Series Editor: Liza Tom.You can read the other TGG articles here.
Nostalgia is very powerful. A mosaic of memories from the past four years flood my mind as I flounder to find those that can be put in words and worthy of sharing. A line from a book I recently read (and recommend) echoes the feeling in every cell in my body at this moment.
You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. You’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.
-Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Graduation day, speeches and farewells instil you to dive headlong, with much zest and strong resolutions, into the “real” world. I have hopes and fears for the future that are a distinct outcome of all the experiences I have had in insti.
On being non – male
This piece is addressing a very niche problem and I am well aware of that. Yet, it is an issue that one cannot ignore.
The appalling sex ratio on campus is well-known and the inconveniences and privileges that ensue are now routine. In my final year, as usual, I set out to arm myself with fundaes from seniors and peers about placements. Something that I heard innumerable times was that companies were always looking to balance their sex ratio and my competition for a coveted day-1 offer was mainly other girls. There was certainly an undercurrent of resentment toward “us-lucky” girls that was quickly concealed with a laugh. I have heard people say that some of my female peers who got into top universities were picked over a “more-worthy” boy candidate to contribute to the diversity at the institution. So who asks these questions and thinks these thoughts? EVERYBODY – XX and XY alike. Very slowly, I had become embarrassed at the distinction that followed me for being a woman.
Sometimes, people out there are just looking harder for a woman who deserves a place in their organization. There isn’t shame in that. I won’t deny that maybe some worthy men do get overlooked in the process or that there are positions or quotas filled as a form of tokenism rather than based on merit. But does that give anybody the right to belittle a woman’s success, worse still by claiming that the bar has been lowered for her? Hypothetically, suppose the said female’s history included being a core, two epic internships, winning a national championship and oozing suaveness and confidence that was palpable the moment she entered the room and she got a day 1 dream job. Don’t just shrug and give an all-knowing look and say, “She’s a girl da”. In the same way, if a woman is not able to perform her duties competently, the fault is not that she is female, it lies elsewhere.
Using gender as the foremost factor to judge an individual is immature. A positive change in attitude is very welcome. It has taken me some time to accept that scrutiny and recognition of my abilities will often be in the backdrop of my gender, but I have chosen to not let that affect me.
From one of those Quora posts
This article called ‘What happened to the women who graduated from IITs in the 90s” makes me uncomfortable is so many ways. We are looking at women who got the same stellar opportunities as their male counterparts when they graduated. Yet, there are very few women at the top of their fields, where major decisions are taken. Unfortunately, having a supportive life partner, adequate child care and “work-life” balance are still topics discussed in the context of women. Also, as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her TED talk (and her book), many women still fall short in self-confidence and ambition as compared with men. You may now be as furious as I was at the claim, but hear me out.
Personal motivation is hugely sculpted by upbringing and opportunities available, but also by expectations and prejudices of our peers and society, including the kind of attitude I was pointing to earlier in the article. Sheryl cites studies (do look up the Heidi/Howard study) that imply that likeability and success are negatively correlated for women. So, if women pay penalties for doing what their male counterparts do in order to rise, it could subtly transform one’s idea of what should and can be achieved.
Closer home, dear XX in insti, have you ever felt like a burden when you are the only girl on the team and the venue for fundae session/meeting was shifted from a hostel room to the department? But, nobody else gave that a second thought or looked accusingly at you. Does your male teammate seem to have all the updates before you because he had lunch with the (male) core? But, the boys are also good friends and exchanged some notes at the mess table. Do you hesitate before asking help from a male classmate? But, your classmate (assume a non-RG one) would be more than willing to help you out, just like he helps his other friends. In a system that is not ideal (isolated hostels, messes and a skewed sex-ratio), women tend to get conscious of their gender even when their peers don’t discriminate. The message here is not to channel the criticism toward women, but to warn them that drive and poise must be sustained even if the system is not fully inclusive yet.
While another batch of the cream of country graduates and heads out in different directions, its attitude toward women is certainly going to affect all of us. Yes, there are women (and men) who don’t want both a career and family and some others who don’t care about ascending the ladder, because they are trying to eke out a living. We are talking about a few privileged women who have had the education and resources to make it to the top. But wouldn’t you expect that of a graduate from IIT, of any gender, to be leaders and at the top of their fields?
I want to see a world where choice is not just an illusion.
Connecting the dots
There is something about insti that makes you feel like anything is possible. It’s a small world that mimics the world outside to some extent (I like to think of it as a projection on a lower dimensional space), but is way more forgiving and liberal with second chances. The exposure I had in insti strongly influenced my perspective.
