Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #2

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It is 4 AM right now in NYC (which has apparently become my sleep-time) and I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have the opportunity to be studying in a good school, where I get to learn something new every single day. The past month has been extremely productive – in terms of exploring new areas, forming bonds, networking with people from diverse backgrounds and just understanding how unaware and dumb I am (meeting too many smart people has that effect).

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Columbia at 4 AM

The first few weeks after grad school shoots you in the face with assignments, classes, projects and events. Some students buckle under pressure, but most tackle it with grit. Sadly, your neat and tidy to-do list becomes exhaustive and ugly very soon. Here are just a few learnings on my part over the past few weeks:

  1. You need good people around you:

    Within just a month of beginning grad school, I see people buckling under pressure and I feel I am barely holding on. After a long day of studying, thinking, writing assignments and attending classes, when I go home I want to be able to talk to my friends about my day and their day. I want to engage in absolute nonsensical talk because that’s what helps you shake off your daily stress.

I cannot stress this point enough. So, when you enter grad school, or if you’re already in one, make as many friends as you can. Value every single morsel of people in your life.

  1. You study a lot:

    That seems quite obvious, but it’s one of those sayings which is much easier said than done. When I say the above, I don’t just mean sitting down in one place for 3 hours to study. I mean sitting in library morning to night, going into the next morning to learn the new concepts and finish your assignment. The silver lining here is that you would never (hopefully) do it out of obligation – as long as you were wise in choosing your major, you would love doing it.

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Well..

By now, library has become my first home. One side note: In my undergrad days, I never understood the seriousness of girls not being able to use the facilities outside hostel after 9:00 because of curfew. But here, after going home at 3:00 and 4:00 AM in the morning, and being able to do that, I see how much girls are being deprived of in certain colleges in India.

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  1. Learn to adjust – Integrity in Diversity:

    The ability to adjust with people who starkly contrast you and maintain good relationship with them will take you a long way. And that is mainly because it’s one of the hardest soft-skills to accomplish. As much as you want to be amicable, arguments do spring up occasionally.

People here have strong convictions and will not agree with you always. It could be your roommates, project mates, class mates or just a bunch of people you met on a hiking trip. You need to understand that not everyone has the same exposure or values as you do, and try to adjust. Most importantly, the age gap here is huge. My department has people ranging from 21 to 30+ – think about the accumulation of experiences that every student has there. Thriving in such an environment, and learning to forget the age difference, is critical.

  1. Geniuses all around:

    I am constantly amazed at certain people I meet here, and how precocious they are. You feel dumb and question your educational value every day – but it makes you want to be smarter and work harder. I see people who already have start-ups, people who have 7+ years of work experience and people who can complete a task in 30 minutes when it takes you 4 hours.

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You just need to understand that the outcome has an equal proportion of talent and effort (probably more of the latter), and try to leverage on one of the two.

  1. The why matters more than the what:

    People value genuineness and personal effort a lot Hence, you should forget the concept of copying or ripping off of someone else’s work. Every single assignment or project is considered sacred. I still remember one of my first assignments in a subject took me 3 days to complete – with at least 3-4 hours invested each day.

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But it’s a great feeling knowing that whatever you did, is solely your own (with occasional help from peers).

  1. Professors match your excitement:

    This is very subjective to departments, but overall, I find the quality of teaching almost satisfactory. To be brutally honest, I wish some subjects could be better – but it might be too soon to say. Keeping that aside, one of the best classes I have sat through happened a week back. The class stretched for 5 hours (which is a routine), but I felt more energetic after than before.

The most wonderful moment is to see your professor match your excitement for a subject – or even better, lift up your enthusiasm.

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Tried my best to do justice

Almost all the people in my closest friends circle here are those who are extremely motivated and take their courses seriously. Sometimes I realize how lucky I am to have that, because when you have passionate people around you all having solid aims in life, it enhances your level of thinking and determination. And I hope everyone has such a circle in their grad school.

 

I encountered so many ‘first time’s the past month. The first time I went to a karaoke bar, first time I had the famous Insomnia cookies, first time I made pasta, first time I gave a presentation in front of one of the most intimidating professor, and so on. And I am sure I will encounter many more such.

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I still can’t believe this

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To those who are already pursuing their Master’s and PhD, I hope you take away as much as possible. To those whose dream is to go to grad school, do not waste the next few months. Spend as much time as possible learning about the zillion programs out there, make a list of universities you really wish to apply to and re-think it over and over. Spending a couple of hours every week to write your SOP and Resume will help you more than you can imagine later on. There is a fine line between getting selected and rejected – don’t let it be a couple of hours of research and hard-work.

P.S. Free advice: Learn to enjoy the most trivial of things.

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When you have friends who know you love cookies

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Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away

Sometimes, years pass faster than days. And weeks pass faster than hours. I can describe exactly what I did in the past one hour, but when someone asks me to do the same for the past week, I am at a loss.

It’s been almost a month since I landed in New York City – the Big Apple, the City that never sleeps, the greatest city on earth where dreams come true. And I still miss India. When you leave your native country, you are not just leaving the geographical place, you are leaving behind the people that you have ever encountered there, every single place that you have visited that has your physical and vocal footprint and the sense of familiarity and belongingness. I wanted to shed some light on the major rite of passages that one would go through while entering a new land.

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When patriotism enters the kitchen

I want this to be the beginning of a series of articles to follow that describes the glamorous as well as not-so-glamorous parts of living the life of a graduate student.

Disclaimer: My views might be biased towards living in a big city and this particular article might not talk in depth about grad life (as classes began just yesterday).

  1. Socializing: You enter the event, grab a drink (read: non-alcoholic, for me), go stand next to strangers, wait for them to invite you in (which they will), introduce yourself and your department, and hope that the conversation continues for at least a minimum of 5 minutes.

Repeat this all over again.

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I remember having done this more than a dozen times now in at least 5 events that happened, in 2 weeks. For an introvert such as me, this is a very daunting exercise. Being in a room filled with people is a fear in itself, and approaching strangers adds the cherry on top. However, I have noticed this: The beginnings are hard, you never know whom to approach. But if you look at the situation 30 minutes into the beginning, the atmosphere would have changed. Almost everyone would be having a good time – they would have either found their own friends or found people who they could connect with.

Overall, I loved doing it. Even though the conversations are superficial, it teaches you something. Disclaimer: Ending it is always scary.

  1. Diversity: There is only so much I can say here: seeing it cannot be paramount to saying it. When I take a walk down the streets (and there is SO much of walking involved here), I see people at least from 5 different countries within a stretch of one street. After a point, you do get used to it, but the excitement of talking to them never goes away, at least not yet.

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One of my professor is Swedish, the other is Half-Morocco + Half-Greece, and one more is Indian-American. So, when they talk, you can sense the difference in accent and behaviour.

  1. Quality of teaching: I had a taste of the quality of teaching through the orientation classes. We have a Professional Development and Leadership course – simply mind-blowing. When you are in a classroom, you are supposed to feel alive. You are supposed to feel inspired. You should learn new things every minute. And these classes did exactly that. I hope I feel the same once the official courses begin.

