Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
At a time when students entering high school swarmed to coaching centres that trains students to appear for the extremely competitive, and unduly stressful IIT entrance exams (for engineering streams) and PMPD entrance exam (for a medical career), it takes a great amount of courage and self-realization not to be part of this crowd. One of my school teachers pointed out (during a school class period) that one must realize one’s own potential before stepping into the above-mentioned competitive exams, and that when you try to stand on too many pumpkins in the water, you invariably fall into the water. It might have been a fleeting comment, but this comment of hers came at the right moment in my case, and she was my chemistry teacher- Miss Padmini Iyer. She warned and rightly so out of experience, that majority of people spend time and money on going to these coaching centres, don’t have enough time to keep up with school work and eventually fail to do well in school or in the entrance exams. She was very wise to point out indirectly, what peer pressure can do to an otherwise well-performing student. I am very grateful to her for her harsh pieces of advice, because without them, I would have not performed as well in school. I could write a separate article on her, but to keep it brief, she is one person who has influenced me very much in terms of her sincerity, dedication, eccentricity, thoroughness, and love of chemistry. She being my favourite teacher, I could not learn enough from her, and I hope part of the dedication of my thesis to her serves as a small tribute to her as a teacher. So then, I did fairly well in my high school board exams, and enrolled into a Bachelor’s program in chemistry.
The next six years (six again!) saw me through my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, at the end of which I secured admission to the Chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. Since I have devoted this article to my Ph.D. years, I do not wish to dwell on these six years, except to say that college education in the arts and sciences has much to improve in India, and that without exposure to research in institutes like IITs or IISc (which mostly happens at the Master’s level for science students), securing admission to universities abroad for several talented and bright students from other universities is a more difficult process. Universities in the US are aware of these two institutes, but are rarely able to make a fair judgment of students from other universities, frequently since students from these two places are considered to be the ‘cream’ of the lot. Indian education has much to improve in terms of its undergraduate science education, atleast its attitude towards it in the last two decades or so. A science or arts student is often considered to be in such a degree because they failed to secure a good rank in the engineering or medical entrance exams — the stupidity of this attitude is only too evident. That being said, I will move on to some aspects of my time as a graduate student in the U.S.