| How to succeed as a non-IIT Bachelor student in India?

Electronics is love

Marks don’t Matter.

This is probably the very first wrong assumption you’ll make as you start your Bachelors of Electronics Engineering. I can only tell you that I have been rejected countless number of times because I was an 85% mark student and not a 95% one. But, first let’s start at the beginning.

So, who am I? My name is Amitabh Yadav, and like you, I too was once a bachelor student at the Electronics Department at UPES, you guessed it, Not an IIT. I graduated in 2017 with a GPA of 3.1/4.0 which is somewhere about 80 - 85%, so maybe as an above average student. After leaving UPES, I was an intern at CERN - yes, the very place where the Large Hadron Collider is. Following that I did my master studies at TU Delft, in the Netherlands. And currently, I hold a joint appointment at Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California in Berkeley, in the United States. Berkeley is one of the top 10 universities in the world, has produced innumerable number of innovations in Electronics and Computer science. Berkeley is credited with the discovery of 16 elements of the periodic table and has produced 8 Turing Laureates, and more than 100 Nobel laureates — that should say enough.

Now, why you should listen to me? I’ll tell you the truth, whatever I am today, believe it, I owe a great deal of it to my time spent at UPES, my bachelors university. I worked hard, I fell in love with Electronics and went above and beyond to test my understanding. In my bachelors, I competed in 5 national and international competitions, completed 2 funded projects, a major and a minor project, published 1 paper, filed 1 patent, did 3 internships, and graduated in the top 10 of my class. Beside this, I also volunteered for cultural and technical fests, the IEEE student chapter and was the Discipline Committee head of College of Engineering at the Dept of Student Affair, DSA in my final year. Today, the career I chose is much more demanding than that. And my bachelors trained and tested me to get ready for the challenges I face in my life, today. I was very fortunate to have learnt and trained under the professors there, and the memories I cherish the most are that of Dehradun. It was my professors, whom I approached when I was stuck at a technical problem, it was them who helped me arranged money when my team and I needed funding for our project and arranged for a lab space to work in, it was them with whom I talked to about my personal problems, and who pushed me to become a better engineer. It was one of my professors, who first introduced me to micro-controllers in my very first year and gifted me a Raspberry Pi when I graduated, that I still use by the way. Bachelors is truly a rewarding time.

What you should be doing? Let me put it very simply. The degree of Bachelors in Technology, B.Tech. that you will earn from UPES is equivalent to the B.Tech. from an IIT, and even an equivalent to a Bachelor of Science, B.S. degree from MIT. All these degrees offer (nearly) the same curriculum and will open the exact same doors after completing the degree. You can apply for all the jobs that require a bachelors degree, you will be eligible to apply for a Masters or a PhD after bachelors. You have earned the basic qualification. If you do things right, you will have a bachelors degree in 4 years.

I’m sure you must be skeptical of this argument. I’ll tell you why, you may be thinking, you have earned the same degree as the other institutes, but you are not as exceptionally trained as the students there. That, let me break it down to you, is not true. The relevant subjects you are going to study are exactly the same as the other institutes. What is different then? I’ll tell you what you need to know. Know this, as a bachelor student, the most important resource you have is TIME. You have been given 4 years to study and develop your principles and foundations in a subject that is going to have a profound effect on the life and career you’ll make for yourself. 4 years is as long as a PhD! 4 years to peacefully study the principles of one of the best subjects that will show you how everything in the world around you works.

Now, how do you make the best out of your time as a Bachelor Student? Let me first sell you Electronics and why you should be motivated to learn about it. You probably already know the cliche that Electronics is literally everywhere! Let me tell you some examples which are not so obvious. Neural Implants - developing nano-scale cranial sensors for sensing thoughts and using signal processing to understand those thoughts. Neural actuators are nano scale cranial implants actuating parts of the brain to restore function. Imagine using such implants to repair lost function of limbs or restoring lost sight. This is also electronics and this is happening today. Biomedical electronics involves making photo, piezo, chemical and all types of sensors and actuators to enable medical advances. CT Scan and MRI machines are all very extensively engineered applications of Signal Processing, Analog and Digital Electronics and Electromagnetic Field Theory - and completing your bachelor studies in Electronics will enable you to understand each and every aspect of this.

Another example, Voyager-I is an extremely over-engineered project that was launched in 1977 and is an absolute marvel of electronics. It was built for a mission for just a couple of years. Today, it is more than 13 billion miles away from earth, yet we can still receive its data after more than 40 years. It takes about 20 hours of 1 way communication with Voyager 1 and the received signal strength has deteriorated from 23 watts to attowatt, which is 1 billionth of a watt, but we can still capture and decode it. It’s all communication, antenna theory, electro-magnetics, digital and analog electronics and Signal Processing.