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P.S. The profs here come for drinks with the students.

  1. Independence and Freedom: Coming from a conservative south-Indian family, and having lived in a city such as Trichy for 4 years, freedom comes with some disclaimers. Roll-calls. Curfew. Restrictions on where you can go, who you can go with. The list goes on.

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However, when you’re living thousands of miles away from home, all on your own, the freedom and independence is unparalleled. Often, people misinterpret freedom to mean ‘you-have-no-boundaries’. In my opinion, as you let someone become more independent, they become more responsible and less outrageous. I go for walks at 11 PM here along the riverside. Nothing can beat that feeling, ever.

  1. Schedule gone wrong: I already feel the pressure of time-management starting to burden me. When I landed on August 14th, I had a to-do list neatly written down on a tissue paper (couldn’t find normal paper on plane). And now, that tissue is stuck on my room wall, a memory of how it was when I had things go according to schedule.

The first week was a mess – I made plans every day, but something new sprung up and I had to make sacrifices. Time is a luxury here: You can only make sacrifices, you can’t make time. I feel now it has become better – but it’s only uphill from here.

  1. Learning on the go:
  • You will find restaurants of every cuisine on the world in this city: It is an established fact that if you eat at a new restaurant in New York City every day, you can eat without repetition for the next 65 years.

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  • Fitness freaks everywhere: America is considered to be a country rife with obesity (2/3rd of adult population are obese and more than 1/3rd of people aged 20 and older are considered obese). However, at least in New York, I see people taking fitness very seriously.

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  • You meet the most unexpected of people with the most interesting stories at times – it could be in the metro (subway), in a restaurant or at a clothes shop (I met at all three places). People here like to live life to the fullest. They are not bound by cultural norms or superstitious barriers. At least most.

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  • Entering a grocery store is like entering a maze – a maze filled with a dozen varieties of the same product. And of course, coming from India, you find everything to be outrageously priced, and do a quick optimization of cost vs calories.
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That section was just for yogurt.

  1. Culture shock: Finally, the big one. This is something that every single of you will face, even those who transition from a very open-minded niche in India.

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The biggest advantage that you can reap by studying in the US is to learn to mingle with people from other cultures. I still find it very hard, and am learning every day, piece by piece. My most favourite memory so far has been taking a walk with my friends late at night to the Hudson River, sitting on the rocks and listening to the water gently lull against the brightly lit landscape.

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Hudson River (not good at night photography)

 

Internships in India – Laying a Base

I’ll keep this article short. When you enter your second year in College, you become keen on finding an amazing internship (and scholarship) for the summer next year, which will probably be your first full-fledged one too. Hence, it is important that you sit and do legitimate research for a few hours to narrow down your options. I did this in my sophomore year and compiled the list in a word document. It’s been 2 years and probably some of the internships/scholarships have been updated, hence use this as a starting base and then build upon it by putting in your own time of research.

I’m copying and pasting here whatever I had compiled then, excuse me for not using full sentences.

1. Cargill Global Scholarship: (I heard this scholarship was stopped last year. Kindly check with the office)

  • Given to 10 Indian students every year
  • 4 colleges – NITT, IITB, IITD and BITS Pilani
  • Last date March 31st
  • First application form – https://www.cargillglobalscholars.com/scholarship/
  • Two essays – one personal, one social issue
  • 10th, 12th, CV, other certificates
  • Make sure essay is coherent and impressive (but HONEST)
  • They select based on CGPA (8.5+ I guess), the two essays and your extra-curriculars
  • Second round is an interview in Delhi
  • Interview will mostly be in the first week of May (during exams)
  • If you’re selected for the second round, contact your immediate seniors for inputs.
  • If finally selected, $5000 in cash and two seminars – one inside India and one abroad over two years + assignment of a mentor who will guide you throughout.
  • The in-country seminar which I attended was for 3 days in Gurgaon and the second one was in Minneapolis, USA. Both were amazing.

2. IET Scholarship:-

  • Given to 4 students from India every year
  • National winners in final round – 1,00,000 INR. Runners – 80,000 INR.
  • Two categories – General and women. (which is an advantage for girls)
  • Regional winners – 40,000 INR. Runners – 20,000 INR.
  • Last date is April 7thhttp://scholarships.theiet.in/evaluation
  • 10th, 12th, Grade cards attested by HOD to be uploaded.
  • Basic questionnaire. Be strong when it comes to academics and extra-curricular.
  • If selected for the application round, next round is the online test.
  • The test will be mostly on 16/17/18th of AprThe testTest will go on for 1 ½ hrs. Will cover 8 major areas – Civil, mechanical, chemical, electrical, maths, physics, computer science and chemistry.
  • Third round is the regional assessment round – Need to make a ppt.
  • The topic will be disclosed by the end of June. You’ll have entire july to prepare the ppt. If selected for this round, contact me, will explain in more detail.
  • Fourth is the National round – those who win the regionals will be eligible.
  • Here also there will be a ppt to be made + group discussion.
  • I was the runner up of regional round so I did not get to go to Nationals. You all try your best!

3. IAS Summer Fellowship:-

  • One of the ideal fellowships for your Summer, specifically for research aspirants.
  • IAS does the job of selecting students from all over India and finally assigning them the colleges and professors under whom they’ll be working.
  • Last date is Nov 31sthttp://web-japps.ias.ac.in:8080/fellowship2015/
  • This is also a pretty big application – start right away.
  • Selection relies mainly on your SOP and CGPA (I think, although I did see people from the range of 7.5-9.5).
  • SOP will be for 250 words, use it wisely. Re-read it, Re-modify it and Refine it at least 3-4 times.
  • Previously, the process was such that you would be asked to choose 6 professors from a list of over 100, however I hear now that has changed.
  • After filling application, you need to post it along with necessary documents to the given address.
  • Internships is for minimum 8 weeks – Stipend will be 8000 INR per month. But this is including your stay, food, transport, etc. Finally you’ll be getting 3500 INR per month.
  • Apart from applying here, also send mails to profs from IISc, IITs, IIITs unofficially. There are many people who go to colleges through that way. Send them a cover letter along with your CV.

4. Jawaharlal Nehru Summer Fellowship:-

  • Very similar to IAS when it comes to stipend, colleges, etc.
  • Last date mid December – http://www.jncasr.ac.in/fe/srfp.php
  • Here you need to fill the application form offline and post it to the given address along with the documents.
  • You do NOT get to choose profs here. Based on your answers to the questions they will assign for you.
  • Reco from two profs are needed.
  • Apart from CGPA, they care more about your extra curriculars here.
  • I did not receive this scholarship, but from what I heard the experience was very similar to IAS.

