‘’I became interested in the field of aerospace engineering after watching a TED talk by Vijay Kumar from University of Pennsylvania. Although getting into a PhD programme was not my goal, for better opportunities, I thought of doing a Master’s and went on to apply to different IITs for the same.
My interviews for MS were a disaster. I froze on the spot and couldn’t articulate my thoughts, even though I knew the answers. I was so scared and nervous; it was my first time venturing out of my hometown, Tripura. Up until that point, I had spent my entire school and college life communicating in Bengali. So, the shift to a different language altogether was quite overwhelming for me. Naturally, I didn’t make the cut and so I decided to take some time off to build myself up and gain self-confidence. It was during this same period, I realized that if I wanted to pursue aerospace engineering and be involved in cutting-edge research, getting a PhD would be a good option. In late 2019, therefore, I applied for a direct PhD position at one of the IITs without exactly knowing what was expected of a PhD candidate. When I was asked about a particular area of interest, I blurted out some vast topics, unaware that the interviewers would only ask questions related to the topic of my choice.
Those interviews made me realize that focused preparation is necessary for securing a PhD position. I prepared myself accordingly thereafter and in early 2020, again applied for Direct PhD positions in different IITs. It was a very stressful period; I had back to back interviews with minimal breaks and all of them were online due to the pandemic. And let’s not forget about the crying sessions in between interviews! Finally, I cleared the interview at the Aerospace Engineering department at IIT Madras, which I couldn’t do in my earlier attempts. Strangely, this cultural transition was smooth for me. There was an air of familiarity, I would say. Of course, I did have issues with the food, cultural differences and the weather but with time I have got accustomed to them.
Initially during my PhD journey, I felt it would have been better for me to go for a Master’s degree instead of jumping right into a PhD because of the difference in perception that these two degrees entail. In BTech, you have a problem, and you just need to find a solution for it. You do not put too much thought into the advantages or drawbacks of that solution, or its feasibility in a real-life setting. That’s something you are trained in during your post-graduation, an exposure that I didn’t have. To add to that, starting a PhD during the pandemic was a whole new challenge in itself. But, I am grateful that I found a supervisor who is quite accommodating. He is an expert in his field and is open to exploring different topics, which gave me the opportunity to explore as well and easily adapt to the research area I wanted to pursue. Besides that, I also have the privilege of working with exceptional colleagues/seniors who provide tremendous support, and help me navigate my PhD journey.
Despite having an encouraging environment, during these past two years, I often feel that I haven’t accomplished much. I have been struggling to narrow down my research topic and produce satisfactory results. At times, I’ve even doubted my ability to be here. Nonetheless, I am still trying my best to hold my head high and find that light at the end of the tunnel. “
-Subham Basak, PhD in Guidance Navigation and Control, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
Interviewed by Debalina Acharyya and Aniruddha Mukherjee and written by Payel Das