Edited by Rohini Dikshit
Design by Elakkeya
You are in 12th grade, done with your board exams and cartloads of entrance exams, hoping you would crack at least one of them. But, you want that one thing that everyone is ambitious about – getting into one of the IITs. Most of your life was spent hearing all your uncles, aunts, older cousins (who had graduated from IIT) telling you about how wonderful life at IIT is. You keep dreaming about getting into one of the top IITs. You try playing it cool, yet the tension is unbearable. You cannot do anything but wait.
Fast forward a couple of months. Your dream has come true. You finally made it to IIT. Not just any IIT: you made it to IIT Madras. Everyone’s focus is on you. Your parents are proud. All the elders in the family are proud of you. All the youngsters are looking up to you. Overnight, you have become their role model. You are beaming with pride. You enter college while experiencing a multitude of emotions – happiness, fear, apprehension, and maybe a little sad about leaving home. You make up your mind that insti is going to be your home for the next few years.
Fast forward. You are in your final year. You don’t know how the time went by. You are very different from the person you were when you entered the insti. Perhaps most of your college life was swallowed up by a global pandemic. Yet, during the time you spent at insti, you made lots of memories. People consider you lucky and think life at IIT is the happiest. What else do you need, they ask. What they don’t know is that though there are many memorable moments, you have your own share of regrets.
T5E spoke to a diverse bunch of final years to see what they regretted. While a lot of them came about as an eye-opener for themselves, they were happy to share them with us. “Juniors, please don’t do what we did”, they said.
Though everybody speaks about the colourful side of insti life, our final years talked about the things they wished they had done differently. Networking was something that they regret not doing. Being in a highly competitive environment, everyone was so worried about their grades and placements that they forgot to live.
“I could have talked to more people and to people more. I feel that I experienced less exposure to diverse ideas and thoughts that could’ve helped me be on level with my most accomplished peers.”
“As a typical, popularly romanticised IITian nerd who had had very little social exposure before, this place would’ve been an ideal place for me to build relationships with people, but I didn’t put a lot of effort on it. I regret this the most.”
Another group of people talked about the time they spent worrying about not being able to talk to a lot of people and how, in the process, they were oblivious to strengthening their bonds with the people whose personality resonated with them.
“Insti has its own culture that gets promoted knowingly or unknowingly. Being an ambivert, it was difficult for me to place things and people, and myself in it. It was only in the fifth semester that I figured that there are people who are not necessarily too loud, and strengthening the relationship with them would do me good. I do wish I had known this earlier.”
Spending less time being concerned about your future and more time exploring yourself through different opportunities was something that all of the final years emphasised in a single tone. ‘Explore, explore, explore’, is what they said.
“I have always wanted to perform a dance on a stage with many people cheering for me. I never tried, or maybe, never realised that this thought was still prevailing in my head. Recently when I went through the “Legends and Myths in Insti” article, I almost cried. I have never visited Aerowell. I knew the legend behind it, but never got time or thought of going there.”
“Certain things might seem small or insignificant to you right now but once you are out of insti, you’ll have to remember that you will not get a chance to fulfil them and these things which seemed small, will now occupy your mind and remain stuck there, deep inside. So always keep reminding yourself about your “Laalach”, whether they may be about something small or big.”
“Remember this is IIT. There is a lot going on, every single day. Explore as many opportunities as you can. Participate in hackathons, case studies, seminars, and competitions. Look out for smails, there’s a lot more than you think can be achieved through them.”
Be it any reason, ranging from COVID to the unknowingly or fearfully lost opportunities, most of the seniors regret idle time in hostel rooms and collectively urge the junior batches to explore and engage as much as possible into both the competitive and non-competitive activities.
“I wish I had been more intentional with my time and picked up a few hobbies. I wish I could have found a balance between work and having fun. I wish I had engaged in non competitive activities more.”
The regrets concerning academics and PoRs were also diverse and can serve as eye-openers to the current batches. They emphasised on the fact that IIT Madras provides an unparalleled amount of academic freedom and opportunities to develop your skills. From student clubs to internships, there are an infinite number of paths one can take during their exploration of academics and career options. Many students regret not being aware of the vast range of opportunities available to them, or not being industrious enough to make use of them.
“When I stepped into insti, I felt like I was free from all the stress, competition, and responsibilities that were surrounding me since my 10th standard. I felt relieved and started to explore the outside world without actually having the fear of grades. However in my third year, I realised that I have a CGPA that is in no way useful to get me an internship. I’ve wasted a whole lot of precious time and got myself canned”
The pandemic intensified such regrets, bringing about the perpetual guilt of not being able to concentrate in online classes and missing out on important concepts.
