me
I had this naive optimism that things will somehow be okay. That this life will be worth living till the end. March 2021.

“Can you guys please go out for 30 minutes or so? And please be quiet.” – I said to my friends around 13:30 on 27th February 2021. That was the day of the interview. In addition, there was a 30-minute-long writing ability test (WAT) on 12th February 2021. It was quite nice of them to keep these on two separate days.

Why were my friends with me? Shouldn’t I be social-distancing since it was the middle of the pandemic after all? I’ll get to the why a bit later in the essay. For now let me tell you my interview experience. The interview took place over Zoom. Three years is a long time, and my recollection of the interview might be hazy. So, forgive me in case there are inconsistencies. Although, I remember some things very clearly. I’ll try to focus on those.

Why write an interview experience after three years? I don’t really know. Mainly to come to terms with my emotions, to be honest. I was talking to my cousin today, talking about MBA, my upcoming convocation, the state of Tripura, and so on. Also, if a young person is out there going through something similar, I hope my experience serves as a reassurance that things are going to be okay, with a fair bit of luck.

Right, so back to the Zoom call. I put on a shirt, tie, and a coat to look the part, that I was serious about spending the next two years in Bangalore. Soon the panel introduced themselves briefly, and then proceeded to ask me questions.

Tell us about yourself.
I told them my name, what I’m currently studying, my hobbies (I think I had mentioned something about Quiz Club, IIT Kanpur too), etc.

They got straight to the point. So, this Prof. XYZ wrote your recommendation letter. Explain to us what you did. Why are you interested in Bioinformatics?
I briefly explained to them why the field of Bioinformatics fascinated me, and how getting an MBA might help. I paraphrased my Statement of Purpose, in essence (I reproduce the SOP towards the end of this essay.)

I’ll forever be grateful to my professors for writing my letters of recommendation. So, IIMB required two letters of recommendation, as far as I recall, either from my employer or professors. I was pretty clear and hell bent on getting a PhD and becoming like one of the coolest professors ever. It’s funny how life turns out, lol. Obviously, I had not done any industry internship at the time, and since I’m a fresher I did not have any work experience, duh.

I did the most undergrad thing ever. That is, reached out to the two professors whose courses I loved, scored well, and ended up being fascinated by the topics they taught. One course was on Bioinformatics, and the other course was on Indian Literature. 1 In fact, I vividly recall my Indian Literature professor replying to my email, warning that her letter might not add much value to my IIMB application. I told her that is okay, and I’d be happy with whatever she wrote for me.

I do not know what those letters said because I did not get to see them. But, I’m super thankful to them for whatever they wrote. I won’t name them here, but in case this essay reaches to them somehow – thank you so much!

Tell us why do you wish to do an MBA.
I told them that I wish to learn entrepreneurship, and apply my interests in Bioinformatics to solve societal problems. Of course, I was listening to myself saying all these. While I did not lie (I really was interested in Bioinformatics and how advances in Bioinformatics may solve some diseases), I felt I should tell them about my circumstances leading to the interview.

So, at the time I was living with four friends in a cramped rented house in Saket, New Delhi. Why was I living in Delhi? Sometime earlier that year, I feared for my physical safety (for reasons to be told some other day, perhaps in a memoir), so I decided to run away from home. I did not jog, technically, but you get the point. I called up a few friends I knew who lived in Delhi at the time. They let me stay with them, fed me, and I had one of the most memorable months in recent memory, for better or worse.

I told the interview panel that I did not have a place to stay, I hoped to graduate from my UG college, and then start living on the IIMB campus, and hopefully once I have a job post-MBA and a place to stay, I could start thinking about other useful things. I told them they should take a chance on me. The mood on the call had changed, but they did not back down.

So you are in the Quiz Club. Can I quiz you?
(The professor started typing on his keyboard, presumably looking up answers to questions he was about to ask me)

Tell us the names of all the founders of LinkedIn and Twitter. – I named Reid Hoffman, and Jack Dorsey. I didn’t know the others, and I told them that.

Then he asked me the name of the Governor of Tripura at the time. I think I answered this correctly.

After that they asked me what Tripura is known for. I answered “pineapples, and we have some natural gas too.”

The final question was whether Puducherry had a CM. I said yes it did (which was correct), but there was none at that moment because of a political crisis. The CM had resigned a few days before my interview.

They said that was all from their end. I thanked them for their time, and that was about it.

I clearly thought I had blown my shot at a decent life. My friends came back to the room, and I went out for a stroll that evening, and we had a great bowl of thukpa.2 All hopes now rested on that IIMA interview (this was scheduled on 16th March 2021).

thukpa
I make sure to go and have the thukpa when I'm in Delhi. The shop is a few minutes' walk away from the Munirka metro station.

Verdict.

IIMA’s result (13th May 2021) came before IIMB’s (14th May 2021), and they had put me on a waitlist. As I said above, I thought I’d bombed the IIMB interview, and had more hopes from the IIMA interview. I spent that day messaging IITK seniors, asking about my chances of converting IIMA in case IIMB indeed said no. The lesson here is to apply to more schools, I guess. I had applied to IIMA and IIMB only.

Next day came. They actually took a chance on me! I got an offer of admission in the first round itself. The IIMA waitlist did not feel too bad anymore. Now I had a place to go to after my time at IITK.

