Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #6 (Life of an MS student)

You don’t get to experience major successes frequently. You shouldn’t. Otherwise you would stop valuing them. But you definitely need minuscule wins from where you can derive your energy from. Most people tend to overlook these wins – but once you start noticing them, at least once I started doing it, the level of optimism was a lot higher.


This month has been a mixture of interview preparation, incredible learning and following routines. I tried segmenting my thoughts the best I could:

  1. Keep the clutter out and curiosity in:

As I had mentioned multiple times in my previous posts, one of the most important assets you will (and should) find here are the people you meet. That being said, it’s critically important to keep the clutter out. Don’t surround yourself with pessimists and people who clearly add more negative than positive energy in your life. We all come across and deal with such archetypes everyday – it’s not easy. That’s why you need an overwhelming number of those who inspire, encourage and motivate you. It’s very hard for me to answer the question on, ‘Who’s your inspiration?’. My latest inspiration was a talk from this Product Manager from Facebook. Prior to that, I was inspired in one of my classes at how the Professor kept it engaging with ease. And before, I was inspired by this acquaintance of mine who has been working on a brilliant start-up idea for close to two years now (will be writing an article dedicated just to his work – must read for all upcoming graduates).


One of the few days when I saw morning light before sleeping

So in short, find something meaningful in what you do and keep the clutter out.

  1. Social Media and sacrifices:

I have always been an active user of social media – apart from connecting you with people and biting away your time (We’re all victims), it gives you a chance to voice out your opinions on issues you care about, learn about what is happening around the world in a fashion that is compelling, and use it as a medium to give voice to even the slightest idea in your head.


Over the last few months, I have slowly decreased my usage of it, knowingly as well as unknowingly. This is a trend that I’ve seen a lot of people fall into, and I hope I don’t. It is illustrative of the sacrifices that you have to make at every step of the way – something to keep in mind whenever you take upon more than you can handle. And you know when you’ve taken more when you realize it’s been months since you took time to enjoy by yourself.

  1. Preparation and play:

Honestly, you feel overwhelmed a lot thinking about your future. You have to keep pushing – and have fun along the way. From the few interviews that I’ve had here so far, I learnt more than I could imagine: ranging from SQL to agile project management. People think interviews are a key to fit the lock where your internships and jobs lie. They are not. They are key to unlock all possible doors in your sight where you get to learn the gamut of possibilities.


On the same note, trying comes with its share of rejections, even when everything in your sight goes as planned. Staying optimistic at such times is painfully hard – but, one of the traits of positive people is that they don’t worry about things they can’t control.


If anyone wants to know how an engineering block’s floor looks like late night

  1. Adaptability is key to success:

This might not be the case of everyone – but definitely of many. In grad school, most of the simple pleasures you took for granted previously are gone. Initially you start out learning to be a Chef in India (I tried), and the first month you’re here you try to replicate all the scrumptious meals you had back in the good days.

But with time, you realize how much of a luxury it is to go through the process of cooking, and your enthusiasm and care decreases linearly. It reaches a stage where you need just enough to survive.


The same curve can be applied to a lot of other needs and wishes – doing laundry, playing your favorite sport, exploring the city. (Once again, there are still exceptions who manage time well and get to enjoy these simple pleasures)

This is not a bad thing. You can’t make time, only sacrifices. If nothing, this only makes you more adaptable, a quality that is looked for in every company, industry and place.


Shine bright like a diamond?

  1. Delving deeper into randomness:

Untitled image (176)

I took a course on Psychology and Product Design this semester – the motivation behind picking it was influenced by many factors. But I ended up liking the course for different reasons. The Professor makes us read a lot, and I’m glad he does. I came across this concept of chance and randomness – the same old trite ‘You cannot control what happens to you (or anyone)’. If you assume that over a million events happen in your life over a span of 80 years, it is inevitable that at least a few dozen of them are extremely good (or bad).

I wanted to understand the relation of chance to the concept of fate a little further. While browsing, I came across a brilliant article that went in depth to talk about his relation – http://onewithnow.com/fate/

Researchers found that most of the processes (for example, breathing, moving, eating) are automatic, and are executed without much conscious awareness. Modern brain scans show that unconscious activity occurs a few seconds before the conscious activity arises in other areas of the brain. It appears that the subconscious mind decides first, even when we think we’re making a conscious choice.