You might wonder these are isolated examples - NO, they are not. The biomedical example, it’s happening here, back in Cory Hall in Berkeley. Wireless communication is one of the most mysterious and challenging fields out there. Why do you think there is 3G, 4G and now, 5G. 3G was 40 Mbps, 4G LTE is around 100 Mbps and 5G is promising nearly 10Gbps. It’s not magic, it’s a complete redesign of your communication systems with new ideas that are being innovated by electronics engineers - again, all electronics and communication systems.

During my Masters I specialized in Experimental Quantum Computing. And my current research is in Theoretical Quantum Information. I am developing quantum algorithms to understand patterns from Exabytes of data. You can see the variety of applications of studying electronics by this.

Now, there is a reason, why I gave you these examples, and if there is one thing that I could have told my younger self is that, start thinking about applications. Each topic you study in electronics - think how unlimited are it’s applications. Whether it’s Thevenin and Norton’s theorem that you learn in 1st year or whether it’s Fabrication methods of Micro and Nano Electo-Mechanical systems you learn in the final year. Think about the applications. There is a very straightforward relation of application to interest. When you think about applications, you start developing the curiosity to know something new. You automatically develop a thirst for knowledge and a need to learn attitude.

Now, some students may say that I don’t have interest in this subject or I don’t like this subject. I’ll tell you why and how can you overcome this. The amount of interest you have in a subject is directly related to how well you perform in the subject. Everyone loves the feeling that if there is a problem and you know that you can solve it. This feeling is at the peak when you’re in an examination hall, and even higher when you solve the real world problems out there. If you become an expert in a subject you will automatically love it. Not only that, you’ll start thinking innovative ways of how you can apply the knowledge to create something new. I love a quote by Pablo Picasso on this - Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist.

So, a very simple rule to follow is: To develop an Interest in your subject, in your field, become an expert in it. And to become an expert, simply start thinking about the applications. Once you become an expert and develop that natural interest, your mind will be a powerhouse of innovations. Being in India, gives us this unique opportunity that forces us to solve problems within the limited resources we have and think out of the box. It’s a gold mine for unique ideas and an untapped potential for innovations. The world needs solutions that are affordable.

Today on the internet you have an endless resource of knowledge at your disposal. OCW by MIT, EDX, Coursera, NPTEL all have recorded classroom lectures, professors are posting their lectures and notes online freely on all of the topics you study in bachelors and also the more advanced ones. Use them instead of watching random videos on YouTube or Facebook. Solve the practice questions that you can get at these resources and test yourself against some of the brightest minds of the planets who too will be facing the exactly same questions as you are. That is, you’ll find out, is one hell of a motivation to get started to attempt new challenges.

One argument I get a lot is, that the market is very competitive and jobs are hard to find. I will not mislead you by telling that is not true. It is hard out there. The number of eligible applicants are many and jobs are few. But there is a solution to that. The industry is hungry for innovators, it looks for people who push their limits to reach absolute perfection. The industry values such people and will approach you with a job offer, if you’re the one who can do the job. There is a saying in the industry, “You are not paying me to for the 20 minutes in which I solved the problem, you are paying me for the years I spent learning how to solve the problem in 20 minutes”. The people who developed your iPhone 11 are the absolute best people who have designed and tested the A13 Bionic chip to it’s absolute limits to assure there are no timing mismatches in processing, no data corruption occurs when 1 or many transistors die out or no hardware security threats affect your data.

Now, I know it sounds amazing when you hear it like this - the advanced stuff. But it’s only partially true. I agree a lot of these topics require further studies or a certain number of years of experience. But, as I said, it is just one half of the complete story. I’ll hopefully start my PhD in the coming years, but let me tell you, as a researcher today, most of the topics that I need to solve my challenges is not from my masters studies but everything I learnt as a bachelor. My masters education was less about learning new and advanced methods, and more about enforcing the fundamentals that I learnt during my Bachelors. And a lot of the Master courses are extensions of your bachelors education. A masters in Machine Learning is an application of Linear Algebra, Calculus, Probability, and Statistics and Inference. I am working on Quantum Information Theory, and 90% of it is Linear Algebra, Probability Theory and Group Theory — all of these are the topics of bachelors — and I use the concepts I developed as a bachelors student to apply to quantum phenomena. This is again, to restore your faith that everything you study as a bachelor in the 4 years is absolutely relevant and very important.