5. IIT Delhi Summer Fellowship:-

  • Here the application is totally online – you just need to scan some documents and upload.
  • Here also there is a column for SOP and also another column where you need to write about your achievements. AGAIN, use this space well.
  • In documents they will be asking for No objection certicate and your rank certificate, make sure to get them from HOD soon.
  • Application is pretty simple – https://academics.iitd.ac.in/srf/
  • Internship for min 8 weeks and stipend is 500 INR per week.
  • Last date – 13th March. 

NOTE: They prioritize CGPA here I feel, because, in my year it was initially given to me and when I rejected it for IAS, it went to the next rank holder of dept who had applied.

6. IIT GANDHINAGAR Summer Fellowship:-

  • Very similar to IIT-D in terms of application form.
  • Last date to apply is March 5th and the stipend is 1000 INR per week.
  • You have to work there for a minimum of 6 weeks, you can choose according to your convenience from when to when.
  • Check this site for more details – http://www.iitgn.ac.in/summer-internship/srip.php

7. IIT Bombay – Eklavya Internship:- (Thanks to Rupesh Gupta for pointing out his internship)

This is a coveted internship for CSE and ECE students.
1. Portal to apply http://ekalavya.it.iitb.ac.in/summerinternship2017/
2. Last date to apply is around first week of February.
3. The intern would provide you great exposure and chance to work in best academic environment.
4. It spans throughout your vacation.
5. Three categories for selection: software category- requires high level programming skills, academic category- requires high cgpa 9.7+ alongwith qualifing a basic C test, embedded category- meant for students with electronics background, requires high cgpa again 9.7+ along with theoretical test, after you get shortlisted.

I know for a fact that IIT Madras also has its own SRFP, but I had not applied for it then. I’m sure the process would be similar though. Ensure that you properly check the deadlines for all the above once more! 

That being said, you can also approach professors unofficially by sending e-mails. A few tips there:

  1. Professors receive dozens of mails with students asking to work under them. So, it is important that you attract them with your subject line and the first paragraph of your mail.
  2. Don’t write a common mail to 10 Professors. It won’t get you anywhere. Read about what research they are conducting and specialzie the maila ccording to their requirements.
  3. Create a Resume that looks impressive and attach it with the mail.
  4. Try to take online courses or read books pertaining to their area, so that they know you have some background.
  5. Be patient. Getting a reply is not easy and there is no way of predicting.

Contact your immediate seniors for more inputs as they would be in touch with this process more and can give efficient advice. All the best!

So, You Want to Study Abroad?

Over the next 15 – 20 minutes, I want you to clear your mind and not think of anything else apart from your dream of studying abroad and how to achieve it. Forget about your intern work, don’t think about your deadlines right now and instead take a moment to imagine where you want to see yourself next year this time.

Do you have a picture? Amazing. I will take you through my journey of applying to graduate schools, what all areas to focus on while applying, what steps to take and how to categorize them, and finally how you can cope with downfalls. First and foremost, I will give you a brief glance at the colleges I applied to and got selected for.

First Preference (far-fetched dream): Yale Silver Scholars Program.

Second Preference (reachable dream): Columbia, Stanford, Cornell and Dartmouth – Masters in Engineering Management/Masters in Management Science and Engineering degree.

Third Preference (safe option): HEC Paris Masters in Management

Fourth Preference (back-up option): PhD-MBA in Chemical Engineering at MIT and NUS, Young India Fellowship (YIF).

I got selected at Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth Universities and for YIF. I know you must be thinking I am crazy to keep MIT as my last back-up option, it was because I applied for a degree that I did not really want and did not have much hopes on. Generally, Universities don’t select undergraduates for a PhD-MBA program, however, the deadline was in November 2016 (pretty early) and I wanted to try anyway. If you look at it now, it is quite funny that I got my second preference and not third preference (HEC Paris), because the interview for HEC Paris went very well (according to my estimation). This just goes to tell you how unpredictable your results can be. Disclaimer about Yale Silver Scholars Program: They select only 10 students in a year around the world and barely one Indian makes the cut, who is generally from an IIT. I knew my chances were next to impossible, but you should always have a far-fetched dream degree such as this. You never know.

Now that you get an idea of the background, I have broken down the process into 10 steps.

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  1. Introspection: Although I understand that you have decided to go ahead with higher studies, step back and think about which course you want to pursue. As many of you may know, this was a major factor for me at the beginning of my fourth year. Until the end of third year, I was hell bent on pursuing an MS/PhD in Chemical Engineering (my undergraduate major). I cannot explain to you how my mindset changed, but after my summer intern at University of Wisconsin-Madison USA, I started feeling apprehensive about pursuing a career in Chemical Engineering. I kept second guessing myself, asking a lot of, ‘Where do you see yourself?’, ‘What do you really love doing?’, ‘What has been the highlight of your work?’. I spent close to 4 months mulling over this, constantly changing my University preferences, taking inputs from seniors and peers. It was one of the hardest decisions because, I knew if I had pursued Chemical Engineering I had a possible shot at the top 3 Universities in the world (going by their selection standards and previous records). Knowing this and knowing that my parents were not at all happy with me shifting branches, I still had to not apply for it trusting my gut instinct for which I’m very happy about right now. There was no one moment when the Eureka struck. It was an accumulation of hundreds of such moments that finally lead me to shortlist the above Universities (Disclaimer: I started the application for a lot more Universities, but never went through with it, after learning in detail the course structure and future prospects).

So, step back out of the bubble you are living in and take a close look at your past internships and projects. What was the highlight of them all? Which part of those experiences you vividly remember? Was there any instance which you wished never ended? What was the most boring part of the experience? Note this down, either in your mind or in a notepad, and look at it. The next few years of your life is going to define your thought process profoundly. It doesn’t hurt to spend a few hours right now. But, I want you to do this only after your internship ends and you go back to living your routine life. Since I went through this phase, I’d be happy to help someone else who is in a similar position.  

  1. Wake up. Eat. Research. Repeat: This step is a demanding one. If you are used to reading a lot continuously, this should be easy. If you are not, I suggest you take this as a bitter pill. Think about your priorities: University ranking (or) Degree ranking (or) Quality of research (or) Location (or) Placement statistics (or) Course structure (there are many more factors but I would say these are the most important). Write this down in the order of your preference (add more if you please) and start searching. University rankings, to be honest, tell very little about the degree. Every site shows a different ranking and the way it is calculated is based on: Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio, Citations per faculty, International Faculty Ratio and International Student Ratio. I can safely say that all the Universities ranked from 1 – 5 will have the same quality in terms of student experience, and are separate by nuances based on certain factors. Use the following sites to get an understanding of where your preferred universities stand:

https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings

http://cwur.org/2016.php

http://study361.com/2016/05/07/top-100-best-university-of-the-world-2016/

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2017/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

Websites also list universities based on the degree, placement stats, research quality and so on. Categorize the universities into three zones: far-fetched dream, possible dream, safe and back-up. The number of Universities you apply to is based on your budget constraint, but 8 – 10 is a good number, with at least one University in each category above. Disclaimer: If you are yet to write your GRE and TOEFL, MAKE USE OF THE FREE chance they give you to send the scores carefully. To conclude, keep aside 70 – 80,000 INR for this entire process.

