Beest the Captain of thy Ship: Sandip Kumar's Roadmap to acing UPSC
I did not have a back-up plan.-
Replied Sandip Kumar when asked regarding the latest turn point of his life. In this era when decisions regarding career are synonymous with confusion and hassle, here is a guy who set a goal, stuck to it and ultimately shook hands with success.
Despite the surge of employment opportunities in the private sector, the aura around the Civil Services is intact. UPSC Civil Service Exam, being one of the toughest exams in the country, is meant for candidates who possess meticulous decision-making skills, exhibit real judgement powers and retain the ability to handle stressful situations.
Recently, the results of the coveted UPSC CSE surfaced online and revealed tons of untold tales of dedication, focus and passion. Adding a feather to the cap of our glory, Sandip Kumar, an alumnus of NIT Rourkela (Ceramic Engineering, Batch of 2016) scored a prestigious All India Rank of 435 in UPSC CSE 2019 and is eagerly awaiting his service allotment.
Team Monday Morning interviewed the achiever recently and covered the full story from roots to rewards, mentioning invaluable tips and lessons right from Sandip’s pockets. Read on to stay inspired, aware and informed.
Monday Morning (MM): Could you walk us through your early life and schooling days?
Sandip Kumar (SK): I was born and brought up in Dhrubganj village of Bhagalpur District, Bihar. I completed my early education in a government school therein, where the medium of learning was Hindi. Since my family was engaged in farming, I got trained in it at a very early stage of my life. Hence, my childhood revolved mostly around fields and schools, miles away from the humdrum of the city. A new phase of my life started post-matriculation when I moved to Bhagalpur city and began my preparations for engineering entrance examinations.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? How did you end up choosing Ceramic Engineering?
SK: I did not fare very well in the entrance examinations. After a lot of research and a jumble of thoughts, I decided to give priority to lesser-known departments in highly ranked colleges over standard branches in less ranked colleges.
As a stroke of luck, I ended up in NIT Rourkela with Ceramic Engineering as the branch. This turned out to be a pretty sweet accident for me.
MM: Tell us something about your NIT Rourkela days. Would you like to share some of your most enamoured memories or experiences during your days here?
SK: On my first visit to NIT Rourkela for admission, I was awe-struck by the infrastructure and the hoard of facilities there. I felt fortunate to get into such a reputed institution. However, the first year was a tad bit difficult for me. Coming from a rural background, it took me some time to adjust to the aura of the NIT Rourkela community. Within a few days of getting admitted, I drew the limelight to me as I had complained to the authorities regarding the first instance of ragging experience I had.
Second years onwards, life became easy as course load continued to decline, and friendships continued to embolden. As I enjoyed spending time outdoors with nature, I planned and organised several picnic trips to pristine natural sites within a radius of a few hundred kilometres from the institute. Fast forward, the final year turned out to be absolute fun. Thanks to my close friends, who were an integral part of the best years of my life.
MM: According to you, how deeply did the NIT Rourkela days affect your life, professionally and personally?
SK: After getting into NIT Rourkela, life was never the same for me. My learning curve improved manifold. Apart from academics, I inculcated and developed a broad spectrum of linguistic and interpersonal skills.
Speaking of profound effects, this was the time when I decided to pursue a career in civil services.
MM: You worked as Assistant Manager at Vedanta Aluminium Ltd., Jharsuguda for almost two years. Tell us about your placement journey, and working experience there?
SK: My first placement took place for Tata Consultancy Services and I was fine with it, given the placement history of the Ceramic Department, where hardly anyone got a dream job at then.
But, my batch was extremely lucky as more than ten people got job offers in the dream category! Vedanta Ltd. alone took five persons, and I was one of them.
A job in the core engineering field, my experience at Vedanta was highly enriching with regards to my professional life. I was given responsibilities right at the very beginning, which helped tons in the development of my personality. Moreover, I got opportunities to learn and innovate under the guidance of my Senior, who was also an alumnus of NIT, Rourkela, Ceramic Engineering.
MM: The bold decision you took while quitting your job, especially when you had a promising future ahead is indeed a laudable feat of passion. Did you have any second thoughts while quitting your job or any back-up plan in mind, just in case?
SK: I liked my job profile at Vedanta. Compensation was also among the best features of my field. However, the thought of getting into Civil Services never took a backseat.
I was sure that unless I engage in a work which directly impacts the lives of the common people and the underprivileged, no amount of salary or comfort will be able to hold me in any other job!
I never had a second thought. I did not have a back-up plan!
I was indeed amazed at my passion for trying and getting into civil services. I pondered the cons of quitting the job and tried to analyse whether my decision to quit my job and prepare for CSE was particularly reasonable. But my determination never yielded to any of these thoughts. I was certain that if I don’t give my best and try to get into civil services, I won’t be able to justify my existence!
