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I entered IIT-M four years ago, with a love for physics cultivated from high school mixed with ignorance of what the various branches of engineering were really all about. I wanted to explore more, and Engineering Physics (EP) seemed to provide exactly that sort of flexibility and open-endedness. In my first semester, I received well-intentioned but unsolicited advice from seniors to the effect, “All is not lost. You can still try for a branch-change to Electrical or Mechanical Engineering.” (Computer Science, of course, is outside the reach of most mortals.)
A few days ago, I found myself at the other end of the advice transaction when I reassured the father of an EP-inclined freshly-minted JEE ranker that things will be okay. This little exchange induced me to introspect a little. Do I have any regrets about my choice? I think not. But did things turn out the way I had anticipated? Certainly not, and I say that happily because I would be a much poorer person without all the perspective-altering experiences that the institute provides.
Four years hence, that boy will probably sit down to write his ‘Through the Goggles of a Graduate’ article. I hope that he too has no regrets then, irrespective of whether he chooses to pursue his career in theoretical physics, banking or biomedical engineering, like my friends from EP have done, or anything else altogether.
As an aside, it’s a little surreal, how this transition from advice-seeker to advice-giver happens. One moment you are the starry-eyed freshie, hanging on to every word of the self-possessed senior standing before you. Fast forward three years, and you are supposed to be the wise battle-hardened veteran, ready with answers to “Which Saarang coordinator position should I apply to, to boost my chances of getting placed in a finance company?”
My parents tell me these days, with a hint of wistfulness, that I’ve changed since IIT-M happened to me. I agree, and I hope that the positive changes outweigh the negative ones. From a diffident teenager to a self-confident adult capable of giving diplomatic replies to questions such as the one in the preceding paragraph. From one who would trust only home-cooked food to one whose immune system has passed the mess test with flying colours. From someone who thought that the cutting edge of physics was HC Verma, to one who I hope has a passable knowledge of the many things listed on his academic transcript, courtesy some great courses, a few not-so-good courses, many banal assignments and several mind-bending ones.
Aside from academics, swimming had been an integral part of my life during my schooldays, and it continued to be so during my time at IIT-M. My participation in swimming and water polo at the Inter-IIT level taught me profound lessons on what it means to be part of a team. When you realise that the first person to arrive for practice at 5.30 am has been regularly working until past midnight at CFI, and when the best goalkeeper at Inter-IIT tells you candidly that he didn’t even make through NSO aquatics selections in his first year, you can only be inspired by their drive and work ethic. My seniors’ commitment to the team was reflected in their desire to not only be the best that they could be, but also to leave a lasting legacy by training a strong team for the future.
This sort of passion is ubiquitous in other spheres of campus life as well. I have been fortunate to have interacted with some extremely gifted professors. Their passion and dedication for teaching, research and mentoring make them true role models. I have constantly been awed by the passion shown by my peers, in fields as diverse as music, theatre and robotics. IIT-M not only attracts a diverse pool of talented and hard-working people, but also provides a conducive environment for them to attain their creative best in a plethora of fields, both academic and otherwise. This is probably its greatest strength.
But most importantly, IIT-M has given me some unforgettable friendships. Some of them were built on the foundations of common traits and mutual interests. Some of them flowered in spite of the absence of these factors. Over the course of long conversations and shared experiences, I have laughed, learnt and grown. For that I am eternally grateful.
As I reminisce about my time at IIT-M, random memories effervesce to the surface. For instance, sitting amidst a hundred raucous fans in Jamuna’s common room and watching a marathon Djokovic-Nadal Australian Open final. A voice in my head vainly tried to tell me to go study for my EC1010 Quiz-I the next day. But I stayed, naively asking myself: just how hard can a quiz based solely on Ohm’s Law be? The answer came with our papers two days later: hard enough that a score of 5.5/15 was still above class average. Maybe it is to incidents like this that people refer when they say, “IIT-M prepares you for life in the real world”.
Is there something I wished was different at IIT-M? Yes, the civic sense and consideration of most of us leave much to be desired. The chronic queue jumping in messes, callous tossing out of used pizza cartons from the third floor into the hostel quadrangle, and clogging of hostel washbasins because somebody decided to shave that day and couldn’t be bothered to clean up: these and similar sights reflect extremely poorly on us, the so-called cream of the country. If only we were a little less selfish and a little more thoughtful, I’m sure our beautiful campus would be a much more pleasant place to live in.
I leave IIT-M nearly as uncertain about what I will be doing five years from now as I was when I entered it. But if there’s one lesson that I’ve learnt from my time here, it’s this: there are always so many exciting things to get involved in, so much more left to learn, and so many interesting people to get to know, that it’s okay to be a little uncertain sometimes.
About the author: Akshay Krishna graduates with a B.Tech in Engineering Physics. He has 11 Inter-IIT records to his name. He also received the Governor’s Prize and is an Insti Blues awardee. He is headed to Princeton University for a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering.