There are a number of aspirants who appear in the IIT JAM Exam every year, but only a few amongst those, who prove their brilliance & intellectual skills by qualifying the Exam can go further to pursue M.Sc. from IITs. Such achievers become the inspirations for the upcoming JAM aspirants.
To bring the invincible talent of such impressive candidates in front of the world, Eduncle has started a series of IIT JAM Rankers’ Interviews. Here in this blog, we are presenting you the Inspiring & Uplifting Interview of an Ex-IIT JAM Achiever Mr. Prateek Srivastava from IIT Delhi. Please read the entire blog to get yourself into Prateek’s Wonderful Success Story that has gone through a lot of ups and downs & cherishing moments.
A Talk with IIT JAM Achiever – Mr. Prateek Srivastava!
See how Mr. Prateek has achieved the success in IIT JAM and what he is doing after pursuing M.Sc. from IIT Delhi. Please have a look below –
Firstly, I would like to express warm regards to Eduncle & Saloni Jain for reaching out to me and inviting me to share my experiences with IIT JAM aspirants and students in general.
Before you begin reading this post, I would like to acknowledge the fact that this is not a Success story. This is “a lot of failures before Success” story. You will see, I am as normal a kid as possible, with normal fads, aspirations, flaws like most of you. And at the same time, you will see what I really got different to achieve and come to the point where I am right now. Hope you enjoy reading it.
Ques 1: Please Let us know about yourself. Your Hobbies, Interests & Inspirations.
Answer: I am currently pursuing Ph.D. in Imaging Science at Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, US. Previously I earned my Masters in Physics from IIT Delhi and BSc (Hons.) in Mathematics from Institute of Science, Banaras Hindu University. I’ve worked on Plasma and Atmospheric Physics, Computational Fourier Optics and Deep Learning & Convolutional Neural Networks so far. One of the many unfulfilled desire of mine is to identify myself as a programmer – even though I continue to perform poorly at it.
I like to write about Career and IIT JAM. I’m equally interested in starting a YouTube channel on Computational Fourier Optics and Deep Learning – I don’t know when exactly I will execute those projects. I love to waste time watching TV shows and Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul & Game of Thrones are my all-time favorites. I’ve never been athletic enough but that’s about to change now.
I seek inspirations from people around me and constantly keep a track of myself like what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong, which is why I truly enjoy reading self-help books and Mark Manson is my go to the author. Unlike most of the people, I prefer buying and reading PDFs or Kindle editions of books.
Last but not the least – I’m a cleanliness freak. I like to stay Super clean.
Ques 2: Why did you choose Research as your Career Option? Was it your Interest since childhood or some incident changed your career choice?
Answer: I was always interested in Science. I wasn’t always sure about research. My father works for Indian Air Force and it is obvious Jet Aircraft always fascinated me. And that’s how I came across Space shuttle and NASA. He also used to bring a lot of books from the library. Most of those books were about Scientists and Inventors. Initially, I enjoyed reading them as story books and bragging amongst my friends how much I remember the name of those scientists and their invention. Just like most of the kids out there at that age, I wanted to become an Astronaut and work for NASA.
But then I came to came to Class 10th and started following the rat race. I never scored more than 88% in my entire life. My rank in AIEEE 2009 was around 74000. I took a year drop and again my rank in AIEEE 2010 was around 50000. These are my ranks despite coaching for 3 years. And that’s how I landed into a BSc program because I couldn’t secure an admit into an Engineering program. If I had joined an Engineering program, I think I will be a regular engineer working in an IT Sector somewhere in Bangalore and later on pursuing either MS or MBA.
After the end of BSc first year, I was fortunate enough to meet a guy named Avinash Yammanuru from IT-BHU (now IIT BHU) who graduated from Civil Engineering and was heading to Carnegie Mellon University in the US for his MEng program. He was the one who taught me how to apply to schools in the United States for higher studies and that’s how I learned studying in the US is doable. Until that point, I used to think only the rich can afford an education in the US or any other country abroad. And that’s how I realized the importance of building your “Research Profile” to secure an admit into a Ph.D. program in the US.
I spent my two summers working at KSK Geomagnetic Research Laboratory, Allahabad and published a paper in an International Journal. This was the first feel of doing notable research in my life, however, I wasn’t really satisfied with my work as all I did was Data Analysis and never tried to understand the actual Physics behind it. But this whole mindset towards research was about to change when I joined IIT Delhi for MSc in Physics.
I worked with Dr. Kedar Khare for my final year MSc Project on “Noninterferometric Phase Imaging” aka “Imaging a Red Blood Cell in 3D without using Holography” and that’s how I got genuinely motivated towards research. Dr. Khare has a huge influence in my life and in my thought process. My perspective towards research completely changed after interacting with him. Now I didn’t want to pursue Ph.D. because I got nothing else to do after MSc but because I was genuinely interested in solving interesting problems. And I learnt about PhD program in Imaging Science at RIT and applied for it.
