Nostaligia or Making the most out of your Undergraduation

Four years of hostel life changes a lot of things. Though I see myself as the same person as I was when entered IIT Madras, I kind of know that I have changes a lot in these four years. This post will reflect what I have learned from the four years of my undergraduate life. It is unfortunate that many us miss out on so many opportunities, while some of us explore a part of it. And there are very few, if any, who make the best use; I so envy them. I wanted to write this while at IIT Madras, but laziness got the better of me.Statuary Warning : Long post

The Tech. Part

It was only in my final year that I indulged myself in the robotics, robotics-like activities because the courses I took demanded them. My college has a fairly active “hobby club” which caters to people with such interests. In fact, the robotics club started in my first year. It now provides a reasonably good platform for the students to start their work. What many of us fail to realize is that when you get your hands down and dirty, science and technology can be fun too. In the final semester, I was involved with a project where a miniature model of a lift had to be made. To be frank, it was the first time that I actually learned about handling micro processors, assembling mechanical components and electrical components together and actually put some of the workshop skills to use. The best part of the whole deal is the fact the you get to know people better, you interact with lot more and make more acquaintances. I can only wonder why I chose to distance myself from such activities in the past.

After the first year, it was only a matter of time before many more clubs like Physics clubs, Astronomy club popped up. I am sure that those involved in their functioning would have had loads of fun. Mostly, I was part of the Programming team in IIT Madras in four years. It was amazing being part of that. Met awesome team mates and that even took me to Tokyo. As part of the technical festival called ‘Shaastra’, projects such as building a hovercraft, tensegrity tower, remote controlled aircraft etc would have been an immense learning experience. Yet again I stress the fact that it is the people who you meet during the period that you value the most.

The Management Part

Many people miss out on being volunteers and coordinators for different events and facilities that help massive cultural and technical festivals (Saarang and Shaastra respectively) run smoothly. It is a common misconception among students that by being a part of mangement, the “fun” of Saarang and Shaastra is gone. That is true only to an limited extent. Given the ample number of events that take place, and given that fact that there are only a handful of event which really confined to your interests, you are not missing out much. Work on Saarang and Shaastra begins months before the actual event. During the run-up when you are loaded with tonnes of work other than acads, it is very satisfying targets falling one by one during the entire course. It is a pity that many of us take academics so seriously that it is considered a ‘waste-of-time’ to find yourself doing “other” things.

I have been a ‘volunteer’ three times and a ‘coordinator’ five times. Each time, I have had great fun being a part of both technical and cultural festivals. More than half the people I know in IITM can be traced back to acquaintances I made as part of the organizing team. In 2006 Saarang, I was part of the Production team which ended up being a great group to hang out with. After that, I was part of the event “how things work” for Mechanical Engineering Department’s technical festival ‘mechanica’. I was forced into it, but I have to thank all those who forced me into it because the people I got to know were the most enthusiastic bunch I had ever seen. Also because, I managed to win “how things work” in the following shaastra. In other occasions too, I have always loved being responsible for whatever I was in-charge of. Any youngster today, I would advice him to be both technically inclined as well as be ready to work on cultural activities to earn a wholesome experience. Plus, a coordinator in Shaastra would mean 400 bucks worth of freebies and 900 bucks in Saarang ๐Ÿ™‚

It is often complained that students more time of computer these day and less on social interations. I think more such activities undertaken by the institute will help in building Social interation skills among students. Instead, today we find the Dean reducing the number of days of Saarang as it not in academic interest. Earlier, a real show-case of Indian Culture was observed in the name of “Bharath Utsav” in IIT Madras. Again, as it was not a part of academics, the entire fest was canceled six years ago.

The Acad. Part

In the final semester I took a course named “technology and development” taught by Prof. D Veeraraghavan one of the most eminent profs in Humanities Department in IIT Madras. In one of the classes, an old student of his, an alumnus of my college’s electrical department, gave a small talk. He had done is Ph.D. in social sciences unlike his peers who stayed on in core engineering. That talk was an eye-opener for me on research in Social Sciences. He explained about indigenous cotton seeds, imported cotton seeds and how it affected the rural textile industry as the looms were designed for indigenous harder cotton seeds. Frankly, until then, though I had often wondered, I had no clue as to research in subjects other than science and technology. It is true that IITs (and all engineering colleges for that matter) provide a one dimensional view of education, ie technology. A “full-fledged” engineer from my college will have completed just 12 of 180 credits in non-engineering subjects. This is a dismally low number. It is sad that people don’t realize this.

