Written by: Swasti Acharya
Student life is rarely easy. An engineering student’s life? Even less so. A chirpy, studious, and determined girl, Vibhuti* enjoys studying.
- 21 years old
- Living with family in Mumbai
Two minutes into our conversation, her goals become clear: “In India, if you see… girls study more, and this is good because we will become more independent. I want to become an independent person.”
Against a wall painted a bougainvillea pink, she perches on her bed and says, “I’m very much into studies. I didn’t do my 11 and 12. I skipped that.” Wait, skipped the last two years of school? Why? “I did a Diploma. We can skip 11 and 12. We don’t have to give the JEE and all of those things.”
JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) is a standardised test for admission to undergraduate programs in technical disciplines like engineering and architecture. In 2022, over 8 lakh high schoolers across the country registered for the JEE Main exam. Students also have the option to take the JEE Advance exam which is the admission test required to gain admission to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IITs).
Like most middle class families, the hype around Engineering is pivoted on the aspirational mobility it is expected to confer. “The scope of engineering is good, you know, all of those things? That's how I got into engineering,” she concurred.
Saved from JEE stress, she picked a Diploma
Given the cutthroat competition, Vibhuti is one student who found a way around exam stress by doing a diploma after grade 10. Diploma students cannot opt for a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in college and must complete a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) instead. “BTech is a technical thing, like engineering. So that’s good,” according to Vibhuti. “I did my Diploma in Chemical Engineering [but] now I’m doing my BTech in IT.”
Given the startup landscape and tech immersed lifestyles, she’s convinced that, compared to Chemical Engineering, having an IT background will offer her more hands-on experiences and internship opportunities.
When asked why she made the switch, the answer is simple: it makes her happy. She didn’t have to think twice before she said, “If you are enjoying something, right… If you are enjoying that game, time passes like anything. It’s challenging for me and I enjoy that.” This is true for her academics but also what she wants from life in the larger scheme of things. “If we are even doing a job, we should enjoy that job as well. Right? We shouldn't do, like, that donkey work that we are doing. And doing it… just working and working and we are not even enjoying… we are just doing for the sake of money.”
Gilmore Girls IRL
She talks fondly of her mother, who is like a best friend to her, who supports her at her life’s biggest lows. With a hint of shame in her eyes and sadness in her voice, she struggles to reveal,
Um, basically, there was a failure in my life… I had a drop. So, I never failed in any exams and Diploma was like in Chemical Engineering. I didn't have any such interest after the first year.
She realised this was not her cup of tea.
Her mother’s advice makes bearing a painful memory like this easier: “nothing comes with only the good side.” A strong support system, a confidante, and her rock.
“So my mom encouraged me. She would say, ‘So, this is how the life works. Life is all about ups and downs. So you will you have to learn you have to survive in this battlefield. This is the first step of your life and you are already discouraged, demotivated. How will you work in a job? There are many people who will literally demotivate you in your job, they will scold you, they will say things… so how will you deal with that?”
“I came to this phase where I was like, ‘I have to pass this now.’ So, I took a drop. But I wasn't like accepting that failure because I never failed in any subjects… From primary to secondary, I came first and second or third place so, I was like, ‘What the heck happened to my life now?!’” she emoted.
YouTube improves grades, uplifts mood
Getting back to studies was difficult. But Vibhuti, resilient and strong-willed, decided to make the switch to IT and pursue something she was actually interested in.
With support from her family and friends, she managed to put in that extra effort to make sure she was at par with her peers. “I had to learn everything from scratch… that was a big challenge for me,” she winces. “So I had to learn prerequisites… Those students who already knew that, just had to brush up their knowledge,” making the gap harder to bridge.
Vibhuti dedicated her days in front of her screen watching and rewatching videos. “Teaching is very good… in a very simple language. So it just gets absorbed into our mind that, okay, this thing works like this and this is there in this real world. We are not just rattofying (rote-learning) that thing,” explains Vibhuti.
Most of the teachers do like that. Right? So YouTube, it isn't like that. YouTube teaches us that okay, this thing is in the real world. So there's a reason we are learning that.
“I don't like Coursera and Udemy that much,” Vibhuti says, comparing it to YouTube whose easy accessibility makes it supreme. “They’re expensive also. We just have a summary of the question. How can we judge from a summary? After watching one video, I came to know that oh, this is not a good method. I didn’t get what I expected from that course. So, I don't like Coursera and Udemy that much.”
Jokingly, Vibhuti admits, “I wish studies would go online.” Why? “Um, because, you know, in offline, we felt like we are getting less number of marks as we are getting [sic] online.” Yup, you guessed it: “There are many ways we can copy, there are things we can do [like] keep our mobile and check whether it is visible through the screen or not.” The aftermath of this is pictured neatly on viral TikToks and Instagram Reels as classes resume offline.
With great success must come great work-life balance
Before hanging up, she dreams out loud. “I want to see myself working in a great company, enjoying my work, getting more CTC. Getting like, good amount of CTC and uh… enjoying our life. Living lavish life. We can do everything.”
‘We’ is not a generic ‘we’ referring to her peers or classmates. She pointedly means girls of her generation, girls like herself who struggled to get to where they are now. But with added benefits, of course. “As a girl, we can do shopping! We can do everything! No one is there to stop you. No one will say you should save your pocket money. It won't be like that.”
Vibhuti trusts that switching to IT and its promising career opportunities will strengthen her professional life.
She regrets having failed an academic year but that’s not stopping her. With a newfound passion for something she is genuinely interested in, Vibhuti is sure about making her mistakes count. Ultimately she wants to become financially independent: “Khud ka paisa, khud udao [Trans.: It’s your money, spend it as you like].”
*We anonymize participant names to protect their identities and encourage more honest dialogue.