As they depart from the nest that has nurtured them for the last four years, CONNECT takes a closer look at where students from the second batch of the BSc (Research) course are headed
Come September, Suhas Mahesh, currently a senior undergraduate (UG) student in IISc, will be joining Oxford University for his PhD in condensed matter physics, with the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship under his belt. Only the third Rhodes Scholar1 in the Institute’s 107-year-old history, Suhas, who will graduate later this summer, is part of the second batch of IISc’s four-year Bachelor of Science (Research) programme which started in 2011. Until then, IISc, India’s premier research institution, had focused exclusively on postgraduate education.
Focus on Research
Not surprizingly, a majority of the students graduating this year intend to pursue a career in research. “Like most of my batch mates, I joined IISc with an interest in research [and] the biggest benefit of being a UG student at IISc is the postgraduate nature of the Institute,” says Suhas. Balaji Jagirdar, Professor, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, and one of the two Associate Deans of the UG Programme, concurs with this view. “Students joining this Institute experience all the research activities that go on here and the path for the students to go into a career in research is well laid out,” he adds.
“…the biggest benefit of being a UG student at IISc is the postgraduate nature of the Institute”
The course work emphasizes hands-on research in world-class laboratories, ensuring that these young minds appreciate the rigors and joys of doing science. Experiments in laboratories compliment lectures taught by faculty members who are among the best researchers in their respective fields. At the end of their first year, students major in any one of the following subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Materials, Mathematics or Physics. In their final semester, students also do a research project with one of the several faculty members of the Institute. This emphasis on research cannot be overstated, feels Kishalay De, a fourth year Physics major, who is going to Caltech for a PhD in astrophysics.
As part of their curriculum, students are also expected to take courses in engineering and the humanities. The engineering courses allow them to explore the real-life applications of the basic sciences, while the humanities courses give them an opportunity to understand the social context in which science is done. The interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum has been recognized and appreciated by the students. Harsha Gurnani, a graduating Biology major, who has received the sought-after Wellcome Trust Fellowship for her graduate studies, says, “My chosen area of research is neuroscience, a field which is interdisciplinary by itself [and] having both biological and mathematical training is useful for doing this science.”
“My chosen area of research is neuroscience, a field which is interdisciplinary by itself [and] having both biological and mathematical training is useful for doing this science”
Climbing the Research Ladder
De and Gurnani along with many other fourth-year students have already bagged offers from some of the best universities in the world, including Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, University College London, Max Planck Institutes and Oxford to name a few. Though going abroad to pursue graduate studies is a popular option, a few students are considering doing their PhDs in India. In the past, most Indian universities required a Master’s degree for admission into a PhD programme. “However that situation is changing,” clarifies PS Anil Kumar, also an Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Department of Physics. He adds that opportunities for research for UG students, both within and outside India, will increase in the near future. He says, “More universities are taking note of the UG programme in IISc, and hence the placement scenario is only going to improve with time.”
“More universities are taking note of the UG programme in IISc, and hence the placement scenario is only going to improve with time”
Staying Home for Another Year
But not all students who wish to pursue research are leaving the Institute. At least not yet. After four years of study, IISc’s UG students have the option of staying back for a fifth year to earn to Master’s degree at the Institute itself, an option that a number of graduating students are planning to exercise. According to Anil Kumar, this gives the students an opportunity to investigate their final year research project more deeply and also to explore other avenues that may lie ahead of them. The precedent to continue at IISc for another year was set by the batch of 2011, when 47 out of the 83 enrolled students opted to get a Master’s degree at IISc. One of them, Pranav Mundada, decided, in his final semester, that he wanted to work in new field, and therefore stayed back. This year, he will be going to Princeton University for a PhD to “try to make a fault tolerant quantum computer.”
At least three of them from this cohort of graduating students are planning to study a subject in graduate school that they did not major in―economics. Sabareesh Ramachandran, a Mathematics major, is one of these three. He is headed to the London School of Economics for a Master’s in Economics, armed with a Commonwealth Fellowship. “I intend to work in public policy or developmental economics. I think the [Humanities] course on governance made me look at this career option more seriously. I find in economics a nice avenue to work on pertinent social issues while also using the analytical abilities that we developed in our maths courses”, he says.
“I find in economics a nice avenue to work on pertinent social issues while also using the analytical abilities that we developed in our maths courses”
Acing Entrance Exams
Another indicator of the quality of the UG programme is how well IISc’s students have been doing in the national-level entrance exams for graduate programmes. This year, Tapan Goel, a Physics major, has stood first in CSIR NET Physics; Ullas Chembazhi, majoring in Biology, has got the first rank in GATE Biotechnology and Nidhin Kurian, a Materials major, has topped the GATE Materials exam. Many of the top rankers in these entrance exams have also received offers for PhD and Master’s programmes in foreign schools.
Exploring Other Options
Though the UG programme is designed to help young students become researchers, it also provides students with the skills required to go into the private sector. For instance, Abhinav Jain, who graduated last year, is a financial analyst in Ernst and Young. He believes that though taking up a job immediately after graduation is not yet a popular choice, there are ample opportunities in the corporate world for IISc’s UG students. This year saw Fortune 500 companies like Goldman Sachs, Capital One and Walmart coming to IISc, specifically looking to recruit UG students. One such recruit is Sameer Shah, a fifth year student majoring in Mathematics, who was hired by Walmart as a data analyst.
Environment of Excellence
As the programme gets older by a year, UG students at IISc, enriched by its environment of excellence in research and pedagogy, have more than just lived up to the faith imposed on them by the Institute. Their stories of success are testament to the quality of education they have received.
Suhas, who also moonlights as a connoisseur of classical languages, ends with an old Sanskrit adage:
santaḥ sadābhigantavyā yadi nopadiśantyapi।
yāstu svairakathāsteṣāṃ upadeśā bhavanti tāḥ ॥
“Keep the company of the wise, even if they aren’t teaching lessons.
For whatever they tell in passing, they turn out to be lessons.”
*Subhayan Sahu is a third year UG student