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At IIT, and still not happy? || Acharya Prashant, at IIT-Bombay (2022)

Questioner(Q): Namaskar Acharya ji, it’s my privilege to ask my doubt from you. My name is Paramjit Singh. I am from IIT Bombay, Metallurgical Engineering, 2nd year. So, my question is related to, at some point in life we get some opportunity that we are so overpowered by that we neglect other decisions, for example we got IIT, I think many of us doubt the decision of our branches which we take. How to deal with such situations? And my follow-up question from that is what mindset was of yours when you were doing your degree? What was your mind set for next three to four years?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Thank you, wonderful, sit. See, the level of self-awareness at the time of clearing the JEE and at the time of appearing for the counseling is usually, pretty low. The decisions that a 17-year-old makes, that would have been your age at that time 17 or 18 right, are not well informed. You don’t know what that branch holds for you. You also do not know what you want in life.

So based on the branch allotment patterns of previous years and advices of all and sundry, you just pick a particular branch and a particular IIT that’s how it happens or sometimes you see what’s trending, for example computer science remains an evergreen favorite irrespective of what your inclination is.

If you are JEE rank 45, you will pick up computer science right. And that’s pretty strange, irrespective of what your inclination is. If your JEE rank is 6000, you will not get computer science. May be these with so many IITs you do get somewhere but in my days that was not happening. If you are anywhere lower than, I suppose, JEE 150 computer science is available at no place, that time there were only 5 IITs then. That has happened and that is going to happen because in class 9th and 10th, 11th and 12thnobody is teaching your life. What are you busy with?

We used to be busy with brilliant tutorials YG files and Resnick, Halliday and I.E irodov and there was book by looney and ML Khanna. I don’t know which books you refer to these days. And beyond that and besides that there was hardly any scope to read anything else.

And all discussions, the total schedules were concentrated only on these things. The result, terrible levels of self-awareness. And these days I suppose you spend several years at that place called Kota as well. And that place is meant to make you very unidirectional. That’s how people get selected.

How will you know anything about anything else, you will not know the world and also you will not know about yourself. Somebody who is choosing, for example let’s say Electronics, if you ask that person, and he needs to have that level of knowledge, 17 or 18 years old, what is the state of the electronics industry globally? What are the important recent advancements? He will not know.

And then you ask him “How then are you choosing Electronics branch for yourself?” “How do you even know Electronics has a future?” he will simply say, you know I am JEE 350 and last year JEE 350 took Electronics. So that’s what I am doing or my dad told me or my elder brother advised me. That’s the kind of argument we live by.

However, those things are done. It’s not that you have chosen metallurgy and that’s a reason you circumspect about your choice. Anybody who has chosen anything keeps wondering what have I chosen? Because no one has chosen out of any understanding. It’s not as if you have one of the lesser sought branches only then you keep feeling puzzled and often disappointed.

Even those who are in the sought after branches, they too keep asking themselves “What have we done?” Otherwise, how is it possible that so many computer science students proceed to pursue management or several other things. If computer science is everything then how come so many of them are found in the US colleges or in the IIMs. What do they write the CAT for? Are you getting it?

So, what to do about it. Well, if you are in 3rd year or something, obviously you can’t change your branch. I don’t know whether IITs provide those facilities anymore even. In my time it used to happen that after 1st year branch change was possible for a few students based on the their CGPA and other things. But if you are already in 2nd or 3rd year, what can you do? Nothing. All you can do now is learn for your future decision-making events.

I will not choose once again in darkness. And very soon another important event is going to happen. You have to choose whether you pick up a job or go for higher studies. If you are to go for higher studies, then would it be in technical direction or in the management or something else. And if you are to choose a job, is it going to be in core discipline or in something else? There are so many decisions you have to take. No point regretting what you chose 3 or 4 years back, which year are you in?

Q: 2nd year.

AP: No point regretting the choice you made two years back. There are several choices waiting to happen. Learn from what you have done and come better off in the future events and they are very close, 2 years is nothing. Not even 2 years, your placement process, I think, would start one and a half years from this moment.

