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Opting For Engineering Was Like Boarding The Wrong Train, One I Couldn’t Get Off

By Abhigya Pandey:

When I tell people that by qualification I am an engineer, I am often met with the response, “Oh you must be great at Mathematics”. I do nothing but smile coyly. Yes it is true that I spent four precious years of my life in buying (indeed not earning) my degree, which actually is worth nothing. I know little of Mathematics, Science, or remotely anything that may buttress the idea that I am a science graduate. I am guilty of the offence called “mediocrity” and here is my defense:

Photo Credits
Photo Credits

I grew up in the pre -Three Idiots era. The purpose of education was to turn a child into a doctor or an engineer. The common place notion in my family circles was that the hard working and dedicated students, which constituted the creamy layer, would choose to study mathematics or medicine. Either Commerce or Humanities was supposed to be chosen by tier-2 and tier-3 students. (An idea which is as hilarious as it is ironic since the topmost rungs of our administrative services are filled up by these very humanities students. The most revered thinkers and philosophers were those who pursued social sciences. The ideas of Karl Marx revolutionized the way we view each and every dimension of human existence.)

Enter 2006, while all of my batch mates were busy solving problem after problem in the physics class, I was hiding a copy of “Physics for dummies”, underneath my desk. Numbers evaded me and there wasn’t any room for ideas. I failed miserably at figuring out the dynamics of heat, energy, mass, hydrocarbons, integration, differentiation and what not!

A brief glance at my high school mark sheet would have told anybody that I was not cut out for being a science student. However, I could not afford to opt for humanities and be labelled as a loser by everybody, even by my own parents. I was not pressurized, forced, or coerced. Rather, I succumbed to the thrust of my own ego.

My choosing to study science would appear to be a pardonable error to you, once you are acquainted with what transpired next. As I opted for science, I was thinking of the sci-fi fantasies popularized by the mass media. I had dreamt of a world full of laboratories and experiments, of inventions and discoveries, of astronauts and spaceships. And, I thought that I might end up being a scientist someday. A childish fancy it was, because my education was never really about science.

You understand that ‘the apple’ falls from the tree by the virtue of gravity, but no one would care about that if you cannot reproduce the Newton’s laws of motion verbatim in exams. Our education system, with its rigid and theory intensive course structure offered no scope for learning or innovation. And, any hope that remained was smothered by my pursuit of the delusional IIT dream. I joined one of those promising coaching institutions, which I later found out, did nothing more than cashing in on the anxieties of students like me, who are often a part of the race of making it to any of the top notch educational institutions for higher studies.

I, however, resolved to undo the repercussions of my fatal choice(s). I fared poorly in my plus two exams. The stage was set for a rebellion, but again, I was forced to retreat. Even though, I had pitched hard to go for a course of my choice – that would satiate my desire for learning and not just mechanically condition me to participate in the rat race.

But how could I aspire to be anything but a doctor or an engineer? How could I give up? If you accidently board a train headed in the wrong destination, won’t you get down and try to start all over again? No matter what price you might have to pay for it? Isn’t this basic common sense? Alas! In our society such decisions are considered cowardly; you continue to travel in the wrong train even after having realized that you are heading nowhere. This allegory precisely sums up my story. I decided to take up engineering and my life was totally derailed.

Engineering – which was said to be the safe career option, which would warrant stability, affluence, and prestige, could neither impart the necessary skills to land me a job, nor could it add, even a tiny bit to my intellectual accomplishments. Fortunately, experience taught me what the physics lessons at school couldn’t. When life seemed to be a climax to a series of messed up choices, I understood the Newton’s law of inertia – that every attempt towards change is met with immense resistance, unless a strong external force is applied to overcome it. And then, I could use that force to overpower the inertia and take a stand for myself. I could finally get off the wrong train.

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  1. Monistaf

    Ms. Pandey – You had no passion for science, opted to pursue it to preserve your ego, realized it was not for you and had the courage and determination to get off the “wrong” train. This is great, but why do you have to belittle the true engineers who make it so possible for you to even tell your story, to travel the world, to treat your illnesses and to enjoy a standard of living like no other time in human history. All of this would not have been possible without science, which, is the relentless pursuit of the truth. If we had been stuck with literary greats and their outlandish imaginations, we would all still believe that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth. The passion and courage to stray from someone’s else’s figment of imagination and challenge yourself to uncover what truly makes this world tick should be encouraged and even applauded. It is not for everyone, including yourself, but I cannot imagine this world without engineering and I am thankful to all those people who dared to question, to seek the truth and apply it in innovative ways that has truly made life worth living. We all feel the importance of engineering often when we lose power, when your cell phone does not connect or your car breaks down. Honestly, I have never missed a book on my shelf or a painting on a wall as much as I have the daily conveniences of life that we tend to take for granted.

