It takes much more than getting AIR 3 in the GATE exam to be at the Mecca of research in India- IISc Bangalore. CN brings to you a very detailed and insightful chat with Vikas Garg, Rank-3 (GATE-2007) who talks in length about beating the GATE and life of a researcher in India. Read on..
Hey Vikas, tell us a little about yourself.
I am currently a second year ME student at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore where I am pursuing Computer Science and Engineering stream. I completed my bachelors in Information technology from Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology(NSIT), Delhi. I feel extremely privileged to have my roots in a small but beautiful town Meham in Rohtak district of Haryana (the place of Indian Olympic superstars!!). I feel really fortunate in imbibing moral and cultural Indian values prevalent in the countryside while simultaneously being exposed to the cut- throat competition in the metros. Life has been very kind to me and I really thank the Almighty for whatever meagre I have achieved in life thus far. Stereotyped it might seem, however I deeply believe in Simple Living and High Thinking!
Was IISc your Dream Destination or you just got in.
I am a fanatic about doing new things and there is no better place in India to do quality research than IISc. The ambience here challenges oneself to the hilt and I have had known this fact for long. So, getting into IISc has not been a coincidence. I always had it in my mind to go for higher studies. The only quandary was whether I should pursue a programme at an IISc or try at some top university abroad. However, deep inside I nurtured a dream to study at the best place in my motherland and be a part of the glory and the self-satisfaction that IISc richly bestows on its students. For the sake of getting into IISc, I forsake a potential Q&A job offer at Google, Hyderabad. Today, two years down the line, I am delighted to have made the right decision.
How did you prepare for the test and the interview.
Getting into IISc has not been a smooth sailing by any stretch of imagination. I appeared for GATE in IT during my third year and got a hopeless 700 odd rank. Next year, I appeared in GATE CS to end up on an even miserable 3558. That marked the nadir of my academic career. Probably I had suffered from complacency, perhaps I needed to put in some effort. The following year, I just brushed up some of my skills while simultaneously working for a corporate. Understandably enough, I couldn't find much time to study (Those were the days when I cursed myself for having wasted 4 glorious years at a premier institute like NSIT). I did not put in much effort going by the average standards but whatever precious little I did proved sufficient. Just worked my way through standard textbooks in Computer Science. Really, GATE tests your understanding of the fundamentals unlike the traditional undergrad college exams that focus highly on craming stereotyped questions. So, I almost perfected whatever coursework I covered and I believe there lies the secret of success in an exam like GATE. Don't mug things, sharpen your basics instead.
Any special thing which you would like to share which happened during the written test or interview.
Thankfully, I got GATE rank 3, so admission into an ME programme at IISc was almost certain. So, I did not have to appear in interviews that are conducted to admit MSc students. Meanwhile, I also appeared for written test in TIFR and somehow cleared it. This exam was a real eye-opener and I dare say I have never encountered more mathematical and challenging questions. However, the interview process was awesome to say the least. I was made to face a panel of 8 eminent scientists, all masters in their respective fields and ready to pound upon me from the word go. For about 50 minutes I was fired on with questions ranging from Context free grammars to NP-Completeness, complex numbers to probability theory and algorithms to prime numbers. The moment I answered something, a seemingly related but inherently abstruse question would be rocketed at me from a different quarter. At the end of it, when they said they thought I was good enough to do research at TIFR, I really started believing in my abilities again. Really it was a lifetime experience and something I relish very fondly even to this day.
How has been the life at IISc?
Life is cool, at least now! It was a bit difficult to adjust to demands of the coursework in the beginning since there is a huge gap in level of education from the undergrads. However, things start falling in place once you get used to it. Some of the faculty is really top-class. The best thing though is that IISc is spread over a sprawling 443 acres of lush green campus and it comes as a pleasant respite from the crowded life outside. The ambience is really good and there are various facilities to avail during leisure time. One facility that I really like though is the Gymkhana at IISc. It contains indoor facilities for playing badminton, table tennis, chess, carom etc. Apart from this there are good outdoor facilities for cricket, football and hockey etc. And every Friday, a movie is screened at the Gymkhana theatre ( at a cost of Rs. 9 only per student!!!). Needless to say, IISc is a place for all-round development of an individual.
What’s the best and not-so-great thing about life at IISc?
I guess I have belabored upon the good things already. The only time I feel a bit turned off at IISc is when I fall prey to bird droopings. Really there are just so many trees that the birds hit you with their missiles inadvertently. Also, days passby before one can enjoy the warmth of the sunlight. So, in a way trees here are a necessary evil!
Any advice for aspiring students?
I would just ask them to believe in their abilities. You have to back yourself up amidst time of adversity. Things might not always go the way you desire them to be, however, hard work never goes unrewarded. Just set your goals and be determined to strive for them. Clear your mind of all negative thoughts and focus on the fundamentals. And remember life manifests itself in form of numerous opportunities, it's just that you need alacrity of mind to convert a possibilty into success. Always keep egging on yourself that if somebody else could do it, you can do it even better!