I gave you the example of Maths. In your first year, you also study Physics and Chemistry. Why these? I can give you many examples, or I can simply tell you that I am an Electronics Engineer, appointed in the Physics Division, who specializes in Quantum Algorithms. If I had not studied these subjects properly, I would not be in Berkeley. Today, I try to read 2-3 quantum chemistry and quantum gravity papers on an average every week, and I am able to understand and appreciate them, only because I still keep up with my Physics and Chemistry. That is again, important.

Today, India is generating the highest number of engineers in the World every year. We have one of the youngest population. But all we get are IT jobs and outsourced jobs from the US. If our B.Tech is equivalent to a B.S. from MIT or B.Sc. from Oxford. Why is there such a discrimination in the job market? Now there are two ways to look at it. First, we can point fingers. First, it’s the government’s fault for not allocating enough funds to universities and their development. Second, it is the university management’s fault for not having enough labs and funding for your program. Third, it’s the professors fault who don’t teach you well enough.

I can probably relate to all 3 situations. Like any other university, UPES also had these flaws. But it’s is your life and no one but you is the in-charge of making the best out of it. During my time, I did my best to find a passion to pursue and to excel at. Like I said, you have the internet. Learn the topics that you study in class, from 3 or 4 different university lectures, and very importantly, solve questions. Learn the topics that may have been marked ‘out of syllabus’ in the class but are there in the book. They are there for a reason, and you already know that. So, leave no stone unturned.

Secondly, let me tell you this because its important for you to know this. 90% percent of your bachelor education, does not require multi-million dollar labs and equipments. You don’t need a Xilinx Alevo accelerator or Nvidia Tegra GPU to implement and test your designs. Even the most advanced designs you can think of can be implemented on the equipment that is either already present in the labs or if not, is affordable enough for your university and the department. Most of the advanced labs and facilities that perhaps only the best universities in the world can offer, is consumed only by Professors, their PhDs and PostDoctoral Scholars. But this doesn’t mean and it must not stop you to aspire to use these facilities. Internships are the time to aspire for such opportunities. I, during my time as a bachelors student, applied to more than 100 internships, fellowships, studentships and scholarships in India and all around the world in both academia and industry — even got to work on the most expensive and largest machine ever built by humankind, the Large Hadron Collider! Aspire, but very importantly, do your research on the topic you are applying for, a generic and blank internship application is as good as nothing. Learn about the internship position, learn about the proposed problem, suggest ideas, express interest and then, apply like you have nothing to lose.

The very first priority of your college life is education, true. But college is also about developing your overall personality and your character. These will be perhaps the best 4 years of your life, so absolutely, engage in extra-curricular, spend time with your friends, plan trips, party hard and make it a fun 4 year journey. Take care of your physical and mental health. Learn new skills, develop new hobbies, share your problems with friends, professors and mentors. Everyone is there to help you. It might appear be overwhelming at some point, but I’ll tell you something one of my professors at UPES, once told us, “Engineering is about solving problems - they can technical, sure.. financial or even of managing time.” A philosophy you can derive for yourself is that, as an Engineer, you must forfeit the right to say, “I do not have time”. Discipline yourself, plan and optimize. As you will grow you will develop the preference or liking for one thing over the others and you’ll know which path to pursue.

In the last 3 years, after graduating from UPES, I have worked under a number of eminent scientists, in 4 different countries. I got to interact with industry experts like Sam Altman of OpenAI, Micheal Nielson of YCombinator, John Martinis, Ryan Babbush and Dave Bacon of Google Quantum AI, academic experts like Issac Chuang, Brandon Rayhaun and Umesh Vazirani of MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, respectively and even Nobel laureates, Jack Stienberger and Saul Perlmutter. Today, I may not remember every technical thing we discussed, but the most important life lesson I got from their examples is of being true to your craft. Being ethical in your efforts, creating something unique, true, uncorrupted and unequivocal is the way to succeed. Good Marks, Success, Awards, Recognition are all the false parameters to aim for, they are just the perks that appear along the way to your true path, which is Genuine and Ethical hard work. Just these two tools with make you succeed, in academia, industry and in life, really.

In the end, I’ll simply ask you to do this. Work hard, be ethical, be persistent and push your limits - if you push your limits, your limits will expand. Make the best out of your abilities, aim to get the highest marks and make the best out of the 4 years of your education. I encourage you think of yourself as a scientist, you don’t have to tell anyone that. Tell yourself and think and act like a scientist to solve every problem.

[published originally on linkedin 🔗]

[ Posted by Amitabh Yadav ]

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