So be very careful. Choice of branch is important but it really does not determine your life. Much more important choices are waiting to happen. As a fellow IITian I am able to advise that to you. The way you step out of the campus is going to be extremely important. And then what you do once you are out of the campus, the importance of that is not even comparable to the small things that happens inside here.

1999, when I passed out, it’s been like 23 years from now, and the diversity in the positions and the situations of my batch mates is astounding. I am not talking of the difference in success levels in terms of money or accumulation. No, not that.

Where people have reached in their life journeys, are very very diverse positions. Those positions are result of your choices. Not all positions are places of joy. You do not want to be in a position that hurts and haunts you two decades from today. And that happens and happens very frequently.

Because we remain the same person who made that decision in ignorance at the time of JEE counseling. Do you want to remain that same 17-year-old? No. So at the age of 21 when you will decide on something let that decision be born out of your inner light. Not out of social consideration and trends and pressures from here and there and normal habit.

You know how do you choose, for example, your electives? People do not choose their electives after due consideration. They would roam about in the wing and ask “What are you picking up, what are you picking up?” And somebody would tell them in this particular course that there is lenient grading or this prof. is very cool with attendance. Do you have attendance compulsion here? 75% is not compulsory? No, lucky huh (laughingly).

In my time one of criterion used to be ‘how cool is the prof. with attendance’? And then 150 people are vying to take that course not because they are in love with subject matter. They would open their books one day before their minors and majors.

But still the course is hot and so much in demand because my prof won’t insist on 75% attendance. And this is how we are making our choices. Where do you think these choices would land us? Obviously in some kind of cesspool. Within the campus you are very protected. Outside the campus, life can be very harsh, very unforgiving.

The decisions that you make here are sometimes even reversible. Here in fact, you have people coexist just to correct your bad choices. Is that not so? Outside the campus your bad choices won’t be corrected. Your bad choices will be feasted upon.

There is a world out there that wants you to make bad choices so that you can be exploited. Learn the subtle art of decision making. And to decide rightly you must know who the decision maker is, therefore what is good for him. Do not think that the use of the intellect or the best and highest use of intellect lies in solving problems in I.E. Irodov.

If you can do that, wonderful. But when it comes to life that’s like a child’s play. Nobody is going to reward you greatly for being a wizard at JEE level mathematics, unless you decide to pick up a coaching position in one of those coaching institutes. Life is a different matter altogether. Choices are all that matter. You have to be very very careful when you are making a choice. It is a habit to be careless.

Choosing an optional wait, pause and reflect why do I need this? What is it going to do to me? Picking up an internship or picking up a job be very careful. Don’t just say “Let me take the first job that comes my way so that at least I feel secure.”

The purpose of a job is not to make you feel secure in the two-month period of post placement period in the campus. That’s what most people say, “Its march and I am going to pass out in May, let me pick up some job so that between March and May I feel secure.” What kind of criterion is this, will it help you? June you will be required to report at the job. What will you do then? How will you face your boss?

You know nothing about the work. In fact, you do not like that work at all. Why you picked up that job? Just because everybody else in your hostel, or your wing, in your group was placed already. So, you say I am feeling left behind, the fear of missing out.

Somebody here said FOMO? You said FOMO? Ok you said FOMO. I am missing out…I am missing out, so some trash is coming my way let me still grab it. And then I can declare to the world “No no, no. I too am placed, I am not unemployed.” So many people have done that already. I have seen that happening. Don’t let that happen to you. Be very choosy, in small matters of life you can afford to be reckless. But when it comes to the real thing be very choosy. Be prepared to wait.

Be prepared to keep the inner seat waiting and vacant but don’t fill it up with something or somebody unworthy, right? You aren’t getting a job, wait, you can get something outside the the campus as well. You aren’t getting something in November, may be something will come to you in April. It’s alright. But don’t put your finger on just anything in desperation. Is it making some sense?

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