As a fresher, my year was marked with scattered activities, and I quickly jumped from one to another, making lots of friends that slowly got pruned over the years and exploring the breadth of activities going on in insti. I found little satisfaction in so many of the things I took up and decided to pursue something specific in the following year. Web Operations caught my attention, but I found myself struggling with it. I was fascinated by the ease with which some of my fellow coordinators handled the work. I learnt from here to realise that if one is truly passionate about something, one doesn’t count the hours dedicated to the purpose or the number of hurdles faced. Working on something that drives you can make you obsess about attaining perfection and push your boundaries, and leave you tired, but insanely satisfied at the end of the day.
Although I mostly detested classes in my first few semesters, as time proceeded and more electives were offered, I got to explore some of these options and interact with a few professors who clearly knew what they were doing. I am inspired by the vision that they have and acknowledge their contribution in shaping my plans for the future. We also had the fortuity to attend lectures by champions of their respective fields. There is something about seeing achievers in their flesh (and breathing the same molecules) that makes me believe that big impact and big dreams do happen. Moreover, the tag of graduating from an IIT has definitely given me a head start. I had been granted the luxury of dreaming big and I know that my capabilities and time are valued even more by virtue of a legacy left behind, to which I will certainly contribute.
In my third year, I had a whirlwind romance with neuroscience and a new hobby, graphic design. I went to workshops in computational neuroscience in both the summer and winter, took a course and did a summer internship. Being Lit-Sec was rewarding and consuming. Among so many activities that competed for attention, LitSoc frankly didn’t add much to your resume, and one participated for the abstract notions of hostel spirit, happiness and friendships. I felt that year, that some of our hostel spirit had been rekindled.
At the end of the year, though, I was not satisfied about pursuing neuroscience. It was a young and upcoming field with so many open problems and I truly felt like I lacked the intuition to distinguish between the different problems and approaches. I felt lost in the myriad of information that was laid out before me, that left me more confused than I had started out. I had reached a saturation with graphic design and was at the end of my high-octane honeymoon phase with it, that could only be countered if I put in more of my time to learn new things and challenged myself. I had a highly skewed grade card, obtaining a beautiful spectrum of grades (I had obtained almost all the grades that insti offers) on my grade card. I was still sufficiently on the right side of the Gaussian curve because of my good performance from the previous years. I was spent and confused, and fourth year was already here.
Emotions were running high that semester, with everyone stressing about university applications, entrance tests and placements. In hindsight (which of course is always 20/20), it was all quite unnecessary. When you are in insti, and constantly bombarded by opinions and people talking about their plans, very trivial matters quickly escalate into seemingly monstrous decisions and issues. Most of us, at some point in insti, have been guilty of doing something because it is considered cool or important and trying to convince ourselves that we enjoy doing it. Some of us learnt quickly to find our own groove, and some of us haven’t yet. It was my connection with juniors who weren’t going through this artificial stress, with seniors who seemed to be unwavering like icebergs and my closest friends who reassured me of the light at the end of the tunnel, that made me appreciate the journey and not be anxious about the destination.
I was confused between an MS or PhD, whether to do a degree in fine arts, study in Europe or the US, study neuroscience or biomedical, take up a technical or non-technical job, join an IIM or drop the next year and do a project. I was not narrow in my choice of interests or what to pursue for a profession. With every company that rejected my resume, I fell a little more. It took me a few months to not let a judgement passed by someone who looked at my resume for 30 seconds determine what I was capable of reaching for. I pretended to be someone else in the interviews I sat for, feigning interest in their business. But, you can’t convince others if you aren’t convinced about it yourself. At the end of this journey, that gave me so many striking realizations of who I was, I got the one job that my profile fit perfectly for, enabling me to do what I love doing and challenges me constantly. I am also confident that it will open more doors for me in the future. Plus, I was back home for a couple of years before I fly from the nest again.
In decision analysis (from another interesting book Breakthroughs in Decision Science and Risk Analysis by Louis A. Cox), the “success” of a choice can be assessed by several criteria: minimization of expected post-decision regret; logical consistency with one’s preferences for and beliefs about probable consequences; making the same choice again in the same situation given the same information. I believe my decisions were fairly “successful” in these aspects. But, a few lessons I will make note of.
My stint in biomedical has enlightened me that we can mimic only a crude, degraded version of the wonders of the human body and abusing the body is not our right.
Don’t be afraid. Getting embarrassed or potential failure should not stop you from trying something.
For four years, I never got the courage to go up on stage for any of the oratory club events.
Don’t do something only because it is difficult to do. That does not automatically make it better.
It was a friend, who pointed out that unknowingly we all connect something as being better – university admit, job, award, position of responsibility – based on the acceptance rate. You aspire to that goal without considering whether it is actually enjoyable.
Insti is only as good as the people who live in it. And those people have been an amazing set of individuals I have had the pleasure of making memories with.
So, that’s that amigos.
And of course, everyone has a story. Go make your own.
About the author: Pragathi Praveena graduated this year with a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering and was one of the Institute Blues awardees. She was the LitSec of Sharav for 2013-2014 and helped bring home the trophy for the first time ever. She is now working at Xerox Research Centre, Bangalore.