Everything that bothered me, everything that gave me shame or guilt, I had it discussed with at least one person; and people didn’t reject me. Today, I have a successful career with an MNC as Software Development Engineer.
Academically, I went through a really tough time at IIT Kanpur. It is not an experience that I boast about or am comfortable sharing publicly. I have, therefore, concealed my identity so that my co-workers do not stop taking me seriously. I have not yet mustered enough courage to share the truth with many others who are very close to me. Still, there are enough details that I am willing to share so that the readers may find my story helpful in their own struggle.
I was a good student like most of you. In high school, I was a District topper in Bihar Board 10th exam and had topped School from 8th onwards. For the 12th grade, I received Rotary Scholarship, scholarship from local MLA, and my community also gave me monthly money for studies that I was to pay back without interest. I also tutored to support myself. My father, a 4th grade government employee, had limited income. I am the oldest of three boys. My mother is a house wife with little education. I wanted to get a job after 12th grade so that I could help my family. I applied for several jobs including a job as an Airman; but got rejected. I started studies in a BSc program but did not complete it. Someone advised me to take the IIT-JEE. I was successful on my second attempt and secured a rank of 1600. I got admission at IITK in metallurgy. Rotary and our MLA did not give me any financial assistance to go to IIT. Lion’s Club, however, provided me with some financial assistance and IITK gave me merit-cum-means (MCM) scholarship. Things were looking good.
I could do it if I wanted to, but …
At IITK, I was like a kid in a candy store. There were too many things to do and try. I joined the Book Club, played computer games all day, read dirty books, etc…. You get the picture. In the first semester I got an SPI of 6.6. In the 2nd semester I failed all Courses and got an SPI of 2.0 and was put on academic probation. I lost my MCM scholarship. I needed to improve my CPI to get back the scholarship without which I would not be able to continue in the program. I lied to my parents to get some money to survive. I also borrowed money from the Students Benefit Fund at IITK.
I did very well in my 3rd semester and got a SPI of 9.1. This got me back the MCM scholarship. The late Prof. R. Balasubramaniam was especially very helpful to me. But in the 4th semester again, my SPI dropped to 5.1. I took summer courses, and failed 2 out of 6 courses.
During the 4th semester, I developed romantic feelings for a local girl (not an IITK student). Things did not work out. It took me three years to get over the heartbreak. That did not help with my academics either.
I failed the Engineering Graphics course 3 times (skipped the exam all 3 times) , had to drop it in my 9th semester because of a time table clash and was the only course left in the 10th semester to do and passed it with a D Grade. Engineering Graphics professor Dr. Banerjee explained the need to pass the course and went out of his way to allow me to complete the labs that I had missed. However, that was something which was offered to me by other professors too. I did not accept their offers as I felt that they were doing me favor and would think less of me because of those favors. However, Dr. Banerjee appeared to be an educationist first and a grader second, which was why I felt comfortable in attending the extra labs. When the F list came out and my name wasn’t there, I asked Dr. Banerjee if he had passed me out of mercy and he said, “No, you passed it on your own merit.” I felt good.
I failed my B.Tech project thrice. (The professor failed everybody the first time. I didn’t appear for the presentation on the second attempt) and finally did both parts in the 9th semester. I wanted to do an excellent job on the B.Tech project and really put in some effort. Fortunately in the end I was able to find a topic which was interesting enough and a guide who was demanding but encouraging as well. Dr. Ashish Garg, my project advisor, was strict but was a perfectionist. Once I got interested in the project work, I realized that I too was a perfectionist. I enjoyed working with Prof. Garg. I did a great job on the project and got an A grade and also won best poster award in an international conference.
There were so many conflicting thoughts wreaking havoc in my mind. There was a guilt that I was sucking up my family resources for an education at IITK instead of helping the family that could hardly afford to make ends meet. I was not able to guide my younger brothers while I needed guidance myself. I knew that a degree from IIT was important to me but I was failing all these courses. I needed favors from professors but did not want to accept those favors as I was too proud. I saw that there were students at IITK who were good at sports, academics, social skills and here I was with poor grades, little social skills, and few friends. Did I even deserve to be at IITK? Was I punishing myself by failing in all these courses?