Apart from numerous (a lot more than even MIT actually) core engineering courses, we are given a free choice for two courses (free electives) from any department. Also, we several have a minor streams which are designed to different from our engineering Major. In my opinion, these options aren’t enough. But, many fail to consolidate even on this limited choice. For instance, almost three-fourth of computer science students opt for operation research as minor as it complements some of their courses. Though I appreciate their enthusiasm, I have to remind them that the whole point of minor stream is to do something different from the regular routine. A lot of students end up taking courses from their own department in the ‘free-elective’ slot. They are simply not making the most of what the institution has to offer.

I should refer to Steve Jobs speech in Stanford convocation where he talks about “connecting the dots” on his calligraphy course which he later used in Apple mac OS(youtube link, text link). I would advise any fresher to explore his options completely before resorting to “safe” choice of following the herd.

The get-together, treks part

This is one part, where, I don’t think many would have missed out. I have been to places in last two years of stay. Traveling, photography are cherished by all. It is inevitable that people end up in a clique of 5-6 people who constantly hangout together. It is in treks and traveling that people with common friends get together and have the time of their lives. The network of friends grows very fast on such occasions. Hopefully, I will go to one more Himalayan trek that is being planned now ๐Ÿ™‚ When you travel, invariably, you have stories to bring back and envy a lot of people.

The treats part

Chennai, though the climate sucks, is blessed with beaches. The treats, get-together, parties happen a lot across the east coast. When it comes to choosing colleges for your under graduation, I would recommend a place on the coast, a big city preferably. A city a lots to offer. Chennai, for instance, has places like Tanjarine (sizzlers), Don Pepe(mexican), Eatalica (Italian-American), Pupil (formerly Veronas, Junk food heaven), Buena Vista (on East coast road, for secluded beach with nice stuff ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), New Yorkers, Lil Italy etc. It’s no use lamenting about the city not being as “cool” as Bangalore (in every sense), enjoy the place while you are there. Make sure you visit all the eat-out places

The LAN part

Gaming, surfing, movies on comps, sitcoms etc form a integral part of any hostel life when it is connect to LAN and internet. You gotta enjoy all of that while it lasts. When you watch movies in CFD lab meant for academic purposes late in the night because of the AC to beat the summer heat, the experience will remain imprinted in your mind for a long time.

Bottom Line: Be tech savvy, be geeky, be cool, have fun! Believe me! All of them can happen at the same time

On a personal note:

I am headed to Pennsylvania State University (PSU) for Ph.D. in scientific computing in Computer Science and Engineering Department. I am sure I will miss the name ‘coolshankin’ three months on, though i hate it as of now. Many of my friends have told me that all I have to do to tell them my email address and the name will stick. If that happens, I will surely hate the name all over again. ๐Ÿ™‚

I am sure a lot of people will hate me for saying this, but I will say it anyway. When people have no reason to meet, they don’t. Though we all promise that we will keep in touch, it is only once in a while that we actually bother to mail the friends. When there is a reunion, there simply isn’t any common topic to talk about. The conversations are mostly formal. Given orkut, facebook and gtalk, I am sure people will make an attempt to keep in touch. After convocation, I got no idea when I will be meeting my friends again. Perhaps in US or perhaps in India itself after one, one and a half or two years. By then, all of us would have moved on and meeting over the net will also be a rare thing.

It is a fact that though we all keep promising that we will keep in touch, in the end we all tend lose touch. To know whats happening with my life, you can always see my status messages and read my blog posts ๐Ÿ™‚ :P. After a lot of complaints from friends and family alike, I promise to take more pictures with myself in it and post them at flickr, orkut, picassa or wherever. It was great knowing you all

I am reminded of a song by Amy Grant which goes, “Oh how the years go by, oh how the love brings tears to my eyes ….” It’s very apt here. Don’t mind the video .. listen to the song.

I remember my first day at the college when my dad was about to leave me and I was missing home already. I was thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening”. Couple of days back, when I was packing stuff in my room to leave home I was thinking again, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Emotions were exactly the same. How good a place can be measured by how happy you are while you were at the place. How good a place can be measured by how sad you felt when you left the place. I think the latter is more appropriate. Lemme know what you think.