    1. Abhigya

      With all due respect sir,not for once did I mean to trivialise the contribution that science has made to the welfare of mankind.As you must have been able to comprehend that this is an honest narration of my personal experiences and the prejudices held in our society.I have immense faith in the miracles of Science and the competence of engineering(refer to this post for further clarifications-
      What bothers me is the way Science is being taught in the engineering colleges mushrooming in every nook and cranny of our country(specially Delhi and Ncr) .A closer look will reveal that there are n numbers of colleges where students like me(exactly-who do not have a passion for science)are engaged in a process of buying a degree.Some do it as a result of sheer ignorance,some for the promise of guaranteed placements.In this very process Science is smothered to death.

    2. Monistaf

      @Abhigya, thank you for taking the time to respond. The “topmost rungs of our administrative services and the most revered thinkers are those who pursue humanities and social sciences” made me come to the conclusion in my previous comment. While I am not exactly proud of our administrative services, I do have a lot of respect for the contributions made by thinkers and philosophers like Marx. What I was trying to impress upon is that a lot of us in the general public overlook and take for granted the contribution made by those who dared to question, those who dared to seek the truth and those who changed the course of mankind because of it. One of the most important discoveries ever made was Penicillin. By some estimates, half the population would not be here today, if not for the discovery of antibiotics. How many of us think about it? Even in the London Olympics, it bothered me that the pride of England was displayed by “Harry Potter” and Elton John, but they never thought of paying tribute to any of the other greats like James Watt or Alexander Fleming.

  2. Jigsaw


  3. Vaibhav Agarwal

    Even for me why does everyone in india want to become an engineer????

    1. TheSeeker

      It’s the herd mentality of indians. We all want to be accepted, but make an impression at the same time. Same, yet different. And then there are always “those” people who will manipulate and influence your decisions without you even realising it.
      On the other hand you must agree that every developing country needs engineers for their progress. No other profession can compete with it in india due to this reason.

  4. Kunal Dhodi

    Something people always think of but seldom express and do. We live far away from our actual self in the stigma of what people think but the fact is do what you want and u will never regret @Abhigya….Cheers for living to what you wanted!!!

  5. Shikhar

    “I was not pressurized, forced, or coerced. Rather, I succumbed to the thrust of my own ego”. This is the second case i have seen of opting engineering because of thrust of ego ( first being me):p:p. (Others are generally forced).

  6. Rajeev Newar

    In my opinion the problem is with the selection process and criteria which is too much rigorous and cumbersome. Most of the students feel burnt out and actually lose interest in science and mathematics while preparing for JEE and +2 exams. Then most or rather almost all the students, who are barely 18 years old and without any experience of the real world outside school and tution centres, have no idea as to what exactly is engineering and the various streams as well as the medical stream. They are coaxed and tutored by their parents, teachers and elders that this is the best choice and a gateway to an esteemed and comfortable future. Without knowing about their aptitude, interests and expectations , young teenagers are pushed into a stream which is not suitable for many of them. Then after a couple of semesters these students start losing interest in studies and fall into depression. Many such students develop psychological problems and suicidal tendencies. Some fall into substance abuse and other vices. Most of the engineering graduates actually lose interest in engineering when they pass out.
    Its really surprising that even after almost seven decades of independence our policy makers have failed to have a student friendly education system where learners are encouraged to learn and boost their knowledge and skills. Recent modifications in our education policy has made it even more elitist, rigorous, pressurising and demotivating to our students.
    There should be a change in approach towards education by our government and this needs to be done immediately. Selection to engineering and medical courses should not be so rigorous. Rather than an elimination test procedure , those genuinely interested should be encouraged. Credit system should be introduced so that students from any college in India can seek transfer to any other course of his/her choice and even to other colleges.
    Also it is vital to have more of good and learned teachers in our educational institutes.
    There are many people who were unable to take admission is IITs or NITs and took a different stream because of various reasons and have now started working but have a keen interest for engineering and medical studies and also have some great ideas/ innovation in their mind. But due to lack of options such people cannot study engineering or medicine and cannot contribute in growth and development in a manner they could have done.
    The situation is alarming and government should immediately address these issues and with a practical approach so that our teenagers and youth can have a better, happy and fulfilling life.

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