Follow Your Heart: My Journey From Being An Engineer From IIT To Doing PhD In English
The season of exams are on and hundreds of students who wrote them and their anxious parents will be evaluating the results with mixed emotions, some elated and some disappointed. Exams are a stepping stone to a potential career but they do not completely decide your life. #MoreThanMarks is a campaign by The Logical Indian to bring out real-life stories of ordinary people who became successful despite their marks and to stress on the fact that you can be successful and lead a happy life even if you are/were not an academic topper.
“I have always been an ‘above average student’, but nothing extraordinary. But this did not stop me from working towards creating my own space; a space where I can be who I want to be”, says Nitya Pawar as she lounges comfortably under the shade of a gazebo. We are in the campus of Ashoka University, one of India’s best liberal arts universities. Nitya is pursuing a PhD in English at Ashoka, and I am there to know more about her journey.
“You cracked IIT-JEE and yet you say you were not an extraordinary student!?” I say
“Oh No! I never reached the much sought-after nineties, except in my ninth standard. My results in 10th and 12th says it all. In 10th, I got 89%. Since, I studied in a state board school, this score was considered quite high. It became a mark of my capability and my parents asked me to start preparing for JEE. I was so clueless at that time that when the director of the coaching instituate I was to attend, asked me the full form of IIT, I wasn’t able to answer.”
“Then why IIT?”
“I come from a typical Indian middle-class family, and like many other parents mine also wanted me to go for an engineering degree. I did not know any better myself so, I made their dreams my own. I put my head down and powered through endless hours of studying. Now you’d expect that after this, my result in 12th must have been good, right?”, she asks with a twinkle in her eye.
“Well, yes. Wasn’t it?” I say
“I got 84% in 12th.” she says and laughs.
“Then what about all the work that you put in? all the preparation that you did?” I ask
“It did pay off. I managed to get through JEE and secure a seat in one of the newly opened IIT’s, IIT Gandhinagar. Although it was right on the margin, but hey once you’re in you’re in, right?” she says with a smile. “It has always been like this for me. I have managed to get through things staying right on the edge, even when the odds were stacked against me. Now you may call it luck or hard-work or anything else, but personally I feel that it was because of the belief that I had in myself and my capabilities.”
Now it was my turn to smile. “What happened after you cracked JEE?”
“Oh! I was elated, ecstatic, and so many other superlative words!” she says laughing.
“Of course, but I mean how was it for you in IIT?”
“I am from a small town. For the longest time I wasn’t even aware of what IIT was. For me, cracking it was my biggest achievement. But, when I got there, I met these people from other places, who just viewed IIT as a stepping stone. Many of my batchmates used to be off-handed while talking about their JEE ranks, which were better than mine by a long shot. They talked about big things like foreign degrees, post-doctorates and whatnot; things about which I only had a vague idea. I realized that this was just a beginning.
It again got back to working hard, but this time it was just to keep up with my batchmates. Again, I was in the average tier, and just staying there took a lot of hard work and struggle. I averaged a CPI between 5-6 for the first six semesters and even got two F’s, my first Fail grades ever. I gave my all in the last two semesters and finished with a CPI of 6.25.” “Don’t take me wrong, it wasn’t just studying and slogging over projects of course. College was an environment of opportunities and I had some of my best experiences there. I met some of the best people there and forged lifelong friendships. It was there that I learned a lot about myself.”
“What would you consider to be most important thing that you learned?”
“That I do not want to pursue a career in engineering.” she laughs.
“You have to understand that it wasn’t by my own choice that I got into IIT. Yes, the hard work was mine but the choice had been made for me once I was through my 10th Std. You can say that this realization was a result of me learning to choose for myself, by myself.”
“That’s a good way to look at it. So, what did you do once you realized it?”
“I stuck to what I knew best. Hard work. Despite all of these realizations, I got through it. Again, with a very average result, but along with a whole bucket of experiences and learnings that serve me well even today.”
“What next then?”
“I was in the frustrating and difficult transitional period between undergraduate studies and the future. I had no idea about what I wanted to do. Whether it was a job, a change in disciplines, further studies in engineering itself, or something else altogether. I thought, “Hey! If it is a career I am confused about, why not take up a job where I get to learn about careers!?” Now what comes to mind when you think of such a place.”
“A career-fair?” I asked.
She laughs, “That, and also the career services of a University. There is a career development cell in IIT Gandhinagar. I applied for a job there and got hired.”
“That is quite resourceful of you.”
“So, what happened next?”
“I took up a job with the Career Development Services at IIT Gandhinagar. It was during this time that I got to work closely with the faculty of Humanities at IITGN, and they encouraged me to apply for the MA programme there. I was already considering it, so I wasted no time in applying.”
“Smooth sailing from thereon?”
“Of course not. You should know this by now, nothing comes smooth to me.” she laughs.
“In MA, I was competing against students who had a background in Humanities. It was another struggle. But this time I knew that I wanted a career in this field, and that helped me in working hard. It paid off. I got a CPI of 8.59. This is equivalent to an A grade.”
“So, what inspired you to go for a PhD?”
“A thirst for knowledge, if I am being honestly melodramatic.” This cracks both of us up. “No but seriously, during my MA and my internships during that time, I came to recognize my growing appetite for literature, and the need to know more about the topics that were of particular interest to me.”
“Where did you intern during your MA?”
“Parodevi Pictures and Oxford University Press”
“Wow! These are some big names!” I say
She smiles, “Yes, and they live up to their names too. I learnt a good amount of skills and developed myself quite a lot in a short period of time there. It was these places which helped me get to know myself and decide where I want to head next. Then I applied to Ashoka and was selected in its first cohort of PhD students in English.”
“You had quite a journey from your 10th till here.”
“I hope it doesn’t end here” she smiles
“Wrapping it up, what advice would you like to give to the students who are appearing for their examinations or who are awaiting their results?”
“It’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to have uncertainty. It’s okay to follow one path and then leave it for another. Just do your best, wherever you are and in whatever you do. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. It will be disappointing but the hard work will always pay off if you own up to your choices.
Let people say whatever they want to say. Let family members expect whatever they want to expect, you do what you want to do. I’m not saying that you’d know what you want to do right away, but keep on exploring and listen to what your heart has to say in these matters. Have faith in yourself, even if you don’t know where you are headed or why you are doing something, do it to the best of your capability.
If something doesn’t make you happy, just leave it. Again, not saying that drop out in the middle, but once you’re done with it, be done with it. If something is coming from your heart, a job, a field, a skill, no matter how much misery it comes with you’ll be able to look past it and love the journey. That love, I believe, is the most important thing.
And eventually you will make your own space.”
You can share these real-life stories of people who are eventually successful despite academic failures and struggles with anyone you know may get motivated learning about it.
Went back memory lane? Want to share your story, write to us at [email protected], remember to hashtag #MoreThanMarks.