) The researchers affiliated with J-PAL are of course among the best in their fields. Our project was lead by one professor from MIT (Economics) and one from Harvard (Harvard Kennedy School), who have stellar reputations in the field of Energy/Environment Economics and Policy Research respectively. Besides, the colleagues at J-PAL are a brilliant and super fun group of people.

(iii) Government bodies were direct partners on our project, thus I got to get a close look at policymaking and implementation.

One thing which I (and several others) didn’t like about J-PAL was that the work, by the virtue of its very nature, gets repetitive after a couple of years. It was not that significant in our project, as ours was a long term one, but for people working on short term projects, the repetitiveness of field work could be annoying after a while.

Why did you decide to go to college again? What made you apply to TPP at MIT? And did you apply to any other program?

Ever since I graduated, I wanted to go back to college for further studies. It was a question of WHAT I wanted to study that kept me waiting. This was, however, sorted with my increased interest in Energy and Environment Policy. I started looking for programs that focussed on Energy and Environment, but from a policy perspective. At this stage, I also kept discussing with my friends pursuing MBA and realized that an MBA focused on Energy/Environment can also be a good medium in preparing me for what I wanted to do, albeit for a somewhat different role (corporate policy versus government policy). I thus eventually applied for a mix of programs: MIT (Techcnology and Policy Program – TPP), Princeton (Masters in Public Administration – MPA), Duke (MBA with focus on Energy/Environment), and Yale (MBA, which has strong ties with Yale Forestry and Environment School). MIT-TPP was my top  choice among these for 3 main reasons — one, it was a tech based policy program, two, it was fully funded as everyone in the program works on research during the 2 years, and three, well, it’s MIT! 🙂

Fortunately, I made it through all the programs, but eventually chose MIT-TPP for the reasons mentioned above, and also because MIT is really strong in Energy/Environment research.

What do you plan to do once you graduate from MIT?

I plan to work in the US for a few years. I am open to mainly two career paths – consulting or multilaterals (World Bank etc). I don’t have a strong preference for one over the other as of now, but priorities might change while I continue studies here. In both career paths, however, I want to focus on energy, and if possible, expansion of clean energy. I eventually want to work in the clean energy space in India, but I am not certain about any particular role yet.

Now that you have seen the real world for as long as you were in the institute, do you think you would have done anything differently in the institute during your stay than what you actually did?

My favorite question! 🙂

The most important thing I have realized during these years out of college is that as undergrad students, we have absolutely enormous amount of time in college, and it’s terrible that so many of us end up making no worthy use of most of it. I am not saying that one should stop having fun at college — far from it! Undergrad is the best time of one’s life and one should have as much fun as possible, BUT at the same time one should also understand that the 4 years of undergrad are very important in shaping one’s life. Sure there are stories of successful college dropouts, of students who graduated with terrible grades but were eventually massively successful in their lives, and of students with great grades who eventually lead pretty normal lives, but these stories are very harmful if used as excuses for not making proper use of one’s time in undergrad. In fact, any excuse used to justify worthless wastage of time is a horrible excuse.

I thoroughly enjoyed my undergrad, made great friends, travelled, developed an interest in music and movies, and I would do all of these again if I were to go back. But what I didn’t do was to give my best in sincerely figuring out what I wanted to do, and using my time in college to work towards that. Call it lack of focus, if you may. And one doesn’t have to go far to see how devoted students are in trying to figure out what they are interested in — just take a look at our sister IITs (the older ones, mainly) to get an idea. I realized this when I met with students from different IITs and heard about what they used to do in their undergrad, apart from the usual fun that everyone has. One can say that in spite of not utilizing time properly, I eventually made it to MIT, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I underutilized a lot of time in undergrad, time that I could have put to much better use, perhaps by learning skills or perhaps by reading more.

In a nutshell, Robert Plant did sing that “in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on”, but it doesn’t compensate for the lost time in travelling the wrong road, and one can’t naively blame ignorance for the lost time as it is one’s own responsibility to not be naive.

What advice would you like to give to the students regarding career, placements, graduate studies, jobs, academics and life?

One universal advice to start with: Learn coding! It could be on any platform or any tool (MATLAB, R, Python etc), but you must learn coding as most of the things you do after graduation, be it further studies or jobs, will require you to have some knowledge of coding. And it’s best to learn when you have plenty of time at your disposal.

A more general advice follows from my previous answer, as most advice inevitably result from one’s own experiences. Make good use of your time at college by trying to learn as much as you can. If it’s focussed learning in one particular field, that’s great. If you are not sure about which field should you focus on, keep trying different things until you end up with one that you like. I am using ‘field’ as a general term that can be applied to academic as well as non-academic disciplines. So for example if you like to play an instrument, give plenty of time to it to become good at it. If you are in Chemical Engineering but prefer computer science, give as much time to it as possible — maybe you will go on to do a Master’s in Computer Science and end up working for Google in Silicon Valley (true story of my batchmate). Bottom line: give time to learning skills.

Another advice I would give is don’t mess up with your grades, ESPECIALLY in the first year. Yes, grades might not matter in the really long term but most of the things you do immediately and a few years after college have a preference for students with good grades, and you wouldn’t want to miss a good start. This is all the more important because maintaining decent grades (say above 7.5) is really not that difficult and plenty of people I knew were able to do that, in spite of being heavily involved in extra currics. Your only excuse for not maintaining good grades could be your super interest in some non academic activity which you can make a living out of eventually.

And last but absolutely not the least: explore beautiful Uttarakhand as much as you can. Take one HEC trek for sure during the 4 years. It will be a memorable experience and you will make long lasting friendships 🙂

All the best for everything.

If you want to share your experience and stories, do not hesitate in writing to afteriitr@gmail.com

 

This written content is exclusively a property of After IITR. You can reproduce it only after permission. To do that, send an email to: afteriitr@gmail.com

A conversation with Dr Pradipta Banerji: Director, IIT Roorkee

Dr Pradipta Banerji is currently the Director of Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, a post he has held since October 2011. He also is Professor of Civil Engineering at IIT Bombay and at IIT Roorkee. He graduated with a BTech degree from IIT Delhi in 1981, and completed his MS and PhD degrees in Structural Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, USA. In this interview, he talks about the micro and macro reforms that are taking place in the institute under his leadership.

