Updated: Sep 30, 2020
We bring to you the story of Divya Choudhary, final year student at the Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Delhi.
When the board results came, I was not sure if I wanted to become an engineer or a doctor. So I took both biology and math and gave AIPMT and JEE exams in 2016. I was inclined towards AIPMT because of what my parents wanted and biology had fascinated me. However, I did not see myself as a doctor and followed my heart. After getting good ranks in both the entrance exams, I finally ended up attending JEE counselling at IIT DELHI. I was lucky enough to get admitted to the chemical engineering department at IIT Delhi.
Though I was overwhelmed when I moved into the campus, I was excited for the journey ahead. I was also a little nervous as it was my first time being away from home. I struggled academically in the initial days, and it did take a while to get used to the hostel and campus life. It wasn't a cakewalk but a little step forward every day was what I could do at most, and this way I was at least moving ahead. Eventually, I began to understand my surroundings and got comfortable around the new faces.
The first summer arrived, and many clubs had openings announced via email. I could not apply to a lot of them as I was not a 7 pointer after the first semester. My grades disheartened me at first and a thought popped from within, “Will I really be able to be amongst the best? Ever?”. At first, I was hesitant to be a part of any club. But luckily, the knowledge of biology helped me have an upper hand and get selected in the institute iGEM team. I stayed on campus that summer working for iGEM and that project made me realise I can work to contribute to Biology. I also worked as a paid content writer and designer for Intellify, an educational startup. With the late-night work and discussion in the lab during iGEM and the in-between time dedicated to Intellify, that summer was very giving and made me realise the right direction to channelise my energy as I saw the importance of meeting people on campus and exploring the plethora of opportunities.
In my sophomore year, I was selected as an AAIP representative in the Design team. It first seemed to be a very busy schedule, but I loved it and involved myself wholeheartedly in it. Keeping myself busy helped me overcome a lot of issues. It did not stress me much, rather it kept me focused.
A piece of news that came in the fourth semester energised me in a way nothing had till now. I was selected for the Khorana Scholarship and the programme included me spending my summer at Harvard school of engineering and applied sciences. It was hard to absorb it since I wouldn’t have dreamt of it. I was really happy.
My AAIP tenure was coming to an end by this time and our overall coordinator bid goodbye with some words that were imprinted within me since then. He said, “ I was a part of AAIP to give back IIT for all it has given me”. With these words looping large in my head I decided to continue my journey in AAIP and I became its design coordinator in the fifth semester.
In our introductory session at Harvard, I met with scholars from all over the nation interning at various US universities. I could not even feel when those 2.5 months ended. As a part of it, I got to interact with many renowned scientists and I was left in awe with what engineers can do to revolutionise biology. The result of the project I did there was submitted as an abstract in an international diabetes conference and the results of the same were to be announced later that year.
It was around the time when the intern season was starting, and various consulting/technical firms were on campus. I was swayed by what others were doing, furthermore, I didn't even have enough idea of how I might end up in a research career. I didn't have people to guide me to the path I wanted to go on and being scared of not ending up anywhere, I applied for all the top firms to give it a shot. I got an interview call from all the companies I had applied to. The interviews started and I got 5 interview calls on Day 1. I went to the last rounds of all but decided to tell the HRs that I wish to continue research and might end up in higher studies. It was not what was in their favour, but I did it anyway. I couldn't pass through interviews on Day 1. I started to think as if nothing was in my favour and I decided to not attend any of the interviews on Day 2 and onwards. This experience made me sad and thinking for a few days if I had done the right thing. It wasn’t too long I got an intern selection at Harvard Medical School for the next summer. This experience strengthened my belief in the saying ‘whatever happens, happens for a reason.’
The semester ended with terrific news, which made things clear for me. I won the Gold Prize of the “DTS Student Research Award” at the 18th International Annual Diabetes Technology Meeting held in Bethesda Maryland. I won a cash prize of 1000$ and got a chance to be one of the speakers at the conference. I was nervous sitting in the panel, with the scientists twice or thrice my age and much more experienced in the field. I gained a lot from it, most importantly the confidence and the clarity of my path ahead.
The sixth semester called for more time towards SAC, IGES and AAIP. On the BHM night that semester, I received the award for best SAC representative in my tenure. The stress didn't really bother me that much as I had the most amazing friends. All this did not permit me to channelise my time towards academics. However, I managed to make a place in the top 7 percentile for 2 semesters in a row now. It all happened by having good attendance, through last-minute but punctual submissions.
The following summer, I was selected as a research intern at Harvard Medical School. After 10 weeks, I came back to IIT, to get back on track and decided to not take any PORs to which I might not be able to give 100% as I would have to focus on filling PhD applications. I was elected as department Convener for my last year and was also awarded the Future research talent award for interning at Australian National University (ANU) in fields related to medicine. And so, I spent my last-year winter at ANU. When the applications for TAs were rolled out, I became SBL100 TA for the last two semesters of my IIT life.
My journey is very different from many of us, but I was aware that I would not leave stone unturned to get the best results. It was a tough and risky decision to not sit for placements but if you trust yourself, there should be nothing to stop you from pursuing your aim. During my journey, I was happy to have mentored many juniors who were first hesitant in a research career. I made sure the lack of mentorship I felt would not be carried to the next batches. I will be more than happy to help all those who will in future be filling out PhD applications and guide them.
And finally with all credits to the IIT family and my parents, I am awarded The Indira Gandhi graduate scholarship to join Oxford University in the Biochemistry department for my PhD. With all the emotions written, I'll summarise by ending with “IIT is a wonderful place that supports you and gets out the best in you! It makes you realise that where you end up is not a reflection of the start but the whole journey, so make the most out of it! Never stop”.
Interviewed by Muskaan Jain