Sunday, April 1, 2007

Your Calling?

I had an interesting discussion today. A few of us were generally fooling around, talking about fundoo stuff and so on. And suddenly the conversation turns into something quite serious. What does one do after graduation? The answer: "A job" sounds cool, but has one really given a thought to it?

The question is especially relevant to those chose to study a field not necessarily their first choice. Of course, nobody has a valid, irrefutable first choice which could be logically defended as to the reason for it being so. Most who choose engineering do so because they got good marks, most who do pure sciences do so because they didn't get those good marks. And I'm only talking about the science and tech side because I presume to have a tad bit more knowledge about these than the other fields. Even when one has chosen engineering, the choice of his/her discipline is mostly a game of dice. It depends on your perspective of the branch (which is generally false), your marks (which are again a misrepresentation of your interests most of the time), the wishes of your relatives, friends and the raddi-wallah (all who ideally shouldn't matter) and a host of other things which I wouldn't want to know.

Anyways, the point being this: you are probably doing engineering because you did not have a better idea of what to do. In this case, how do you actually find your calling? It might be a bit easier if you aren't averse to engineering. Atleast from this seat in the middle of India, it seems that someone who realises that engineering isn't what he wants to do is doomed. MBA is not a cup of tea (atleast getting admission into a decent institute isn't) and changing careers paths is frowned upon most of the times.

The only thing that comes to my mind is this: experiment with everything. The best part of the American system of education is that it allows you to take a wide variety of courses before you actually decide your major area of your studies. Imagine taking music, art, politics and then coming back to study quantum mechanics! So, the way out is this. You are stuck in your respective branch of engineering which you aren't even sure you like. The only way you can find out whether you like something or not is to learn more about it. The hitch is, what if you don't? That is why I said experiment. The first two years of engineering are mostly about introduction. The third is where you learn some important fundamentals. And the fourth is where you realise your "calling", select your project accordingly and determine the way the winds are blowing. All this is the ideal scenario.

People tell me that it is amazing that right now, I know that I want to study robotics and do atleast a Masters degree in that. But these are the same people to whom I said four years ago: "Its amazing that you want to select this particular branch. I don't even know what field to plunge into. " I basically wanted to study math. Then suddenly, I changed my mind and decided to study physics. Things happened and it was destiny or fate or whatever-you-may-call-it that made me take up mechanical engineering. Anyway, it was me who was worried the most about my flip-flops the most. And a line one of profs said struck a chord. He said: Atleast try to find out what you don't like. Then you know you will be in a much better position.

And thats what I did. Still enthusiastic about physics, I continued reading physics. Picked up books on advanced relativity, a topic that was my favorite. Then, I heard about these robotics competitions at IIT and also one at COEP. I gave a try to the one at COEP and failed miserably. But it just showed me something interesting. I learnt electronics - all I could understand about transistors and diodes before it was time to study the "syllabus" for the exams. I learnt a bit of programming, more than others in my batch. I tried to think up this "innovative" engine operating on cycle of 6 strokes, before I found that it was already being done. I learnt about micro-controllers. Each one showed me a bit of what I could like and what I couldn't. By the end of my second year, I had decided to give up the notion of doing an MSc in Physics after my BE. But I wasn't entirely sure of my calling.

Many more things have happened which seemed to suggest to me that I should do robotics - and in particular, in the fields of kinematics, dynamics and controls. The point is, am I sure that I want to do this the rest of my life? I am not sure and I hope that I don't do so. I mean, why should only 4 of the first 21 years decide what should be done in the next 40? Atleast, the intended path for the next 5 - 10 years seems less hazy. And that is what I'm content with. I don't think its possible to find your "calling" so easily and so early.

The only thing that one must try to determine is what is not your "calling". Narrow down your search. And in the process you will know a host of things, and will be delighted to stumble upon what you truly enjoy.