Harshil Lakkad from the Department of Aerospace Engineering talks to Chennai36 about his journey to a Masters at the Delft University of Technology.

Self and Life at IIT Madras
I hail from a small district in the south of Gujarat called Bhavnagar where I did most of my schooling. Spent a couple of years preparing for JEE in Kota followed by the greatest of 4 years in Chennai at our beautiful campus. I chose to study Aerospace engineering. I lived in Saraswathi hostel and partook in as much hostel activities as possible and with the usual borderline jingoism when it came to inter-hostel activities. Fun times! My studies at IITM were mostly focused on propulsion and flow diagnostics and also decided to pursue the same during masters.

Graduation at Delft University and the difference in study cultures
Both of my thesis for B.Tech and M.Sc. focused on the topic of experimental flow diagnostics using optical techniques. Overall modus operandi for the thesis work at IITM and TU Delft (TUD) were very similar. However, there was a quite a big difference in the remaining coursework. Assessment at TUD focused more on oral exams and assignments. A little bit of programming knowledge will come in very handy. How much ever different the academic approach was at both the places; the burden was not enough to hold you from having ample amount of fun and do good in acads at the same time.

PoRs
It is certainly good to have PoRs. Doesn’t matter if you are applying for technical research or management or finance, PoRs will always look good. As far as I think, they definitely do not take precedence over grades but can certainly be used as a tiebreaker. I would recommend to get involved in one or two PoRs only and do justice to the position instead of trying to compile a lengthy list of PoRs for your resume. The primary purpose of a PoR is personal growth with a secondary advantage of its worthiness to be mentioned in a resume and not the other way around. If you end up pursuing a PhD the lessons from the experience you gained from PoR will come in very handy.

SoPs (Statement of Purpose)
SOPs are important. I think they are not as difficult to write as it is currently perceived. They are meant to describe how you ended up where you are and why applying for masters is the right next step. Its as simple as that. Answers to these questions are generally pretty unique from each individual. So, if answered correctly your SOP will be unique and different from others which is what a good SOP should be. I would advise to not look at sample SOPs from internet or from seniors before you write your first draft. Ask few of your friends to read it and see if their opinions on the story of the SOP converged. This is to ensure if your exhibition of vocabulary has not backfired.

Recos
Identifying recos is one of the easier tasks. Apart from your project advisor, ask profs who remember you. You can also ask your internship supervisors if they are willing to. Apart from my BTP advisor, I asked profs that I saw more often, had long discussions with, and who had a good overall impression of me.

Relative Weightage
The following is only the impression I have which made sense, don’t take it very seriously. To be safe consider all of them very important. Having said that here is what I feel. I think they look at GRE scores only to judge if you are capable to cope with the courses. In my opinion, GRE scores weigh the least. You only have to get more than the minimum criteria for the university IF they have any. Publications carry a lot of weight but are not a necessity. I think a strong reco can make up for  he lack of publications. When it comes to SOP, I think it is more important to not screw it up than to make a perfect SOP. And of course, decent grades are important too, especially in the course pertaining to your application.

Internship in Non-Core
Yes, of course, a good opportunity should not be missed. But you should also consider what non-core field you are going with. People go into finance, management and what not. It is definitely a good move if you have future plans to indulge in those fields.

Selection Procedure at Delft
The impression I got is that they look at the grades, SOP, recos and admit the candidate if he/she falls above a certain benchmark. This is purely my speculations, I have no idea what goes behind the actual decision making. They did not require GRE scores in the past however, they have made it mandatory now. More than this, I really cannot tell.

Memories at IIT Madras
Well, there are lots. I will try to quickly summarize whatever is on top of my head. One thing that I always looked forward to was the football in quadi. We usually start after the classes and can continue as late as possible. And whenever I think of hostel a picture of “my fellow wing-mates topless in shorts or towel, tired after the long game, discussing big questions of life while they wait for their turn to take shower” comes to my mind, and it puts a smile on my face. I also remember one night during a power cut, when it was pitch-dark and an impromptu “Antakshari” ensued between 4th wing and the 7th or 8th wing, using only the Ad Jingles. I don’t know why this all of a sudden came to my mind.

Final Words of Advice
I want to stress on one specific point addressing whether or not to work before doing masters. My opinion has changed now. While doing masters, I felt that having some industry experience would have helped immensely. I am not saying I would have scored better grades, but I certainly would have approached acads more efficiently, saving me time which I could invest in other productive activities. I would have had some trouble, had I also pursued PhD straight after the Masters. I believe one needs a certain amount of discipline to do justice to Doctorate and If you are a very relaxed or laid-back type of person like me, you need industry to instil that discipline in you. I came to realize that life is NOT short but the opportunities are short-lasting and you cannot afford to be extremely choosy. Prof. K. Bhaskar advised me by saying, “you should take life as it comes” in an e-mail conversation which he probably doesn’t remember, but it strikes a bell every time I recall my past 3 years.

Author: Pranit Mehta (DD-ED ’22)

This article is part of the series – The Grad Guru. To get regular updates on all our articles, follow us on Facebook at /chennai36 and Instagram at chennai36_iitm