When you look deeper at a Quantum scale, there seems to be no discernible order (remember the Uncertainty principle?). However, if we dig even deeper and go to the Plank state, order does seem to exist. What appears random or chaotic may be encoded into the most fundamental level of existence. This leaves little room for chance and choice. Who knows if we’ll ever be able to test this theory though. Cutting short this tangent to talk about science and fate, my underlying point was that if we accept our choices and agree that the consequences are indeed random, we save a lot of worry and time.

On similar lines, I love how this sentence covers it all – “Accept the things to which fate binds you and love the people with whom fate brings you together, and do so with all your heart. ~Marcus Aurelius”


I hope people never get tired of watching snow fall

One of my checklists for this semester is to release a video talking about the path followed to finding an internship, because I feel this is a prevalent topic that a lot of people seem to take immense pressure over. I would love any sort of ideas/suggestions! 




Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #5


Exchange Place

I have this bad habit of planning extensively before a holiday begins for what I should be doing in the break. It’s bad because I always end up not doing a few on the list and feeling guilty. This holiday was no different. Thankfully though, I could tick off a few things off my list. Reflecting on the past month:

  1. Roaming the City:

    For someone who rarely goes out to explore, this was indeed refreshing. Of course, it would not have been as adventurous without the cold draining the energy out of you slowly. We went to watch the NY city skyline from Brooklyn, tasted the best cheesecake from the factory itself, watched a house filled ostentatiously with lights and spent New Year’s running around in the cold near Central Park desperate to watch the fireworks.

  1. Random musings:

    As I sat down to read a little in the holidays, I realized immediately how much I missed it. I had written about this on my previous post too. Continuing on the same lines, one day I woke up and just knew that I had to start meditating. This friend of mine with over 10 years of experience was kind enough to sit with me for an hour and explain all about how it changed her life. I did it for a week – and like every good movie that comes to an end, this habit did too. It takes days, or sometimes months, to begin inculcating a skill. However, even as small a trigger as ‘I have to wake up early the next day so let me sleep early’ can completely kill it. Once I read an answer on Quora for this question, ‘What is your human superpower?’. This guy had replied saying he had the ability to change his habits overnight. At that time, I didn’t realize how incredibly lucky he was. Now I do.


  1. A semester in a week:

    I took a one-week intensive course named ‘Lean Launchpad’ that simulates a start-up environment and teaches you (practically) the tools needed for an entrepreneur when he/she is starting out. It was taught by Steve Blank, called by many as ‘The God of Silicon Valley’. The experience was nothing short of eye-opening. Not only because of the amount of learning you obtain in a week, but because I truly understood that age was just a number. On my team were two of my classmates, and two Executive MBA students. One of them had over 45 years of professional experience, and the other had over 10. The story of how we 5 ended up together is a series of dominos that, at the time, fell in the wrong places. Thank god it did. I had the best experience ever working with such a team. The first time I met my two E-MBA members, I was completely intimidated because of their extensive experience, and my lack of thereof. Once the meeting got over, I understood that it didn’t matter. As long as I worked hard, and brought something valuable to the table (or at least tried), they would be happy. Fast forward to the end of the week, I was walking away with a bucket of memories, and so much respect for those two that can’t be put in words. For giving us 3, the 20 year olds, the same amount of respect and admiration that one would give someone having decades of experience. Humility is everything. Having the ability to acknowledge that people much younger than you can surpass expectations is critical.



With Steve Blank

Apart from the team, I learnt a few lessons inside the class. Two most important ones were this –  If you do extraordinary things, you attract extraordinary people.


The importance of the role of an advisor/mentor cannot be overstated. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few people who I could turn to for advice. And since it’s a cycle, I also want to try to be a good mentor to as many as I can.

  1. Back to the hunt:

    With the semester comes the obligation to begin looking for internships. It’s been well over a dozen rejections so far in my case. And I recently had an interview which ended with them saying that they were looking only for Bachelors students, after knowing very well that I was not. Strangely enough, I feel absolutely no bitterness after all this. A year ago, I would have taken it too seriously, spent a few days moping and would wallow in self-pity. I’m pleasantly surprised at how things have shaped up. For anyone applying right now, or would be applying in the future – you shouldn’t feel bad when you keep getting rejected. However, if you genuinely feel you learnt nothing from that experience, that’s when you should sit and rethink. There’s this famous quote whose meaning I realize now – “We can’t control what happens to us. But, we can control how we react to it”. Keep replaying this in your head, and stay foolishly optimistic!