I almost ended up going to IIMB.3 But then a cousin said, “IIMA would have been better.” So, I went to IIMA when they extended me an offer. I love you cousin, but that was mean. IIMA felt magical, to me at least. And here we are, three years later.

Some reflections

I had sleepless nights early in 2021. I had a college campus to go to, but IITK was under strict lockdown at the time. They did call us back in April 2021, but I fell sick after going to the campus, lol. Of course, my friends did not try to kick me out or anything, but that arrangement was not ideal.

What was I going to do anyway? I had skipped the final placements in college (this took place in December 2020). I had this naive optimism that one of them was going to accept me, plus “in case that did not work I still have the FMS interview coming up.” 4

I could speculate now, in retrospect, but nothing will match that feeling of restlessness, of that uncertainty – night after night. To be frank, like most people, I had hoped very much that they’ll decide I’m worth taking a chance on. And to keep calm I told myself that I’ll still be an IITK graduate, like I cannot fall below that. “We’ll see what happens.”

If IIMA gave me a shot at a better life for myself, and those that come after me, IITK will always be the institution that instilled in me the naive confidence to apply to only the top two B-Schools of the country, and not even bother about the others. Please don’t be this naive.

Perhaps the reason why I feel this general optimism about life, and humankind is this – life right now is miles better than it was a decade ago (yes, I’m only 24 but you get the point). I got to learn about, feel, and observe things that my ancestors and those around me could not even dream of. Of course, it does not end here. I hear some people, especially on Twitter, claiming that maturity is realizing that you’re just another person walking this planet, and you cannot possibly change the world.

If that is what growing up means, I don’t wish to grow up. I still believe that I can do something worthwhile for those around me before my time here comes to an end. I can at least try, right? I mean what is the worst that’s going to happen? I’ll still be an IIMA graduate, like I cannot fall below that. “We’ll see what happens.”

Thanks for reading till this point. All the best for whatever you are doing in life! Below is the SOP that I wrote for IIMB, word-to-word. I changed nothing, I copy-pasted it from a word document I prepared three years ago. I added some relevant links (they were not a part of the original document).

SOP

IIMB SOP

Statement of Purpose

(Prepare a short essay of 600 words on yourself in the space provided below. You may wish to talk about your background, significant events, accomplishments, experience at your workplace, extracurricular activities, relationships with friends and family, career plans, and how the Post Graduate Programme in Management from IIMB fits into your dreams and ambitions. Please make sure that your essay forms a coherent whole.)

Imagine a world where people do not have to worry about premature deaths because of unwanted mutations. My goal is to use my skills and experiences to bring together people from different domains to prevent premature deaths because of unwanted genetic mutations. Doing so would enable people to focus on solving the challenges that we as a species are facing. With increasing compute power and access to more genomic data, we are on the verge of solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges.

My decision to pursue an MBA is the culmination of my experiences in various areas and my background. Both of my parents did not finish high school. My experience as the first in my family to attend college led to my volunteering experience with the National Service Scheme (NSS) during my freshman year. I documented stories about people in the villages around IIT Kanpur. This experience made me realize the value of collaboration and reaching out for help when you need it. I did not speak Hindi natively and hence had a hard time decoding conversations. The exercise became much more comfortable when a friend helped translate the conversations.

Growing up, I did not know what IITs did or what an engineering degree entails. I took up Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur based on what my rank allowed. Two years into the program, I realized that I did not want to have a career in Electrical Engineering. During my studies, I came across Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. It is not a part of core Electrical Engineering, and yet, I enjoyed studying it. 

From not having Biology as a high-school class to actively self-learning biology to make sense of Bioinformatics, I found my interests. The kind of impact that a breakthrough in Bioinformatics could have is something that I think about deeply. I was surprised to learn that we could prevent many deaths if we knew which sites to target during cancer treatment.

My career goal is to start a company that trains and recruits others to solve many Bioinformatics problems. I envision a society where no person has to die prematurely because of an undesired genetic mutation. An M.S. or a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics sounds like a viable alternative to an MBA. However, I believe that would mean that I would have to spend over half a decade watching Bioinformatics unfold from the sidelines. Founding a company would allow me to solve a broader set of problems at a much larger scale and have a much more significant impact than the traditional academic route.

Starting a venture fresh out of college looks like an attractive alternative as well. This has the disadvantage of limiting my thought process about solutions to problems. I believe my time at IIMB would allow for broader perspectives on solving problems. My background does not allow for a shot at failure, and hence I would like to acquire the skills required to succeed in a real-world setting. 

While IIT Kanpur has made me accustomed to thinking about technical solutions, I believe IIMB would help me bring humans into the loop. I want to know about fundraising, incorporating a company, and the skills required to manage a team. I would love to learn from IIMB’s vibrant peer group and its strong network of alumni. Because IIMB has long fostered entrepreneurship on its campus, I would love to learn from the Professors. I loved Bangalore as a city when I visited it four years ago. For these reasons, I would love to spend the next two years at IIM Bangalore.

Notes

  1. I just checked my transcript. I got A’s in both the courses. I told you, I loved them! 

  2. There is this lovely thukpa place in Munirka, if I recall correctly. I can’t wait to go back to Delhi and have a bowl of hot thukpa. 

  3. I withdrew on the last or second last possible day of withdrawal. I also had to pay about ₹1,400/- as interest payment while closing the IIMB loan. I hope someday I’ll be capable enough to forget that number, and not feel the sting. 

  4. I did not appear for the FMS interview because of health and other personal reasons. 


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