ďIf plan A doesnít work out, donít worry, the alphabet has many more letters.íí
1) Let us begin by knowing about your journey at BPHC, right from the first day you came here, until today.
When I came here I was just like anyone else. I just knew one thing, that, I want to study abroad. I wasnít particular about what to study and where to go. I liked Computer Science, so I wanted to stick with this field. However, I didnít have much of an experience when I came here and hence I had many things to explore. In my first semester, I was in that post-school hangover; I thought that CG does not matter and I just enjoyed the semester a lot. I got the only C grade in my life in that semester and scored a CG of 7.8. The next semester, I realised that things arenít going to work this way. Some of the people also told me that to go abroad you really need to improve your CGPA; especially when youíve got only 7.8 in the first semester. So from that semester I started concentrating on my academics. I was happy to score 8.7 in that semester. It boosted my confidence. I started believing that, yeah, my CG will improve gradually. And it went on increasing continuously. I can say, I am proud of this one thing about myself that my CG has always been increasing; and now itís at 9.07. I was also an active part of the Dance Club and the Basketball team of the campus. I also came to know that I needed to build a really strong profile; so I started working on it at the appropriate time. I did my PS 1 at DRDO Delhi which is a research based work place and also linked with the things I like doing. The summer holidays after the 3rd year are really crucial when you have to decide and start applying for the places you want to join. So I applied at a few places and got calls from a German professor, but he did not have any funding, and from INRIA, France as well, but the professor had partial funding. I applied at NTU in September and by April, after two rounds of interview, I got a call from there. As a backup plan I was trying for Microsoft IDC as well. I was told by many people to take Microsoft as I can get a PPO but I chose to go abroad and pursue research. In my fourth year, I was busy with many things coming my way, like working on Study Oriented Projects, Lab Oriented Projects, GRE, Dance Club and many more. Right now, I have my PS 2 going on at Amazon, Bangalore. I would have taken it in some kind of start-up or so but I thought now I need to get some industrial experience so I chose Amazon. However, I learned a lot through my journey and by making choices. It is easy to just go with the flow and just get over with these four years in a flash, but what we need to ensure is that we are on the right path towards what we want to do in life.
2) What was your inspiration throughout your journey that made you go all the way till the top?
I donít know how to answer this. I always had that in me that I wanted to go to the best universities and study, I wanted to have that experience and gain that sort of knowledge, as I knew it was invaluable. In my first semester; I would say I was a little distracted, I didnít realise that I should start preparing early and I just kept playing around with the campus life but gradually I came back on track. I canít say that a specific person or thing inspired me; but that inspiration was already there somewhere inside me. All I had to do was just realise it.
3) Would you like to share some incident from your life when you thought that you would have done something else to make it better and you still regret it?
I would say, a lot of times. I am a kind of person who likes to have backups of backups. In the summers, when I started applying for the scholarships, I applied for a scholarship that was given to people with a CG above 9.3. At that time my CG was 8.9, and at that time I felt bad about my low score in the first semester. I thought if I would have scored a little better than 7.8; then with a good start I would have been able to manage the required CG. For another scholarship named Charpak; the same story got repeated. Also that year they preferred many IIT Mumbai students. At that time I felt a little pissed off with the institution itself. I was really bad at taking decisions. The decision between Microsoft IDC and NTU was really a tough one. But I am glad I went to NTU, it helped me a lot in my profile. I feel that I should have started applying for masters and working on my SOP earlier because I had to struggle a lot towards the end. I guess everyone has that ĎWhat Ifí feeling inside themselves. Itís good if it isnít there, but at the end itís human nature.
4) What all difficulties did you face in your journey and how did you manage to overcome them?
