Going Up Higher The Ladder: Sejal Singh
Pursuing Higher Education is perceived as a dream by many. The scenario is such that achieving a chance to pursue higher education at a foreign university is regarded with awe and serves as an inspiration as well. Team Monday Morning got a chance to interview Sejal Singh, a simpleton as she claims to be, who received an admit to the prestigious London School Of Economics. Below is an excerpt from the interview, which solely aims to motivate those students who want to pursue higher education.
Monday Morning: Please share with us your childhood and schooling days. Are there any memories you cherish?
Sejal Singh: My entire childhood consisted of me moving from one place to another, as my father worked in a PSU and his job was one that involved a lot of transfers – something I always saw as a privilege, rather than a pain. Most of my schooling days were spent in Nagpur, after which we moved to Jabalpur and subsequently to my hometown, Allahabad. I strongly believe that moving from one place to another and soaking in cultural variations is responsible for shaping me into the person that I am today. It was as if I never belonged to a specific Indian state and yet belonged to the country in its entirety, for I am as much a ‘Marathi mulgi’ as I am a girl from UP. It also made me adept at being around people and learning their cultural diversities, be it in terms of their language or cuisines.
Academically, I was your typical meritorious all-rounder with a strong inclination towards academics. I was always ahead of my class and had various scholarships in my kitty. One could almost always find my head buried in books – at home or in the school library. And when I was not reading, I could be found participating in every competition that the school would host. Elocutions, essay writing, art, singing, dancing, drama, an assortment of sports… you name it! There was literally no extra-curricular activity that I didn’t try my hands at, all thanks to the constant encouragement and much-needed boost from my parents. Being the sole child in the family, all their attention and care was focused on me at all times, which was both a good and a bad thing, as it helped me excel at everything I did and yet, secluded me from the harsh realities of the outside world in multiple ways.
MM: How did NITR happen to you? Was ID your preferred choice of a branch?
SS: NIT Rourkela happened to me the way it happens to most of us: through the JEE Mains drill. I was not particularly interested in Engineering, to begin with, but instead took it up as it transcends in my family as both my grandfather and father are engineers. I got enrolled in a coaching institute in the 12th grade and started preparing every day in and out while attending a regular school. I cleared JEE Mains in my first attempt itself, and then JEE Advanced, though not with a stellar rank in the latter. Then came the time of counselling, wherein I made the conscious choice to opt for Industrial Design, as I was not interested in any core branch, much to the shock and disdain of my father who happens to be an Electrical engineer. I found the curriculum rather interesting, as it claimed to be a blend of design and engineering – much to the delight of the small-time artist in me.
MM: What led you to apply for LSE or how did you come across it?
SS: The idea to pursue a Master’s degree dawned upon me pretty early in my engineering days. At the inception of my sophomore year, I started thinking about the direction in which I would prefer my life to proceed and more specifically if I was more inclined towards taking up a job or pursuing higher studies. The design is a diverse field that consists of a lot of different sub-fields. I devoted my efforts and time to explore various subfields of designing and assessed if my skill set matched with any of these. It was then that I came across User Experience (UX) Design and discovered that I possessed the traits it demanded to become good at it, other than the fact that it fascinated me immensely. I felt it’s something I could excel at and enjoy pursuing if I were to make a career in it. I further discovered various sub-fields within UX Design like User Research, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, etc. During this course, I truly realised how much I really enjoyed communicating with people, understanding their needs and sources of motivation, which finally led me to the conclusion that User Research is my niche.
In India, the scene of design as of now is not as encouraging as we would like it to be. Though it’s improving slowly and steadily, it will take a lot of years for India to reach a juncture where firms actually begin recruiting different people for different UX design roles such as User Researchers and Information Architects, instead of the singular UX/UI designer profile, wherein one person does everything. With an eye on higher studies and research, I started preparing from the beginning of the fifth semester itself. I decided to attempt GRE in the winter vacation in between my fifth and sixth semester. I appeared for the same and got a decent score, much to my relief. It was in my final year that I started shortlisting universities, with my focus on European colleges that offered programs related to Behavioral psychology/science. I began applying in early September and it was after applying to only two universities that I received an admit from the second one, London School of Economics and Political Sciences, in November. LSE offers an MS program in Behavioral Science, which is a very new program beginning in 2019 itself. However, around the time I received my admit, I was confronted with several circumstances which made me ponder if I wanted to pursue my Master’s degree right after college or take a one year break before pursuing the same, which definitely did mellow down my euphoria of receiving an admit from an institution many people consider to be their dream college. However, I was relieved to discover that LSE has a deferral policy, wherein I can defer my admission to the course by a year. Which means that if need be, I can begin my MS in September 2020 instead of September 2019.
MM: What is the exact procedure to apply? What are the academic criteria to be fulfilled to apply?