 

This interview was conducted by a group of curious and enthusiastic final and pre-final year students who wanted to have a conversation with Dr Banerji. 

Faculty Recruitments

A lot of young faculty members have joined in various departments. Why such emphasis on faculty recruitments and are there any changes in the recruitment procedure?

The idea goes back to an experiment at IIT Bombay. Between 1985 and 1990, the then director started offering faculty positions and around 160 people joined and flux of change and energy surged in IIT Bombay. This was done by having department wise committee with even associate and assistant professors as its part and the final decision jointly by the director and HoDs.  This is the common norm across old IITs and we have adopted it now.

Now, applications are accepted and processed all-round the year as against previous norms. People are primarily judged based on their research ability. A lot of young faculty have thus joined so far which is also increasing student – faculty interaction, as they [faculty]  have recently undergone their student life and are easily approachable.

Alumni Relations

The alumni of any institute are pivotal in its growth. What steps are being taken for improving the alumni relations?

Alumni of Roorkee are passionate and nostalgic. But until recently there was no formal mechanism for generating grants and funds for projects.

During my tenure as Dean of Alumni Relations at IITB we started Legacy Projects (a batch can take up project funding and it would be named after the batch/individuals) and around $6 million was flowing annually. We have started similar project here as well.

Also, to enable student-alumni interaction, I have changed Academic Calendar to free students from exams on 25th November (Alumni Day). Students’ should also take it seriously and responsibly engage with alumni.

New Initiatives at IITR

We are witnessing MAC swinging into activities. What are other upcoming projects in the campus?

With the funds from Legacy project we have set up Innovation fund, albeit not very huge as of now. But it is being used to set up an incubation and innovation center (TIDES) on the first floor of old library (Mandi Cell). Funds will be given to social and technical entrepreneurs. As of now we have one company incubated, 2 more in pipeline and an alumnus (and serial entrepreneur) as the first CEO of TIDES.

We are also trying to build a Tinkering lab. The concept is to have all the latest technology and state of the art equipments for students to work with. I am trying hard to make it run round the clock and simultaneously on the timings of the girls’ hostels too.

Additionally, I am trying to establish eminent advisory council for both the initiatives.

MoU with Universities & Student exchange program

Recently a lot many MoUs have been signed between IIT Roorkee and Institutes from across the globe. Can you please describe them and also what is the current status of student exchange programs?

As you have observed correctly, during my recent visits to the US and some European countries, MoUs were signed with various Universities. The topics mainly ranged from collaborative research, exchange of research works, sharing of labs, data and results.

As for student exchange they are not actually fair. The reason is that cost for a semester exchange is cheaper for foreign students than for the students from India. Thus it makes this program entirely on affordability and not meritocracy.

Interaction with Students

Students have many suggestions and ideas to make campus a better place. How can these suggestions and ideas reach you?

Come and tell me those. Most of them might not be in my domain but i will take a keen interest in them. Personally, I always like to interact with students and have done so with lots of other groups. I can take out as much time as needed if fruitful interaction with students is to happen. But the reach still remains very less and limited. There is an alias for all faculty members but I do not have any such alias for students, and so I can’t directly reach out to them.

However, I have interacted with the first year students in Hanger and discussed various topics with them. I believe that a lot of things can still be done. I am all ears if you can come up with some sustainable solution for this.

Higher Studies

As compared to other IITs, there is a low turnout for higher studies from IITR. What steps have been taken to increase research culture among undergraduates?

I think otherwise. The percentage of students going for higher studies in all other IITs, except for IIT Madras, is almost the same as IITR. Culture in Madras is altogether different and focused on life abroad. Students’ decisions are generally guided by market demands and requirements. Based on the specialization needed, students are deciding about these options.

To those who are pursuing higher studies I always say: “Jao, Padho, Vapas aao”. This is the place where world is and would be in the future.

Bureaucratic Hindrances

There are a lot of bureaucratic hindrances in the Institute. What steps have been taken so far to reduce them?

Let me first tell you and clarify something. Most of the students think that the Director can do anything. However, the reality is that the director can not give orders. He has his own limitations. For example, he cannot interfere in department level decision-making. You need to understand that you have to try and thus make changes happen. Real world is full of obstacles too and one needs to work things out.  One need to learn to bring fun in managing things when all odds are against one, and I have learnt this, without any exception. Let’s work to make our hurdles our partners.

 

Rapid Fire Round

(Some questions on a lighter note to end the session with)

What is your typical schedule?

I start at 7. Read and reply to mails. I come to office around 10. And then start various sessions, meetings, reading and clearing never ending pile of files. I leave office late in the evening and then again work via mails.

What books would you recommend?

I would not like to name any book; I would say read books. Not any in particular but I would suggest crossword; no fiction best sellers. In general, I would also add that read lots of books. Use the [central] library, one of the best in Northern India.

Some other suggestions regarding student activities / scope of improvement?

This is one of the best places to be in. Reach out to more number of people. Spend more time out of your rooms. Indulge in Bhawan culture. For this very reason I have made a policy which ensures that the students stay in a single hostel during their sojourn in the campus. Develop belongingness.

Also, some of the students in SAC are definitely working hard but they should try and to act more as facilitators and representatives.

Lastly, work hard – that’s the only guaranteed path for success.

(A proposal for open meeting/discussion session with the director is open. If enough people are willing, such a session can be arranged in future.)

This written content was submitted to After IITR. We thank the group for the submission.

A conversation with Dr Brijesh Kumar: Assistant Professor, Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering

Dr Brijesh Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electronics and Communication at IIT R; he also holds an appointment with the Center of Nanotechnology at the institute. A PhD graduate in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, he joined the institute after working for a year in the Unites States. At IITR, he runs the Novel Materials and Devices (NoMaD) research group which researches new materials and devices for semiconductor industry. In a written interview with After IITR, he talks about his life as a professor, the issue of academic plagiarism and dishonesty, and interaction among the faculty and the students in the institute.

To start, why did you decide to go for a PhD after your undergraduate studies at IIT Delhi?

