Sailing the Unchartered Waters of ISB: Aditya Patra
At some point in our college life, we come across that one friend who can teach you the entire syllabus just before the exam bell. He is that one guy who can break the weird scribblings on board into meaningful little blocks of study material. He will be able to complete a hundred fifty slides presentation in under three hours. A final year student of Mechanical Department, Aditya Patra is ‘that guy’ to his friends and colleagues. With his recent admit to the Young Leadership Program of Indian School of Business, Aditya has become the first undergraduate from NIT Rourkela to get accepted into the prestigious program. Team Monday Morning brings you the bits and pieces of his journey till date with the excerpts from an hour-long talk with him.
Monday Morning: Give us a glimpse of your early life and subsequent admit in NIT-R.
Aditya Patra: As early as I can remember, my dad always had a transferrable job and I have been tagging along. The longest period of time I was settled in Odisha was for seven years. Since then, I have been in Banglore, UP, Bengal. My most impactful years were maybe the two years of ninth and tenth grade. I was in Don Bosco School, Bandel, West Bengal; an ICSE affiliated school with Christian disciplines. I learnt to value the discipline in my life in these two years. For my intermediates, I was in Sai International School, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Since my dad was supposed to get transferred during that time, we thought it would be better for me to get into a boarding school; so as to not interrupt my studies. At that point in time, the most part of social interaction and gathering improved my social outlook.
Coming to NIT, Engineering was always a passion. My parents had not forced me into anything. Cars intrigued me a lot. From a very young age, the red coloured RC Car of mine is one of my most cherishable memory. Because of passion for cars, mechanical was an obvious reference to me. With a decent score in JEE Mains, I had applied for only Mechanical branches throughout colleges. Rourkela had a very good name for the automotive clubs like Baja SAE. Back then, very few colleges had actual websites for these clubs. And that upped the scale for me to join NIT Rourkela.
MM: How has NIT-R shaped you, professionally and personally?
AP: Right from the day I entered NIT-R, I met so many people, of different backgrounds. When you interact with different kinds of people, you learn many things. These interactions have added on to the present character of me today. Even during the process of interviews, when I am asked about my characteristic traits, I answer them to be approachable, social and friendly. This is something I will have to credit NIT-R for. Meeting all these people has also made me humble which is quite important to me. Debasis Choudhury, Vinit Agarwalla, Rajat Mehta, Aliva Dash - these are the ones who pushed me to be better, right from the first year. I tend to procrastinate a lot. But, I always had these guys watching my back.
Professionally, the clubs have been quite integral for me. They train you how to manage groups, how to stick by deadlines and work with people efficiently. College’s club culture helps you shine out in these.
MM: What extra-curricular activities were a part of your four years of engineering?
AP: As I said earlier, I was always interested in Automobiles. I had my goals set to get into either of the two automotive clubs. Eventually, I got into SAE. It was the parent club of Team Road Runner and Team Black Mamba Racing. Being in Team BMR has been one of the most important things during college life. It has helped me become a better team player. It helped me learn to complete my task by deadlines with limited resources and how to build team consensus. By the end of the first year, I also got into BMR, in the Transmission Electronic Subsystems group. It was a very crucial period for BMR; the development curve was at its peak. Then, by the end of the second year, my interested in sketching and designing was piqued, so I tried for DesignTab as well. Being in DesignTab has added to the feeling of wanting to take that extra step to reach perfection at whatever I do, I learnt that the minute details of the work that may not seem significant, do turn out to be pretty considerable after all.
MM: How were your internship experiences?
AP: Bajaj was the first company I had applied for. But I wasn’t prepared for it, so that didn’t work out obviously. Tata Steel was the next company for me. I did well in the initial rounds, I got selected for the final PI, but I got rejected for some reason; although my PI had gone really well. I didn't apply for a few of the companies like Schneider, Sun Pharma as I wasn't interested in their profiles. The other company that I was interested in was Saint-Gobain. I got selected for the pool interview round at NIT Jamshedpur but during that time I was home for Puja vacations and I just didn't wish to leave home. So, that option passed. I also applied for Mahindra towards the end of my semester, but no one got selected in it. Through some contacts, I got an internship at Fiat, Pune but my dad suggested that if I wanted to prepare for ISB, I should prepare for it by staying close to home.