I will start right from my PS 1. I had my PS 1 at DRDO Delhi. I had many friends there. Their mentors were very friendly while mine was not at all friendly. I was expected to go to my station daily which is a journey of 2 hours one way from my home town, Gurgaon. It used to be a proper shift from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. where phones and all arenít allowed. I couldnít even leave early. On the other hand my friends werenít expected to be there daily. It was a little tough for me to travel so much daily and see that my friends even didnít have to come there. Eventually it helped a lot, as I learned a lot out of it. At NTU, I had to work on Deep Learning, a field that I was fascinated about but did not have any practical experience of. I was allotted a PhD student who was supposed to help me. I didnít want to waste much of his time as I know PhD students are already stuck up with a lot of other work. So, I had to learn a lot of things on my own. Itís not easy when someone just gives you a piece of code and you have to understand the neural network layers and all that. I was the only student on the project, I came all the way from India and moreover they were paying me; all these added on to the responsibility. Apart from academics, going to a new country, finding accommodation there, finding roommates and all is a huge task in itself. The system there is very different from ours. There are just a bunch of buildings in which you have to find out where to go. In addition, you need to do the documentation all alone. So at the end you learn a lot.
5) How did the experience with NTU, Singapore help you grow as a person?
I think when you are in college, your mind-set is sort of restricted to the world of around thousand people on campus. Sometimes you happen to think that I am doing fairly well looking at this very bunch of people. But once you go out, you realise that there are many people who are working much harder than you and are much better than you are. I had people coming from Chennai who belonged to some college I have not even heard of, but they were doing very well. Even students from places like IIT Kharagpur made me feel that I am not the best and thereís a long way to go. So itís not fair to think that having a CG of 9 in a class of 80 is a big deal. People here really make it a big deal. But once you go out, you will feel that 9 isnít anything because the amount of knowledge that people have is pretty good. So I suggest we should always have a bigger picture in mind.
6) Would you like to tell our readers about your hobbies?
I love to do a lot of things. I liked to dance even before I came here but couldnít try out professional coaching for it. I was excited about the dance club inductions as I was finally about to get a chance to learn and perform. Apart from that I really liked sports. Before coming here I used to play lawn tennis. I joined the team on campus, but there was not anything interesting going on in that team. I came to know about the basketball team. I never used to play basketball as such but I have an athletic body, so I got selected in the team. I still wonder what they saw in me, but anyway, I was a part of the team in my first year. I played for Arena as well. It was really an awesome experience. However I had some leg injuries in my 4th and 5th semester due to which I was unable to perform in some events. In 3rd year I chose dance club over basketball as I was the Joint Secretary of the Dance club. Apart from all these, I like travelling and many other things.
7) As you said, you were the Joint Secretary of the dance club. We would like to know how you managed to handle all the pressure that comes with responsibility.
It is very tough. It was very tough for me. Especially in the third year when you have many things like pending CDCs, projects, you start thinking about your future, batch snaps, and farewell and also that was my year of being the joint secretary. So I was under a lot of pressure. I like to keep things very organised. I always used to have this to do list and I used to allot time for all the things. Because every time you have a pile of things that you need to do and youíll see that things arenít leaving the pile but are just getting added up. In such a situation, there is no point in just sitting down and crying about it, rather you should just keep working and you will eventually see that the pile is vanishing.
8) How did you manage to justify your personal as well as professional life at the same time?
Balance is really important. I knew deep inside me that I am not a kind of person who stays in her room, studies all day and doesnít come out. I knew I had to have my group of friends with whom I used to enjoy. I think this keeps you sane. When I used to study, I used to do it with full focus and otherwise I used to enjoy a lot. People find it tough to segregate these two aspects and happen to mix them up. I think you should have that self-control in which you can decide upon things like not going out till your work is done. You need to be focused and need to balance between fun and studies. It helps you in the end. If I go out some day and enjoy for the whole day, the next day Iíll be like sitting the whole day in library. I wonít even mind that because I know Iíve had my share of fun. So, this is what worked out for me.
9) How do you see yourself five years from now?
Frankly speaking, I do not even know about two years. Anyway, I chose to go for masters because I am interested in the field of Artificial Intelligence in Computer Science. I do not want to go into academics, hence I will not apply for PhD. These four years were not enough for me to explore this subfield. So I need to improve my skills under the best universities in this world. So in future I would like to stick to the field and improve my skill set and eventually land up doing a job related to this particular field.
10) Any last words of wisdom for our readers?
I will just like to say one thing that I always remember, ďIf plan A doesnít work out, donít worry, the alphabet has many more letters.íí
We hope the readers get inspired from this conversation with Ms Simran Kapur.
For the next week, we have an interview with the Fitness Icon, Mr Rahul Sapre.