When I was studying in IIT Delhi, I somehow got attracted to teaching. I don’t really know how it happened, but I taught a couple of classes in 2 courses, where the teachers asked me to talk about the research I was doing and I really enjoyed it. So, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Throughout my childhood, my father motivated me to become an IAS and I also wanted to be one. But, after reaching IIT, I wanted to become a professor, not an administrator. To become a professor, you need a Ph.D., so I went for a Ph.D. During my Ph.D., I had quite a few experiences of teaching both as a teaching assistant (TA) and as a substitute teacher and I really enjoyed it which further reinforced my desire to be a teacher.

How was your PhD experience? What happens when you enter a PhD program? What did you do in the initial years of your PhD? How did you decide your area of research?

Most of us think that PhD topic is decided solely by what interests the students, but in reality, the topic is ultimately decided by what project is funded by the funding agency. My adviser had funding for a project on “Quantum Dot-Light Emitting Devices.” That is the area I ended up working in. I had a fellowship, so I had a choice of adviser. I asked Prof. Stephen Campbell if I could work with him because I wanted to work in nano-fabrication. He agreed to guide me. There was not much choice in the topic I could work on. It is not that I did not like the topic. It is just that I was not given a list of few topics to choose from. If someone gets admitted with an RA (Research Assistantship), they don’t even have a choice of an adviser; they have to work with the adviser who is funding their RA.

In Minnesota, we have to take about 40 credits of coursework, so, most of the first year was spent in taking classes and passing my comprehensive written exam. After that, I focused on research and worked for a couple of years and passed my oral preliminary exam. Originally, my work was purely experimental, but due to various reasons, I added a modeling/computational component to my research work. That is how Prof. P. Paul Ruden became my co-adviser. He is an expert in semiconductor modeling.

There were many times when I wanted to quit my Ph.D. because things were not working out. I think these thoughts are quite common amongst Ph.D students because things don’t work many times. But, I kept going because I wanted to be a teacher.

How different do you think is the American system of education than the Indian one?

I found most of the classes to be easier in UofM (University of Minnesota) as compared to IITD. There was more work, e.g., regular assignments were given in the classes in UofM (which were rare in IITD), but, exams were usually easier. The quality of teaching of professors in UofM was similar to that of professors in IITD. There were good and poor teachers in both places. The workload is probably higher at American universities than IITs. Although, they take lesser number of courses, but usually the courses have much higher frequency of assignments, quizzes, etc. So, the students are quite loaded throughout the semester.

The facilities in UofM were slightly better for the students to learn but there is nothing major lacking in the facilities at IITD or IITR that stop students from learning. The input quality of students is much higher in IIT than UofM but the output is not that different. I always wonder why that is. I attribute it primarily to the attitude of students as the facilities and teachers are similar in both the places. A large number of students have very lackadaisical attitude towards academics in IITs. They do not want to work to increase their knowledge. There were cheaters in UofM but the number was much lower than IITR. I would even say that the number of cheaters in IITR (today) is much higher than IITD (about 8 years ago). The only person that students are fooling is themselves. They don’t learn much even after having the best possible teachers and facilities for technical education in India. If the students don’t improve their attitude, there is not much that can be done. I try to teach my students about being honest in their work, but in many of my students’ eyes, I just become a villain because I am asking them to work when they don’t want to work. I am really saddened by this attitude and I don’t really know how to make the students understand that they should do their own work and not copy from others.

You worked as an engineer for a year in the US. Then, why did you decide to go into academia? And why did you decide to join IIT for it when you could have stayed in US academia?

When I got my job offer from Cypress Semiconductor, I had finished my work except the writing of a paper and my dissertation. So, I took up the job while I was writing my dissertation as it was not possible for me to work full time on just writing. After 8 months in my job, I successfully defended my thesis. A couple of months after that, my sister was getting married and I came back to India to attend it. After going back to US, I missed my family and India, so I decided to resign and come back to India. Now that I am in IIT, I can celebrate diwali with my family. There is so much emotional support I get from my family. My parents are also very happy that I am back in India. I don’t think any amount of money or facilities can make up for what I missed in America, my family and Indian people.

What do you think about the prevalence of intense academic dishonesty and plagiarism among the students? Many students argue that because majority of the students are involved in such practices there is no incentive in being honest with academics and assignments?

I preempted you with my answer to Q3. I feel very sorry for the students. They don’t learn anything by copying. Education is meant to give you something in your head, not a paper saying that you are a graduate of IIT. I would be very embarrassed if I had an A in a course and I did not know anything about the subject. It is even more embarrassing for my teacher that he gave me an A when I don’t know anything. For many students, the only thing that they take from IIT is the paper called a degree.

If you are here to just get a degree, obviously, there is no reason for you to be honest with academics and assignment as long as you don’t get caught. If you are in my course, you will get punished for cheating. I won’t give you a good grade, if you don’t know the subject. I would be acting dishonestly if I give you an A when you don’t know anything in my subject.

Finally, the teachers don’t lose anything if students copy from each other. The students lose their opportunity to learn and act honestly. I always tell the students that they should stop complaining about corruption in India if they are themselves being corrupt here, when there is practically nothing at stake. When it is a question of a few lakh rupees, how would you resist the temptation? It is almost impossible to resist when you have practiced being dishonest while you were a student.

There is very little or no interaction among students, especially undergraduate students, and faculty. What could be possible reasons for it? Why has there not been a formal mentoring program for students where they could talk to professors?

Again, the students have to take the initiative. Students hardly come to ask me questions or interact on topics other than marks. It is very disheartening. I don’t think any formal mentoring program is going to solve this problem. The students somehow have a misconception that their seniors and their peers are their friends and teachers are the enemy. It is not so. Most of us are well meaning. The reason for this is that the students are not interested in learning and moreover, many of them don’t think very highly of their teachers. Many think that the teachers are here because they could not get anything better. While it may be true, how is that any of the students’ business how or why the teachers ended up here? The teacher is doing his job well and is experienced in life. He can help you make good decisions even if he has never cleared the “JEE.” I don’t know why students give so much importance to this stupid exam. A really intelligent person is very humble. So, the first thing that we should learn is being humble. Then, one becomes like a sponge and he can absorb knowledge from any place (whether that person has cleared the JEE or not).

At a lot of universities around the globe, students are made to take up writing courses to make them more analytical and thoughtful.  On the other hand, most of the students in the institute have very poor writing skills. How important do you think writing skills are? And why has the institute not focused upon it?

