A story about four GATE attempts, culminating in an old IIT, day 1 placement and a research publication in an A-ranked conference.
I graduated in 2016 and gave my first attempt in Feb 2016. Back in those days, there were two statements that floated around a lot –
- GATE is not as tough as JEE, and can be cracked in one month.
- Masters should only be done from IISc, IITs are not good enough for masters (huh!!!!!!!)
Two utterly rubbish statements that governed my life for the next few years.
I attempted GATE four times -
- 2016 - 33.w marks, rank ~6k
- 2017 - 32.x marks, rank ~6k
- 2018 - 42.y marks, rank ~2k
- 2019 - 57.z marks, rank 963, got into IIT-K for MS Research!
This post is essentially meant for two sections - a) the ones who have ranks between 700-1200, and b) the ones having ranks > 1200 and are contemplating repeating with/without a job etc. A lot of people in these ranges would be going through many questions and dilemmas, and having been on both sides, I hope my journey can help some of you.
Ranks > 1200 – “We are a consequence of the choices we make and the chances we take”
I started my preps in Feb 2015, but perhaps the first sentence dominated my thoughts consciously/subconsciously and my preparations were not up to the mark. I had a job offer from campus in a products company with a slightly higher package than the average. While my parents, friends, and peers all warned me to not join the job, take a drop and dedicatedly prepare for GATE, I decided against it. I thought I could easily handle a 9-hour job, with 2-hour travel, study for 4-5 hours and get a < 50 AIR in GATE (I still thought GATE was easy enough). Also, I knew that taking a drop, without having any backups would put immense pressure on me and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my studies. I am a “Plan B” person, hence decided to take up the job and continue preparing for GATE. In 2015, a guy had secured an AIR 5 along with a job (a famous blog/interview those days). There was another person on Quora, who left his job one or two months before GATE and secured an AIR 7 and made it to IISc. I was inspired by it - “If they can do it, so can I”.
In 2017, I secured a mark less than my previous attempt and looked like my decision was pathetically wrong. Some dark days awaited!! A dream that kept on breaking, a bad job, parents’ health issues, and the societal pressure to get married!! There were challenges left, right, and center! My own physical and mental health took a beating (stress, anxiety, major weight gain, weakness), making it more difficult for me to focus on my preparation. After my second attempt in GATE, I had learnt quite a few lessons. As determined and perseverant (or stubborn?) as I was, started preparing for the third time, and managed to get a ~2K rank in 2018.
Some lessons from my journey so far -
Preparing with a job is tough and depends on a number of factors. Preparing without a job has its own challenges. Some pros and cons -
If you are in a mass company, you may not have much work and can devote some office hours for your preps, especially if you are on the bench. I had a lot of work in my company, I would usually skip breaks or finish my meals quickly to catch up on some of my studies. Also, it helps if you are staying closer to the company. Spending 2-3 hours in commute daily is exhausting.
Same decision, different outcomes – While it's great if you can take a drop and prepare single-mindedly, it may not always work out that way. A colleague of mine took a drop and got a rank of ~1100 in 2020. She took another drop, secured ~1200 AIR and finally took up admission in a top-4 NIT. She was under immense pressure on the day of the exam and out of sheer nervousness made mistakes that cost her dearly. Health-wise too she was on a backfoot. Another friend who took a drop in her second attempt made it to IIT Bombay. Both have been toppers during their bachelor's and master's.
Know your strengths and weaknesses - I knew I could not concentrate if I did not have a safety net. Hence, despite knowing the challenges of preparing alongside a job, I always found that more doable. While I took 4 attempts, I was hardly putting anything at stake - I had a stable job, and I could have easily continued in that domain.
Make your decisions wisely - If you are deciding to prepare for the 2nd+ time, do consider your family situation, financial condition and other things. I know of people, on the other side of 25 years of age, who felt remorse seeing their friends get “settled” while they were “stuck up” in their preparations. On the other hand, I also had folks at IITK, 25+, who did very well in their academic, personal, and professional lives.
Give it a try – Having said that, 20s is the time when you can take risks, focus on yourself, shape your career and live your passions. It gets tougher (not impossible) to do that in 30s and beyond. For me, IITK has been worth every bit of the 4-year struggle!! I was a web developer, and absolutely hated it. I wanted to work in Systems, specifically the kernel, and that is where I am currently working!
Maintain consistency in your preps and take care of your health – IITs/IISc are worth a lot, but definitely not your health. After office, I would study for 6-7 hours for 2-3 days, which meant I slept for not more than 4-5 hours. Hence, in the latter part of the week, I would just not have any energy to study. The inconsistency cost me. And such bad sleep has major, lasting effects on your health and cognitive powers. Do exercise regularly and sleep sufficiently.
There will be tons of success/struggle/strategy blogs on the internet, take them with a pinch of salt (including this post). It worked for them, it may or may not work for you. Make your own plans and strategies and keep updating them timely. Take risks - but informed, and calculated ones.
Rank 700 - 1200 – “What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
For people in this range, your journey did not end, just got a little longer. 2-5 questions would have probably made a big difference. But hey! Don’t give up, not yet! Not all is lost!
