Hey, I’m Irish Debbarma, I wanted to share my journey of how I reached IISc and why I decided to do so, and maybe it will be helpful for you guys. I will also share my experience at IISc as of June 2021 having joined in 2019 so roughly 2 years of experience.
Let’s start !!
Right from my childhood, I was always fascinated with maths. I enjoyed the arguments involved and the cleanliness of the subject. And I also had good marks but a major turning point in my life when I can say I truly fell for maths was maybe in 2015 or 2016. One evening I went to a bookstore and there I saw a magazine (I do not remember the name or the publisher). As is my habit I went to the contents page and it had an interesting article about a very interesting problem, it said
The equation xn + yn = zn has no solutions for n ≥ 3
When I read this I thought about it for a second and started trying out a few numbers in my mind to see if this even holds (of course I could not find any). A statement so simple to state, I was simply shocked and I turned to the page that had this article, and to my surprise, it took more than 300 years to solve! and was recently solved by Andrew Wiles in the 1990s. I did not get that magazine (I wish I did) but came back home very motivated and awe-struck at the same time. I went to the internet to read more about it and as I read I came across more such problems that mathematicians around the world were racking their brains on and I was very intrigued with these problems (after all so many brilliant minds were after these problems yet they managed to escape). This was my first encounter with a math research problem and thus began my dream to be a mathematician.
2017 was my board exam so naturally, it was a big thing for me and my family. They were more worried about it than me and had already started planning for my +2. By the mid 2016s, I had come to know of IITs and JEE and was fully prepared to prepare for JEE. But the only issue was I wanted to go to IIT not to be an engineer but to be a mathematician. I did not have any knowledge of IISc or CMI or ISI, it was only IITs. I have a very good friend of mine who was the first one to introduce me to IISc. He knew I was interested in research and he asked me if I knew about IISc and told me I should consider it if research is something I want to do (I still thank him for it). By the end of 2016, Jio had started rolling out its 4GB free data plan and this gave me this wonderful opportunity to do more research about colleges and maths. The next two years were a journey in its own right and deserve a separate blog post by itself. To give a one-line summary- I studied and luckily got into IISc. (hehe)
So now let us come to why I even joined IISc. Well, by the time I finished my +2 I had developed a deep interest in maths and was bent towards research in maths. So a natural choice for me would be IISc or IIT. CMI and ISI had exams that I could not give for various irrelevant reasons. I must admit that the counseling session at IISc was a turning point in my decision-making process. The sheer aura of IISc just loomed on me when I entered the campus.
The seniors took us on a trip around the campus and showed us around the labs and we met a few amazing seniors along the way and I was honestly sold by then. We also had an informal session with the seniors where they cleared most of our doubts regarding science vs engineering and science vs MBBS, etc. My interest in basic sciences coupled with the experience that I had during that one day was more than enough for me to join IISc. But still, I wanted to be sure about it since it was an important decision in my life. After the counseling session, IISc gives you a couple of weeks to convey your decision and I spent those two weeks doing some more research about life in academia and or basic sciences and I also tried to get in touch with people at IITs who were willing to share their side of the story. I also went through the courses at IISc UG and IITs (across departments I liked ofc) and this was probably the most effective thing I did. (Thanks to whoever suggested this during the informal session) In this process, I learned that I instantly felt a rush of enjoyment when I looked at the courses at the IISc UG math department but did not have the same excitement when I went through the engineering courses that I might have to take if I went to IITs. I also felt more comfortable with the courses at IISc, not that I was good at them but I felt like I could do them or at least give my 100% at them. And all of these things along with my sincere passion for maths meant I had decided to join IISc.
“THE TALK” with mom and dad
But this was not the end of the process. A very important step was still unfulfilled, explaining my career choice to my parents. I had already defied their wishes to be a doctor, they settled on engineering but now I was going to defy that as well. And this was not easy at all. They had supported me a lot and especially in the course of the two years in +2 they had been very supportive and understanding and made lots of sacrifices for me. So, to just tell them that I did not want to do engineering was not an option. And on top of that basic sciences are not treated with respect in this part of the country so it was tougher. The fact that I was going to have to do a Ph.D. to get into academia which meant around 10 more years of study was not an appealing thing for them. They wanted me to get a job ASAP (like any middle-class family does) which was understandable from their point of view. They did not have a precedent to follow. So, what I did was I spent a whole day explaining my point to them and also told them how good IISc was in terms of research. It did not have much impact on them but they trusted me enough to let me do it (and I am immensely grateful to them). Till I joined college I tried my best to explain my position to them but they did not see much point in it. And that is how my journey at IISc began. (BTW my parents still haven’t come to terms with it )
So apologizing for my long buildup story we come to the real thing. The experience of being a UG at IISc. The best way to go about it would be to address them in points:
We had mechanics in physics which was a fairly easy course but was nothing new. The chemistry course had Thermo and Quantum Mechanics and that was entirely new and was very interesting to study, a lot of the doubts that I had in my +2 were answered effectively and I enjoyed the course. The biology course had two modules where the first part was about biomolecules, it was fairly demanding for me since I was not well versed in it; the second module was ecology and this had the most fun experiments where we had to go out and collect ants, record butterfly species and plant species, etc. Overall it was a nice course and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Engineering was coding and data structures and algorithms, the instructors were very nice and very helpful and taught the course very well. The questions asked in the exams also made us think and were innovative. Maths was the place where I was pleasantly surprised. It was so different from the maths that I did during my +2 days but it was exactly how I expected it to be. Sweet, beautiful, and concrete reasoning. Unlike the maths in +2 which was focused on how to solve the questions in the exam, I was proving the stuff I used before and understanding the numerous details that you need to take care of before you do something in Maths. I did decently in my first semester but I knew I could do better. 17 credits done
This semester we had electrostatics and electrodynamics in physics; inorganic and a little bit of bioinorganic chemistry; biology had three modules: microbiology, genetics, cell biology; maths had multivariable calculus and engineering was electrical and electronics. This particular semester was average and the courses were fine and easy enough. 34 credits done
Physics had three modules: Thermodynamics, Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics; Chemistry had two modules: organic and stereochemistry; Biology had 3 modules: Molecular Biology, Immunology, and Neurobiology; Maths had Probability theory; two engineering courses were there: Materials and Environmental Sciences. I enjoyed the probability course but it was not application heavy to the surprise of lots of people, the relativity portion of physics was certainly amazing and I enjoyed the paradoxes a lot! Bio had very interesting immunology and neurobiology module which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a very tough semester overall and I was overworked by the end (honestly). 52 credits done
Major & Minor selection
After the 3 semesters are done where intro courses are done we are to select our majors. This process continues for like 2 weeks and I chose maths. So, after this point whatever I write will be from a math major’s point of view.