By the time I graduated with a BTech in MME, I had 10 A’s and 11 F’s and a grade sheet full of F * and FR * with a CGPA of 7.2/10. Failing courses at IIT was a nightmare and I barely managed to survive that. I couldn’t get a job on campus though getting F’s had less of a role than my inability to clear the interviews. I had little communication skills.
What is surprising is not that I finally graduated in 5-years instead of 4, but how I kept going. How did I manage not to take the extreme step that some in my situation would have taken? What helped me? What can help others?
I almost killed myself…….What kept me going?
I got interested in Shiksha Sopan. The experience helped me understand that there are people who are in worse shape than I am. How can I give up? I have so much more. If they can see hope, I certainly can. I realized that I NEEDED an IITK degree. I deserved it! I could DO it. My conversations with Prof. H.C. Verma and my interaction with Shiksha Sopan kids kept me in touch with my roots. I never got frustrated enough to lose faith in myself. Besides Prof. Verma, Professor Banerjee and Prof. Brahm Deo were very sympathetic and understanding.
During the 3rd semester I also attended the Art of Living course offered on campus on Yoga and Sudarshan Kriya. It gave me peace of mind.
After our 7th semester, the whole department went for an industrial tour of 10 days to Mumbai and Pune as part of the curriculum. I had a near death experience in Mumbai when I tried to board a running train in which my classmates had already boarded. It wasn’t a suicide attempt, just a mistake which could have ended my life. I still remember it, train speeding up and I am trying to hold on to gate desperately trying to get in and suddenly I am thrown on the ground. Train is still running. Those few seconds, I thought I was under the train tracks and I was going to die. Those few seconds, my life flashed in front of me, my failings, my successes and my loved ones. All the cherished dreams and I remembered my mother, my family, the girl who had broken my heart and I realized I wanted to live. I was not ready for death. I loved my family and I wanted to see them, to go back home, to laugh with them and help them in their struggles. Who would be stupid enough to die when you have such loved ones to live for and so many dreams?
The reality of it was an eye opener. Having been so near death, I was convinced for life that suicide is simply not an option for anyone and even those who do it must be terribly afraid in those last few moments of their life. But perhaps by that time it would have been too late for them. Regardless of my failures and whether or not I got the IIT degree, it was clear to me that I would never do anything to harm myself. My life wasn’t my own. I owed it to the people who brought me to this world, who trusted me and gave all they had so that I could have a better life and were counting on me to graduate and help them. I owed it to all those people who had enriched my life by just being there for me. I couldn’t die before I had fulfilled my duties to them, not even by accident, forget by suicide.
When I went back home that year, I told my parents about the incident. Even before I told what I saw and remembered, my mother was in tears. My father told me that my mother had dreamed about it almost at the same time I had the accident. (It was about 8 pm in winters and people sleep early at my home) and I realized the world is connected in more ways than you can imagine and perhaps there is a God after all. I turned to God for my answers. Soon afterwards I joined ISKCON.
My experience with ISKCON was very positive. It gave me emotional resilience. The philosophy of “leave results to Krishna, just do your best” encouraged me whenever I found myself in a hole. And I was in hole often! How can it get worse? I just have to stop digging the hole.
I realized that everything changes. Nothing is permanent. I learned to keep going believing that this phase will pass too. Many who take extreme step of committing suicide remain bottled up. They take every failure too seriously. They take every failure as a reflection of poor self-worth. I never let my failures frustrate or depress me enough to give up believing in myself.
