Neelima Sharma, Class of 2011, dared to look beyond the MS/MBA debate and is presently pursing her PhD at National Centre for Biological Sciences. In a chat with NSITonline, Neelima talks about her decision, the placement season and above all being an NSITian
1. You are among the few in college who were successful in making it to an elite university while maintaining a good aggregate overall. Please share your success mantra.
There is no success mantra as such apart from the simple fact that one should be clear about what one wants to do. Things always work out in the end; as there is no dearth of avenues if your reasons are correct. The efforts that you’ve made over the last few years reflect upon you. Hence, try and engage your college life in activities that interest you, and it shall pave way for a future that you envision for.
As far as maintaining a good aggregate in college is concerned, it doesn’t make a really big difference. Keep it above a decent mark, and that is enough. One must not fret too much about it and rather focus upon building one’s personality over these four years.
2. What embarked your interest towards PhD?
I am enrolled for a PhD at National Centre for Biological Sciences. Science is the only meaningful vocation I could resolve for myself; it is perhaps my true calling. The thrill, preciseness and no-nonsense attitude of science draw me towards itself. I was engaged in numerous projects in and outside college. IISER Pune acted as a foster alma-mater, where I went numerous times for my project. The science culture there and exposure that I got in terms of scientific talks and conferences embarked my journey towards the pursuit of research, and then there was no turning back.
3. How did you prepare for GRE? Did you join any coaching?
I didn’t prepare for GRE nor did I join any coaching. I wrote GATE and TIFR entrances for Indian universities, and I applied to certain places in Europe and New Zealand. I didn’t prepare rigorously for entrance exams; the TIFR entrance was interesting and didn’t require you to ‘mug up’, it was rather understanding based. GATE was decent too, though the questions were more focused upon testing your ability to memorize. Surprisingly, I discovered that I remembered enough to obtain a decent enough score. In short, if you are awake in 70-80% of your classes and have your fundamentals in place, it is easy to sail through these entrances.
The difficult part is clearing the interviews, and also the most thrilling one. The questions that were asked were intended to look for creativity and ability to deduce reasons for some problems and come up with interesting solutions for others. On a lighter note, Universities in Europe didn’t like me, most of them wanted me to do masters first and I was not inclined for the same. So it didn’t work out well between us. I didn’t accept an offer from University of Auckland (and sacrificed all the mountains and valleys and sheeps!) for I wasn’t getting a PhD in neuroscience lab immediately.]
4. What according to you is the ideal time to start preparing yourself to achieve a good GRE score and a suitable profile to make it to the best universities?
Well, though I didn’t write GRE myself I can still share some ‘gyaan’ intercepted from the ‘junta’ at college though my batch mates sitting in US right now would be better equipped to answer this.
GRE preparation should ideally be done in the summer vacations after 3rd year and one must write GRE before joining college after summers.
Preparation for suitable profile: Tinker with all sort of things in your first year to find out what interests you the most, and then have fun working on it for the rest of your college life. Go out to different places to do projects, attend conferences and talks; it helps you gain insights and develop a sense for the area of research. So profile building or a growth as a researcher is a process that is continuous and should never cease.
5. How did you prepare for the placements?
I didn't exactly put in a lot of effort to prepare for placements. I tried going through the case study material that is generally recommended for preparation for consultancy jobs but I found it highly boring. I was targeting non-tech companies because of my coding handicap; I made to the BAIN interview and
blasted it thereafter by giving bio-inspired answers to their guess estimates questions!! But anyways, I had a good time.
The other company I sat for and got through was Futures First. The first two rounds were dominated by mental math questions. I could clear both the written rounds and reached the interview sessions. My first interview was the stress interview, where the two interviewers were really critical and cynical of all of my responses. The trick I guess was to keep calm and remain cool but humble at all times and give clever answers. I could pull a laugh in my stress interview session, I presume that it was a big achievement and scored hugely in my favor. My second interview was smooth; it was a session where we chatted about social and economic problems of India. Later they announced my selection along with other 4 of my batch-mates. It was a good feeling, the realization that I was no more supposed to wear formals and search for jobs.
The take home message from my interview session is that if you are confident, humble, clever (or knowledgeable) and have one strong skill (could be programming, electronics, or anything else that a consultancy would want) required for the job at hand, it is enough to place you amongst the top few competing for the job. And then its sheer play of luck..
I also appeared for Teach for India selection process, and got through. I had heard about this endeavor in my second year, and had wanted to be a part of the same since then. But science scored higher for me than working in social sector, I wish human cloning was possible.
6. How have your four years in NSIT affected you overall?
NSIT is a place that is a conglomerate of awesome people, the students of NSIT form an extremely efficient workforce that are truly motivated in spite of the inefficiency that surrounds them. The place is what it is for its students, and I have met some of the most extraordinary people here who are self-driven, motivated and smart. The company of friends you earn yourself in NSIT and the discussions and debates that follow for the next 4 years form a big part of your stay. Further, there are avenues of growth and learning in the numerous student clubs, cultural organizations such as SPIC MACAY and fests that go on. The diversity of things that you can do here are huge, and adds different colors to your personality.
7. What is your vision of NSIT in the coming years? What is the one thing you would like to change in NSIT?
I shall give a special mention to one thing that should not change in NSIT- the quality of students. Otherwise, NSIT requires change in the approach they have towards research, there is a huge need for both inter- and intra- college collaborations and interaction. This kind of scientific endeavor will make it extremely easy for students to explore vistas of research.
And I guess the efficiency of the administration needs to improve by leap and bounds, I am absolutely clueless of how that might be possible. Lastly, NSIT desperately needs a functional canteen.
8. What advice would you like to give to your juniors?
Keep your grounds for doing anything, reasonable and straight. Don’t do things for the wrong reasons- they almost never help. Explore to find out what you want to do and once you have shortlisted something, explore it more to become 100% sure that it is what you really want to do. Chill. Do crazy things. And if you are in NSIT, you are inherently amazing. Celebrate your awesomeness. Never lose quality.
All the best to the juniors, keep working, remain motivated and keep NSIT a wondrous place. Cheers!
Feel free to contact me at