Disclaimer: The views presented below are the author’s own and are not in any manner representative of the views of Vox Populi as a body or IIT Kanpur in general.
Hello all! I am Amur Ghose and I am a final year undergraduate in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Having entered this place as a fresher 4 years back, writing this feels weird as I am about to graduate in a few weeks. Why was I even asked, after all? The only Gymkhana activity I’ve ever really done is participate in quizzes and go on to become the Coordinator of Quiz Club, which – as I know better than most people – is not a popular activity with barely twenty people on campus as regulars. Doesn’t Vox Populi only ask people crowding up the Senate Hall rather than hopeless also-rans like myself, who have spent more time on DOTA than on attending lectures? (I counted the hours to make sure this statement was actually true. It is!) No matter. If you read on, I think I’ll convince you that there are things I could say that you may find amusing, enlightening – or both. At the very least, to quote Vox’s reason for asking me, I’ll “bring variety to the table”.
Here is my first piece of advice: My life here is not one you should emulate in a lot of ways. I have a bad sleep schedule, and I regularly (including now) suffer from horrific insomnia. These things are probably related to my abilities of regularly drinking 6 cups of coffee and pulling all-nighters, something I pride myself on – staying up even 40 hours is casual for me. But let me be clear: This is not a good life.
Your first two semesters at IITK begin with PE and some CPA and these will set up a healthy sleep schedule. Keep it. The 7th semester was pure hell, with graduate school applications and placement tests vying for my time. You’ll need your health for the hard times – and by health, I do mean physical and mental. Stress and anxiety creep up on you – for me, and I think for most – they start in 5th semester (due to the pressure of getting an intern) and eventually they disrupt everything you know. Read up on the HPA axis of your brain and how it responds to stress and you will find every reason you need to take the excess pressure that you cannot handle. Eventually, if you go that road, you will feel the burnout.
Why am I saying this? Because these conditions worsened my chronic problems and I had to fly home in the 8th semester to visit the hospital on medical leave. Health is something you really can’t put a number on, so try to keep what you’ve got. I know it’s cliche, but I choose to start on this topic for a reason: it is the most important one. Stay healthy and you’ll find the long run much easier. It’s really that simple: Knowing when to pull an all nighter is much more important than being able to pull one.
I spent most of my first year just watching countless movies and TV shows, and I don’t regret that one bit either. Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Community, Peep Show, It’s always sunny – they got me through all my tough times and I recommend them wholeheartedly. Devote a few hours each day to things that interest you, but do have fun. Fun teaches you more than you’ll ever expect.
I advise juniors to find out and read interesting stuff. The internet is amazingly vast and has so many interesting stories in it. In no particular order, some of the blogs/magazines that I started reading while at IITK and got addicted to are :
- Marginal revolution
- The New Yorker
- The Economist
When I entered this place, I frankly knew very little about Kanpur, and I leave it the same way. The city really doesn’t affect your life here. I expected to learn interesting stuff and make very good friends, and I did. I can’t speak for everything technical at once, of course, so let’s keep it specific. As I’m graduating now, I decide between either taking up a financial job at Worldquant LLC India or pursuing a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo.
How did I come to this fork?
The path to Worldquant began by becoming an online consultant for them as early as my 3rd semester. If you’re looking to get into finance, this is an amazing start. It pays well (back in my day, roughly INR 60,000 monthly!) and sets you up with Worldquant to learn the ropes. But truth be told, it doesn’t hurt to know more. Google up Jane Street, Two Sigma, and Citadel, and look up Renaissance Technologies to see what the ivory towers of high finance look like. Then find their interview questions – and if these are interesting, then finance may be a place for you! I was extremely lucky to have a close friend from high school who interviewed for Jane Street and got me interested in these circles in the first place. Not many are so lucky, so let me say this clearly: if you enjoy quick puzzles in probability, such as the ones you may find on Gurmeet’s blog or cseblog (excellent reading material just for fun) , then this road is a fine one. In your 5th semester, Goldman Sachs will want interns and they too test such skills. I think it’s a fine start to finance.
The path to Waterloo, on the other hand, lay through Machine Learning (ML). If you’re a junior looking to do ML @ IITK, you can’t miss Purushottam Kar’s courses. I’ve found his courses to be consistently the best and most rigorous ML courses you can enroll at here – though my first exposure to ML was via the IITK New York Office summer internship. That intern is definitely something to keep an eye on and though it brings a lot of extra work with it, in my opinion, the tie-ups are worth it. Doing ML has a surprisingly large intersection with probability puzzles and finance – you end up using the techniques you learn in one for the other and vice versa.
These graduation outcomes are easy enough to acquire by work and consistent setting of goals, but you know what really helps? People along the ride with the same goals. I was fortunate enough to know three remarkable batchmates (Karttikeya, Abhinav, and Shubh) all of whom were along for the ride in every way and shared my interests. I’ve learned so much from these guys and it’s impossible to express in one paragraph how much I treasure their company. You’ll find similar people, I’m sure. Not necessarily wingies – mine weren’t – but the great pressure will weld you together in trying times. The bond that is formed over hellish midsems and mind-breaking project deadlines is one that stays.
Edited by Soumyadeep Datta