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.
Hey there, I am Simrat, someone who spent four years studying microelectronics and power systems but is now going to pursue a year-long fellowship in liberal arts at Ashoka University to find that something (read finance?, economics?, public policy?) that will make me tick. While trying to hold on to a decent CPI, I did a bunch of interesting stuff including parliamentary debating, leading Vox Populi and co-founding the Finance Discussion Group. To add to the eclectic mix, I also landed a Day 1 consulting job offer from Auctus Advisors.
This piece is very close to my heart because in a sense it traces my growth as an individual through the four years at IIT Kanpur. Thinking about what to pen down is also the first time I am feeling truly nostalgic. Moreover, writing for the publication that you headed just a few months ago makes the feeling even more potent.
My ride through IIT Kanpur is best captured through the lessons I learnt, not just about college but life in general. Every time I stumbled and learnt, I wished someone had given me a heads up earlier. What I also realised is that the one maxim that rings true every time is that “it is easy to be wise in hindsight” and in spite of everything you read here you will assemble your personal collection of slip-ups. Don’t get me wrong, this is perhaps the most important set of souvenirs that you will take with you when you leave the campus. I just hope that my chapter in the ‘Guide to Life at IIT Kanpur’ helps me to share some of the wisdom that I now call ‘hindsight’. Here we go!
The student who crosses the railway line outside the unassuming entrance to IIT Kanpur for the first time and leaves it for the last time are entirely different individuals. This is a transformation that everyone goes through and while it is wonderful to observe, some things should not change. These are the principles that define who you are, the pillars on which your identity rests. I experienced my share of shocks when I first stepped into the campus, from the ‘colourful’ language to the rather ‘flexible’ sleep schedule. While many of these did rub off one me, I did not let go of those qualities which I held dear. The campus will try to beat you into submission but when your friends will look back, they will remember you for sticking your neck out, not for becoming part of the crowd. It was not always easy refusing to help a batchmate on the bench next to me during quizzes or waking up early to dress up just for classes. I identified the former as a building block of my character and found joy in the latter, so I did it in spite of becoming the butt of the occasional jibe.
Before coming to IIT Kanpur, everyone around me talked about the ‘alumni network’ of the IITs and how it would be a privilege to be studying amongst future leaders. To not tap into this resource would be a shame. Unfortunately, I realised this a bit late, during a particularly trying phase when I was unable to land an internship in my field of interest in the fifth semester. After the first wave of companies came and went, I was still without an internship, a situation I had not prepared myself for. As a scrambling effort, I started looking for alumni in my field and it was then I realised how knowing the right people in the right places could open otherwise inaccessible opportunities. Even people who appear to be inaccessible to a student become surprisingly approachable if you push hard enough. I made sure that every time I interned in the summers, I met as many people as I could and this led me to make friends with a few startup founders and I even managed an interview with Ronnie Screwvala!
Networking is a continuous endeavour that should not just stop at browsing LinkedIn profiles and sending requests but should permeate into everyday life. Forging relationships outside your inner circle will require you to go out of your way. Sometimes this means chatting late into the night in spite of an upcoming quiz, with an acquaintance who’ll turn into a friend when you say goodbye at dawn after tea at MT. I made some amazing friends outside my wing and it would not have happened if I did not hang out in other halls or participate in every GC event in my first year. One of my proudest achievements, setting up the Finance Discussion Group and the subsequent boot camp, would not have happened without a friend whom I met on one such random occasion. Just greeting random batch mates in the corridors of Hall 5 led to so many lasting friendships that I now treasure. The clubs and fest teams that we join to have fun and fill up our CVs will lead to lifelong friendships. Seniors to turn to before making any significant decision, and juniors to play that same role for.
While I give credit to whatever little discipline I was able to maintain for my achievements, I wish I had broken my rules more often. Whether it was a night out in the Card and Board Games (CBG) room playing Catan or just ambling around with friends without an agenda. It is important to know when to go a bit wild because lasting memories are not made by sleeping on time for morning classes. In hindsight, missed fun hurts more than messed up quizzes. Having said that, a priority list is indispensable to guide you through college. For me, academics came before everything else. I ditched a lot of other stuff for the books but it made making choices much easier. I do not mean to say that academics has to be at the top for everybody. Singing your way through college and mesmerising audiences in MEs is a completely reasonable choice. What is important to remember is that there is always a trade-off and one should be at peace with the consequences.
There will be times though, when you will be forced to consider your priorities. Mine came when the Gymkhana Elections ‘17 approached. The candidates who had been preparing for the post of President, Students’ Gymkhana had to shelve their plan for various reasons. I was cajoled by my friends to consider standing for elections and I would be lying if I said that I did not entertain that thought myself. It is no secret that academics takes a back seat for someone who has to shoulder responsibility of leading the entire student community and I was not sure I wanted that deal. The fact that I had committed myself to Vox and I wanted to have a shot at being Chief Editor made the choice a little easier for me though. I sometimes think that I should have taken that chance and this tinge of regret taught me that sometimes taking a leap of faith is not such a bad idea. College is the safest environment to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and see how you deal with them. You might end up discovering some pretty awesome qualities that you did not know you possessed.
As you would have figured out from all that I wrote above, life was full of dichotomies for me, as is for most people on campus. There are no equations and theorems that will allow you to construct the perfect stay. The four years will be interspersed with both moments of ecstasy and regret, and that is what makes it magical. Though from personal experience, there are a few experiences that I recommend everyone tries because there will never be a better opportunity to have a go at them. The first is any kind of a stage performance. It could be, dance, drama, music, or even an open mic performance (I am so glad this culture has begun to flourish in campus). An audience as accepting and encouraging as the one on campus is rare to find and even if you mess it up, it will become such an awesome memory for your friends to write about in your yearbook 😛 I took the first opportunity that came and performed musicals on the Freshers’ Night. This was the first and last cultural performance for me on stage, and this makes it even more special for me. Second, spend your first summers learning or getting better at a sport in the summer camp. You’ll truly understand what physical torture means. After sweating it out on the field (or in my case, the pool) for almost two months, you will be glad that you endured what you did because if nothing else, a much fitter you will come out at the other end. This is probably the only opportunity you will get to enjoy some very fine sporting facilities, absolutely free. It would be criminal to miss it.
It’s funny how I found it hard to understand the touchy Facebook posts of my seniors talking about how hard it was to leave IIT Kanpur but a year later, now in the same position as them, I can appreciate the sentiments behind those posts. It is indeed hard to say goodbye to the place I called home for the most spectacular four years of my life and I am taking away with me a truckload of memories that I will cherish forever.