Bring back the subjective exam in JEE. We may not realize the importance of doing problems systematically, but it helps in thinking in the “correct” manner, not to come to the results by “hook-or-by-crook”. More than 50% of the emails I get from my students don’t use proper English. I can excuse their grammar (I don’t have a very good grammar either), but not using proper capitalization of letters and punctuation is just lazy and disrespectful. Text messages and smartphones are not helping the cause either. Writing is very important because if you don’t know how to write, you won’t be able to convey what you know. It is very hard for a technical college to teach students how to write. They should have learned that in school. That is why I say that JEE should be subjective, then the students will focus on writing at a time that they should.

 

What is your regular day like? And what do you do to unwind yourself?

It varies a lot from day to day, so I can’t tell you what my regular day is like. But, most of my work days include preparing for class, teaching class, creating assignments, meeting with my Ph.D. and other students who are working on their projects with me, meeting with my colleagues, attending administrative meetings.

I do some cycling every day to unwind myself. I also go for a walk after dinner.

How different was your life as a student? And do you think the students today have an easy or difficult life?

I think it is much easier to get good grades today than our times because not many students work hard toward their studies. But, I think the societal and parental pressures on the students are higher today because everyone talks about the crores that IIT students make. The students also come to IITs with expectations of making that much money after graduating. In general, life all over the world is becoming more difficult because everyone wants to be “successful”, no one really knows what that means.

Many students do not know how it feels to be a professor and whether they would like to become one. So, how is your life as a professor at IITR and what would you tell the students who might want to become a professor but do not know anything about it?

Professors undoubtedly have a simpler and quieter life than people in the industry. It is what motivates many of us to be here. Some of us quite enjoy working with students. But, it is not as easy as it seems. You have to be on your toes all the time, ready to answer any question of any student. You have to be someone who does not become frustrated easily (I am still working on it). You have to take criticism (both founded and unfounded) in a stride and try to improve yourself. You have to learn to treat all students with respect and love, whether some students like you or not. You have to learn to make decisions that are good for the students in the long run, even though they might be unpopular. The biggest of all: “You have to be well-wisher of students to be a teacher.” I am still working on all these qualities, most importantly, always wishing well for my students even if they hate me. It is much harder in practice.

On a personal level, being a professor at IITR, I get to do what I enjoy. I enjoy being with students and helping them. I enjoy explaining difficult concepts to students. I enjoy asking and answering questions. I get to spend time with my family. It is not one of those MNC jobs, where you have a lot of money but no time to spend it. I make sufficient money to lead a happy life and I have sufficient time to spend the money that I earn.

What advice would you like to give to students today for a better tomorrow?

Think, think, think.

Just don’t do things because others are doing it. Understand if you are really capable of doing something and are enjoying it. You don’t have to struggle just because others are struggling. You don’t have to choose a life that requires a 2 hour commute and it does not make it any better that your friends have to do it too.

Money does not make anyone happy. Once you have some money, you will want more. Even if you are Ambani brothers, you will fight for who will get 49,000 crores vs who will get 51,000 crores.

Think, think, think.

Most of our problems are because we compare with others. We should do our best, and be satisfied with the results that we get. It will get rid of 90% of our problems. 10% of the problems everyone has to deal with, because without challenges life would be meaningless. But, we should also not make our life more challenging than it needs to be by unfairly comparing ourselves with others.

 

 

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A conversation with Dr Aalok Misra: Associate Professor of Physics

Dr misra

 

Dr Aalok Misra is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at IIT R. His areas of interest are High Energy Physics and String Theory. He is also a regular associate with the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy. In a written interview with After IITR, he talks about his life as a professor, the issue of academic plagiarism and dishonesty, and interaction among the faculty and the students in the institute.

 

 

Why did you decide to go into academia?

At high school after coming in contact with a couple of classmates of mine, it became clear to me that there was only one subject which I truly liked –   Mathematics. It was on my father’s advice that I decided to go for Physics honors however as according to him, I would have done better in theoretical Physics which utilized what pure Mathematics offered, rather than pure Mathematics. It turned out to be true as I am not good with formal proofs central to doing research in pure Mathematics. After being taught by Dr. Rajendra Kumar Popli in college (as part of my Physics honors course), who I consider to be my true guru, it became clear to me that I would be following Physics professionally and becoming an academic.

I pursued a Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics not by choice, but because of non-availability of positions in the theoretical high energy physics group when I was interested in joining. But towards the end of my Ph.D. after listening to a seminar by one of the founding fathers of string theory, Professor John Schwarz, I knew right off that that was what I really wanted to do but just had not known till then. Thank God, the risk that I took of changing my area of research post Ph.D. eventually worked out and after six years of making that transition, I was offered my current job as a string theorist. It has been an interesting ride and it continues to be.

What do you think about the prevalence of intense academic dishonesty and plagiarism among the students? Many students argue that because a majority of the students are involved in such practices there is no incentive in being honest with academics and assignments? 

How much an individual gets or allows themselves to be influenced by external influences, is substantially determined by how one has been brought up. Character building possibly is not a priority explicitly or implicitly at homes now. There is a lot freely available to all as small kids and there is no valued filtering mechanism if you wish, to sieve out the undesirable. Dishonesty, academic or otherwise, is a personal choice. I pray we grow up to understand and internalize the futility of the same.

At the level of regulating plagiarism amongst Ph.D. theses, the same at IIT Roorkee are now required to be cleared by anti-plagiarism software – turnitin. This is a good step.

There is very little or no interaction among students, especially undergraduate students, and faculty. What could be possible reasons for it? Why has there not been a formal mentoring program for students where they could talk to professors? 

The cliche-of-a reason is older professors have a university mindset and are not comfortable in being freely accessible by students. But I do not buy this. I personally feel, it depends on the kind of academic a professor actually is. If one is genuinely comfortable with oneself and one’s subject, usually encouraging interactions with any student, is not a problem with faculty members.

Whenever I have been formally assigned ‘mentorship’ of a set of students, I have found that those students rarely turn up to meet me in my office. Possibly internal inhibitions, insecurities and self-generated fears and preconceived notions about self and others, are hindrances. I believe, God willing, students would not and should not feel any kind of hesitation, in talking to me any time.

At a lot of universities around the globe, students are made to take up writing courses to make them more analytical and thoughtful.  On the other hand, most of the students in the institute have very poor writing skills. How important do you think writing skills are? And why has the institute not focused upon it? 

