From being an 8 am-12 am lab workaholic to someone who went 0n to work with the team that made RSD possible, Mahesh Kurup, MS scholar from Thermal Engineering (Mechanical Department) talks of his time spent in insti and how the four years he spent in the campus molded him into what he is today. In the four years he was here, he made his presence felt in the Placement team of MS and PhD scholars, Shaastra (as Sponsorship and Public Relations Core) and also in SAC through its Constitution Redrafting Committee. This is the fifth in the ‘Through the Goggles of a Graduate’ series.
When someone asks about insti, it’s always hard to know where to begin. It is like a song buzzing in your head, the first line of which you cannot remember. There’s so much I want to write, that the space seems meager . It has truly been a phenomenal journey, from being a 8 am-12 am lab workaholic, to join hands with a lot of enthusiastic insti junta to make our dreams come true. It hasn’t of course been a smooth and conventional ride.
In the first few months of my time in the institute, very few knew of my existence. The 8 am – 12 am routine, immersed in journals and thesis and manuals, broke when I first attended a meeting with Ishitha and co. at Research Carrels. With some enthusiasm left over from 4 years of B.Tech, I started working with a group of highly motivated research scholars to support our fellow men and women. It wasn’t difficult to identify the issues faced by scholars because they were too obvious. However, the answers to them weren’t. The answers to each were so diverse; many times there being none at all. But the true shortcoming was identified- there existed no space to bring in over twenty hundred scholars to one place! Nothing to unite them under one roof. There was no avenue where they could ask questions, seek answers for their anxiety, be it about research, placements, opportunities or industry interaction. In fact, it wouldn’t be completely wrong to say that the scholars were cut off from the rest of the institute. The Research Scholars’ Day was hence established as a brainchild for redressal of similar issues. Had it not been for the hard work and leadership of Ishitha and the support from Prof. Sarit Kumar Das and Prof. L.S. Ganesh, it wouldn’t have been possible to pull off an event of this grandeur in a matter of just 25 days. There were times when the team itself had doubts if the program was serious, and it took a strong sense of purpose and dedication to motivate a team with no prior experience in event management. Finally, the event was a success and is going to be conducted annually. Hats off, Ishitha.
Hardships of research and academics, together with project deadlines caught up and I soon went incognito for months. The expectations were sky high, but my interests were too diverse. Soon I realized this was “the Road Taken”. I faced two choices- to continue as a benevolent scholar with only pure research focus, or to explore the land of infinite opportunities, imbibe and learn at every step. Thanks to Robert Frost and his “Road not taken” ringing in my head, I chose the latter. The choice wasn’t easy. The road not taken could have been a dead end, and so would have been my stay at this prestigious institute I aspired to graduate from, ever since I heard about it. It could have trashed age old dreams of mine and my parents. With all the counseling I could manage, I changed my stream, project and lab while I chose to stay back. Thanks to Mr. Oswald Lobo and Prof. Sarit Kumar Das, the then Research Affair Secretary and Dean (Research), for their continuous support, during the darkest days of my institute life. Although MS is projected as a flagship course of IIT Madras, the administration, despite being serious in their efforts, is slow paced in its efforts to make research environment more conducive. Meanwhile, we conducted the next edition of RSD.
With a new found freedom, and sense of responsibility developed through empathy, I set out to apply for the post of MS Councillor. The mandate was clear: the institute needs to be more inclusive. RSD was just the first step in engaging the stakeholders, but not the permanent solution to the enigma. IIT is an obvious choice given the scope and opportunity, so it all had to begin with placements. As an organizer, we were blessed to have a dynamic and dedicated team, and pulled off one of the best placement seasons in the recent history. But more importantly, there was so much to learn at every step from everyone! It was intriguing to find a team with conflicting interests working so cohesively. Other than the amiability and open mindedness of the members, Vishranth Suresh, the then AAS, does deserve some credit here. Gladly, this is still my hangout group. The efforts from institute side, especially Prof. Babu Viswanathan, to better realize the aspirations of postgraduate students in terms of better campus hiring was quite laudable. His dedication and sheer focus was always an inspiration for the whole team. In fact, it would be unfair not to confess that many of us idolized him.
Inherent political interests had certainly helped me in the SAC. It was a steep transition from a college atmosphere in Kerala where students dictated the terms to a place where it was the polar opposite. However, I am glad to note that institute is becoming more open to dialogue. But yes, we have a long way to go. The new SAC, or SLC as it is called now, shall in conjunction with the administration, frame robust policies to ensure academic integrity among all the stakeholders. Free dialogue between the students and administration is cardinal for dynamic changes and continuous improvement in a competitive landscape. It is hence important for the SLC to engage students in the best way possible, through new and innovative frameworks and publicity measures. I am sure Venkat, the incumbent Speaker can do a great job there. While the literal majority of postgraduate students stay miles away from “PoRs”, it provides a good deal of learning and helps in imbibing professionalism. The Sponsorship and Public Relations team at Shaastra provided me with infinite scope to learn, from co-cores and coordinators likewise.
Most of my efforts in last three years were focused on bringing the PG students under one umbrella and bridging the gap between undergraduate and postgraduate sections of the students. Ideally, this classification should not exist. However, I presume we are on the right track now. Through various measures like RSD and Misram, we have brought in the PG students together, to an extent, and established that both the sections have similar skill sets and interests. While there are prejudices and vindications from both sides, as I walked out of insti last month I certainly miss my undergraduate peers. They are nice people (:P). Efforts shall be made from both sections, facilitated by the administration. There was a lot that I learned from my peers like Aditya Bharadwaj, Sashank Vandrangi, Vandana Bhaskaran, Shivaprasad, Bhavik and Shashanka. There were takeaways from each one I got a chance to interact in the campus.
If anyone asks me what IIT did to me, I can confidently answer “It made me think differently, it made me efficient”. Of course, it has multiple attributes and I do not wish to get into the functionalities here, but the two, or four or five years in the institute is a period of transition from being a “nerd” to an “analyst”. Insti is a mine, if you dig at the right place you will get gold. Keep digging, you could get diamonds. IIT Madras has never been a place for people who get content with what they have always been doing. It is for high achievers. It is for people who want to get their hands full with new things. Each day it teaches something new, may be a new line or a new perspective. It is for people who want to take the better out of everything they do. All you need to do is to keep your mind and eyes open, and jump in. Take risks, there will be no easier time to do that. Follow your dream, your passion, nothing can stop you. Propel your way through. This is especially my advice to Masters Students in campus. Learning isn’t confined to the boundaries of your lab, or field. It is also important to grow intellectually, while growing technically. While we explore the technical offerings really well, don’t miss out on the other part.
Many would ask whether a Masters degree acquired roughly as long as a Bachelors is worth it, but most of my conversations these days end this way, “Dude, Insti has changed me so much”.
(Thank you Vandana Bhaskaran [HS 2010-15] for edits and suggestions)