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  1. Excel is your bible: Open a clean new spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, either offline or online (preferred) and start making columns. Use the following for reference:

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These are must-have columns, add more as you please. The GRE/TOEFL Scores column is to update whether you sent the scores.

Note on preparation for GRE/TOEFL: This requires a separate article as it’s a wide topic. Based on my preparation for both, I’m trying to summarize certain pointers:

  • Take a diagnostic test before you start your GRE prep. Take two to be sure. If you obtain less than 300, you definitely need 3 months preparation. If it is 310-320, you can do well with a 2-month prep. For anyone else, I would recommend one month intensive preparation.
  • Make use of all the free practise tests online: Princeton, Kaplan, Manhattan, Magoosh, etc. All of them have.
  • Take AWA seriously. Every day pick one topic from the ETS’ pool and practise it with someone who has good general knowledge. Look at as many 6/6 answers as you can, they tell you a lot about tricks which you can use to make your essay look good.
  • I found the Manhattan 6 test series (30$) helpful as they had adaptive tests and my actual score was very close to what I got there.
  • Manhattan 5 lb book has the best math practice out there. If you can solve all the advanced math questions there, you can be sure of 170.
  • Don’t neglect the logical reasoning part of RC.
  • Remember, GRE has no negative marking and every question has the same weightage. It would be futile to spend more time on any one question.
  • TOEFL: It’s pretty easy compared to GRE. One week prep should be fine. Focus more on speaking than anything else, as you get very little time to prepare. Record yourself talking and make your friend listen to it. They can find mistakes which you can’t.
  • Finally, whatever score you get, it is circumstantial. It tells nothing. I wrote my GRE twice because I was extremely disappointed with my initial score. I found out where I went wrong after thorough analysis and my second-time score improved drastically.

As soon as you start researching, create this sheet. Updating here should be something you do by default, you should see this screen at least once in a day and always, always keep a reminder on your mobile or laptop at least 5 days before the deadline (It is very easy to lose track of deadlines, speaking from experience). I still remember when I sent an application 2 hours late because of internet problem and ended up becoming paranoid debating if it reached them (It did. Phew). But don’t take the chance.

 

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You probably will be after this.

 

Another good way to keep track of where you are in your application is to color code the cells. I followed the following code:

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That being said, this strategy worked very well for me and I hope you devise one such that works well for you because you will be doing this for over a period of 6 months.

4. Statement of Purpose:

 

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Just Kidding…?

 

This would be the most frequently heard/said words for you over the next couple of months. People burden this essay with so much pressure that you would always second-guess what you have written. You will hear statements like, ‘SOP is everything It has to be perfect’. Let me break it down: It is not everything. It is just one piece of the picture. However, it is the piece that will tell about you most to strangers who read your application. SOP is your chance to tell them your glorious story, to tell them your innermost secrets and convince them why you are indeed unique.

Note: I know a lot of you are worried whether your CGPA is enough or not. It’s not worth the struggle. Whatever it is, if you can show them that you have something else in your application (like SOP, LOR, test scores, achievements) which offsets your perceived low CGPA, it should be fine. However, be realistic while choosing your safe universities.

Do not take it as a burden to write your SOP. This will probably be the only time in your life when you will spend so much time thinking about all that you have done till now. It is a lot of fun, based on how you look at it. That being said, I will summarize in the following points:

  • Start writing your SOP right away. This is the perfect time to lay the foundation of the essay.
  • A typical SOP should be 1000 – 1200 words, anything more becomes verbose. It can be lesser, but I would suggest you utilize the words well. It’s also subjective to Universities.
  • I want you to write your first SOP without looking at any sample. Take this seriously.
  • To give you a head-start, follow this rough structure: Childhood inspiration to pursue research, your interests, experiences of internships, any other relevant experience, why that particular University and finally how you stand out. But again, I’d be happy if you forget the above and be creative. Simply tell your life story in a structured and cohesive manner involving facts, anecdotes and examples.
  • Once you are done writing the first draft, search online for all kinds of standard samples. I would suggest looking at samples of SOP of students who got into top Universities. Now your job is to start editing and re-writing.
  • I remember sending my SOP to over 10 – 15 seniors and peers whose opinion I highly respected. I suggest you do the same: make a list of PhD scholars you worked with, seniors who have guided you and peers who you look up to and start emailing them your SOP. But do not send the first draft to everyone. The first few drafts are just for you to edit, maybe take help from a friend. Only when you reach the fifth or sixth draft, send it to seniors and PhD scholars. They are busy people. To edit an SOP takes ample amount of time, so they wouldn’t want to waste it on a nascent version.
  • Finally, take a break. When you feel you reached the final draft, stop it. Don’t look at it for another week. And then go back again and read it from the perspective of a person who reads 500 other SOP’s along with yours. How do you feel? Do you want to change something more?
  1. Resume writing. It’s important people!

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Too often I see students spending so little time on their Resume writing. It is appalling. Your Resume is your marketing tool, guys! You are basically selling yourself through that one page. No offense to the NIT Training and Placement Resume format (for non-NITTians, it is a 3-page Resume with a very boring outline), but there are hundreds of better formats out there. You want to make full use of that one meagre page (Yes, Resumes are strictly one page) that you are allotted. Students generally tend to make 3 mistakes in Resume writing:

  • Use a standard format prescribed for everyone.
  • Create a good, yet incomplete Resume. Eg: Missing out on minor details like test scores, skills, etc.
  • Despite knowing that you lack somewhere in the Resume, you don’t try to offset it somewhere else. When someone is reading 500 other Resumes along with yours, it’s your job to capture their attention.

So, I hope you will avoid these mistakes.

Note: Some Universities tell you that you can either upload your Resume or CV. In this case, opt for a CV as it gives you the liberty to extend up to 2 pages (Check out the difference online).

LaTex is one of the better softwares out there for Resume making. For those who don’t know how to code well in it (like me), check out www.overleaf.com. The site has hundreds of templates which are pre-coded. All you have to do is spend 2 hours and edit the information. It will be worth it, trust me. What to include in your Resume: Education, Research Experience, Coursework, Skills (coding and otherwise), Positions of Responsibility and Achievements. What not to include: Parent’s details, GPA of every semester (CGPA is enough), Hobbies, Extra-curricular activities which are irrelevant.

  1. Letter of Recommendations a.k.a Professor Hunting:

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Sigh. So, this is the part where good relationships with your previous project guides and professors will go a long way. If you don’t have any, don’t fret. It’s not too late, yet.

Disclaimer: Every single professor out there knows that you need a recommendation. When you sign up for an internship, they know one of your motive is to get that letter from him/her. Some professors outright mention if they will not be giving any; if they don’t say anything about it, it means they will mostly provide it.

