Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tough times... my story

There are just two pre-requisites for an under-graduate student to decide on pursuing higher education - interest and ability. "Interest" doesn't mean a mere affinity for what you study. It has got to do with feeling invigorated by the power of knowledge - to explain how or why things happen, to solve the problems that affect us, to come up with new ideas and create new things in your field. And "ability" is above mere academic proficiency. It refers to having adroitness in a variety of skills, both technical and non-technical. I was lucky enough - at least I thought so - to have a decent share of both these pre-requisites. And, of course, I had to have the drive to work hard which, as they say, is the secret of success in any walk of life. So it was sometime during my second year in engineering that I had decided that higher education was my next step after my B.Tech. By the time I was in my third year, I had already started working towards my goal. Studying hard, doing my own study-based "research", spending hours on the net scavenging for information relevant to my field, learning new skills... The summer of 2005 was perhaps the most productive in my life. I spent a good one month on intensive preparation for my GRE and then another hectic month doing a project at DRDL, Hyderabad, while learning a lot each day. I wont go into the details of the project here, but I can say that it reinforced my interests on pursuing a career in research. I didn't sit for campus placements as I knew that my destination was elsewhere. The 12 months that followed were primarily spent on the gruelling application process for MS - taking the GRE & TOEFL, visiting university sites and other sites with relevant information, selecting the programs I was interested in, mailing profs (who of course never replied), reporting scores, writing my SOP, making my resume, getting recos, filling up online application forms, dispatching all application documents and then waiting, waiting, waiting... One fine February morning, I get a mail from Cornell University - It was a reject mail :-( ...Never mind. Come 10th March 2006, my 22nd B'day :-) , I get the best possible gift from Him - my first admit - an offer to do my Masters at the State University of New York at Stony Brook! I was on cloud nine, especially as it came just four days after I had a freak bike accident that broke one of my front teeth. A few days hence I got another one - I mean admit, not accident. This time it was the University at Buffalo (UB). There was one thing common to these admits - a fact that was to cause havoc later on - none of the admits came with any sort of aid/scholarship. Also, I didn't get any more admit letters after that. I finally decided on UB and applied for my visa. But as things unfolded, my visa application was rejected. It's not in my philosophy to rationalize or give excuses. But I think it's a piece of information that might come in handy for somebody - the visa officers presently at the US Counsulate at Kolkata are not comfortable with the idea that an Indian middle class fellow could have sufficient resources to support his education in the US, unless of course he/she has aid/scholarship. So no loans or external sponsors would suffice. The task was cut out - get your aid/scholarship to get your visa. That people at other places might be having a cakewalk in getting their respective visas is a different matter altogether. I learnt it the hard way - my visa application was rejected twice in a span of three weeks. I went into a sort of depression. But I was extremely fortunate to have enough people who backed me and pulled me out of the hole. Now I am looking ahead. I am seeking an opening in research projects under professors so that I can work in my area of interest (ie. Communications and Signal Processing) and apply for a PhD in Fall 2007. And this time I wont leave anything to chance. I have to put in a lot of labour to do some good work in this one year and apply to places where I think I can get a good aid/scholarship. I don't believe that "luck" is a matter of chance. The fact is "the harder you work, the luckier you get". This has been one heck of a long blog. If you have scraped through till here, I must say that you are either a person of great patience or one who has a genuine concern for me (of course you could belong to both categories..). Either way, I hope you've learnt a thing or two from my experience. Not everybody has to learn everything the hard way. Always remember the Chinese proverb - "To know the road ahead, ask those coming back". Just a few more parting quotes collected from assorted sources to conclude this blog on a high note...

"You cant loose till you quit"

"Every adversity is an opportunity"

"Tough times don't last; tough people do"

"Obstacles are those things which you notice when you take your eyes off your goal"

"Learn from the mistakes of others, you can't live long enough to commit all of them yourself"

"God gives you what you want; sometimes He doesn't. He makes you wait and gives you something better"

P.S: All the talk in this blog refers to higher education in the context of a technical field (Electrical Engineering) and some of the issues may not bear much significance in other contexts.

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