“I feel like the online semesters made it difficult to be consistent in attending classes and paying attention, in the absence of a classroom environment. Coupled with lax proctoring in exams, it was a gateway to good grades at the cost of not learning much.”
Some of the decisions that were taken to push oneself out of their comfort zone did not go well either. However, the satisfaction of going out of the way to try something new prevails.
“I chose a high level elective just to try, and ended up with a horrible grade”
Although the health-related regrets were not many, those who have them suggest prioritising health along with academics and other avenues.
“Health became my last priority on campus. I should have worked out and eaten healthy.”
Looking at the big picture, some seniors regret how they spent most of their time in insti, but at the same time recognize that they owe much of their success and future prospects to the sacrifices they made here.
The following is a reflection on the social and academic choices made by a senior who reflects on certain things they regret despite having achievements that would be considered to indicate a successful time in IIT:
I am overall quite happy with my stint in IITM. I have made plenty of good friends and developed my skills professionally. I have been involved in the sport that I have always loved (basketball) extensively and have made plenty of great friends and mentors on the court. I have made use of most of the professional opportunities that IITM made available to kickstart my professional journey.
But I do believe that I did not undergo the massive transformation that I had hoped I would undergo, when I joined IITM. It was supposed to be the best educational experience one could get in the country (NIRF rank 1 and all) – one that, if Quora was to be believed, would transform you intellectually and personally. However, I am mostly the same person that I was when I came into IITM. While I have more confidence in myself, in some areas, I believe I have become less outgoing and less capable of losing myself in the moment.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the final result of it all, in a professional sense. The usual indicator of how well you have done in insti is placements and I did quite well there. Above that, I have confidence that I will be able to succeed in the industry. I have truly grown in the sense that what was earlier just overconfidence, has been replaced with confidence that is more grounded and I am also more aware of my limitations. In this process, I have had anxiety attacks and feelings of not being sure of myself, which I was able to conquer by persevering and that will surely help me tackle more challenging situations in life.
So this is the story of my life in insti and what I wish I had done differently. Just before joining IITM, I had decided that I would focus on personal development and not go head on, into yet another rat race. Basketball was something I loved, that I had given up for a year, and I wanted to get back into it – and I did. However, I was terrible at time management and that meant that I did not find time for anything else. One of my initial goals was to venture outside my comfort zone – pick up a new sport, an instrument, a hobby, etc. But I never gave any of these things even a try. The basketball frenzy went on till second year, and that is honestly all I did for the first two years in insti.
From my third year, it was a different chapter for me. I put myself vigorously into “productive” things. Doing coding, data science, pursuing internships, etc. All to get whatever edge I could during placements. I did love doing these things, but I believe after a while, I was doing these things because I fell into a toxic productivity loop – where I could not feel happy with the day if I had not clocked a certain amount of work. The sad thing was, when Covid-19 struck and everyone was sent home, a part of me was glad that I would become more productive at home. So I kept at it, all the way till placements were over.
It was when placements were done, that I really felt regretful about all the things I could have done in insti. Specifically, I mostly regret the time I wasted in my first two years – I wish I could have managed my time more and explored more things with my friends, made deeper connections with some of them, etc. The reason I can not regret the choices I have made from my third year is, that I feel the last three years in IITM made me who I am professionally, and to reconsider those choices would mean that I will have to be okay not achieving the things that I have achieved, and I am honestly not okay with that.
I know friends who have undergone a true personal transformation, while also achieving the personal goals they have set. Some have truly made an effort to go outside their comfort zones and experience new things. I do not think I have even explored the whole campus – I mostly remained in and around the familiar places of the campus. I never went swimming, never actually saw all the elephant statues in insti, etc. I wish I had made deeper connections with friends from other departments. I wish I had been more intentional with my time and picked up a few hobbies. I wish I could have found a balance between work and having fun.
It is not all bad though. At a recent meetup with my school friends, I was able to let go and really be myself around them. I felt like I had rediscovered the person I used to be – more cheerful and able to just be in the moment. So I guess all your friendships in insti have a component of competition, however small, because of the competitive environment. Now that I think of it, most of the things I engaged myself in were competitive things – from basketball, to coding, to internships. I wish I had engaged in non competitive activities more.
When you are finally out in the real world, away from the cocoon of a spoon-feeding school system and the parental eye, you feel lost. This is a phase in life when one often does not have a clear-cut idea about the opportunities ahead of you. A whole lot of freedom ends up in a difficult situation of indecisiveness. The pressure of competition prevents you from trying out new things. Do not let it get to you. Try out the things you want to try without a competitive mind-set.
“Have fun on campus. Keep your eyes and ears always open for different opportunities. Explore as much as you can.”
Talking to people who have been through what you are about to experience is the best way to navigate your way, through both adulting as well as the gazelle-ion opportunities hidden in the bushes of the 600-acre campus.