When you eat 12 fortune cookies

My semester began just a few days back, and already I can see the tasks being thrown from all sides. Your first two weeks go away in simply figuring out your schedule – or as they say ‘shopping for classes’. I would advise people to not go by what the seniors did blindly. Rather, ask them questions. ‘What field are you interested in, and how did the class help you?’, but don’t ask them, ‘Was the class useful?’. Once you enter this program, specifically Management Science and Engineering, it is unavoidable that your classmates would all concentrate on one career niche. You would see consultants, data scientists, data analysts, product managers, and the other a-z titles. You can see the trade-off that happens here – you are balancing having the ability to diversify vs confused and not focused on one niche. Whether you see it as half glass empty or full will decide the fate of your enjoyment level in the program!


Saw this beautiful sign while walking across Macy’s

P.S. Always choose the latter.

Reflecting Backward and Looking Forward – New Year 2018

2017 was a year full of surprises and transformation. It is only fitting that we reflect on all the things that we are thankful for, and wish did not change in 2018.

1. Family: We should all be thankful to our family,  and say it out loud once in a while. I am deeply grateful to my Mom, Dad and Brother for all that they have done. Only when you are in an environment where you experience equality do you realize the opportunities you have been missing so far. It is not easy to send your child thousands of miles away to a strange environment, and not every parent do that.


2. Friends: It’s pleasantly surprising how you can form bonds quickly, especially when you didn’t expect to. Grad school, among a melange of things, taught me that it’s possible to do that. It’s not enough just to find people with whom you click, it’s important that they all are motivated and passionate about something. Surrounding yourself with such people enhances your lifestyle. I am also thankful towards all those from undergrad who made the worst of days bearable. The juniors who constantly provided energy and support. The teachers and professors who anchored my conviction to study further. The people around the world who inspired me so much in ways that can’t be explained.


3. Books: We don’t realize this often, but we owe a lot to the books we read, and the authors who took time to craft them. It’s been long since I sat down to read a novel, and finally I got the chance to do it in the holidays. A few pages made me realize why I miss it and why it’s crucial for everyone to read. It takes you into a world of solidarity where all that you’re aware of are the author’s thoughts and his/her message that registers in your head. One of the best lessons that I learnt this year came from a book. When you’re faced with a problem, think of the worst-case scenario. If the domino fell at all the wrong times in all the odd places, what would be the result? Now learn to accept this result. Have you accepted it? Good. Now that the weight of fear is off your shoulders, come up with ways to mitigate the repercussions.


4. Every single failure: When I applied for Universities in my final year of undergrad, I had a very different dream of where I’d end up for my post-grad. Of course, things did not go my way and I had a period of utter demotivation and ego-stripping. And I’m sure a lot of people would go through the same stint. Quoting a very smart guy who you must know, ‘You cannot connect the dots by looking forward, but when you look backward, they would already be connected to form a beautiful picture.’ There were countless minor failures too. Things that you ruin your mood, wipe off your smile for a few hours and make you wish when the next day would arrive. I don’t wish for happy days, and neither do I wish for sad ones. I wish for mundane days when I get to go through a routine, with a coherent shift of emotions guiding me throughout the day.


2017 was also a wonderful year on a grand scale. This article outlines 99 events that make it a year worth remembering: https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-2017-was-a-good-year-d119d0c32d19

I want to start 2018 by keeping a checklist of things that I wish I did – first one being either skydiving or scuba diving. I do believe in resolutions but not in the conventional way. I find it impossible to shred yourself off of the old habits and inculcate new ones in a span of 24 hours. My resolution is to change one simple habit every month that would help me in the long run.

As the holidays slowly come to a close, it is time to again kick-start another semester filled with hectic schedules, monumental learning and hopefully lot more memories. Holidays help you not just to take a break and relax. They also show you why you love the high of working productively. Wishing everyone an amazing New Year!


