Some elements may be stressful for some people. I am neither exaggerating nor
creating things. That’s what happened to me.
Journey to IISER
The 2020 IAT (IISER Aptitude Test) was the last competitive exam I gave, obviously with the last-paper syndrome. I was sure I wouldn’t be getting admission to any IISERs even though I went coaching in Brilliant Pala, along with my secondary education. But, long back, I made the preferred order of the IISER I wanted to get admission to after chats with a few senior students at different IISERs. I didn’t even card to check the result. My father told me that I got admission to IISER Bhopal; at the same time, I got a seat in Mechanical Engineering at CET Kerala. Later I got admission to IISER Pune, So I chose IISER Pune. And here begins the story of mine.
Journey in IISER
Finally, I am in a college, one of the prestigious institutes in India. Classes started. I have had every subject (life science and social sciences) in the first semester, including academic communication skills. More of it was introductory courses, brushing up on what was previously studied. It was the era of COVID-19. Classes were all virtual. Once COVID-19 was under control, I got a chance to meet one of my batchmates. I told her I was gonna take a major in Physics (LOL, she still teases me saying this). New professors and new learning methods fascinated me, even though it was arduous to hook up initially. Some topics were exotic, so it took me longer to apprehend the facts. Most of the students can find others of the same wavelength, so you can engage in fruitful communication both intellectual and informal.
Being a topper in both 10th grade and secondary level and becoming no one here was a blast on my self-esteem and self-confidence. Then one month passed. In the academic communication skills, we were asked to write how our one month in IISER went. That’s where I found changes, not only in my dropping interest in the subjects and my mental and physical health. I was still worried about cancelling my engineering seat. But I promised myself that I relish discovering this new way of learning and widening my life sciences concepts.
There are various courses available in the departments of Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Earth and Climate science (ECS), Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), Science Education, Computing (introduction). In the first semester and second semester, the courses taught are basic, but may vary from year to year (of the courses provided). Since mine was the “COVID” batch, many of the lab courses were done later for our batch. You will have to study around eight subjects in the first and second semester. In the third semester, there are six compulsory courses and five electives spread across the different disciplines out of which you have to choose two. Coming to the fourth semester, there are only two compulsory courses and one has to choose six electives from a group of fifteen.
From BS to MS
Starting from fifth to eighth semester, you can take six-seven courses of your interest. In the final year, you have to do a research project and an MS thesis. If you are not planning to do an MS thesis, then there is an option for a BS exit; at the end of fourth year, you can graduate from the college with a BS degree. Or at the end of two and half years, one can exit with a Diploma in Science, if you wish.
But, soon, I understood that I was not too fond of any subjects being taught, except the only thing I did was learn Chinese (which I still do). I thought I could find one sphere that would suit me. April 2021, our end semester examination of the very first semester. Got the exam tension. During the four months in IISER (virtually), I constantly asked my sister to tell my parents to take me to a counsellor. Finally, they took me to a psychiatrist. But being uncertain within myself, I couldn’t say to the doctor how I felt. But he asked me to write the exam
peacefully. Even after writing the exam, I was still unhappy. That’s the point where the doctor suspected depression in me. Took medicine for three months. And when taking a second opinion at my sister’s college, the senior psychiatrist there suggested another student of his.
Mental health journey
I am giving a trigger warning here again. This might be hard for some people. But most people can relate with me, even if slightly. If you feel like not reading it, please don’t do it. You can skip to the next paragraph.
I was experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations, where the voice and figure constantly told me to get out of this world, to hurt myself. Then I was on antidepressants and antipsychotics. I slowly stopped seeing them, but another voice told me I was chosen and would take me to the outer world, which motivated me like no one else. I was somewhat happy to have that voice talking to me. The first-semester results were announced, and passed every subject (some, barely though), but still one medication. I lost interest in everything. Everybody started treating me differently than before, which hurts.
Transition to Life science
In IISER Pune, all the courses will be compulsory in the first two semesters. That means, even if you are more inclined to any subjects, you can’t choose; but you can strengthen your skills. In the third and fourth semesters, you can take electives, too, along with the compulsory courses. If you plan to take a major and minor, choose subjects according to that so that you will have to fill in credit criteria for each major and minor at the end of four years. From the fifth semester onwards, everything is elective. You can choose any combination available to you.
Please remember that you have to fill up credits in each subject if you want to take a particular subject as a major. But, in certain subjects, you have to take some compulsory courses within the elective group to get a major (like physics) And taking a minor is not necessary; it’s your wish.