The process of thought translating into communicable words is inherently approximative and hence should be considered only an approximation. Penning those thoughts down can at best be a limiting process approaching the actual thought but never quite ever getting there. Technical writing skills are quite important to be acquired. This must, I think, however be preceded by simply getting into the habit of expressing oneself completely in complete sentences and not whatsapp/text lingo. The supervisor can play an important role in encouraging students to present their work/review/literature survey as talks on the black or white board. This is commonplace in all research institutes in India too. I believe there is a course in technical writing one can take in the humanities department at IIT Roorkee.

What is your regular day like? And what do you do to unwind yourself?

My mornings in Roorkee are occupied by dropping my two kids at the bus stop at two different times and helping getting them ready for school. In parallel I prepare for my lectures. I wake up early enough so that I could do some work before the kids wake up. I usually go directly to my classes from home in the morning and then to my office from my classes. Then it is time to receive my kids at two different times at the bus stop. I usually return to office after lunch a little late as thus far I have had no classes after lunch. – this may change .  Any extra classes I take in my office of my Ph.D. students and/or Masters project students is around 4:30 pm. I usually am back home not too late in the evening. Typically there would be some errand waiting for me. I try to squeeze in whatever time I can for my work, from my household responsibilities. My wife,  thank God, helps me out a lot in taking care of the household chores and our kids. My parents, when they are around, specially my mother, are a huge help in looking after the kids.

Before our kids retire to bed for the day, my father about two years ago, started a practice where we also sit together and pray reciting some shloak and mantr.

I don’t have any hobby. Sometimes we visit friends and/or take walks inside our IIT campus; my wife makes friends easily unlike me so her friend circle has become our family circle. If we are able to stay awake past our kids’ bed-time, my wife and I sometimes watch some movie on our desktop. I do not get the time to unwind consciously.

How different was your life as a student? And do you think the students today have an easy or difficult life?

I was brought up in Delhi. My father had only one priority – my education. He was on the lookout for the best possible school for me in Delhi. At some point, he came to know about Modern School, Barakhamba Road and was impressed by the school’s rich history and loved that it was diagonally across the building housing his office; I joined Modern in grade nine. For me Modern was a blessing as it was here entirely due to a couple of classmates of mine I, by the grace of God, could see clearly what I could be good at post high school – Mathematics. In fact, my interest in Math shot up to the point where I was learning and giving talks at Science festivals/competitions on topics related to vector calculus, complex variables, special orthonormal functions relevant to Quantum Mechanics, the solution of the Hydrogen Atom via Schrödinger’s equation in Quantum Mechanics in my 10-11 grades. Thank God, my father completely supported me. This being pre-internet, I was therefore mostly reading books on Mathematical Physics and Quantum Physics. I remember, after winning an award given out by the Modern School Parents Teachers Association in grade ten, I bought a book on Quantum Chemistry by Henry Eyring from the prize money. I guess, reading books as opposed to net-surfing and net-reading of books and papers, is a point of difference that I could think of as compared to students with similar interests as mine, today. Though thank God I topped my school in XII and got the President of India Gold medal for topping the Science stream, but from grade nine onwards, other than Mathematics, no other subject made an impression on my mind – Physics too was not truly what fascinated me unless it was backed by interesting Mathematics.  Possibly that is why I was almost always the school (DPS Mathura Road) topper before my ninth grade, but never was among the school (Modern – Barakhamba Road) toppers save the final XII exam during ninth through twelfth grades. My father was quite concerned about that but was pleased with my XII result ;).

Students, nowadays are too career-oriented from the word go. They are under more mental tension and peer pressure during school and college.

My trend continued in college – at St. Stephen’s, I was blessed to be taught by Dr. Rajendra Kumar Popli, and he inspired me to challenge myself. He strongly advised my father to send me to the US as early as possible. By the grace of God, I got a transfer admission to the junior year at the University of California at Berkeley when I was a sophomore at Stephen’s, but due to insufficient financial aid and the exorbitant expenses by Indian standards, I did not go. Later, thank God, even though I had 12+3 years of high school and undergraduate college degree, University of Rochester gave me admission to their Ph.D. program knowing that I had clearly mentioned theoretical Physics as my preference. As mentioned earlier, due to lack of positions and financial constraints of the high energy physics group, the first summer when I was supposed to look for a Research Assistantship, I joined my advisor – the late Professor D.S.Koltun’s nuclear theory group. I was not a good Teaching Assistant – I was told by the TA faculty advisor that in their response forms, the freshmen students had written that I used to think they were morons – I never did so though. As I could have continued as a Research Assistant with Professor Koltun and because I had enjoyed working with him the first summer, I decided to stick to his group.

One of the things which I feel was markedly different as compared to students at IITR that I notice vis-a-vis my graduate student days was that my Ph.D. advisor encouraged me to be 100% independent – in fact he had no technical expertise in the area in which I got a Ph.D. in. Thank God that had incredible far-reaching consequences in my very approach to research once I had switched to string theory approximately two years after my Ph.D. In doing so the late Professor Alok Kumar of the Institute of Physics, had a huge impact too on my way of thinking geared towards independence. IIT Roorkee students need a lot of external problem/target/goal assignment and somehow do not do well in trying the same for themselves.

Many students do not know how it feels to be a professor and whether they would like to become one. So, how is your life as a professor at IITR and what would you tell the students who might want to become a professor but do not know anything about it?

Being a professor is extremely gratifying for me. It has been more non-trivial, personally, to adjust with my colleagues than it has been to train myself to being a teacher. It’s always been an uphill task for me to make my colleagues see things the way I do and I have mostly  not been quite successful. But, with students, and some of them, it has been very much fulfilling. It’s nice to know that of the first M.Sc. batch that I taught, one joined me for a Ph.D. and is doing well after his Ph.D. in string theory, one went to HRI for a Ph.D. and is also doing well after her Ph.D. in particle phenomenology. Also, a couple of years back, a student from the first integrated M.Sc.  whose batch I taught and who had worked on a Masters project with me, is working on a Ph.D. at HRI in particle phenomenology and another integrated M.Sc. student whose batch I had taught and who used to come to my office for discussions and clarifications of doubts, is going to U. of Wisconsin at Madison for a Ph.D. in particle phenomenology. Just yesterday at a conference in Rome,  a former M.Sc. student of the second batch I had taught, met me and told me that he did a Ph.D. in general relativity from U.Wisconsin at Milwaukee. This makes me feel very pleased and provides reason for continuing at IIT Roorkee.