Every application will minimum require LORs from two people: one has to be a person you worked under in an academic setting, the other can either be your employer or again someone from an academic environment. I know you want an LOR badly from that amazing professor you worked under or who taught you. But, take a moment and think from their point of view. I have seen the mailbox of one of my professors, they receive at least 50 mails every week from students asking for LORs. They have their own research work to look after, this will never be their top priority. So, it is not good practise to outright send a mail and ask them for the LOR. First, send a mail giving them an update of what you are doing in life. A few weeks later, send another mail with the list of your shortlisted Universities. I hope they reply by now, so you can go ahead and politely ask if they will provide an LOR and if yes, how many will they provide.

Another Disclaimer: Some professors ask you to write the LOR and send it, don’t be shocked by this. An LOR obviously is a letter flaunting your skills and achievements; now think about how you can make this extra-special. Don’t keep saying, ‘He/She is a mature, intelligent, diligent student’. It adds no value. Instead, write about situations when you handled something from the Professor’s perspective. Don’t be shy to brag about yourself here, modesty won’t help. However, I strongly suggest you not to write it on your own as Universities abroad take this very seriously. Try to convince your prof as much as you can.

Note: Generally, Professors will provide LORs only for 5-6 Universities, in this case you might need to ask at least 4-5 just in case. So, allocate the best professor from your point of view to the dream university. Take some time to do this.

Make another excel sheet to keep track of this. Very, very important.

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I used the following colour code: Red – Yet to ask, Orange – Asked, but haven’t filled yet, Green – Asked, filled and submitted.

  1. It’s interview time.

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Let’s jump ahead a few weeks and assume you have applied to a few (or all) colleges you wanted to. Generally, the deadlines start late November and go up to February (or even later). Most colleges have an interview round and I feel they should. Each of you should go through this experience at least once. I’ll keep it short: if you get an interview call, do the following:

  • Contact seniors from that University right away, they will definitely recall their experience and give you some tips.
  • If you have a week’s time, don’t waste it.
  • If the degree is related to engineering: thoroughly read about all of your past internship projects, know exactly what you did and the outcome, learn about the research work in that University, have a clear career plan after the degree and please know world affairs.
  • If the degree is related to management (or a mix of management and engineering): Apart from doing the above, I would suggest you know the answer to some basic questions like: What is teamwork? Why I like this certain hobby of mine? What was one instance when my collaboration worked? Again, these are very subjective. If any of you get interview calls from the universities where I applied for the same degree, reach out to me then.
  • Login to Skype 30 minutes before the interview. For that last 30 minutes, don’t prepare. Just think about how much work you’ve put in the last few months, play a favorite song in your head and be confident. It’s just another interview.
  • Finally, after the interview ends, write down all the questions and answers in word document. This will not only help your juniors, but also yourself for the next interview.
  1. The see-saw ride begins:

I received 4 out of the 5 rejection e-mails in a span of 5 days. I’m not kidding. At that time, I had no acceptances, so you can imagine how I must have felt. To be honest, I was quite overconfident. I knew I had a good profile so I assumed I would get my safe college (HEC Paris), but I didn’t. I hope you don’t make this mistake. Needless to say, I went into a brief period of depression which I dealt with alone. There are two ways to deal with it: either you silently suffer alone or you share it by taking help from your friends. I did the former but I would recommend you do the latter. There were times when I wished I could go on a trip far, far away. But I had responsibilities to take care of at College, which kept me going. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a huge blow. A blow I did not expect. I’m sure you too will go through this phase, at least with one University. Remember this then: One or even ten rejections should not let you down. It doesn’t mean that you are not good enough, it only means you were not a good fit. For them.

I want to say you’ll be fine, but you won’t. Instead, you should feel horrible, you should feel like crying. But, just for a short span. You should not let this hold you back from your everyday works.

That being said, one day you will get a mail with a huge ‘Congratulations’. I still remember the day I got it, the first admit was from Cornell. I remember going out of my room, tears welling up in my eyes, saying to myself, ‘Remember this moment. This is what you were waiting for. Capture this moment’. Amazingly, my next two admits came within a week. An advice I wish you all take to heart: When you get an admit, it does not mean you are better than someone else who didn’t get. Don’t be arrogant, admits don’t tell anything about one’s perseverance and determination in life. It’s okay to feel happy and satisfied, but don’t make someone else feel bad by blowing the trumpet. More than anything, don’t keep asking people if they got an admit. If they did, and if they felt you were important enough to know, they would tell.

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  1. Kaasu, panam, dhuddu, money, money: (For those who don’t know Tamil, it all means money)

MS in US will rob you of your savings. Let’s assume you did not get a scholarship (which would be mostly the case), how will you sponsor? Apart from using personal savings and loans, everybody wants a scholarship. But the common stereotype is this: ‘Scholarships? It’s a myth man, I won’t get it anyway’. Disclaimer: It’s not a myth.

I am not saying this lightly. I am telling you after 100+ hours of searching online for scholarships. It’s out there. Let me tell it you mathematically. If you put in 100 hours of research, you will definitely be able to find 50+ scholarships which is for Indians, out of that you will be eligible to apply for around 10, out of which you might get shortlisted for 5 and finally obtain 2 or 3.

This happened with me. Out of x number for which I applied, I got shortlisted for 4 whose results will be out shortly. And, I am still applying for more. This should give you an idea of how many are there. I created a database in November 2016 and I’m still adding more and more scholarships to that list. If you have the discipline and diligence to sit and work, you can do it. As simple as that.

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Disclaimer: I will not give the database to anyone easily. If you want me to help you, I want you to first put in effort and do some work yourself. Once you do that, it would be my pleasure to share the knowledge.

  1. You did it. Take a break.

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That’s it. You reached the end of the line. After months of writing essays, LORs, Resumes and e-mails, this is where it ends. This is the end of another beginning, another phase in your life. Right now, your job is to tie up all the loose ends. If you got admits from more than one University (assume this is your first preference), politely tell the other Universities ‘no’. Send a long e-mail to all of your professors who gave your LORs. Send an e-mail to every single senior and friend who helped edit your essay. Give a nice party to your close ones. Talk to your parents on call as much as you can. Make a vow to do something to your undergraduate institution, which acted as a stepping stone. Always remember the rejections that kept you going. Try to write down the journey you went through in those few months.

Most importantly, this is when you need to start helping your juniors.

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I hope this article was helpful for you in some way and I’d love to hear your comments. I will be joining Columbia University, New York for my Masters in Management Science and Engineering this fall. I’m planning on writing a series on ‘Life as a Graduate Student’, so that I always remember the next 1.5 years of my life. If you’re interested, you can follow the blog.

P.S. As much as I’d love to answer all of your doubts, I’d also love to know when you get an admit.

P.P.S. For those looking to fast-track their career, you can check out the 2+2 MBA program by Harvard and Stanford. (I did apply, however did not get through the final round)

P.P.P.S (last one, I swear): Just to clear any confusion, my real name is Soundarya Balasubramani. Pooja is a pet name (as well as the Facebook name).