Some more technical details
Let me give you an explanation for what credits are. Each course has a certain number of credits assigned to it, based on the number of lectures, tutorial, or lab contact hours per week. The credits also reflect the academic expectation that includes self-study outside class hours. It is in general the points you get (not the grades) on completing the course. In the third semester, besides the compulsory courses, students choose two elective courses. In the fourth semester, all students take two compulsory courses and six elective courses.
At this point, a student can begin to exercise any one of these three options: to Major in one discipline; to Major in one discipline and minor in another; to not choose a Major and take a combination of courses of their choice. If a student wishes to have a Major or Minor, she/he has to take a certain number of prescribed courses in the 4th to 8th Semesters (i.e. for five semesters) to fulfil the major or minor requirements.
Bio & ECS
Then the second semester started and ended like I just blinked my eyes and failed one paper. Cleared it in the repeat exam. In IISER Pune, the repeat exam is conducted within two weeks of the result declaration. Then began the third semester, where I took Biology and Earth and Climate Science (ECS) and the compulsory courses. That’s the semester in which one can choose electives of their interest. And in the fourth semester, I was determined to major in Biology and minor in ECS along with two compulsory courses. In the fourth semester, too, I failed one course, which I cleared through a repeat exam. One good thing about repeat exams is that you can clear the paper in a few weeks when your memory remains intact.
They speed run four semesters in one and a half years which would have been the first two years of my beautiful college life.
Online to Offline
Then we were called to the campus. But my parents were a bit worried as I was “ILL” (No Hate). But I decided to go to college in the first batch. I thought it would change my current situation. But unlucky me. It didn’t. My mental health grew worse day by day.
Bio & ECS -> Bio & HSS
Till my fourth semester, I was sure about taking a major in biology and a minor in earth and climate science (ECS). During the fourth semester, I understood that ECS was not my thing. The first offline semester on campus, the fifth semester. I took Biology, Humanities and Social Science (HSS) courses intending to major in biology and minor in HSS. I even registered for a biology semester project in molecular plant biology. Even though I had zero interest in it, I understood this was not what I wanted to do. And I dropped it after working in the lab until the last few weeks.
Last try to not give up
I was unable to manage both my mental health and academics, made my mother come here, and a lot happened. I decided to drop college and go home; then, one of my seniors, a good friend and mentor, encouraged me to stay back and asked me why I couldn’t do HSS. As I already mentioned, you can exit with a BS degree at
the end of four years. In IISER, one gets the option to do a semester project with a faculty member. It can be either credited or uncredited. And, can also do summer and winter projects in India or abroad during the breaks.
From what I hate to What I love
That’s when I understood I was a fish swimming against the flow. There appears an early image I just drew for fun, a sign board titled Passion and Profession in opposite directions. But I was in the same position. I fell into utter confusion.
Bio -> HSS
But I decided to stay back. I took all Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) courses and two biology courses in the sixth semester. I also did a semester project with an HSS faculty on Language and Linguistics. But I think I am cursed when I get into an even semester—I failed again, not in HSS, but in Biology. Again, through the same cycle. Somehow passed; I thought that I would fail the repeat exam too. If that happens, we must repeat the entire course next year. Yep, you heard that right, we have to repeat the course. During the summer vacation of
2023, I did another project on fictional literature.
Seventh semester: HSS and Science Education
In my seventh semester, i.e. the current semester, I have taken Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) and Science Education courses (where faculty members from the department of science education in IISER and other visiting faculties working in the field give an overview about, what is science and how to teach it, the social construct aspect and so on), which have been going well till now. I am doing a semester project on the Language of Documentary. I find all the classes exciting and hope the curse won’t follow me hereafter.
Healing and self acceptance
Notably, one thing that made me love myself is my Bipolar II (Surprise, I was misdiagnosed). I am grateful for getting admission to IISER Pune. Because if I had been in that mechanical engineering class, I would have been doomed. I am happy that even though it took me three years to understand that this is not my “REAL” passion, I
will never consider those years as wasteful. Thanks to IISER Pune’s academic system, I could study the topics of my interest in the college where I wanted to graduate from.
So, a final word from me
So, to all the young or not (as it doesn’t matter), people who have chosen one ‘PROFESSION’ and want to pursue your ‘PASSION’, you are on time. And you always will be. Here I am, a piece of work that took three years to realize that my passion differs from what I thought. And passion may change from time to time, so don’t
be afraid to chase it. MAY THE FIRE WITHIN KEEP BURNING…