“Sunil, we are waiting for your answer! Come on, at least try it..and I was standing still, in-animated and clueless. I was in a state of brainwash, as if I was in some sort of shock. Then she said…”
On April 22, 2011, I received a mail from IIT Kanpur confirming my selection for post GATE BT screening for interview, and subsequent admission to MTech program in the Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering, IITK. I was happy to receive that information as none of my interviews were scheduled for 24th of May 2011 (the day scheduled for screening at IIT Kanpur), as of then. A few days later, on 27th of April, 2011 I got a mail from IIT Madras that I had been shortlisted for interview at Department of Biotech in IIT Madras for an M.Tech course there. And, what I came to know was the least desired news-“The interview at IIT Madras was scheduled for 24th of May, 2011! (The same day as the interview of IIT Kanpur was scheduled).” I was wondering as to what was the plan of fate for me. The very next day i.e April 28, 2011, I got another mail; this time from IIT Bombay! (I started wondering if the interview at IITB would also have the same schedule!). But to my relief, my screening for IIT Bombay was scheduled for May 11, 2011 (which was well before IIT Kanpur/IIT Madras schedule). Had there been any clash between IITK/Madras and IITB, I would have chosen IITB amongst the three . Now, I was in the grip of anxiety for my ‘First Interview’ post GATE BT qualification at IIT Bombay (scheduled for 11th May, 2011) and the fact of clash of interviews between IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras really put me under pressure (for me missing a single interview meant reducing the chances of selection). Both IIT Madras and IIT Kanpur were amongst the première IITs, and I really didn’t want to loose the chance of attempting either of them. But, it was practically impossible for me to be present at both the venues (Madras and Kanpur) on the same day, I had to choose one. My interest was always in Environmental Biotechnology. Considering my interest, IIT Madras had Biochemical Engineering to offer, IIT Kanpur was more about Biomedical Engineering. I decided that I will visit IIT Madras for the interview and booked a train ticket (in waitlist) for the same.
Flipping the Decision
On May 19, 2011, a day prior to my still waitlisted train ticket for Chennai, I decided not to visit IIT Madras, and rather go for IIT Kanpur. The reason behind doing so was what I least recommend anyone to consider today. “Chennai was too far away from Punjab, Kanpur was not”. I took the decision at the stake of my interest. Though it was influenced by a lot of personal factors, I regard that decision as a regrettable one. Neither your family, nor your personal reasons should influence your career decision, for your career is going to greatly influence the well-being of your family and personal life in future.
Having made the decision, I thought to look for the scope of Biochemical/Bioprocess/Environmental Biotech at IIT Kanpur. I did some research in the small duration of time I had before the interview, and found that Dr. Ashok Kumar ( Check his profile here) could be my saviour and I started revising the concepts of Bioprocess Engineering from Doran.
The Unplanned Travel
I had no plans for visiting IIT Kanpur, so I hadn’t made any booking in prior. On 23rd May, 2011, early morning, I boarded a public bus from Delhi to Kanpur. I left around 9:30 am, and realized during the travel that it wasn’t a right decision to board a bus (that too a public transport bus). The journey was very long, tiring and uncomfortable. Weather was extremely hot, seats were old and non-inclining, bus kept getting over-crowded throughout the way, and there were just too many halts! I had made a wrong decision, I realized. My sufferings of the travel ceased as I reached Kanpur at 11:10pm in the night! I was tired and totally exhausted. The only relief was that I got the room without much hassle at IIT Kanpur. That night, I just fell on the bed, skipped the dinner and slept (but made sure that I had set an alarm for 6:00 am ).
The Written Test
As per the plan of action of the administration and faculty of Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering, all the shortlisted students were supposed to appear for a written test. There were different halls assigned for students having different ranges of GATE BT scores. The hall I was assigned to must be having over 60 candidates (a rough estimate as per my memory). The test was of around 1 hour. As per my faint memory (if I’m not wrong), the questions in the written test were all belonging to general aptitude and English skills (none or least of the questions were from Biotech). There was no negative marking. I was very much comfortable with the questions asked, and attempted the test well before time. I handed over the sheet to the invigilator and left the examination hall.
Within an hour, we came to know the result of the written test-I had cleared it! I was really happy.