Internships at Honda Cars India Limited during the second year summer vacation helped get the first taste of corporate functioning. Thereon, the third year internship at ITC Ltd PSPD wasn't just about the technical learning, but also getting to interact with people and employees and understanding the working of an organisation. Not getting an on-campus interview was a boon for me as it helped me prepare for ISB. Had I been selected in a company like Tata Steel, which leads to a potential PPO, my life would have been completely different.
MM: What made you realise that higher education was your calling?
AP: I was always interested in managing businesses. To be more specific, an automotive firm, especially the R&D sectors. The technical association we get in college is just enough to scratch the surface of the huge knowledge pool that we learn in the corporate world. But regarding management, I felt it could be sorted out better. The basic knowledge is ingrained with the experience of managing a team of people and you can steadily go higher up the ranks with the right approach. It requires innovative ideas and improving marketability approaches, and that’s something I would like to invest myself in.
MM: How did you come to know about ISB? What made you apply there?
AP: Last year, somewhere in the second week of February when I was in my pre-final year, we had webmail circulated regarding a seminar organised by the Indian School of Business, about its application and admission processes. Like most of us, I usually don’t go to seminars unless I am really persuaded to. But, a few of my classmates were attending and I decided to tag along. Prior to that, I had heard the name of ISB only once from my roommate during my internship at Honda in the summer of that academic year. He had applied for the YLP program and suggested me to apply for the same as I was already preparing for GMAT. Upon attending the seminar, the idea of deferred admission sparked my interest. It provides a very holistic program. Since I was already interested in that line of career, I thought I might as well give it a try.
MM: Brief us about the Young Leadership Program. Why is the YLP advantageous as compared to the Post Graduate Programme.
AP: This is actually a common misconception among people. ISB only provides for a PGP programme under its institution. The YLP is just another way to apply for the full term PGP program. Usually, when you apply for an ISB PGP program, the pre-requisite is to have at least a work experience of 24 months. YLP allows applying for the same program while you are in your pre-final or final year. After getting accepted in the YLP, you can pursue two years of work experience and join the PGP program with the same prerequisites. It isn’t a different program in any way, just a different entry point. However, the edge you get through YLP is that you don’t have to compete against the top-notch industrial experts who have commendable work experience. Through YLP, you are only competing with your peers and it makes the race a little easier to win.
MM: With your admit into ISB Young Leadership Program, your career path took a turn towards management. What drove you to that domain of career?
AP: The technical expertise, basic engineering and my mechanical background - I felt these parts will be quite adequate when I go into the industry. But then, when you actually work with people, in groups or teams, you realise the importance of the resource management aspect of a task. You can always learn throughout the process, no doubt. But if you have had proper guidance through a management program, it will always give you an edge. My dad always used to say, a mechanic working with cars for five years might gain enough knowledge to stand against mechanical engineers in real life situations. But they won’t be recognised as a mechanical engineer in any way. The same can be applied for management as well.
MM: What would qualify as the defining points of ISB? How is it different from IIMs or other business schools?
AP: By the stats, I have known, the candidates shortlisted for IIMs have almost a fraction of 75% engineers in a batch. However, the pool of engineers for ISB is around 60-65%. With a relatively lower fraction of engineers in ISB, a candidate gets to network with a better-varied diversity of people from different backgrounds.
Alternatively, most students at IIMs are freshers, whereas the students at ISB have greater work experience. The pre-requisite of two years of job experience for ISB prepares a candidate adequately for a business management course, having already faced the challenges in the real world.
To add to the perks, the PGP program at ISB is only a one-year program; unlike the other management program at IIMs, which are two-year programs. This helps us to accelerate the learning process and gain knowledge in a short span of time. It also gives a provision to work on real-life projects with clients during that time.
MM: How are the two-year programs at IIMs and others, different from a one-year program at ISB?
AP: The two-year program of IIMs consists of a period of 3 to 6 months for dedicated internships. Add to that the holidays leaves within the 13 to 15 months of classes, it sums up to about 740 hours of classroom. With ISB, the course is structured within 680 class hours in a single year. It does not include an internship period as all students have prior work experience and it helps them to relate to the subject without the need for an internship. Even though the course structure is hectic, it saves us an entire year of career.
MM: Brief us about the application process and its subsequent rounds. What points are to be kept in mind while writing the essays?
