Climbing the Unsurmountable: Divya Siramwar
May 15, 2017 | Anubhav Kar
While some cringe at the thought of the GATE exam, others consider it as an obligation and yet there are few who make it their purpose in the institute and come up with extraordinary success which one can only wish to emulate. Divya Siramwar, a 5th year student from the Department of Chemical Engineering secured a jaw-dropping AIR 9 in this year’s GATE examination. Team MM brings you snippets of her journey.
MM: How was your life before coming to NITR? What were some of the highlights of your school life?
DS: I hail from a small town called Pusad in Maharashtra. During my school days, while I was growing up, I didn’t have much exposure. However, I was a topper in school and hence the teachers used to tell me to participate in speaking and debating competitions which helped me in building a decent outlook. I remember preparing for NTSE for three months in a camp in Sohlapur which I eventually cracked. I also participated in a lot of Olympiads, was a State Rank holder in Maharashtra Talent Search Exam. Further, I also had hobbies such as painting and chess which I have lost touch of after joining the institute.
For my +2, I went and studied in Resonance, Nagpur preparing for the coveted IIT-JEE examination. Although I was a very good student in the institute, I failed to get a seat in any of the IITs. Thus I turned to other options, such as AIEEE and finally ended up in NIT Rourkela.
MM: How did Chemical Engineering happen to you? Were you inclined towards research from the very beginning thus opting for a Dual Degree in the discipline?
DS: Initially my parents always wanted me to become an IAS officer. However, during my school days I had learnt about the IITs from my school seniors. Thus I was resolute on becoming an engineer and going to IIT. Owing to my disappointing performance IIT-JEEJEE, I almost ruined my AIEEE as well. Owing to the bad rank, I couldn’t get CSE which was my primary choice. I was never really interested in Chemical Engineering as I had assumed that it would be filled with Chemistry, which I wasn’t particularly interested in. However, after 4-5 years of studying in this branch, I can definitely conclude that I love the branch. In fact, I love it so much that I want to pursue it in the future and whatever I end up doing should be related to the discipline.
MM: When did you decide to start preparing for GATE examination?
DS: During my fourth year, considering I am a Dual Degree student; I had to clear GATE in order to get my stipend. However I wasn’t very serious during the preparation and just prepared enough to obtain the qualifying score.
During the placement season, I realized that there isn’t going to be placements for the Dual Degree students, hence I decided to seriously prepare for GATE exam as I eventually wanted to pursue a career in core branch only. Thus I spent the entire summer, in which Dual Degree students have to stay in the institute, preparing for GATE. Thus my preparation period was from May, 2016 till January, 2017.
MM: What was your daily routine for preparation of GATE which eventually helped you in achieving success in the examination?
DS: While I didn’t have a fixed long term timetable in terms of subjects, I did study in bursts, taking two subjects at a time for a stipulated period of, say 10 days. I used to study in the library from 9 AM, when it used to open, for a couple of hours. The difficult aspect of the preparation was the time constraint because of the research project that I was involved in and the usual daily classes. I had to schedule my preparation accordingly, keeping in mind the above factors which left me with limited time. Thus, I used to schedule subjects depending on their relative weightage in the examination and focus on conceptual clarity by solving as many tutorials as possible.
During the 4th year summer, since I didn’t have any classes, I used to dedicate the entire mornings and evenings for my preparation while the afternoons used to be spent in labs. Thus, I ended up completing the bulk of my preparation in the summer itself.
MM: What were the hurdles that you faced during the preparation period?
DS: One of the biggest hurdles I faced was time management during the 5th year which was filled with a lot of commitments such as classes, research project, GATE preparation and placements. It was really difficult to manage all these priorities and find time for preparation.
The placement season was particularly frustrating for me, as no core companies visited the campus and I wasn’t inclined towards the software and the analytics companies. Even in their case, I used to clear all the rounds leading to the interview and get rejected in the interview. Thus, maintaining a calm mind and focusing on GATE preparation in spite of the failure in placements was another extremely challenging part of the preparation.
MM: Were you a part of any coaching institute? Further, throw light on any specific strategy that you followed while preparing for this examination.