Fun Fact – I failed to get an admission even at RIT in the first attempt. It took me another year after finishing MSc to get here.
You see, it was not just one incident but a series of incidents + accidents + failures which changed not exactly my career path but also how I see things around me and finally brought me where I am.
Ques 3: Apart from all the other M.Sc. Entrance Exams, why did you only choose to appear in the IIT JAM Exam? Did you find anything interesting about this Exam?
Answer: I appeared for IIT JAM primarily because of the following reasons:
1. IITs still hold a brand value not only amongst employers but also in society. You get immense respect and social recognition if you manage to get a degree from an IIT.
2. Since my ultimate plan was to go to the US after my MSc, I didn’t see any reason to appear for exams like NET/JRF/JEST et al. for an Integrated Ph.D. program. And IITs were the only prestigious schools to offer a terminal MSc degree. Most of the elite institution seeks candidates for Integrated Ph.D.
3. I did my Honors in Mathematics in the final year, leaving core classes in Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Physics or Nuclear Physics etc. Moreover, I had only two years of Physics and rest with Mathematics. With these kinds of eligibility constraints, IITs were the only institution where I was eligible to pursue MSc. Rest of Universities, even BHU or DU required me to have all 3 years with Physics. In other words, I didn’t have any choice either. I could either do MSc in an IIT or pretty much nowhere.
Ques 4: What made you achieve the IIT JAM Qualification? Would you like to share any tip from your Success Mantras?
Answer: I will thank my knowledge of Physics and problem-solving skills, which I learned during my JEE preparation days for the success I achieved in IIT JAM 2013. I bought correspondence course material from an Online Coaching (which I don’t know how good they are for JAM preparation) to practice problems in the month of January 2013. I was using only my Class 12th knowledge to solve problems and I was fortunate to see similar problems in actual day of IIT JAM exam. I don’t recommend anyone doing what I did for myself because, with this kind of strategy, I failed miserably at rest of the exams like TIFR and JEST.
Sure, I call myself lucky. But imagine I didn’t study at all and appear for the same exam. In that case, I will be sitting in the exam hall regretting for 3 hours why I didn’t study. Moral of the story – Luck only favors the prepared mind. Prepare well for these exams. Refer to standard books. Improve your problem-solving skills. Because IIT JAM is not the end of story. The knowledge you gain during your preparation is going to last with you forever. Hence, invest in quality time and resources. Remember, any entrance exam doesn’t test you whether you know something or not. They test you whether you will be able to survive after qualifying it or not. When you are preparing for IIT JAM, you are basically preparing for the life after coming to an IIT honestly.
And as far as Success Mantra goes, I will call for the words “Resilience” + “Perseverance” + “Consistency”. You will fail multiple times on multiple problems while preparing for anything in life. The Mantra is to keep doing it. You will see the result someday, sooner or later. I prepared for 6 hours every day in the month of January 2013 despite the fact that a lot of people discouraged me and I was also doing everyday classes in Mathematics.
Ques 5: How it felt to become an IIT JAM Achiever? Why did you choose IIT Delhi?
Answer: It felt amazing to clear IIT JAM that year as it was the only exam I was sincerely appearing for. I was the happiest person that day in the world because it solved so many problems of my life in a single go. Also, it was an immense boost to my profile which I was trying to build for my future Ph.D. plans in the US.
IIT Delhi wasn’t my first choice. IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi were my favorites always, probably because of the glamor. However, my AIR 129 wasn’t enough to get into IIT Bombay. So, I settled with IIT Delhi. Also, I chose IIT Delhi because I was interested in Optics and IIT Delhi is the best possible school if you want to pursue Optics. And that’s how I landed in IIT Delhi.
Ques 6: Would you like to share a quick glance of your M.Sc. Journey in IIT Delhi? (Some Good Picks from the box of Memories)
Answer: The time I spent in IIT Delhi was the most humbling experience in my life. First, it burst my bubble that I am the smartest kid in the room. Second, I was able to meet some of the smartest and down to earth people in my life. My classmate Ankit Patel was DU Gold Medalist and he secured AIR 1 in GATE twice. And nearly all of my classmates went on to join either BARC/DRDO/TIFR/Ph.D. abroad and in India. I really had a great time meeting and hanging out with these people.
I consider myself fortunate to meet some of the best minds from BTech programs too. They taught me countless skills and I always feel grateful to have met them. These kids had rank below 100 or 500 in IIT JEE and at the same time, they stay so humble and polite. I happen to meet JEE AIR 1 too, although I didn’t know if it was him until I saw him accidentally on Bing search.