Image Source: Google

You need to S.T.O.P in Life.

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We all lead such busy lives that we never really stop to think about what we can do to improve its quality. We have silent battles with ourselves every single day. ‘I really wanted to do all the ten works I had planned for today, but couldn’t’, ‘I wish I could go to the gym every day like I had planned’, ‘Why am I not getting new ideas?’, ‘Why am I doing this? What really is the purpose?’. If you are someone who goes through the routine facing such conundrums every single day, then join the club. Prior to writing this, I was reading about certain topics via bits and pieces of articles online, and I could come up with a short slogan.

“You need a STOP in life”

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I don’t mean you need to stop and take a breath and then things will be back to normal. No. I mean you got to have,

S – Self-discipline

T – Time Management Skill

O – Out-of-the-box Thinking

P – Purpose

(I got the inspiration of this acronym after reading the article on Rifath Sharook, the 18-year-old Indian boy who designed the world’s smallest satellite (What?!). He says we need to have DOSA in life. Go check out what it means.)

  1. Self-Discipline:

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I like Taylor Swift. If any of you have ever watched one of her interviews, you would know that all of her answers reflect a degree of smartness. Once when she was asked, ‘What does creativity mean to you?’, she replied saying, ‘Creativity to me is having an inspiration and that lightning bolt moment when you get the idea, and at the same time also having the hard work ethic to sit down and write it out’. The second part of the answer is something I strongly agree with. A lot of people, including me, find it hard to build self-discipline, mostly because you need to do things which are not always very interesting. If you want to be a Doctor, you cannot bypass remembering a million terms. If you want to be a Singer, you need to keep writing more, even when you’re satisfied with your ideas. If you want to be a Writer, your room must be surrounded with a hundred crumpled sheets.

We all struggle with this problem, and I once saw a video which could probably help some of you. It says, take a shower in cold water for a minimum of 30 days (or hot water for those who like cold water showers). As you start exposing yourself to doing an activity you don’t particularly find pleasant, something happens psychologically and you will be relatively more willing to do the things which you had denied beforehand. It doesn’t even have to be this exercise particularly. This one is ideal as you don’t spend any extra time every day as bathing is a routine (hopefully).

         2. Time-management:

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You want to sit and study, but you also want to go out with your friends for dinner but then there is that TV show whose last episode you haven’t seen yet and you just want to curl up and read a novel. Sounds familiar? Time-management is a struggle not just for students like us, but for every millionaire and billionaire out there too. Over the years, a lot of people have asked me, ‘How do you manage time so well?’, and I always think to myself amusedly, ‘But I don’t’. You can never be perfect at it. However, there are a few things you can do.

Cut down on movies and serials:

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I mean it. I know people who binge watch series all the time. It’s okay to sit back and once in a while do this, but all the time is not going to really help you. There was a time when I watched TV series like a mad person, and I remember it didn’t add much value to my life except whiling away the time. Even now I watch, but it’s very rare and I try to limit myself to maximum of an hour. On the other side, sometimes watching it helps me because once I’m done watching, I feel guilty and my work efficiency increases.

Start your day with a plan: Some of us like to create grand plans for an entire week or month (whether we stick to them or not is a different story). Some of us like to be spontaneous and allow things to follow its course. Whichever category you belong to, waking up and drafting a plan inside your head shouldn’t hurt. Think about all the things you can do in a span of the next 16 hours and allocate time for each. I have been doing this for over 3 years and it works like a charm. On a side note, I loved every single day at NITT because, in spite of me planning what to do, there were always new surprises, unexpected work calls and unplanned dinners with friends. A rich mix of both

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Think about what you do every day, for a week: Of course, we all know what we do every day, but we never reflect upon it. But when you sit down and really think about all the activities you do in a day, you will start finding these gaps of time. Gaps of time which are wasted and add up to a significant amount. Even now as I think about everything that happened today, I can count the number of hours when I did nothing. If you keep doing this for over a week, you will get an idea of how you can use that intermittent time.

        3. Out-of-the-box thinking:

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This is probably the hardest ability to master and the most rewarding. People say creative thinkers are born, and not made. This is probably true, but nobody said you cannot improve your creative ability as you grow. This quality is so important especially when you are in college as you fill out so many application essays and sit through gruelling interviews. Interviewers and evaluators expect you to be different, and we cannot blame them. If my job is to read through 100 essays every day, I yearn for that one that will make me re-read it and feel good about my job. Even when someone asks us a simple question, ‘Can you introduce yourself?’, it takes us a few seconds to gather our thoughts and try to give a smart reply. A few days ago, I was talking to a boy who was in College preparing for placements. I was helping with a few questions that he can anticipate when suddenly I turned to him and asked, ‘Can you introduce yourself?’. It took him a minute to think of something and what he said was not satisfactory from any angle.

A recruiter that I had met recently lamented about how he does not see any spark anymore in the students. When we say, India is fighting against unemployment, we should also look at the mistakes that we, as students, commit instead of blaming the companies and government. We need to think about some basic questions about our lives,

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(Hi5 to all dog lovers out there)

‘What do I thoroughly enjoy doing?’, ‘What is it that I did recently which made me happy?’, ‘Where do I see myself in a few years? Where do I want to see myself?’, ‘What has been the biggest failure?’. Answering these questions won’t just help them know you better, but it will help you know yourself better.

And coming to thinking out-of-the-box, I can suggest a few tricks which you can practise.

  1. Solve short puzzles online. I truly believe I am not a creative person by birth, and I still struggle to come up with new ideas on spot. I always have this feeling, ‘Damn, why did I not think of that?’. But I know that I have improved by solving puzzles. I don’t mean paragraph long questions that take you forever to solve, look at short puzzles that test your left-side of brain. Quora is a brilliant place where such questions are asked often and people come up with very creative solutions. The first step to developing this quality is to read as much as possible about how people give creative solutions.
  2. Try to take something ordinary and look at it from a very different perspective. Let’s take a spoon for example. We all know it is used to eat food or say drink soup. However, it can also be used as a hanger or even as jewellery. These are things which you can force yourself to do in your intermittent free time, when you are waiting in an elevator or riding your bike.
  3. Apps really help. I like to download apps at times when I feel bored. Some really cool ones that I found which tested my brain cells were ‘That game again’, ‘Skillz’ and ‘Dark Stories’. Obviously there are million more and you just need to click on the Play Store option to help you. Another thing that you can do is convert your alarm into a puzzle solver, say a math puzzle. As annoying as it might be, you will learn to be quickly aware even in your semi-conscious state.
  4. Sing a song by changing the tense. This is just something that I randomly did one day and I felt good after that. Take your favorite song, convert all the ‘he’s to she’s (or vice versa) or try adding a specific word after every ‘the’. Try having a conversation without the alphabet ‘e’. Try telling your mental voice to think in a language that you don’t usually think in. All of these things will act as an exercise for your mind to think and come up with solutions faster.

These are, at the end of the day, just my ideas which I feel worked well. However, they are very subjective and I guess you need to find something that works for you and keep doing it.

       4. Purpose:

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It is a lot of fun asking this question to people, just to catch them off guard (most people).

Your purpose is your why. It drives all of your actions and fuels your passion. Living without a purpose is similar to looking through a blurry vision. The novel ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl emphasizes on how important it is to have a purpose in life and how it can get you through even the most unbearable ordeal in life.

It is almost impossible to force yourself to find this purpose unless you do it out of self-interest. I do feel one simple activity can help you with this: Break up with THE ONE. Many of us struggle because we try to find that ONE thing that we are meant to do; but trying to find only one thing is the reason why we feel like something is missing. Let go of this line of thought and start trying new things. Instead of always worrying about the future, try living in the present. Anyhow, I will stop this preaching before it becomes blasé.

However, I believe we all can agree on something here: being happy is somewhere embedded in that purpose. And obtaining this happiness is again subjective. Although I feel many people do things that they think are sources of happiness but they are just sources of passing time. So many times, I have done some activity which I assumed would help me feel ecstatic but it simply let me down. But I do know one thing that really gets me excited: making myself useful. When someone approaches me to tell that something that I said or did really helped them, that is what completes my day. I am sure you all have this one thing that lights up your day. Now, what is it? Think about it.

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P.S. Just for fun, I was searching and found some very strange yet funny questions that apparently will help you find your purpose. I’m pasting below three of them.

  1. What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?
  2. What makes you forget to eat and shit?
  3. How can you better embarrass yourself?

Image sources: Google

This article idea came out of the blue one day. I would love it if someone suggests an idea because that way it will prove to be more useful. Till then, cheers!

 

 

 

10 Things That NIT Trichy Taught Me

When you reach the end of your college life, unknowingly, you start thinking about the things you did, people you met and the lessons you learnt in the past four years. I have this habit of typing down my thoughts, and thought I’d share with you all a few things that I learnt. Some of you may find this blatantly obvious, to some of you this might not make sense, but I hope the rest of you find it remotely useful.

  1. Inculcate respect: Respect, respect people for who they are and most importantly, respect organizations and clubs that are small. Most of the clubs/organizations that I have been part of (or started) have been in their infantry stage, and unless you have worked in one such, you will never understand the pain of building it, and giving it shape. I know people who look down on teams that are just being formed or are at the incipient stage, and I really hope you do not imbibe that. That quality will only make you look like a jerk (I hope the people who read this know who they are). The thrill of building something from scratch, the exhilaration you feel every time you encounter a small success and the people you meet is unparalleled. However, know that I am not glorifying the work, it is a tough job and not everyone can do it; which is why you need to respect every single upcoming team in NIT Trichy and try to understand their goal, because every single team in our campus does have a goal. This quality will take you places, and make you stand out.

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  1. Help people, never hesitate: This might seem downright obvious, but do people actually do it? I am where I am today because of countless seniors, juniors and batchmates who have helped me with bits and pieces of advice, gestures and amazing support along the way. When you are surrounded with such a conducive environment, you start fitting in. I make it a point to always respond to favors and requests, and do it promptly. More than anything, help your juniors. These are people who look up to you for guidance, these are the people who are eager to learn and won’t let you down. The bond that you form with them would be long-lasting, trust me.

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  1. Choose passion over prowess: Some of you might reach a stage in your College life when you feel that the circle of ‘What you are good at’ and the circle of ‘What you want to do’ does not intersect. I faced this last year. Choosing the latter is not easy and be ready for a string of questions and open-mouths, however, you know you will have to pick it. Of course, Disclaimer: Other factors do play a role here. Such as financial situation. If you feel that choosing the former would help you with your financial situation then go ahead. Somewhere down the line just remember your passion and don’t lose the momentum.

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  1. You cannot please everyone: Whatever you do, wherever you are, know that you cannot please everyone. There will always be people around you who will demean you, put you down and talk behind your back. Instead of giving them the advantage of feeling disappointed, rather go ahead and do great things. You are never at your best, and you can only keep going up. Always keep a bunch of positive people around you who motivate and encourage you. Learn to be enthusiastic about little things, and learn to stay away from those who put you down. (P.S. NEVER gossip!)

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  1. Do very, very simple things and be unique: When you’re walking down the road and you see a crumpled paper on road, pick it up and throw it in the nearest dustbin. When you see someone being ignored in a conversation, don’t just neglect it, try to make them feel welcome. When someone is speaking during a meeting, don’t use your phone (yes, the speaker CAN easily spot and it demotivates them drastically). When you see someone doing something good however insignificant the deed might be, appreciate; I would say keep telling people why they are awesome constantly (I have used this word so much that it automatically pops up on my keypad). When you want to volunteer for something (as simple as asking question in a class), do it without apprehension. It is okay if you make a fool of yourself, at least you tried.

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  1. Do not dip your hand in too much stuff: This is totally from personal experience. I have been part of a lot of teams, and while it looks glamorous from an outsider’s perspective, it is not. I definitely did learn a lot from each of them, and I am going to cherish the lessons for life but that doesn’t negate the fact that it was extremely demanding and it felt like I was dabbling. If you want to orient yourself towards acquiring specific skills, then don’t join teams that will not help you, especially after you enter your third year. I have observed that in general people work for a team for three reasons: 1. They truly believe in the goal, 2. They love the team members or 3. They do it out of obligation of being a member. Make a wise choice as to where you want to belong.

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  1. GPA does matter: Let’s face it. At the end of the day, this is indeed an engineering college and people expect certain things out of you. As much as you want to hear that it doesn’t matter, it does. However, the perception of what a ‘good’ number is varies and is influenced by what your career goal is. MS aspirant? Try to keep it above 9. MBA? Above 8.5. Placements? Above 8. I know dozens of people who have gotten into amazing universities and companies despite a low GPA, but isn’t it better to be on the safe side? This is just my perception though. Having said that, here’s something you will never hear: Disadvantages of having a high GPA: Yes, you will be the topper. You will reap a lot of advantages because of it. However, does it mean you will be the best in every subject? Rarely. Since you are trying to be the best in everything, you will end up being better than average in everything. Getting a good GPA is a time optimization problem. To have enough time to allocate to all courses, we do the minimum effort for each and pick the subjects we seem to be already good at. It’s the wrong problem. What matters isn’t getting Ss only. You also need to do justice to the subject.

This Quora answer by Aaron Yip beautifully explains the concept (MUST READ): https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-advantages-of-having-a-low-GPA

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  1. Be independently dependent: Surround yourself with people, people you genuinely care about, as much as possible. However, spend time with yourselves. Enjoy thinking, enjoy contemplating over an insignificant problem and enjoy talking to yourself mentally. I make it a point to be alone at least an hour or two everyday, when I can think without any outside influence. All the best thoughts I have had came to me at this magical time. Most importantly, it is because I made it a point to ruminate alone every day that I understood what my career goal at least for the next few years should be.

