Nirup Kumar Bandi, an alumnus of IITM, talks about the process of applying for higher studies and the factors which influenced his decision.
1. When did you decide to apply for further studies?
I deiced to apply for further studies during my third year intern. In-fact I was very stubborn on studying no more after my bachelors. Even now, when I go back to my days up to third year I can clearly see myself never apping. It was a shock to everyone that I was apping. During my third year intern I realized that, I know too little to climb a peak in a field or to reach a top position in a company. I decided that improving my knowledge and credentials is important and I understood that learning in just an industry is not enough but I need to spend my full time and seek more knowledge. All my experiences in my intern over the 2 month period made me decide that I will apply for further studies.
As I said, the basis of my decision to app has come from industry experience. Hence it was a quiet easy choice for me. I have enjoyed learning always but I never gave any importance to exams, and I strongly believe exams are not important and I never cared about them. But, I have done several projects from my first year and by the time I was apping, I had 4 projects out of which one was funded and 2 interns were there on my resume and I was confident enough to get a few admits. But, I did appear for placements, I was a bit insecure about my app as my CG was low.
3. Is a high CGPA required for applying?
It is a satisfactory parameter but not a necessary parameter. It is highly important that you need a higher CGPA. That will make your decisions more flexible. Tough it is a very important factor; it is not a solo factor. It is really important to have back up academic capabilities such as projects, papers, conferences. Having a higher CGPA will give you the flexibility to aim at high ranked schools but with good academic backup you can still get in to good schools without very high CGPA. 7.5 as a minimum would be good.
4. How relevant are extra-curriculars and Positions of Responsibility?
I strongly feel, extra-curriculars and POR wouldn’t matter unless you have a peak. Won some competitions or captain of a sports team or core/secretary would add value. All others would be just obvious statements anyone could do and that minimum is expected from all either mentioned or not. If you are a dual degree student, TA and RA would help.
5. How did you identify your recos?
This was one of the easiest choices for me. I worked with a few professors in the first 3 years and got a project which was funded and got some conferences. So, they had a good opinion about me and were happy about my work. My obvious first choice was my BTP professor, with whom I did 2 more projects previously. I knew she would give me a very good reco. For other two, I decided to choose those who were famous and who would also give me a very good reco. I choose another prof whom I worked with in my first year and he was also happy to give me a good recommendation. Then I chose another prof with whom I took a course out of my department. He is also very famous and was happy because of my enthu.
6. Why do you think TAMU selected you?
My resume had 4 projects, 2 interns, 2 posters and 2 conferences, my CGPA was just 7.6. So, I think the other things on my resume with very good reco letters from some very good Profs did it for me. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t expecting TAMU admit. I was so insecure with my CG, but good reco-letters, SOP and projects will do it for you!!
7. How and which colleges did you decide to apply to?
This was a very difficult decision for me. Few schools even had a cut off for my CG range, I wasn’t eligible to apply. That made my morale very low. But, I had confidence. I discussed with Profs who were going to give me recos, they helped me a lot. I tabulated 20(ranking from 1-40) schools who has at least 3 profs working in my interest related area. Then, I discussed with seniors and Profs to boil it down to 10, which would help me get admit. I applied for few masters and few PhD programs. (MS – CMU, Cornell, U Madison, Northwestern, U Florida, UPenn) and (PhD – TAMU, UMass, Ohio, PennState)
8. Did you have alternate options? If yes, what made you decide on TAMU?
Yes. It was quite a shock to me. Frankly I was expecting just one or two admits. I got 7 admits in all. I wanted to do PhD over Masters and TAMU has more Profs of my interest.
9. Any useful tips on SoPs, CV, Recos, Projects, Papers and choosing courses?
SoP – You should consider this as a virtual interview. This is a means through which you speak through with the admission committee. So, it is up to you now to convince that person to choose you. This can’t be done if your SoP sounds similar to someone else or is in a general format. So, never read any SoP before you write yours and don’t read too many. Don’t think of word limit you have initially, just put on what all you want to say to that person about you, let it go 10 pages (if needed). Then, boil it down. It’s like concentrating milk by boiling and evaporating water. Take help from friends who are good at English once you boil it down to 3 pages or so. Keep your language simple and neat. (Be technical but don’t waste lines on technical details, you have CV for that)
CV- This is a good place for you to showcase yourself for an app. This doesn’t have any word/page limit. Describe your projects, papers with full technical details and be crisp. Don’t fill it up with extra-curriculars. If you have any publications, make sure to put it in first page.
Projects – Try to do some projects other than your BTP/DDP. They fetched me admits. Doing projects with Profs/ own, helps you in a lot of ways. They will develop you a taste of the subject, they make your resume and subject understanding strong and moreover you will have better recos.
Papers – Push hard with your BTP/DDP and try to publish a paper if possible
Courses – This depends on your interest. If you have specific interest, take all courses in that interest, but if you are not sure about what do you want to study later, take all possible courses with different subjects, this will help you to give taste of the subject and you can decide on your academic interests.
Recos – Make sure your prof is aware of your deadline and remind prof a couple of times. Also, unless you are very sure of getting a good reco, don’t take it. Never force a prof to give you a reco, that will be bad Also, if you have choices try to choose profs whom you worked with and also are famous. It will be best if your prof has contacts at the place, where you are applying.
10. Did you have a mentor? Would you like to be one?
Yes. Nitin Roy and Sumit Kumar Bishnu helped me a lot. Interestingly three of us are at TAMU now. Few other seniors also helped me.
I had helped 3 students during 2013-2014 year. I also chipped in few ideas for others. If the student is from chemical engineering, I am ready to do it. But, it is always good to have your mentor no more than 2 years senior to you.
11. What is your field of specialization, where did you do related projects/internship and how did you go about selecting the best way of utilization of summers/winters?
My field of specialization is Materials in Chemical Engineering.
All my interns were industry interns. Not until my third year intern I decided to app. So, I was not keen on selecting interns. I did any industrial intern I can. I did one at Dr. Reddys labs and another at Reliance Industries. All my projects were in Reaction engineering and reactor design. This is one very base of chemical engineering; this has Thermodynamics, Momentum and Heat. This is like application of alphabets of chemical engineering. So, I liked the subject from beginning and I did all my projects in that. But, I realized that field is closer to saturation and kind of low with money. Then, engineering materials for commercial use is what I felt engineering and research and I liked the ideas in the field. So, I choose materials in chemical engineering as my specialization.
12. Any Miscellaneous Message?
If you are in 3rd year and your CGPA is just 7.5, don’t worry, you can still app. It is always possible that you didn’t want to do further studies but later you realize but give up because you think it is not in your league anymore, it is only >8.5 pointers game. But NO! There is never a better time to study. I realized that I need to continue my education at the beginning of my 4th year, I had 7.5 CGPA then, but I did it and I did it convincingly!! Watch movie 300 for inspiration 😛 (just kidding)
-Nirup Kumar Nagabandi graduated from IIT Madras with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering in 2013. He is currently pursuing higher studies at the Texas A&M University.