There was one more reason why I didn’t take the extreme step. Everything that bothered me, everything that gave me shame or guilt, I had it discussed with at least one other person; and people didn’t reject me. There was one thing, that could have caused me to take extreme step … it wasn’t academics or grades. But it was a cause for my poor grades. I still cannot talk about it even to my closest family members. I discussed it with Dr. Alok Bajpai, the psychiatrist at the counseling service at IITK. He gave me a medical reason for my problem and said it was okay. While his acceptance didn’t take away the guilt, however, it gave me enough support that I didn’t think about taking the extreme step. Overall counseling service staff was very helpful especially Mrs. Sharmishtha Chakraborty and Dr. Onkar Dixit. However, my academic performance continued to be lackluster.
Life after IITK
Life did not go smoothly even after graduation from IITK. I felt maladjusted in my first job. I was not getting along with my co-workers and roommates. I changed 5 houses in 4 years. A friend recommended and agreed to pay for the Landmark Education course http://www.landmarkeducation.co.in His condition was that he would pay for the course and I would return him the money only if I found the course useful. It proved to be a life saver. The course helped me to be at ease with myself no matter what the circumstances were. It gave me the power to effectively act in those areas that were important to me. It made me aware of my thinking process and guided me in my action plan. It released me from the clutches of my past and helped me look at the future. I felt like I could now move on.
Didn’t employers care about my 11F’s?
I couldn’t get a job on campus though getting F’s had less of role than my inability to clear the interviews. I had little communication skills. I sought friends’ help. They conducted mock interviews and helped me improve. A friend of mine who graduated from IIT Delhi, who himself found a job after being rejected 25 times, gave me an e-mail address of the CEO of his employer. I got hired because I demonstrated my analytical skills, logical thinking, and ability to learn fast. I could convince them that I was passionate about things that interested me and overall I am a hardworking individual.
Many of my interviewers were not convinced by my explanations for why I ended up getting so many F’s. There were also several companies that did not care about grades — to them what mattered was that I had graduated from an IIT and had done well in the written test and interview. Most of my F’s were in the courses that I did not care about. I was good at software. That is what I wanted to do, but I could not change my branch at IITK. In interviews I emphasized what I was good at and did not try to explain my weaknesses. I submitted my grade sheet everywhere and HR or background verification team didn’t have an issue.
Fast forward 6 years. I am currently working at a multi-national technology company. Drawing about the same salary as B.Tech CSE guys (I am from MME) with equivalent years of experience, performing the same roles. I also had a pretty satisfying stint at a startup which I joined as the 4th employee with one year of experience and stayed there for 3 years.
What would I tell someone struggling for grades?
Find what you are good at. Do well in those courses. Don’t invite Fs, Don’t purposely Fail Courses and do not think that getting an F is perfectly fine or a celebration time. However, if you do get F’s, do not despair. Do not take your failures too seriously. Even if you genuinely struggle, Remember, there is nothing permanent; this phase will pass too. Talk to people. Talk to even Mean professors. They are not as mean as they appear to be. Have faith in yourself. Connect with the community. Look at the people who are in much worse situations than you are in. Finish the degree. Get a job, any job. (specially in software field). Prove your worth. IITK has taught you more than you think. Switch to another job if you are not happy. You have to find your passion; you have to find what you are good at and go after it. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks about your “success”. Don’t get in the rat race.
I found following books to be specially helpful. Reviews inline.
1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
2. How situations occur arises in language.
3. Future based language transforms how situations occur to people.
3. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Initially I thought this book wouldn’t be relevant to me since I didn’t consider myself a “violent” communicator. A few pages into the book however, it became evident to me that despite my easy-going nature, I had much to learn about communication. Dr. Rosenberg identifies learned communication that disconnects us from each other and is at the very root of violence. He then offers a simple yet powerful 4 step model that leads to respectful and compassionate communication. One catch – while the model is simple, it can be challenging to apply, especially when we’re upset. That’s because most of us have learned to blame others when we’re upset and it’s hard to unlearn this behavior.
The alumnus featured graduated from IITK with BTech in Metallurgy. He has still not resolved many issues in his life and therefore prefers to remain anonymous. We encourage you to post your comments on the blog or communicate with him via GoForItIITK@gmail.com