Being productive is key to surviving in academia – my field, string theory, is no exception. I have been independent for many years and find it difficult to collaborate. I am not too proud of that but …..well… that is how I work. I love to collaborate with my students. One has to reach a point at and of course beyond which, one is able to identify a set of non-trivial problems addressing an issue, solve them and publish them and give talks about the same, within a span of around a couple of years.

Post the sixth pay commission, thank God, the salaries of academics have improved considerably but then it has become more expensive too.

Parallel processing is crucial to making it – one has to figure out ones own way of being a good family man and an academic – teacher and researcher. Also, having faith is irreplaceable.

What advice would you like to give to students today for a better tomorrow?

Being sentient beings, thinking is at the core of ourselves. In today’s world of pre-programmed user-friendly gadgets which two-year olds could use, the concept of thinking and meditating and observing and reacting and absorbing is taking a back-seat for most. A subconscious self-generated ego and fear take a grip early on for many of us and we start making compromises in solidifying our knowledge base. There is no room for ego and fear in the realm of pursuit of knowledge. Also, insecurities start getting a hold when we perceive ourselves based upon others’ perceptions of ours. Have faith. The quality of the initial conditions for learning are so many orders of magnitude higher now than in my time that one can do wonders! DO NOT EXTINGUISH THE CHILD-LIKE INNOCENCE NATURALLY THERE IN ALL OF US!!

I have a lot of respect for the thinking restless generation of today and I pray that they realize the wonders that they could do in their lifetimes! I wish all all the very best in life!

My advice could be summarized as a prayer I had tried to write last Navratri:

An Academic’s Prayer, Whispered

Prayer

 

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Deloitte, TFI, Ross School of Business: Kartik Reddy, ChemE, Class of 2011

Kartik Reddy

Kartik Reddy graduated with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering in 2011 and then moved on to join Deloitte as a Business Technology Analyst. He joined Teach for India as a Fellow and has recently completed his Fellowship. He is now set to join the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, USA, for his MBA. Here, he talks about what he was thinking in his senior year and how he moved on from Deloitte to TFI and his plans after his TFI fellowship.

What were the options you were looking at in you senior year?

I call my senior year as the Dark Age! Mainly because back then I was completely in the dark and clueless about what I wanted for a career or from life itself. I was just following the trend of aspiring for the best job on the campus. Though I knew my less than stellar CGPA would be a hindrance, I was confident about my interview skills that I would convert the first shortlist. So I targeted companies that took an aptitude test and did not shortlist on CGPA alone. In the spirit of following the pack, I also saw a lot of my friends attempting CAT and did the same.

Why did you take up a job with Deloitte?

2011 was still reeling under the effects of recession and placements hadn’t picked up. Having enjoyed my summer internship improving the efficiency of a chemical plant manufacturing pharmaceutical drug intermediates, I knew I would enjoy getting a core job. However, most of the core companies shortlisted based on CGPA and kept the cut-off at 8.0; I was stuck on 7.974.

Deloitte was the first company that shortlisted me and I got in. Deloitte looked like a decent opportunity as it allowed an opportunity to marry my analytical skills with my penchant for solving problems. I was really looking forward to work at Deloitte and getting an exposure to businesses and clients from diverse domains.

What was your job at Deloitte? Did you know the profile when you applied and took the job?

When I took the job, I did not know what exactly I would be doing at Deloitte. (Though this is a mistake I learnt from and I have now already spoken to the people at the target companies I want to work for after my MBA.)

My business card read ‘Business Technology Analyst’. Essentially, I was a part of teams that developed and delivered customized technology solutions to address the client’s business problems. I loved my job for the most part. I worked on a customer facing online portal that is today used by millions of Americans daily. I keep checking on it every now and then even today. Overall, Deloitte was a good learning exposure. It allows you to progress at your own pace and customize the gradient of your learning curve. I would say it was a good launch pad in the short-term.Deloitte also exposed me to the consulting industry and I realized that in the long term, I wanted to work in strategy consulting where I could be more involved in framing the solution to the problem rather than just implement those solutions as a technology consultant. In a way, Deloitte shaped my goal of getting into strategy consulting.

Why and when did you decide to move to Teach for India?

I joined a firm initiative at Deloitte called the ‘Mentorship Program’ under which I taught socio-economically challenged students in under-resourced schools in Hyderabad on weekends. I always used to be frustrated after these sessions after seeing that these English medium students in 7th grade couldn’t even write their names. Neither did they know the difference between 2 – 3 and 3 – 2. What sort of educated citizens was our system churning out! At the back of my mind, I knew I had found a problem that needed to be addressed. Fortuitously, one day  a blue coloured Teach For India ad in the newspaper in which my samosa was wrapped attracted my attention. Over the next few months, I got to know more about TFI, applied and got selected into the Fellowship.

Before deciding to take the plunge, I had to be sure of how exactly TFI would impact my career. I still wanted to be able to get into strategy consulting in the future. Talking to friends in Strategy Consulting, I listed skills they considered absolutely necessary for job success. The two most common were analytical and people skills. While I was confident in the former, I believed I needed more of the latter. Next, I reached out to TFI alumni. Describing his Fellowship, most of the alumni said TFI experience had taught them more about leadership than B-schools. Most believed their interpersonal skills had improved working at TFI. I concluded that although TFI was a non-traditional way of achieving people skills that I needed to join strategy consulting, it was the only way that allowed me to do so while simultaneously following my passion of educating under-privileged kids. Finally, after an internal battle of over two months, I made my decision.

How has been your experience with TFI so far? 

TFI has been a huge learning experience to say the least. In addition to learning about the education system in India or lack thereof, I have also seen myself changing as a person.

I have never failed as much in my entire life as I did on a regular basis during my initial months at TFI. Remaining motivated through this initial ordeal and overcoming the apathy and unruliness of the teenaged students taught me a thing or two about leadership and grit. It also told me the story of a system that had wronged these students and had forced them to become unruly in the first place.