2019 was my fourth attempt at GATE. A week after the exam, my rank was around 400! I was ecstatic! I knew I would be getting calls from a lot of IITs, and from my dream college, IISc. I enthusiastically started prepping for the interviews. However, with each passing day, my rank started dropping. By the end of Feb, it was around 800, and I knew it was the end of the road for me. I was disheartened and broken and exhausted. It was my fourth attempt and I knew I didn’t really have it in me to pick up my books again and start all over. I almost discontinued my preparations. But the hopelessly hopeful person that I am, I did apply to the old IITs/IISc despite all sorts of rank/college predictors and previous year stats saying otherwise. The predicted colleges were mid and lower NITs, newer IITs and IIITs. I wasn’t interested in any of them, mainly because these didn’t have as strong a Systems scene (at least at that time) as did old IITs/IISc, but nevertheless applied to them as well. To my surprise, I got an interview call from IIT Kanpur and IISc. While I was not much interested in IITK (that second statement still dominant in my head), the IISc call letter was like a new lease of life! I started preparing for it with utmost fervor! At work, I would skip meals, go to the parking area (so that nobody could disturb me) and study. I tried to make the most of the ~1.5 months that I had before the interview. However, along with that enthusiasm, there was a sinking feeling that my rank was low (AIR 963) and that perhaps I would not make the cut. It was commonly said back then that IITK had a 70-30 interview-GATE performance criteria, so I thought my chances at IITK were almost nil. Most fellow aspirants/seniors I spoke to at that time would suggest the same and I would get discouraged.
A few days prior to my IITK interview, I got a call letter from IIT Indore. Both interviews overlapped. Given my rank, I thought I had my best chance there. Sunday morning I had my train to Kanpur, and Friday evening I almost cancelled my tickets! Luckily, I spoke to Arjun Sir about my dilemmas, and he suggested that even though the chances were indeed higher at IIT-I than at IITK, IITK was worth taking the risk. And the rest is history :)
So, the lessons from this part of my journey -
Screw the stats! Apply! – Do not give up! Apply anywhere and everywhere you can and prepare hard. Do not pay much attention to predictors/statistics/trends/etc. While they might have high accuracy, they are not set in stone. I made it to IITK at 963, that same year somebody with a rank of 900+ made it to IISc. One more rejection won’t hurt much, but an acceptance will change your life! Most people in this range go for IIITs/NITs, perhaps due to the fear of interviews. While the IIITs/NITs are great, old IITs/IISc are a class apart.
IITs are a world of endless possibilities – Even if you don’t clear the interview, you can always write to a professor working in your area of interest, and ask for an internship/project assistantship. These usually have a higher stipend than MTech/MS and can make huge differences to your career. Visit the faculties’ home pages to get info about their mail addresses/openings/past students, etc.
Network – For your interview preps, talk to students working in your areas of interest. It can help you massively. Amidst all the demotivating stats and predictions, talking to a senior studying in IISc (who himself had a lower rank of ~800) kept me going during my interview preps. The best way to reach out is to mail them on their college ids (they may not respond on time on social media). Almost all IITs/IISc have a students page (for ex this), reach out to them.
A lot of people are hesitant to apply for MS (2.5-3yr course). In my experience, MS is better than MTech -
The coursework is lesser than for MTech, and hence, lesser pressure
The research experience will help you not only for PhD but for some jobs as well. During my placement season, there were 1-2 companies that opened for MS/PhD, and not for MTechs (the reverse also happens)
Chances of getting a sponsored project are higher (depends on the guide)
“Research” may sound scary, but is fun and satisfying. Give it a try!
If you are concerned about the longer time taken in MS, know that you can even graduate in 1.5-2 years if you finish your work. You can also sit for placements and start working after two years and continue your remaining thesis work remotely. Of course, this depends on the guide and institute policies, but there is always a way out. Please do not give up the opportunity to study at an old IIT just because of this.
IITs are awesome, whether for Bachelors, or Masters, or Doctorate. Period! IISc is perhaps the best research institute in the country, the old IITs aren’t far behind. It's usually said that IIT profs give more importance to UGs than to PGs, it could not be farther from the truth. At least in IITK, at least in the systems labs, our professors spent a lot of time with us, solved our doubts, and even debugged our code!
Also, the TA duties at IITs are usually considered to be a bane. While that has truth to it (depends on the course, the instructor, and other things), my best learning experience at IITK was during my TAship for the “Intro to OS” course. I got to design assignments, have awesome discussions with the Prof and the TA team, and fell in love with OS a little more!
It took me four attempts to get an admit. I could not clear the IISc interview, but IIT K turned out to be the biggest blessing for me (that’s a story for another day)!! Patience, and perseverance (and some pagalpan :P) finally paid off!!
I cannot end this post without thanking this community. A big, huge thanks to all the contributors, moderators, maintainers of GO, and of course, to Arjun Sir! This journey would not have been possible without them.
The path from dreams to reality does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it. - Kalpana Chawla