This was my first semester after choosing my major and so I was excited and scared at the same time. I did not want to mess up this semester. I had taken 6 courses this semester of which 3 were core courses (meaning those courses that are required to take for your major subject requirements) and I also took an engineering course and two math electives. Over time, I realized that the two math electives that I had taken were too heavy for me so I decided to drop them and focus on my core courses. I enjoyed my core courses: basic analysis, ordinary differential equations, and algebraic structures. I especially enjoyed the non-linear dynamics part of the ODE course. It was a good semester. I performed well enough. The exams were slightly on the tougher side but it was well balanced and made me think. Now I am looking forward to the other semesters! 68 credits done
So, my journey has been till here but I will still list down my plans as of yet so that you have a rough idea of how UG maths major life looks like:
I am looking forward to the most intense year ahead in any math major’s life. This semester we will have Algebra I, topology, Linear algebra, and Multivariable calculus as core courses. On top of that two math electives of my interest namely elliptic curves and representation theory of finite groups will be offered which I intend to credit, so let’s see how it goes. 90 credits done maybe
A very intense semester again where the core courses are going to be measure theory, complex analysis, and Algebra II. And an interesting math elective named Algebraic Number theory is also supposed to be offered which I intend to take. Hopefully, this also goes as planned. 110 credits done maybe
This semester is dedicated to electives and I also intend to take a few electives as per my need. By the time I am in my 7th semester I intend to have my mindset on a project topic. I may take a course on functional analysis to that effect but that is to be seen.
This semester is dedicated to project work and rarely any courses are taken. I am not sure what my position will be so cannot really say much. By the end, I should have 131 credits in a total of which 13 are math project credits. So, I need to do around 8 credits in the 7th semester if I do not want to do any course in the 8th semester. And I will also be busy with Ph.D. applications in the final year so it is good that I do not have much pressure from coursework.
It is to be noted that after your 4 years at IISc you can continue for another year and obtain your master’s degree along with your bachelors. However, there are a few T&Cs which you need not know in this blog, just knowing that it is possible should be enough for now.
Cons- It’s not all roses
By this, I am sure you have seen all the good things I pointed out about the program and IISc itself. But there are a few areas that also need attention.
- Doing science is not just about passion. I do not believe in the whole “follow your passion” business. The issue is that, like any other such term has been used in such a manner, this particular quote has also been used a lot without explaining the consequences to people. Passion is fine and yes you should follow it but only to a reasonable degree. There is a boundary between passion and ability which is very well marked. You can surely push your boundaries but without the ability surviving in science is really difficult. To top it off, it is not a technical degree so trying to get a job directly out of a bachelor’s is not going to be easy and will need a lot of work from your side. The OCCaP which is equivalent to the placement cell at IISc is good enough but not like IITs. It is a cycle. People coming to IISc are not interested in jobs (mostly; at least not out of bachelors) so even companies are not interested to come to a place with so few people interested, this is improving year after year but definitely, it is not the priority of IISc BSc(Research) program.
- IISc is a Graduate school trying to offer UG education whereas IITs are UG schools trying to offer graduate-level education. This is not to demean either but why I am saying this is to emphasize that at IISc, masters, and PhDs will be given more importance as compared to UGs and at IITs, it will be the opposite. Of course, on paper, they do not accept it but in practice and experience, I have seen this to be true. Basically, expect some level of problems with the administration as UG at IISc. I have mentioned this but this is not something that you even need to consider when you join IISc because it will not cripple you at all. You will not be hindered in your academic work at any level because of this. These are things that are good to know. Note that you will face this at other institutes as well in some manner. You will not have a perfect environment anywhere.
- So personally, I, fortunately, made a proper choice and ended up at IISc. Over the course of 2 years, I have seen my performance in my engineering courses and although I have not done badly in them, I have not done great either. I took a lot of time for those courses and never enjoyed them.
So in hindsight, Choosing IISc was a good decision but it could have also gone the other way. The idea to check courses before making any decision is very important and people should do that more often than we do right now. Bachelors is 3-4 years of your life and that is a significant amount of time. If you do not like what you do then it might be very difficult to see it through.