AP: The application process is through the online portal. There are three stages of evaluating the candidate’s academic & analytical credentials, leadership potential and personal attributes. The first round of application usually has the deadline of last week of March. Applicants are required to submit the online application form, an essay and an application fee. This is a generic background screening. It checks the academic performance and extra-curricular activities. The essay in this round is the first point of expression with the institute. While you can’t do much about the academics and extra-curricular records at this point, the essay is where one can shine. With a stiff word limit of just 300 words, making an impact might be challenging. It’s always advisable to focus on points that would make you shine, points which define you. The basic underlined question is always same, the motive is to understand you. Anything that you add in that essay should have relevance to your life experiences. Hence, it is important to be true to yourself while not underselling yourself in the article. Proofreading is actually important at this stage. Friends, professors, parents - run the writeup through third persons to know the flawed aspects. A decent CG, some extracurricular activities in your pocket and a good enough essay is enough to get clearance from the first round.
The second round requires a GRE or GMAT score, two essays and one evaluation which is more of a recommendation letter. The deadline is around the last week of August and you have about four months to prepare for it. I had applied for the second round with my GRE scores. A one or two-hour prep daily for about two months is good enough to secure a decent score in GRE. The Quant section has basic maths of matriculation level, so, a swift brush up for Indian students would be a good enough preparation. Most of the Indian students face problems in the verbal section usually. To overcome that, you can always work on your vocabulary. I had also enrolled in the Magnus Program during my preparation. There are other preparation courses like GRE edge, Princeton, Manhattan, as well. The Verbal section in the Maghus program is at par or a bit more difficult than the GRE exam whereas the Quant is a bit on the easier side and for GRE edge it was the other way round. Since I wished more proficiency in the Verbal section, I chose that program. Regarding the evaluation, some students do prefer to get a recommendation from their internship mentors as it is the only point of my professional experience. However, I feel a recommendation from a professor who has known you well throughout, academic and otherwise would give a better statement of your development in the four years. The essays in this round are a bit more aspect centric regarding your life goals or choices. The results come around by September usually.
The final round is the interview round. Usually, B-School personal interview sessions are stress tests. However, this interview was pretty chill. I had two panellists interviewing me. One of them was tough at some points, but the other panellist really tried to soothe it out. The initial questions are mostly related to the essays you have written. Giving anecdotes and sharing experiences to justify your essays does the deed. So, being thorough with the content of your essays and keeping your thought process inline with the content is really an important point.
Both pre-final and final year students can apply for the program, but they compete separately which each year having a limited number of seats. During the webinar, we had also been told that if a pre-final year student does not get selected for the program, they are encouraged to write to the institute so that they could help point out the issues leading to rejection of the application. So, you will always have a chance in the final year.
MM: What do you think helped you land a prestigious offer? What was the motivation throughout?
AP: A rounded profile. It serves you for the best. If someone has a very high CGPA but is unable to communicate properly, he won’t be able to manage a firm. If someone has a very low CGPA, it shows that he is unable to grasp new things which are very important in a business school. Therefore, it is important that one’s profile is very well balanced.
MM: What other options a student might pursue in this career domain? What is your take on it?
AP: The most obvious options are GATE and CAT. GATE is preferable for those who wish to work on the technical side of things or to land a job in a PSU. The CAT exam is meant for those who wish to work on the management side. Apart from this, there are exams like GRE and GMAT which will aid admissions into foreign institutes. They qualify you to apply for MBA, MS and Masters in Management (MIM). MIM is meant for those freshers who seek to work in the technical front like managing a technical team. For ISB, the prerequisite of two years of work experience is very important. Most foreign MBA degrees require the applicants to have a prior work experience of four and a half to six years whereas, for MIMs, one does not need much experience.
MM: Where would you like to see yourself after completion of your degree at ISB YLP?
AP: Working in the R&D department of a company, maybe. And then, maybe 5 to 7 years down the line, I wish to head a technical team in the R&D sector. As early as it is, this is my calling for now.
MM: Tell us anything you would like to add to this interview session as a message to our readers.
Whatever you do, do it very sincerely and be very passionate about it. Be true to your self and if you have an inner calling, do pursue it. These are the things that I have learnt and aspire to be. Be polite and be humble. It helps a great deal in life. And, of course, always try to be a better version of your own self.