The most significant lesson I learned at IIT Delhi was – a high GPA will not always benefit you but a low GPA will always hurt you. I screwed my GPA while I was in IIT Delhi (it was 6.622/10 if you’re curious) and I had an immensely difficult time applying to Ph.D. programs in the US or other countries. Life is not smooth even after coming to IIT. Stay mentally prepared, you will have to work a lot harder here.
Ques 7: How is the life after qualifying IIT JAM? What are the Amazing Career Options that a JAM Qualifier can have?
Answer: Life after qualifying IIT JAM is not easy. It’s harder in fact. Just like you can’t laugh at the same joke again and again, you can’t feel excited and happy to qualify IIT JAM again and again. Everyone else around you have qualified the same exam and you no more feel special. Also, you cannot bank on the success and rank you achieved in a single day of exam for the rest of your life. You have to perform consistently harder and score well while you are here for your MSc. But there are perks of such a hard-working life.
If you plan to pursue your higher studies in India, I believe preparing with your smart classmates for exams like CSIR NET/JRF/TIFR will be easier, however managing time to prepare for these exams can be tricky. It’s all about time management too. The career options are pretty much same for anyone earning an MSc in an IIT or somewhere else. What really makes it different is the quality education and meeting with right and like-minded people. When you see a lot of people qualifying for GATE/BARC/DRDO etc., you feel like that’s doable and you prepare with confidence.
And if you plan to pursue higher studies abroad, then IITs can be extremely helpful. Especially the older IITs, as you can do a great project and use the contacts of your advisor and their Letter of Recommendation to seek a Ph.D. position abroad. As far as placements are concerned, I am not a strong proponent of this idea as you don’t really learn anything important enough for an industry during your MSc Physics to get a job. You can sit in the placements, but soon you will realize you don’t have the right skillset if you are coming from a Pure Science background. MSc Mathematics people can sure get a job and do get a job because of their Math and programming skills.
In short, career prospects after qualifying IIT JAM is kind of mixed and you truly have to weigh in a lot of aspects.
Ques 8: Which thing kept inspiring you throughout your success drive till yet?
Answer: If you are still reading this post, you will realize it was not a smooth ride and I have had enough share of failures in my life.
I was insulted by Professors, discouraged by people and betrayed by friends and scored poorly in my exams (I got 0.5/20 in Solid State Physics exam at IIT Delhi) and lot more. What I really find success in life is the fact that I kept going and pushing myself despite all those difficulties. If I didn’t get something in the first attempt, I tried again. A lot of time I didn’t get what I was aiming for originally, but whatever I got, I am eventually grateful for that.
And I still don’t consider myself as successful as I didn’t get what I originally wanted. For example, I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. at Institute of Optics, University of Rochester. Thanks to my poor GPA, I landed at RIT instead, though I’m happy I came here as I am quite sure I am not smart enough to survive in a school like the University of Rochester.
My inspiration comes from the quote – “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish”.
Ques 9: Do you have any further career plans for yourself?
Answer: I have strong faith in the word “Evolution”. And just like anyone and any other species on Earth, my thoughts are evolving if not the body. My career plans are always mercurial. I wanted to become an Engineer when I was in Class 12th. In the first year of BSc, I wanted to do Honors in Computer Science and seek a job or MCA afterward.
In the second year of BSc, I wanted to become a Theoretical Physicist. And finally, I did my Honors in Mathematics. While in MSc Physics, I realized I like Imaging Science more. And right now, sitting in Rochester for my Ph.D., I feel like pursuing a career in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in an R&D department of a company in the US.
I’m equally interested in Stock Market and Day trading. However, I’m still thinking of becoming a Patent Attorney after getting a Law degree right after my Ph.D. I’ve not decided on that yet. For the time being, I am just focusing on doing great research and finishing my Ph.D.
Let’s see how exactly I evolve with time.
Ques 10: Would you like to share any suggestions for IIT JAM Aspirants?
Answer: What worked for me may not work for you. Remember that. Having said that, I just want to recommend practicing a lot of previous year problems. Do it. And Redo it. And Redo it. And make sure you understand the Physics behind it. It will help you in the longer run. I’ve talked enough about it on my IIT JAM blog and you might want to read it a little bit.
When in stress, listen to this song from Gangs of Wasseypur 2 if you like:
“ Frustiyaao nahin moora, Narbhasaao nahin moora,
Anytime moodwa ko, Anytime moodwa ko,
Upsettaao nahin moora…
Jo bhi wrongwa hai usey, Set right-wa karo ji,
Naahin loojiye ji hope,
Thoda fightwa karo ji… moora…
Ab sataao nahin moora, Ghabraao nahin moora… “
We hope that this Interview will inspire you to make a wise choice while making the Career Decisions. Please share out your generous feedback in the comments section below.
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