SS: We are supposed to submit an academic statement of purpose (SOP), along with two referrals, curriculum vitae (CV), TOEFL score and your transcripts or grade sheets. Your application is assessed strictly on the basis of your academic achievement as well as the level of commitment and interest you show in the field you have applied to pursue your masters in. Certain additional supporting documents are asked for at times while assessing your application, such as a sample of writing in your preferred field. There are as such no academic criteria apart from a minimum CG requirement of 7.9. Foreign Universities are pretty relaxed when it comes to their assessment of your academic prowess, so much so that often times do not give much attention to your CG or grades if they find enough credibility in the work you have done in your field of choice and most importantly, sincerity in your interest So even if your CG is below 7.9, you have no reason to fret if you are working hard towards the field you plan to pursue your masters in.
MM: Could you give us an idea about the funds required?
SS: It is basically a 12-month course but if you are doing it part time it spans over a period of 24 months. For a year, the tuition fee is 21,744 Euros, which is approximately 17 lakh INR. One can even apply for financial aid, which most Indians do, as LSE offers an excellent Graduate Support Scheme.
MM: Give us a brief description of your stream ‘Behavioural Science’. Why did you deviate and prepare for the same considering your inclination towards UX Design?
SS: Behavioural Science comes under Psychology and is a very intrinsic part of UX design. User Research is basically about understanding the problems of the people while they interact with a certain product, be it digital or real-time. Behavioral Science teaches you the skill of understanding, predicting and even changing human behaviour. Thus, there exists a very subliminal link between the two, which most people are unaware of. As a matter of fact, psychology comes handy in every design process, for you cannot come up with a successful product if you are unable to understand what the user actually needs, and it is a well-known fact that people do not always know what they need. For example, people had no clue what a browser was, as Google found out in a series of user interviews with a random passerby at Times Square NYC, and yet they were using Chrome or Firefox on a daily basis. Do you think that would have been possible without a phenomenal User Research team? No.
Hence, the job of a user researcher is to ask the correct questions, assess the responses and draw conclusions so as to find out the functionalities that the product being designed must possess in order to satisfy user needs and be successful upon market launch.
I discovered the importance of psychology in UX design by reading a lot of books on Psychology - Clinical, Behavioural, Organisational, Sleep Cognition, and Behavioral, among other streams of it. It had always been a side interest of mine and I’m glad I get to use it to improve as a designer.
MM: Do you suggest a higher education in psychology from LSE to be a good option for those not interested to pursue engineering anymore?
SS: Any field is certainly a great option for those who wish to not pursue Engineering after BTech or upon dropping out. Can one really think of one field engineers or engineering drop-outs aren’t thriving in? Honestly, be it LSE, or any other course or university for that matter, it all boils down to one’s personal interests and inclination. I would not say one really needs a Masters to be better at something than others. A degree is but a piece of paper if you are not willing to put enough effort into becoming a credible professional with the necessary skills to make it big in whatever field you opt for. Bottom line, you just have to find out if you need a Masters or just some work experience to get you going.
MM: How different do you think the facilities at LSE are going to be as compared to NIT Rourkela?
SS: NIT Rourkela being a technical institution offers an entire range of different facilities than LSE, which as the name suggests, is a place to study Economics and Political Sciences. Hence, the kind of research that goes on in both the institutes is not something one should compare. Secondly, funding is a huge factor as the UK and India are two countries with absolutely different economic scenarios. Lastly, one has to consider that LSE has already established a name for itself in the global scenario while NIT Rourkela is catching up as of now. It would be unfair to compare the facilities at the two institutions for that very reason.
MM: How do you feel after achieving it? Was it a tough journey or a cakewalk?
SS: It was certainly not a cakewalk as it needed a lot of meticulous planning and wisely-timed execution. I had not told anyone that I was applying to LSE, of all the places. The day I received my admit, I had a hard time believing what had transpired. I am not one to ever undermine my abilities, but I had certainly expected a few more months worth of sleepless nights and not such prompt results. I first broke this news to Rohit Biswas, a very close friend of mine, so that I could have another person to share my shock with. However, being the great friend that he is, actually made me realise what a great achievement it is, and that I should be more ecstatic and less shocked. The feeling took almost a week to sink in.
MM: What are your plans after you graduate? Where do you see yourself shortly?
SS: I managed to bag a job offer last semester wherein I’d be working as a UX designer at Newgen Software, which is an enterprise product design/development firm. The goal is to get as much experience as I can in the year right after I graduate from NITR, in order to be 100% sure that I want to put in the amount of money and efforts into earning a Masters as I’m about to before I actually commit to it. Though I’m pretty sure it is what I want, I have certain reasons I cannot join the MS program in LSE in September 2019, and its certainly just me consoling myself with a half-baked nonsensical reason for this delay. I have a deferral so I can join LSE after a year to pursue my Master’s degree.
MM: Do you want to give any message to the readers?
I cannot stress enough upon the fact that these four years at NITR will make or break you. It is essential that you find out where your passion truly lies, as early as possible. Stop following the herd culture; it is not going to get you anything but misery and depression in the long run. Just because that one friend of yours bagged a lucrative job in Analytics sector that pays well does not mean you have to achieve a similar feat. Right now is the time to invest your time and efforts into chasing your dreams and not giving them up for the sake of money. Just remember that no field is unprofitable if you are good at what you do. Aim to be top notch at what you are passionate about, and everything you aspire for will come chasing after you, along with happiness. Nothing in this world matters more than the satisfaction that comes with realising your dreams and doing what you love for a living.