What I learned on visiting IIT Madras after a year at Stanford
So, this is my second trip back home to India since I’ve joined Stanford as a graduate student. I stayed there for about twenty days in which I presented at a conference, met family & friends and ran my first full marathon.
This was the best trip I’ve had in so many years. Last year, when I went back, I was still a nobody. Not this time. This time, I came back as somebody.
I arrived in Mumbai, hung around with Abba for a couple of days and headed off to Chennai. I was still training for the marathon, and wanted to get to Chennai as soon as possible so I could start running with Pee.
So, I arrived in Chennai and was here for about 8 days. I stayed at Pee’s place during the time I was here – which was pretty cool. I can’t describe how wonderful it was – I would talk to my friends and they would ask if I was staying in a hotel, and I would tell them, Nop, I’m staying at my professors house – it’d be so cool to see the surprised look on their face.
So.. highlights of my stay here –
1. Waking up super early in the morning and going for runs. The first morning I arrived, Pee woke me up at 3:45 am and we started running on campus at 4 am. Never in my life have I woken up that early and that too with so much enthusiasm to run. I didn’t know I had the discipline to wake up this early – she would call out my name and I would just jump out of the bed. If only I could do that everyday at Stanford, I would be the happiest guy in the world.
2. Now, the only issue I had with staying at Pee’s place is that they are like super strict vegetarian. And the food is South Indian. Now, I can handle south indian food once in a while, and I did manage it for the interim I was here, but oh, did I crave meat or what. I went to PBSK (my undergrad advisor’s) house for dinner and his wife, said, “Arey beta, PBSK told me you’re staying at Pee’s house, and they are vegetarians, so I made both chicken and mutton curry for you.” I was like Whoaa.. And she’s a damn good cook. She’d cooked it Kerala style with lots of coconut and I loved it. I told her, that was the best meal I had had since I had landed in India. So that’s my funda with food – Vegetarian food is fine. It satisfies my stomach. But not my heart. That night, I slept like a king.
3. Met a very inspiring and cool guy at IIT Madras – Basa. He’s a new faculty in the ChemE department and I don’t think I’ve met such an interesting character in a long time. He works in the same area as me – colloids and soft matter – and we went together to IIT Guwahati for the conference. He even has a paper with GGF. How cool is that. There are two things I really love about him – he’s amazing with names. For example, we’d discuss a paper and he’d know the authors bio-data at the tip of his tongue. For him, all scientists working in his area of research are like an extended network of friends. I think that’s what I aspire to. To make science a personal thing – just like running. And the second thing is his friendly attitude. He’s one of those guys who never hangs out by himself. He knows everyone. You walk with him on campus either at IITM or IIT Guwahati and you will take forever to reach your destination because he will stop and talk to like hajjar people on the way. Gosh. It’s almost like walking on stanford campus with Rpee. Take two steps, say hi to someone. Take two more steps. Say hi to someone else. Ad infinitum.
4. So, according to Pee, her prediction is that the IITM Chemical Engineering department is on an upswing. She says that I shouldn’t be surprised to see it in the limelight in the next two years. Well, I couldn’t agree with her more. With phenomenal faculty like Pee and Basa, there is no stopping them. Based on my ten-day stay at IIT Madras, I can make a prediction myself – Basa is going to be one of the rising stars in the Colloids and Soft Matter community. He has an eye for beauty and is as keen an observer as GGF. Combine that with his curiosity driven approach to research and his people-friendliness, he’s going to be a force to reckon with. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see his results on the cover of Langmuir or Soft Matter within a year or so. (just found his work was on the cover of J Phys Chem B last week. Woot !)
5. I am so fortunate be doing a PhD at Stanford. There are so many things that I take for granted being in a world-class institution. While having lunch with some of the faculty at IIT Madras, I overheard some of the things going on behind the curtains and I was appalled. I also hung out with some of the grad students here at IITM, IIT Guwahati as well as NCL Pune and there is a world of difference between them and graduate students at MIT or Stanford. There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but on the whole, the situation is grim. I think to myself, that if I were to come back to India and join as a faculty here, it would be one of the most challenging things I could ever do. Knowing what I know now, my heart shudders with fear at the thought, but at the same time, there is an excitement in my stomach. There is so much scope for improvement. What a challenge sirjee. What a challenge.
6. Having spent the last ten days amidst professors and scientists – almost all my meals have been with some prof or the other, we’ve run together, had drinks together, traveled together, had hajjar coffees and chai’s and attended talks together – my conclusion is that professors and scientists are a bunch of socially awkward people. It’s sad. But true.
There are exceptions again, but in general, it holds true. And that’s not necessarily bad.
But, again, if I’m going to be a prof in life, I promise that I won’t be one of these kind. I’ll be the exceptional kind. Like GGF.Or Pee. Or AKL. Or Basa.
So, world, want to know my aspirations?
To become exceptional and awesome like these people.
That… that is what I aspire to.