DS: I wasn’t a part of any formal coaching institute. I prepared the entire syllabus by himself. I believe that if a student is studying diligently for the semesters, he will be in a decent position to start preparing for GATE as well. I am not saying that one should study in a GATE oriented fashion from the beginning, but with sincerity and dedication for the examination, one can definitely excel in it without the aid of coaching. I have already talked about how I went about my preparation. In addition to that, during the period of mid-December and the entire January, for one and a half months I gave as many as 68 mock tests from the likes of GateForum and EII(Engineering Institute of India) and analysed them on a daily basis. I also solved the previous year papers in a time bound manner. Thus, I was able to identify my mistakes at every juncture and work on them consistently. This formed an important aspect of my preparation in addition to the usual studies.
MM: Apart from academics, you have been involved in several extra-curricular activities such as Vice-Captain as AASRA, member at E-Cell and COGNIZEN. How did you balance the two?
DS: I feel that just because one is preparing for an exam such as GATE, one should not completely do away with other extra-curricular activities. After coming to NIT Rourkela which has a vibrant club culture, the extra-curricular activities become extremely important as these activities that you indulge in now, you’ll probably never do for the rest of your life. I joined AASRA in my first year out of sheer interest to help the kids who are so adorable and eager. After 3 to 4 years of being a part of AASRA Sector-5 group, the experience has been mesmerising, so much so that I have decided to do something for the society through my work in the future. In E-Cell as well, I was active for two years in which I gained a lot of insight on entrepreneurship and went for events such as GES in IITKGP and organized events in general. However, I couldn’t pursue these activities any further in my 4th and 5th year on account of my extremely hectic schedule and academic obligations.
As far as balancing academics and extra-curricular activities is concerned, I believe time management and regularity is the key. Most of the classes are completed by 5:15 PM and the time between 6 PM till 9 or 10 PM can be devoted for club meetings and other activities. Once you are back in your hostel room at 10:30 PM, one should dedicate time for studies and other academic stuff like writing lab records and all. I was very regular with this sort of a schedule and hence didn’t face issues regarding balancing my interests. Having said that, I too was a last minute person, completing things just before their deadline.
MM: Tell us about your experiences at IOCL, Vadodara and CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory in Pune. How did these experiences help you in your pursuit in the discipline?
DS: In my second year summer I had done a project on Coal Gasification under Prof P. Rath, our erstwhile Head of Department. From there I developed an interest to explore the branch and thus started delving into its various aspects and decided to take the plunge in the industry. In NCL, Pune I worked on VLE Regression Analysis for High Gravity Distillation. After that I was deeply interested in Distillation operations as one of the most important aspects of Chemical Engineering. After doing substantial groundwork on Distillation, I decided to gain some industrial experience and went to IOCL, Vadodara. The whole experience of exploring the industry, doing a project and working with equipments such as Heat Exchanger clarified my concepts and made me realize that I wanted to work in the field of industrial engineering in the future.
MM: How instrumental was the institute in the general and the department in particular to your success in GATE?
DS: The preparation was primarily individual with the institute playing little role in it. The professors did their part by inspiring us to do something on our own and pursue chemical engineering as a profession in the future. My guide Prof Pradip Chowdhury helped me a lot with my preparation by providing me with flexible time for my research project and helped me get around during my frustration periods.
MM: Having achieved a stellar rank in the examination, what are your future plans? Are you going to join a PSU or pursue higher studies in Chemical Engineering?
DS: Being a Dual Degree student, I have already done my Masters and do not want to pursue post-graduation in any of the IITs. I am planning to work in a PSU for a couple of years and then pursue a course in Industrial Engineering in NITIE, Mumbai. Eventually, I want to work in the field of FMCG goods and do an independent venture in the same.
MM: What is your message to the readers, especially the future aspirants of GATE willing to emulate your outstanding success?
Please do not ruin your institute life. Participate in as many clubs as you can. Meanwhile, never lose sight of your goal and consistently work towards it. The institute is a good place to be in for four of five years where one will learn a lot about his interests. Prepare diligently and you too will be successful.