Electrical Engineering Society


IIT Delhi

Rahul Trivedi

Electrical Engineering Society brings to you the interview of one of the most celebrated students on IIT Delhi. Rahul Trivedi's name has been synonymous with academic excellence for the past four years. Apart from getting Director's Silver Medal, he has been accredited with numerous publications and research projects. He did his internships at Texas Instruments and NSF ASSIST Nanosystems Center, Raleigh. He is currently doing Masters at Stanford University. In this interview he talks about his experiences and dishes out advice on everyday issues that we face as students.

Image Of Rahul Trivedi

1.What were your most memorable moments at IIT? Could you describe any moments when you felt low at IIT and what you did to get back to normal?

I have been fairly stable during my 4 years in IIT, so I don't really have any extraordinarily memorable good or bad times to share.

2. Do you have any regrets from your time in IIT?

I would have liked to participate a bit more in extra-curricular activities – I have always been biased towards putting in more time into academics. I did try to get involved in the debating club, but the club’s attitude and politics really put me off after third semester. I also wanted to get involved with the fine arts club, but being a Delhi-ite I used to go home on weekends, thus missing out on the club activities. But it is not a major regret, and definitely not something that will have a significant impact on future activities.

3. What changes did you notice in your personality before and after IIT? How have your extra-curricular activities and internships been instrumental in causing this change?

Again, this is a difficult question to answer precisely – I suppose I have been able to become a better communicator than I was in my first year. I really like teaching, and this is something that I discovered during my time at IIT. As far as the role extra-curricular activities in changing my personality is concerned, giving (numerous) lectures for the electronics club and electrical engineering society also helped me improve my communication skills.

4. What words of advice would you give to your juniors- some things that they should do, some changes in the way of thinking, etc. Any specific advice for students of any particular year? What are some things that you would advise juniors not to do?

Find out what it is that gives you happiness and stop worrying about what other people think. Unfortunately, even in a place like IIT (which is supposed to be an elite institution of learning), most of the students like to play the ‘name and numbers’ game. They want get into internships, jobs and graduate programs that are either well known or pay well. Very few students try to figure out what it is that they will actually be doing in these places, whether it is an intellectual addition to them or if they will actually be happy doing it. They are easily satisfied by the fact that they get loads of congratulations from their peers and from the society – in short, they are more concerned with it being an achievement than it being a correct career choice. What you should try to do is figure out what is it that makes you happy – is it having a lot of money (which works for most people), is it doing a job in which you directly impact people’s lives, is it doing a job in which you are advancing knowledge etc. Try to make this decision without caring about what your friends and all but your closest family thinks about it. Once you have made this decision, go for it – don't worry about it being a wrong decision, nothing at this stage will leave a permanent scar on your life. For me, it is teaching and research that give me a lot of satisfaction – I directly (and hopefully positively) impact lives of my students, I am always learning and thinking in such work and am putting in effort to advance existing body of knowledge. I have met a lot of people (including close friends) who feel that the job of a ‘professor’ is taken up by people who are not able to do anything else in their lives, but I try not to pay much attention to such people. Another piece of advice is to respect other’s decisions. In India, we have a tendency to make comparisons that cut across all sensible borders – we compare different branches, we compare different streams, we compare companies working in entirely different areas, we compare different people etc. While certain metrics of comparison do make sense (e.g. does a job pay me better, give me a better work-life balance etc.) and you will routinely have to make such comparisons, it is important to remember that no one thing is ‘better’ than the other. If one of your peers has made a decision, respect it and praise them for it rather than comparing it with your own decisions in a contest to prove that what you are doing is better. Finally, this sermon might seem hypocritical coming from me, since I have not always stuck to it. However, I do feel that it is something that we must strive to inculcate in our lives which is the reason why I am sharing this with you.

5. What projects did you work on during IIT? Any favourite research stream?

I worked on a lot of projects in a specialized area called ‘photonics’. I have always been interested in physics, and photonics has helped me work on problems in (applied) physics while using my training as an electrical engineer. Basically, in photonics you are trying to study how light interacts with matters, and how you can use these interactions in technology. Its applications include building faster and more advanced information processing systems, quantum computing, better hardware, sensors and medical imaging etc. While photonics has been confined to the academia in the past, the recent decade has seen big investments in it by industrial giants such as intel, IBM, Google (X), Apple etc. There will be a lot of interesting opportunities for people who specialize in this area in the coming years, although I do feel that the academia still is a better place to work on more fundamental and impactful problems, albeit at a scale smaller than what can be done in the industry.

6.Have you been to any other IIT in these 4 years? How was it different from IITD? Can we bring that change in IITD if the change is for the better?

I have been to IIT Kanpur. It is bigger than IITD, and definitely has better infrastructure. I don't know about the faculty or students there – so can’t comment on a comparison but would expect it to be very much like IITD. To change IITD for the better, I do not think we need to go through the trouble of comparing it with other institutes. There are a lot of things that are definitely wrong in IITD – and these things must be corrected irrespective of whether they happen in IITK (or other IITs) or not. A lot of issues are related to our system, the solutions to which might not be accessible to the general students. However, things like taking courses seriously, attending and listening to classes, avoiding plagiarizing assignments, working on assignments seriously rather than working on them just for the sake of turning them in, respecting and listening to the professors, doing projects seriously and with interest etc. are things that every general student can do but most don't. I think it is important to realize that unlike what the public might think about the quality of IITs being good only because students in IITs are good, the truth is that the state of students in the IITs is pretty abysmal and has a huge scope for improvement. We should own up to it and take responsibility of improving ourselves before pointing fingers at IIT systems (not to say that the IIT systems are perfect). And for those readers who are not general students, put occupy important and influential positions of responsibilities, I would urge you to find out a way to allow the students to select their majors at the end of their first year rather than selecting them before entering IITs. I don't believe that our schooling system equips us to make this decision – and since the first year now is common, the students will be able to make a more well informed decision after studying in the IITs for a year. Maybe this is too difficult to implement in the coming years, but any initiative in this direction would definitely be meaningful.

7. Many students find it difficult to balance academics and extracurricular activities. How were you able to achieve this balance?

I was never faced with this problem – although I took up lesser extra-curricular activities than most other people. I might not be the best person to comment on it, but I think with wise time management, you can achieve a balance between extra-curricular activities and academics (unless you take up a lot of courses and a lot of extra-currics). How to do this time management is a question best answered by my more experience batch-mates.

8. How did studying at IIT change your goals from when you entered to what you have now. What steps and decisions do you suggest for people who are focused towards specific directions?

I think one should explore different areas (be it academic or extra-curricular) and try to make a decision by the middle of 3rd year. I did not do this, so this is just more hypocritical advice coming from me, but I don't think it is healthy to be very focused very early on during your undergraduate studies. But again, do not be swayed by the ‘public opinion’ while you are exploring – i.e. don't do something just because (many) other people are doing it, do it because you find it interesting. Some students think that not being focused from the very beginning is pernicious to their future prospects – like getting into a good job or a good graduate program. The important point to remember here is that the undergraduate program is supposed to be a ‘general degree’ and not a ‘specialization’. This is not to say that people who have actually specialized during their undergraduate will not have an advantage. However, coupling it with the fact that you might be getting into something you are not interested in doing doesn't make a single-minded focus worthwhile. One should always try to explore multiple options before zeroing in on what they actually want to pursue.