In my second year at TFI, I have had the privilege of mentoring the first 10th grade batch at TFI and I take pride in whatever result that would come out in June this year. We have put in a lot of hard work throughout the year. When I began a few students literally couldn’t subtract or add integers and by the end of the year, most of them had progressed to solving trigonometry.

They were the best of times and they were the worst of times!

What do you plan to do after your TFI fellowship?

While I always wanted to get into strategy consulting for its unparalleled learning opportunity as well as the frequent flyer miles, TFI has given a purpose and concrete direction to that goal. I now want to work in strategy consulting with firms such as Parthenon Group or Huron Consulting in their education vertical. Having gained a deep understanding of the Indian education system, I now want to gain a global perspective.

To achieve this, I will be pursuing an MBA from the US this fall.

What advice would you like to give to the junta for placements and career?

Placements can be very stressful. However, it helps to be relaxed during these times. Foster a collaborative culture among your peers. Even though placements tend to be very competitive, the truth is that collaboration tends o be fruitful for everyone in the long run. So never shy away from sharing your knowledge and resources with other.

Also not everyone knows what they want to do for their careers. I am no expert here, but I guess it is completely fine to land into something random and test the waters. Get out and try something new if it doesn’t work out. There are a lot of exciting and new opportunities out there and you never know what you might miss out on if you keep playing safe. Explore as much as you can!

If you want to share your experience and stories, do not hesitate to write at afteriitr@gmail.com

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PhD Candidate, Chemistry, University of Cambridge: Moni Gupta, Chemistry, Class of 2012

Moni Gupta

 

Moni Gupta graduated with a Master in Science in Chemistry in the year 2012 and has since been working as a PhD candidate in Organic Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. After IITR asked her about her experience at IITR, her decision for graduate studies in UK and her experience at Cambridge.

 

What were the options you were looking at in your senior year?

Priority wise: PhD in synthetic organic chemistry, PhD in material science, research in chemistry in some selected companies

How was your experience with the Chemistry department?

Academically, I was a good a student and professors in the department have always supported me in my educational development. Although, there was a lack of some resources in undergraduate practical labs, but we somehow managed to complete our training. There were few good researchers as PhD and Post-doc students who were also very helpful in need. Since, it was first batch of integrated chemistry, we were unaware of many things regarding applications for PhD and job options in potential companies.

Most of the students look towards the US for graduate school. Why did you choose to go to Cambridge University for your PhD?

I have preferred going to a good university and a good research group in my area of interest. US, UK, Europe and India all were in my options. Somehow I couldn’t score good in GRE english (as I always feared learning words because I did my complete schooling from a Hindi medium school, but I scored full in maths part of GRE) though it was a very good score in subject GRE. This made me realize that I will loose a big amount of money in applications in US which I didn’t have. Then, I focused on other selected group over different universities and have offer from Canada, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol etc. Later when my funding (scholarship) for Cambridge was confirmed, I made my choice to join here for PhD in synthetic organic chemistry.

How has been your experience with Cambridge so far?

My experience in Cambridge are really nice. Apart from academic research, I am involved in various other extra curricular activities. My PhD is going good so far and I am happy about my progress in research

What do you plan to do in future?

I would like to stay in research area, either academics or industrial.

What advice do you have for the current students? How should they prepare themselves if they want to go for a doctoral degree?

 Being persistence and utilization of available resources would be my best advice for all students. Regarding doctoral studies, they should find their interest in a specific field and know all possible things they can in their best capacity. This will help them to understand their further interest and will be easier during doctoral research.

 

If you want to share your experience and stories, do not hesitate to write at afteriitr@gmail.com

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Junior Research Associate at Council on Energy, Environment and Water: Abhishek Jain, MechE, Class of 2010

DSC_9172

Abhishek Jain graduated with a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering in 2010 and worked with Nestle for a while before joining University of Cambridge for his masters in Sustainable Develpoment. Now, he works as a Junior Research Associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). After IITR asked him about the motivation behind his decisions and what he does at CEEW.

What were the options you were looking at in your senior year?

During my senior year, I was mainly looking at getting a job in core mechanical engineering. The main reason was that I always liked mechanical engineering, even though I didn’t have any clue what mechanical engineering would really mean once I’m in the industry. I explored various things during my 4 years of undergrad, be it as the lead designer at IMG or the core member of Cognizance organizing team, be it a research intern in Germany or SURA research project. I pursued all of this but never got inclined for an MBA, nor was certain about any particular field in which I may like to pursue higher studies, even though I had great interest in various subjects of mechanical engineering. Thus, the choice to go for a core mechanical job became the obvious one.

Why did you take up a job with Nestle? How was your experience with Nestle?

As I said, I was clear that I was going to take a core mechanical engineering job and there were not many companies that year, offering core mechanical jobs. Shell didn’t recruit any mechanical engineers that year and somehow ITC never short listed me. I inquired about Nestlé with an immediate senior (and close friend) who joined the company in the previous year. He spoke really highly for the culture and his experience thus far. His views motivated me further to consider Nestlé, as gaining good experience in a culture where you are valued and respected, was all I was looking for. The competition was tough, but after two rounds of interview over two days, I made it.

The experience with Nestlé was amazing in every sense. I say this frequently to my friends that I studied engineering at Roorkee, but Nestlé made me an engineer. In general one’s job life and experience is strongly influenced by one’s manager, and I was lucky to find a great mentor in my manager (who had 24 years of experience with the company). Though my base was corporate engineering team, within my first year I visited all the Nestlé plants in India. I served as ‘energy engineer’ assisting in efficient management of utilities (boilers, refrigeration plants, water treatment systems, HVAC, etc. etc.) across south Asia. I conducted various energy and engineering safety audits during this time. Later on I worked as a ‘project engineer’, learned and contributed as a ‘design engineer’ and took care of the on-site execution. My experience was quite rich and I learnt both technical and managerial skills.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? 

I didn’t have a specific plan for higher studies when I started my professional life i.e. my first job with Nestlé. I wanted to learn while enjoying the overall experience. In year 2010, the very year I started working, there was PANIIT conclave in New Delhi, which I attended, and it was all focused around sustainable energy and development. That was the first time when I really got interested in this area. Then, because of the virtue of my work at Nestlé, which was all around energy, environment, efficiency improvement and so on, I got more and more interested in the field of sustainability. Towards the end of my first year at Nestlé, I was clear that this is what really excites me and I should take up higher studies in this field, in order to gain in-depth knowledge and to give a direction to my career.