I had no idea about the number of students qualified for the interview (I didn’t take time to notice the same by counting the total number of students on all lists). My name was there and I was content.
I moved to the location mentioned for the interview. I noticed roughly 20-25 students sitting on randomly placed garden chairs in a well lighted and air conditioned hall. The hall had a room attached to it, wherein students were entering turn-by-turn for interview. I heard some students discussing about the details of causative agent of Dengue (they were talking about this question being asked in the interview). I thought that if such questions are going to be asked, I would hardly stand a chance. As my name was called, I entered the interview room.
There were 2 sofas in the room, one right in front of the door from where I entered (there were 3 male scientists sitting on that), and other to the left of the door (there was a female scientist there). I recognized none of them, except for Dr. Ashok Kumar. The female scientist asked for my resume. She appreciated the consistency in my academic performance. She also commended my internship experiences (AIIMS and Indian Oil R&D). Then one of the scientists sitting in front asked my favourite subject. I replied as Bioprocess Engineering, especially downstream processing. Dr. Ashok then responded to my reply in the form of a question:
“Sunil, who taught you Downstream Processing in LPU?”
I replied, Mr. Bikram Saha. Coincidentally, Mr. Bikram Saha was an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and Dr. Ashok had taught him. An informal discussion about my learning experience started.
Then he asked me, “Can you tell any other mode of modulating the out-put of ion-exchange chromatography, apart from stationary phase and temperature?”
The question was extremely simple (my realization after exiting the interview room). But I was sitting dead silent with no answer to offer! Somehow my mind was not working at all! He said, are you panicking? I finally uttered a word, “No” and nodded my head in disapproval. And then I said, sir I can’t think of any other mode as of now.
The very first technical question had shook off my confidence. I was still trying to figure out the answer to his question subconsciously. But my mind seemed to defy all my efforts. I was sweating and restless.
He asked me another question, “Can you tell the Mathematical reason of the fact that small molecules elute later on Gel-exclusion chromatography?”
I knew the physical reason, but hadn’t gone through the mathematical aspects, although I knew that the reasoning was mentioned in Keith Wilson and Walker’s book. I responded that “Sorry, I don’t know the answer to this question too”.
The female scientist then asked me to get to the White board. There was a problem on PCR drawn on the board. There were two primers and a template strand. She asked me to decide the forward and reverse primers and draw the 1st 5 cycles on the board. By now, I was almost trembling! My mind was signalling me that Sunil you have already screwed the interview by not offering the answer to the first two questions, you have to solve this question. I kept looking at the board trying to relax and comprehend the problem (which actually was just too simple, but somehow I seemed to have lost all my senses and confidence at that time!). All of a sudden I heard the female scientist saying , “Sunil, we are waiting for your answer! Come on, at least try it..and I was standing still, in-animated and clueless. I was in a state of brainwash, as if I was in some sort of shock. Then she said, “Pick up the marker and try to get to the board and draw something.”
I was even more embarrassed to realize that I hadn’t even picked the marker to try solve the question and was rather staring at the board! I was now madly willing to get out of that room. I said to them , “I’m really sorry Sir, Ma’am, I am not able to concentrate and can’t comprehend this question either”.
A response came from Dr. Ashok, ” OK! Mr Sunil, I guess we are done then. You may leave. Thanks!”
This is how the worst possible interview of my life ended. The result of the interview need not be mentioned.
Lessons to take from my failure:
1. Having a highest GATE percentile and great academic career is not a guarantee to your admission in IITs.
2. Be it a 95 percentiler or 100 percentiler, all have equal chances of getting selected in IITs when it comes to interviews.
3. Donot panic during the interviews, it can prove fatal! If you happen to answer one question wrong, don’t ponder over it for long, and try to focus on the next question being asked. Anxiety is like a chain reaction, don’t let it start at first hand!
4. Your career should stand tall in front of your personal comforts.
5. Decide in advance in case of clashes in interviews, book train tickets/flight tickets in time and make sure that you don’t over exert yourself.
6. Failing one interview doesn’t mark the end of the world. Take your lessons and move ahead as a better person for a better effort next time. My next interview after IIT Kanpur was of IIT Delhi. I did Crack it and made it to IIT Delhi (Click here)