A passionate learner and an extraordinary human being, Dr. Rahul Kumar Sharma completed his MTech from IIT Delhi in 2007. At present, he is a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation.
1. What made you come to IIT Delhi, and how was your experience here?
I was interested in research from the very beginning. I completed my bachelors and masters in Physics from Jaipur (my hometown). I was a gold medallist there. I, however, believed I needed more exposure before I could go on for a PhD. So I appeared for GATE and got a good enough score to opt for one of the old IITs. I was inclined towards Optics, and IIT Delhi had some of the best professors in this field. So, it was a natural choice.
It was the first time I was staying in a hostel, away from family. It was a different environment altogether. A renowned college, a metropolitan city….. It was all very new to me. I had been diligent in academics in my previous college and was sure I would do well here.
I remember messing up my first paper in IIT Delhi. I was devastated. This was against what I had expected of myself. One of my friends here gave me the most invaluable advice to lift me up, "Bhai sabke saath hota hai. Kuch na kuch ho jaega. Chill kar." I soon made peace with the fact that it was okay to muddle a few courses. And from then onwards, there was no looking back. Everyone knew me as the "guy with half-pants and FM radio" (Smartphones were non-existent back then). I used to sit at the paratha stall outside the hostel gate for 8 hours straight, chatting and gossiping. I went to the library only once during my two years here. It was before my holographic paper. I got a D on it. Naturally, I never went to the library again.
I was a resident of Karakoram Hostel, but my closest friends were in Aravali. I spent most of my time there. The mess workers thought I was from Aravali itself. I hardly remember ever going to the Karakoram mess.
In my 2 years at IIT Delhi, I had a chance to learn from and work under some of the best professors in the country. They were not only eminent researchers but also excellent teachers. I also forged some lifelong friendships. Most importantly, I had fun. I had some of the most cherished moments of my life here.
2. Describe your journey from IIT Delhi to ISRO.
I was not worried about placements during my MTech as I was focussed solely on my PhD. I started with my PhD applications while my fellow college mates were getting ready for placements. My parents were slightly apprehensive and urged me to at least sit for the placements before making a final decision. I did so, and got placed at Wipro. I decided to try it out. A job offers its own experiences and challenges, after all.
Working at Wipro was an excellent experience. It was my first time working in the corporate sector, and I was not let down. While I was employed there, the financial recession of 2008 set in. People were getting laid off left, right and centre. 13 months in and I was shown the door as well. This was late 2008. It was not part of my plan and I was thrown off balance. This incident brought my focus back on PhD.
After scrambling and planning for four months, I joined IIT Kanpur in January 2009. IIT Kanpur had a splendid research culture and state-of-the-art facilities. Research work there was daunting, but I managed to pull it off and left with my PhD degree in 2015.
After leaving IIT Kanpur, I had two short postdoc projects, one at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) and another at IIT Bombay. My project at IIT Bombay was cut short unexpectedly, and I was left with nowhere to go. This happened in late 2016. I went to stay with my brother who was working in Gurgaon. After a few months, ISRO had an opening. I applied and got selected.
3. Describe your work at ISRO. How has it adapted to the COVID situation?
I work at the Chandigarh Centre of ISRO. They were looking for scientists and researchers for new technology development when I was hired. I am currently involved in the development of Infrared Imaging Systems at the Semi-Conductor Laboratory.
COVID caused a lot of disturbance. Our office was closed in the first two months, so there wasn't much research work going on. We had to submit reports, nonetheless. Around June, the center reopened, and we had to go to work on alternate days.
ISRO has a great work culture. The chairman of ISRO, Dr. K. Sivan, keeps in touch with every centre and discusses the progress with them after every month or so. We have some great people working for us and our work is very organised. It is unlike what the people have in mind regarding work in government agencies.
4. Most IIT graduates prefer corporate jobs over government organizations and PSUs. Why do you think it is so? Should the trend change?
One reason I believe this happens because processes in government jobs are generally prolonged. For example, if you are a researcher and need money to buy some equipment, it can take several weeks or even months. Another reason might be money. Government jobs are generally not as high-paying as their corporate counterparts.
In my opinion, some government organizations are doing great work, and talented young individuals should consider them as an option. These include ISRO, DRDO and BARC. These establishments have brilliant people and a unique work culture. In particular, ISRO has been making waves through its work throughout the world. I think working here is a great way to make an impact and do something for the nation.
5. Finally, what advice would you offer to the students?
A. At present most of us are being driven by the expectations of society. We tend to do what is expected of us. I believe this is the wrong approach to life. People can only excel in things they are interested in. Always follow your passion. When things don't work out, be patient. If you work hard towards something you're passionate about, results are bound to come sooner or later