I prepared and took GRE during my job at Nestlé. Scouted various courses and universities in US and UK, which were of my domain interest: sustainability, energy, etc. I was mainly looking at interdisciplinary courses, as I had realised by then that challenges of sustainable development cannot be dealt through technology alone. In all, I had four fully funded calls, and finally selected the MPhil course at Cambridge, as it provided significant flexibility and choice in terms of what I wanted to learn and pursue during my masters.

How was your experience at the University of Cambridge? 

My experience at the University of Cambridge was far beyond my expectations from a graduate programme. The mode of in-class learning was very interactive. Debates, negotiations, role-plays, discussions, etc. were very common. These tend to be really effective tools to understand the intricacies of complex and large scale problems such as climate change. Regular interactions or guest lectures with professionals and field experts was another major highlight of the course. Apart from that, as I mentioned, the course offered great choice and flexibility. Thus, it was onto every individual that what courses he or she wanted to learn and how much would one want to make out of his or her one year at Cambridge. Beyond my MPhil course, I also took various audit modules, which were great fun at times, as you are not bothered about doing assignments but just learning.

Then, Cambridge offers so much more beyond academics. Its unique dual system of college and departments provides you a very diverse and rich social experience. This dual system, followed only at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, is slightly difficult to explain but I will try. So it’s like, each student in the university is associated with a college, but colleges do not play an active role in academics, rather provide you administrative support and accommodation etc. So in my MPhil course of 50 odd students, all of us were associated with different colleges, but studying in a common course. Thus, departments are centralised across university. So, in this way I had two social groups, one of my course batch mates and other of my college batch mates. College gives you a social life where people from other courses be it humanities, mathematics, life sciences, anthropology and so on would be living around you, which enriches your experience significantly.

Apart from this, almost every day, round the year, Cambridge hosts many public talks which are open for any university member, or sometimes even to general public. I attended numerous of those. From listening to Amartya Sen to meeting Dalai Lama, all happened during one year at Cambridge. Apart from that, I was the president of a student society providing environment consulting services to university, which was again a great experience.

I can go on and on when it comes to Cambridge experience, the place which witnessed Newton, where electron and DNA got discovered, where some of the old college buildings are 700-800 years old, it’s just overwhelming, inspiring and yet a very humble experience, literally, beyond words.

What motivated you to join Council on Energy Environment and Water? What is it that you exactly do at CEEW?

So when I was embarking on my higher studies, I was clear that I will be coming back to India after the masters, even though I was not quite sure that what exactly I will do after coming back, though I had few things and potential opportunities in mind.

When I came back from Cambridge, one option was to again join Nestlé, but I knew that in the long run, the roles and career progression at Nestlé will not be able to satisfy my intellectual quest. So, I started looking for organisations which could provide me intellectually challenging work and contribute meaningfully to the society. In the process, I received offers from few other organisations as well, but I decided to join CEEW, because it was offering me a place where I could completely utilise my learning and skills gained thus far in career, including those during my masters. It offered me a great level of freedom around what I wanted to do. Not many organisations in India are as transparent, flexible and supportive. Secondly, the composition of the team, background of team members also motivated me to join CEEW.

Now, let me tell you what exactly is CEEW and what do I do. CEEW is an independent, not-for-profit policy research think-tank, which focuses on issues related to energy, environment and water. It works on policy issues at local, state, national and international level, depending upon the nature of problem/project. It supports government in policy making, and also works with businesses and industry. Being not-for-profit, all its work is publically available. What, I am particularly doing at CEEW, is policy research mainly in the areas of energy access, rural energy issues, fossil fuel subsidies, industrial sustainability, renewable energy etc. The nature of the work is analytical and can be compared to strategic consultancy jobs. However, we provide advisory service and not consultancy, as our work is open to public. We keep the funding sources and end audience of our work, separate. Most importantly and above all, I find contentment in trying to devise solutions and help in nation building in my small ways, rather than cribbing about the problems.

What are your future plans?

Well, probably by now, you might have figured out that I am a sort of person who takes one step at a time. When I joined Nestlé, I didn’t know that I will be going to pursue higher studies. When I started for Cambridge, I didn’t know that I will be doing policy research (at least this soon in my career). And now when I am doing policy research, to be honest, I don’t know what is awaiting next. But, I know I am really enjoying what I am doing; I find it meaningful (one thing which I missed at Nestlé). So, largely, I will continue in this same space, maybe trying to be slightly closer to implementation end as well, or maybe I will move to international organisations like United Nations or World Bank, etc. Only time will tell.

What advice do you have for current students regarding placements/career/higher studies?

If people are still reading after such long responses, then here are few pieces of advice for current students, emerging from my personal experience over the years.

First, explore various things and gain diverse experiences, don’t limit yourself to what you already know or like. You have an amazing opportunity at hand to try different things while being in Roorkee for four years, various societies, research opportunities, sports facilities, and so on.

Second, while you do all this, do try and keep your grades as high as possible. Grades do matter, be it placement short-listing, or be it higher studies, so keeping a higher GPA is always better than not paying attention to it. Even though I believe that one should study to gain knowledge and not GPA, but while gaining knowledge, make it a point to gain GPA as well – however, don’t go crazy about it. It’s perfectly fine to have few 8s or occasional 7s.

Third, understand the great opportunity that you have in hand, and the great potential that you possess. Being among the brightest in the country, you have an opportunity to learn from each other, and from some of the excellent faculty members and seniors. Think beyond the traditional realms of conventional careers. I am not saying everyone should become an entrepreneur, but at least think beyond the obvious.

Fourth, don’t over-stress yourself that you have to do everything now. There is nothing like you have to crack CAT or take GRE only during your undergrad. One of my batch-mates in MPhil course was 44. After 20 years of work-ex, he decided to do a second masters to give his career a new direction. I know many such other examples. So, it’s never too late. Our interest evolves with time, so do our passions, so you don’t always have to think about your entire career, in one go. But, don’t take this all as an excuse to not act now.

Finally, all the best for whatever you do, just be sincere in your efforts, success will inevitably be yours. Nothing can stop sincere efforts. Absolutely nothing!

Abhishek Jain can be reached at abhishek1526[at]gmail[dot]com.

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