T5E brings to you a collection of precious moments from the insti lives of some of our ’14 passouts in a week-long mini-series, which you can check out here. The third in the series, Jithin Sam Varghese talks about his five years on campus.
I’ve tried hard not to make this piece sound like advice or an elaborate version of my resume, but instead to put forward a recollection of those things which have helped me become a better person in the five years I have spent at insti. I hope that you will be able to relate some of the instances here with your own ‘insti’ experiences, and with what helped you grow, as you read this article.
For me, insti is where friends became family. It’s taught me the value of following your passion, let me fulfill my need to live for something more than myself, and helped me understand my inadequacies. In the process, I’ve learnt quite a few important lessons, ones which I would like to share with you- while they are totally non-academic in nature, I feel that they can be useful in an academic context as well.
Overconfidence dealt me my first academic defeat in insti. I had failed the English ‘O’ Level test designed to identify those students who, according to insti rules, required additional classes in Communicative English. Whatever be the reason for my failure at that point of time, it was quite embarrassing, because I considered myself to be pretty good at English and refused to accept that I could fail such a simple test, while many of the peers who I considered to be my equals cleared it. It shattered my confidence and made me introspect about what I wished to make of myself in IIT Madras.
It helped me resign myself to the fact that I needed to change my perspective on victory and defeat, and do it fast.
Learning From Peers
Your friends and your teams can teach you many valuable lessons if you keep your mind open to constructive criticism. My team in third year helped me realize that I cracked easily under pressure, and that I needed to accept difficult situations, keep a calm head and move on, if I was to become better. I can’t say with complete confidence that I don’t crack ever, now, but I strongly believe that I’ve gotten much better at dealing with unpredictable and unplanned interruptions.
Follow Your Interests, Not the Godfather Tag
My insti life was quite typical. I had no natural skill in lit or sports and wasn’t intuitively attracted to tech, so I followed those inspirational seniors who were insti secretaries or Shaastra/Saarang cores. To me then, reaching their level was the pinnacle of glory in insti. It couldn’t have been a wrong notion to begin with, I feel, as all of them have gone on to do many amazing things in their short careers. However, I let my gut feel choose my PoRs, instead of the typical career-path or an insti Godfather. This may sound cliche, but I tried hard to choose those PoRs for which I had genuine passion, things which I believed I could make a difference in and not those which would look better in my resume or would guarantee a core/secretary position.
I could go on to talk a great deal regarding PoRs because, having taken up at least three each year, they more or less defined my insti life. Shaastra, Saarang, I&AR all look good on your resume. But what matters the most is the impact you are able to make in the organizations you become part of, and whether you are able to make a positive difference. Try choosing your PoRs with that perspective. Passion over resume, always!
On Unconventional Interns and Choosing a Field
I realized very late that I was really interested in Healthcare. Devoid of contacts that could get me amazing internships, I tried to take up the off-beat ones. The four internships I did were in a genetic engineering lab, an internship portal startup, the HR division of a newspaper and a public policy NGO. I realized exactly what I did not want to do, through these internships. Sometimes, you read about things and get so fascinated by them that you start believing that they are your true calling. I suggest interning in those sectors. This will help you get a fresh perspective on what it means to be working on the ground. Do as many internships as possible, and read as much as possible on management-finance-healthcare-HR-business-policy-economics. See what people around the world and your age are up to and get impressed, inspired and motivated by them and their work. When you find something you will enjoy making a difference to, put in your complete effort into it.
I had a really inspirational project guide, Prof. Anju Chadha, who let me propose my own project, brought up amazing insights derived from years of research and observation, and helped me tally my fourth year Internship with my DDP. Along with Dr. Mahalakshmi (CMO, IIT Madras), we worked on generic medicines and I learned a lot (more than just about the pharma industry) through that project. She recommended me for the 48th Indian Pharmaceutical Congress Prize (for the best project in Biotechnology) which I received at Alumni Day.
Try to Start Something New
Starting something is always hard. I have had the pleasure of being an involved member in teams that started organizations in insti. The best part about beginning a new project in insti is that you get to see the “management” side of faculty. You learn to see their persistence and discipline from a whole new perspective. I had the good fortune to work with faculty and other institute staff in starting Biofest, Shaastra Analytics and the I&AR Student Council. You learn so much about people once you start things, and also learn how to get along with others, get work done and set reasonable targets. The latter I am still learning to master!
Give Something Back!
Finally, at least once in your insti life, put IIT Madras first on your priority list and do something to further its name. Once we leave the campus, we will realize the value of this degree and how it opens all kinds of doors for us. There are numerous ways to do this. Join any non-Shaastra/Saarang team (Shaastra and Saarang typically draw enthusiastic students courtesy the reputation that past cores/coords have built post-placements as well as the magnitude of the events) that aims to create a positive impact in insti- just from this, you’ll understand that everyone, be it the director, the deans, the HoDs, the faculty, the alumni or the staff, are trying to make IIT Madras better for the students. I had the privilege to learn a lot from some of our deans and profs whom I got to interact with closely. All of them wish us well.
I wish you all the very best. Do check out our alumni blog at http://alumni.iitm.ac.in/chennai36 — people wiser and older than me have shared their experiences there. A lot can be learnt from them! Let’s make insti proud to have had us. I wish to end with a request. Whatever our feelings/resentments may be, let us not damage the reputation of this temple of learning which, even if not perfect in everyone’s eyes, is sure to do nothing but aid us in our quest for success.
About the author: Jithin Sam Varghese was a Dual Degree student of Biotechnology, a Shaastra core, and the first Institute Secretary of International and Alumni Relations. This year, he graduates having won the Indian Pharmaceutical Congress’s prize for the best biotechnology project.
If you graduated this Convocation, and would like to share your experiences on T5E, get in touch with us very soon at [email protected].