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  1. It is NEVER the end: In first year, you will feel that not getting into clubs and organizations is the worst thing to happen to you; but it’s not. In second year, you will feel that there is a lot of pressure from both academic and extra-curricular front and you just cannot get that intern everyone is going after, and you end up thinking, ‘This is it.’; but it’s not. In third year, everyone around you will have already applied for internships and scholarships while you are yet to begin to understand your passion. The word ‘internship’ becomes a chant, and people start searching for it like it is the Philosopher’s Stone. You will feel like you are lost in a sea of sending mails, rejections and doing things you don’t want to. But it’s not the end. Fourth year will hit you in the face with placements, graduate school applications and other important entrance exams. This is when most of you might buckle under pressure, and also when you shouldn’t. The same cycle of rejections, interviews and essays will happen repeatedly, and I myself fell into depression at times. However, you have to move on. There is never an end, and at times like these is when your degree of perseverance is shown. This is when I would suggest you go for a trip alone, meet new people, learn more about yourself and come back with a sense of new beginning. But you should not give up your responsibilities towards a club or organization at any cost. Maybe this story of a girl will help you a little (?). Read any of the answers written by her: https://www.quora.com/profile/Bhanupriya-Jayaraj

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  1. Learn to be extraordinary: Yes, I mean it! An average of 7/10 people tend to do the following: snooze off an alarm and sleep an extra hour, submit things after deadline, constantly keep checking Facebook and Instagram and other social media sites, tend to put off things for a later date, keep binge watching TV serials and movies, follow the same routine everyday without complaining and don’t think about issues apart from what is happening in their life.

Now let’s look at the other 3 out of 10 people. Are they having a better life than us? Are they having special skill which we don’t? In fact, they are just like us. But they do things a bit differently: wake up before the alarm goes off, put effort into everything they do and submit things well before deadline, utilize their time by learning something new every day, try to schedule their days well in advance and finish off works at the earliest as much as possible, do not waste time binge watching but rather watch selected movies rarely, think of something new every day and constantly keep thinking about ways in which they can improve themselves as well as the environment around them.

Average is that small temptation stopping you from doing what you should do. Genius is that little badass inside you stopping you from becoming average. Invoke that badass.

I was an average person when I entered College. I am not extraordinary now, but I have inculcated some of the qualities of how to be extraordinary, how to go the extra mile and how to stand out.

 

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For my love for Carl Sagan

 

There are a lot more things that NIT Trichy or any college for that matter will teach you; all you have to do is listen, learn and hopefully write more such articles. I had a college life where the learning curve only kept going up, and I will forever be grateful for that. Like any phase in life, there were ups and downs, and I am glad I got to meet some people who will be irreplaceable. Although nostalgia hits me, I am excited for the next phase in my life abroad: to learn much more, have an exponential growth, make bonds that last forever and never forget the simple pleasures in life.

I will soon write another article that talks extensively about the roller coaster ride that one will go through while applying for universities abroad. Cheers till then! 🙂

Image Source: Google. 

 

Diwali: A festival of lights or destruction?

As I’m sitting inside my home, I hear the noise of crackers, every few seconds, and occasionally I also hear a faint yelp from the dogs. There are a lot of things that you can do during Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, but we resort to doing something that harms not just us, but every single person in the surrounding area. I accept, till the age of 11 I too was an enthusiastic kid who thought bursting crackers was the best way to celebrate Diwali. However, thanks to my English teacher then, my perspective on how to celebrate changed.

In the year 2013, more 80 people from just Chennai were admitted in Hospitals with eye injuries. And more than half of these people were little kids. Second to eye injuries come burn injuries, which I hope you can imagine how painful it can be. In Ahmedabad, over 45 incidents of fire were reported in the mere 2 days of Diwali in 2015. The 108-ambulance service received more than 3,800 calls from across Gujarat in these two days. All the calls were related to either fire accidents or about respiratory complications caused due to the smoke of fire crackers.

When I cite the word ‘pollution’, most of you would haughtily reply saying, ‘We cause pollution every day. This is just for a day or two’. Yes, true, but the percentage that it causes in a day or two is alarmingly high. The pollution level increases 5 to 8 times above the safety standard these two days. Two practices define Diwali — lighting earthen lamps all over the house, and setting off firecrackers.  India produces nearly $38 million worth of firecrackers every year, most of which are sold in the weeks leading up to Diwali. Every Indian child grows up knowing the names of each different kind. Many Indian children, though, are too familiar with these crackers — because they make them. I won’t divulge into the ugly details of cheap child labour that is practised, you all know it already.

Let’s rather talk about how you can ideally celebrate Diwali? By being with your family, and if that is not possible, with your close friends. Make sweets, have as much as you want, play games, lose gracefully, go out and watch the latest block buster movies, call up your grandmother and grandfather to wish them (it means more to them than to you). But of course, if you are an ignorant person who is apathetic towards the environment, at least do the following when you are celebrating Diwali with fire-crackers:

1. Make sure you buy Fireworks from a licensed shop and keep them stored in a closed box.

2. Store crackers away from sources of fire or ignition; also, keep them away from the reach of toddlers. They are your children, have some sense.

3. Burst crackers in open spaces like playgrounds and fields.

4. While lighting the crackers, stand at an arm’s length, away from the Cracker. Safety comes first.

5. Discard used fireworks in a bucket of water this way you can avoid people from stepping on to and hurting their feet from used fireworks which are thrown on the ground.

6. Keep buckets of water and blankets ready, in case a fire breaks out. And yes, it will.

7. Wear thick cotton clothes while bursting crackers, so as to ensure maximum safety from fire. And wear footwear, please. Again, your safety.

8. While igniting Diwali aerial fireworks like rockets, ensure that they are not facing any opening like a window, door or an open building gate. If the rockets zoom into them, it will cause fire accidents.

9. As much as possible, avoid bursting more than one firecracker at a time. Especially avoid serial crackers.

10. Diwali doesn’t get over with just bursting crackers. It is your responsibility to clean it up the next day, which none of us do. This year would be a good time to start.

And most importantly, STAY AWAY FROM THE STRAYS. Dogs are our companions; they give us nothing but happiness and love. The stray dogs are poor creatures who cannot even speak for themselves, all they look for is some scraps of food occasionally. You don’t have to give them food if you don’t want to. That’s your personal mindset. At least don’t hurt them with your disgusting act. Especially for those who have pets, keep them inside your home please. And as much as possible, you don’t burst crackers yourself. You know how it harms the little ones. And this applies not just to dogs, but all kinds of animals.

Diwali is a time to be with the loved ones. Help around your home as much as you can. Do not send forwards that end with something like, “(((((BOOM))))) Happy Diwali!”, because that’s not what Diwali represents. It takes a certain while for people’s mindset to change.  For me, it took a 30-minute-long speech given by my teacher. For someone else, all it takes would be to lose their eye (I’m not joking, I read an article just yesterday). Do you want to belong to the latter? It’s up to you. However you celebrate, be safe, be happy. Happy Diwali!