Friday, December 3, 2010

My Alma Mater-2

This post is, in a way, a continuation of my previous blog post, wherein I had answered a simple question I had raised to myself : "When you get your degree, what will be the most important precept you have taken back from IIT?”.

I have previously noted my foremost response to that query. However, on retrospection, I have found out that there is one more precept that I ascribe to my Alma Mater teaching me and that I would value all my life. The last lesson was a very bitter one. This one is a pretty sweet one: Its the humility that IIT has imbibed into me, that I will act as a major moulder of my behaviour.

When I was in JEE coaching (std XI), a chemistry professor, Prof. Ravi, an ex-IITian (isn't it funny how this particular credential would make us absolutely venerate the fellow) once said in class:

" When you enter IIT as a freshman, you are on top of the world, having cleared the formidable JEE. However, when you graduate from there, you are a humbled man."

Little did I know then that this minuscule assertion would turn into a colossal lesson later on. I attribute this lesson to my batchmates and my professors.

Let me start with my batch-mates. Whatever I think I do well, I can always find 10 guys doing the same thing 10 times better than I can only dream of doing, be it in academics or extracurrics.

I have seen people with such superior grasping powers that, for them, only an hour's worth of "what's what" is enough for cracking a quiz. (I require at least a full evening for attaining the same clarity in the topic). I have worked with guys possessing such systematized grey cells that an intricate code is written off in 10 mins where my own assiduous efforts would definitely have taken me more than an hour.

Here's another example of my mediocrity: In my first year, I used to think I could swim well, but that was until the NSO trials, wherein I realised that me saying that I am good at swimming is akin to Cacofonix (of Asterix fame) saying "Hey, I am good at singing".

Oh, and there are people who are versatile with all of the above-mentioned "stunts" and who excel in all of them too! All this just goes on to keep me aware of the fact that I am nowhere near perfection. It  performs the Herculean task of keeping an ego subdued.

Take our professors next. Though I am a nine-point-someone, I have no qualms in saying that all I have learned till now is not even the tip of the iceberg, be it for research problems or for industry oriented problems. What we vomit onto our quiz, midsem and endsem papers are just the "basic" basics. And our professors are kind enough to make us aware of this fact in every single viva that they take.

A typical lab viva conversation:

(Night before the viva: I was awake till 2:30 am mugging and wiki-ing on vapour refrigeration systems)

Prof:"So, you have studied vapour refrigeration systems in your theory course last semester?"
Me: "Yes sir"
Prof: " Then lets start with a basic question: what is the typical pressure in your home refrigerator?"
Me (To myself):  "DAMN. With all my theory mugging, how come I didn't even think of this?"
Me (To prof.): "Is it about 100 bar?"
Prof: "HAHAHAHAHA. And you tell me you are a fourth year mechanical engineering student!!"

Jokes apart, let me make it clear that I am not blaspheming our academic system for what it is. The point I am trying to make is that these sort of incidents do not let me get complacent. Whenever I feel that I am excelling, there is always someone around to point out, "You dumb fellow, you haven't done this; you don't know this; how can you even think of reaching excellence?"

This thought is very demotivating in the short run, but is actually very opportunistic in the larger scheme of things.It keeps me maintain my alacrity in gaining more and more knowledge all along. As Steve Jobs would have put it, it keeps me hungry, it keeps me foolish. And, more importantly, it keeps me humbled.

All in all, the ocean of academic/extracurricular knowledge (forgive the use of the bromide) is so vast that even calling myself a single "drop" would amount to a serious exaggeration. And this thought is what has managed to keep me on the ground all throughout these years at IIT. And this is why the sweet lesson of  humility tops the list of the things I love about IIT!

P.S.: Referring to the lab-viva example, it would be a good start-up idea to create a website where typical values of typical parameters  (like the speed of a diesel engine) are mentioned. It is seriously a big pain searching them up since they are mentioned in the most obscure places on the net. I, for one, will be indebted to the guy who makes this sort of website.

P.P.S: For the really interested fellow, the vapour pressure in the home refrigerator is around 1.4 bar :P


  1. Man, this was truly inspiring...
    Indeed this is going to have a big effect on my way of accepting life as well.
    Thanks a lot for such a nice and inspiring post. :)

  2. nice one :) agreed!!
    everyday I find someone better than me in some or the other field, nowhere near perfection!!

  3. awesome! never realized that everyone in iit is following the golden rule 'stay hungry, stay foolish'...may be unknowingly :)

  4. Well said.
    Just started a chain of thoughts and added to nostalgia...

  5. Good that yu mentioned the pressure at the end..that was the first thing i was gonna search after reading this post!
    This is something that each one of us goes through but i did not think it from the "humble" perspective. well written:)