Walking Left to Walking Right – A Thousand Miles Away #4

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been working for the last 80 years to find out what makes an individual happy, and how to lead a healthy life.


I recently watched a TED Talk by Robert Waldinger on this topic, and it got me really interested. 80 odd years ago, the scientists at Harvard began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores during the Great Depression. Out of those, only 19 still survive and they are all in their mid-90s. This is one of THE longest research happening in the world right now. The topic that they are researching on is so important, that I feel everyone should know the result obtained so far.

Money. Power. Status. Job Role. No, none of these help you lead a happy and healthy life. Good relationships – those are what matter at the end of the day (or, at the end of your life). Those are what help you feel sane when everything around you seems to crumble. This is what the study has discovered. If you are interested, you should definitely watch this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI

Looking back at the last 30 days, I vividly remember doing the following:

  1. Doing something that you never should – Overthinking.

This is (legit) an underground passage that leads to the Burke Theological library at Columbia.

I kept mulling over my past and future a lot. The concerns revolved about both professional and private life. Am I going behind job roles that I really want or just those I think would help me build my Resume? Did I say something wrong? Should I be the one to apologize first? Am I wasting too much time on things that don’t help me?

It’s good to be inquisitive and ask yourself these questions from time to time. But after a point, I found them extremely self-destructive. If your mind is a living room, start removing the clutters. The things and people that make you feel small. Take a paper and start listing out activities or people that truly make you happy, and focus on that. There’s just NO other solution.

During undergraduation, you know you have four years in your hand to build relationships and find ways to build your hard and soft skills. Graduate school is so short that I’m baffled to realize 1/3rd of my experience is over. There is so much going on all the time, you cannot be an all-rounder. No point of being one. In my opinion, here, the best lesson you can learn is how to streamline your time to only do the things you absolutely care about.

  1. More networking:


If you had read my previous post, you would remember my craze for networking. As December arrives, the number of interviews drop down exponentially and a kind of subtle dormancy begins to settle in. When you see recruiters becoming unresponsive, you subconsciously begin to decrease your effort. I fell into this trap too initially. Thankfully, there was one good day when I went all out and reached out to all of my unresponsive contacts in my excel sheet.

In hindsight, I’m very lucky that I did. Many of the leads that I have now came from there. You might think getting an interview call is the hardest part, until you realize half of the work lies on the other side of it.

  1. Catching up to deadlines:

There was a week where I had to wrap up two projects, complete a major assignment, prepare for one of the most important presentations and still learn to breathe. Looking back, it’s such an exhilarating feeling to be productive (disclaimer: being productive is very subjective though).



I realize now that the number of events that I attended went down significantly compared to the first month. You can only make sacrifices here, you just cannot make time. I remember having a conversation with this alumnus who concisely explained how grad life would be: “You have three pillars – Study, Sleep and Socialize. You can only be a master of two out of three.” The veracity of this statement is uncanny.


  1. A few beautiful memories

Snow. Oh, such beautiful snow.

This could be trivial to most people. But there’s something hauntingly beautiful about watching an aggregation of ice crystals sneakily falling upon everything around you.


Do you wanna build a snowman?

The first day it started snowing, my roommate came rushing down screaming. We spent an hour going to the park and playing with it. I really hope I’m as excited about snow every single year from now.

The four seasons!

Look at the change that a tree undergoes in a span of one month – there’s something sad and unique about that.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. And the holiday period in general.



On the list of things I love about this country, one of the top would be the conducive nature of people, especially around holiday times. Holiday lunches, dinners, stress-relief puppy parties, midnight free pancakes are commonplace events around this time. I vividly remember the night we went to a magnificently decorate church for pancakes and cookies. The environment that I witnessed in that room that day – watching people huddle around tables, laughing, writing sweet messages on Christmas cards – can seldom be replicated again.


In just 8 more days, the University will be declared officially close for the winter. And in 16 more days, another year gone by. If every year was a book, we are in the last few pages. We should make it worth it.

P.S. As always, a few funny (?) snaps.

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.


  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:





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.


  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:


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.



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:


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:



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!


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:


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.


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.


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.


  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.


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.


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.


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.


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”


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:


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:


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:


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


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:


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,


(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:


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.


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!