MM: Civil services offer an attractive yet challenging career to the aspirants. What led you to the decision of choosing UPSC Civil Services as a career? What did your parents and well-wishers say regarding the decision?
SK: The challenges produced by a career in Civil Service also appeared as an attraction for me.
Civil Services extend a platform to transform the lives of millions of people directly. No NGO has as much manpower or resources as the government. So, I figured that the best platform I would get to contribute to society and the country is by becoming a part of the government.
My parents and well-wishers were initially opposed to the idea of quitting my job and preparing full time for CSE. However, I do take decisions independently in these matters, and they understood it eventually. Once, I left the job and started preparing, my parents and siblings supported me unconditionally.
MM: UPSC is an exam which demands a broad horizon of knowledge. Which sources did you choose to stay prepared and updated?
SK: I certainly broadened my horizon of knowledge with the help of newspapers, NCERTs, necessary books and test series. Nevertheless, this definitely takes time. Consistent study of 8-10 hours daily for a year helped me cover the basic subjects in the requisite depth.
MM: A good strategy draws a thin line of separation between aspirants and smart aspirants. What do you think were the vital elements in your preparation strategy that helped you to achieve such a fantastic rank?
SK: Consistent study hours, tracing the origin of questions asked in Prelims, and extensive answer writing practice for Mains were a few vital elements in my preparation. I was also giving tests from the very beginning stage of my study. I have shared my detailed strategy of CSE preparation on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVgcS5ubWFw.
MM: How did a typical day of your preparation look like? What were the things that kept you refreshed and energetic amidst the strenuous turmoil?
SK: My day typically started at 5:15 AM and ended at 10 PM. Apart from regular breaks, most of my day was spent on either reading or thinking about topics that I had read. I used to spend almost 10 hours on studies every day. To refresh my mind, I used to do regular Yoga and ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ of the Art of Living. This really helped in keeping my calm during the difficult phases.
MM: An essential aspect of this examination is that you have to prove your eligibility in the paper as well as in person. What do you think is the crucial factor they look for in such interviews? Which skills of yours did you brush up for it and how?
SK: In the interview, they check the candidate’s honesty of purpose, administrative skills, social skills, awareness about the surroundings, interest in different subjects, including hobbies, amongst other things. Everyone reaching this stage does have knowledge and UPSC anyways does not check it during the interview.
During my preparation, I just tried to interact with as many bureaucrats as possible by means of mock interviews, so as to find out the way they think and propound their views. I tried to emulate the personality traits of a civil servant, including political neutrality, unbiased perspectives, recognising and respecting varied opinions, undeterred during pressure points, etc.
MM: What were the thoughts that immediately flashed in your mind once you found out you were selected?
SK: Even before the result came out; I somehow felt that my name would be there in the final list. This might be because my interview had gone well. So, I was not amazed when my elder brother told me that my name was on the list. After hearing the rank, the first thought that flashed was a khaki uniform as I thought most probably, I would be allocated IPS.
MM: UPSC exams have spawned a thriving coaching industry in the country that aids in mentoring individuals. Did you join any coaching in particular for your preparation? How important is proper mentorship, according to you?
I did not join any coaching institute. However, I did use coaching materials, test series, etc. to boost my preparation. I didn’t have any mentor either.
I had researched in great detail regarding every aspect of CSE preparation and tried to learn from various toppers of the last few years. In my view, if one is clear about the strategy and materials, coaching or mentorship is not absolutely compulsory to clear this exam.
MM: Exams of all sorts test various aspects of an aspirant's capability. In your opinion, what are the skills, a prestigious exam like UPSC tests for the aspirants?
SK: Unwavering optimism, ability to perform under adverse situations and consistent hard work is vital to withstand the tumultuous process that a candidate has to go through while religiously preparing for this exam. What matters, in the end, is how far you are willing to go along with the strenuous journey of CSE preparation.
MM: You have had an immensely inspiring journey so far. What are your plans in the near future?
SK: Within a few days, service allocation will be done. If I am allotted IPS, I will be joining the National Police Academy, Hyderabad. However, I will write CSE once more and try to improve my previous rank. On the other hand, if I am allotted IAS, which is less likely, my CSE journey will end, and I will be joining training at Mussoorie as soon as the foundation course starts.
MM: Your experience could be of great help to future aspirants. On a concluding note, could you provide a final piece of golden advice for UPSC aspirants and readers of NIT Rourkela?
For UPSC aspirants, I will say that there is no substitute for consistent hard work. If you do this, all other things will fall in place. Never doubt your capabilities. You are much more than you think you are. Just explore your potential by pushing up your limits. For other readers, I will say that discover your passion and follow your dreams with all your hearts. Dreams do come true if you work on it.
Indeed! When one can fixate your future as diligently as Sandip could, it isn’t long when hard work pays off before one realises it. Consistency of efforts and clarity of thoughts makes a man the sailor of his own life.
Team MM salutes his passion for service and wishes him the very best for his future endeavours!