Theremins, theatre and other aspects of undergraduate life
Gia Goes (BSc Physics) and Kalyani Pawar (BSc BEd), budding scientists, open up about what it is like to study science at Azim Premji University. Watch out for the Rapid Fire round!
It is admissions season at Azim Premji University. Thousands of students across the country are making important decisions about where to apply and what to expect once offered a seat.
It is a challenging period, but it always helps to hear from those who made it out of the rigmarole and even managed to find a little bit of happiness in their academic lives.
Nandita Jayaraj spoke to two undergraduate students, Gia Goes and Kalyani Pawar, about their past experiences, present lifestyles, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future.
Can you introduce yourselves?
Gia: I am Gia Goes and I am a second-year physics major (BSc Physics) at Azim Premji University.
Kalyani: I am Kalyani Pawar. I am from Maharashtra, and I am in my second year of BSc BEd in Biology.
What does a typical day in your life as a student of Azim Premji University look like?
Kalyani: It starts at 6:30 AM when I wake up and have breakfast. Classes start at 8:30 AM and go on till 5 PM. My whole day is busy with classes and lab work. We get a break in the middle to have lunch and chit-chat. After classes end at 5 pm, I revise whatever the teacher taught in class, do my assignments and go to bed. On Fridays, we have seminars or talks to attend related to BEd. Saturdays and Sundays are relaxed, but we may still have some assignments and preparation to do.
Gia: It is about the same for me, except this semester, I just have about 4.5 hours of class on most days. So I have one to two hours of breaks in the middle of almost every day. This being the fourth semester, though, I have started working on my own honours work. So that’s added to the workload.
But after classes until about dinnertime, I don’t think I do any academic work. I mostly get into extracurriculars, the clubs I am part of, and a lot of just socialising, being with my friends. I usually go to sleep pretty late. So most of my academic work, which is largely lab reports, at this point, happens between 8 PM and 12 midnight.
When you were in school, you must have imagined what college would be like. How does actual college life compare?
Gia: I am going to sound like a bit of a nerd, but I honestly did not think much about college beyond getting rid of history, which I absolutely detested in school. The thing I was looking forward to the most was the fact that I would just be able to study science. I didn’t expect to be in a residential programme, so I thought I would go to college as a day scholar and get back home and keep studying. I have made a lot more friends than I expected. So that is a huge shift.
So did you manage to get rid of history completely?
Gia: I think I did. But after coming here and taking the Understanding India courses, I began to realise why I did not like history. I have a lot of friends who are majoring in history and now I realise that I would have really liked the subject if we were doing it in school the way they are doing it over here.
Kalyani, after school, you studied for some time in another college before you joined Azim Premji University. How have these transitions been?
Kalyani: I first joined a college to study biotechnology, but I only did the first semester there before the pandemic started. I was not able to attend classes after that and online classes were tiring and boring. That is when I started to get information about this University. When I got to know about the faculty here and the students’ experience here, I became fascinated. I decided that I wanted to come here to study biology.
When I came here, things were very different — the teaching methods, everything. It was a big change. The teacher used English to speak to the students and it used to be difficult for me. After a while, I became familiar with the language. I improved both my English and Hindi. At first, I did not have time to enjoy extracurricular activities as there was too much academic stuff to prepare for. Then I started scheduling in time to enjoy my life and have fun with friends.
When did you realise that science was something you loved?
Kalyani: In school, we read many books but we could only imagine how something was discovered and how scientists went about their work. We had no access to labs. In those days, I used to be more interested in the anatomy of the human body. After coming here, the environment is such that it makes you think. You can actually try to get the answers to the questions in the textbook by doing experiments in the lab, just like scientists. Now I find microorganisms so interesting. I want to study more about them.
Gia: Up until the end of grade X, I was still flipping a coin between the sciences and the arts. I adored literature, and I still do. It is just lovely to me. But I also really enjoyed studying science. Everyone tells you that if you do science you can still branch out into other things, but you cannot do it the other way round. I don’t know if that is true, but I chose science. Grades XI and XII were a bit difficult because the pressure of competitive exams was suddenly just dumped on us.
After coming here, I was allowed to think, breathe and process what I was learning. Instead of just trying to run through a whole lot of portions for exams, you get to actually learn things. At this point, I think I am more science-inclined than I have ever been in my life. I do not think I ever hated science, but I am more sure about this choice right now.
What role do extracurricular activities play in your life here?
Kalyani: I am interested in cooking, craft, dancing, singing, painting and playing musical instruments, too. But I was an introvert. So most of these things, I did alone. When I came here, I started doing Zumba and really enjoyed it. I also played frisbee and sang during the Indian evening music programme.
I had never dared to be on stage back at my hometown and so in the first semester I decided to overcome that fear by signing up for theatre — part of the Creative Expressions (CRX) course. My instructor Andrea taught me basic things such as how to feel comfortable with another person, make eye contact, and speak to an audience. It helped me deal with my shyness. I now have some level of confidence to speak to people and share my experiences with them.
Know more about our Sports and Fitness Committee (SFC) here.
Gia: Music has always been part of my life. I have been singing in choir since I was about eight years old, and then towards middle school, I picked up the violin. Over the years, I kept picking up new instruments, because why not? One of the projects I recently did with one of the first-year students was to build an optical theremin. This is a digital instrument built using capacitors or Light Dependent Resistors (LDRs). You can play it without touching anything. So you just wave your hand in the air and you get sounds of different frequencies. It is really nice to let these things feed into each other!
I have had experiences where I have cut down on my extracurriculars and tried to focus on academics, but then I find my academics also tend to go down. My brain needs constant breaks, active breaks.
One of the projects I recently did with one of the first-year students was to build an optical theremin — a digital instrument built using capacitors or Light Dependent Resistors (LDRs). You can play it without touching anything. So you just wave your hand in the air and you get sounds of different frequencies. It is really nice to let these things feed into each other!
Did you experience any sort of culture shock when you came to the University?
Gia: I was born and brought up in Bengaluru, though we are Goans. So I am used to being with people from different places, at least from the South Indian states. One of the biggest things that struck me in the first semester was the number of languages being spoken over here. That was really interesting.
Kalyani: I had never visited south India or even left my state before coming to Azim Premji University. Being a Maharashtrian, I found it difficult to speak in English. I wondered how I would converse with other people. Now, I have managed to improve in Hindi and English.
Know more about the English Language Support Centre (ELSC) at the University here.
Have you thought about what you want to do after graduating?
Gia: I have always led an academic lifestyle so I would like to get some work experience before I move on. I am planning to take a small break of either one or two years to do this. I am pretty sure that I am going to go on and do a master’s in science or some other specialisation.
Kalyani: I joined the BSc BEd biology programme here because I wanted to become a teacher. Seeing the education faculty here, I hope that in the next few years, I can also teach like them. That is my first goal. Last semester, I attended a seminar about teaching students with disabilities. I thought a lot about that. I would like to learn to teach these students according to their ways. I also want to study more about microorganisms, so I want to pursue an MSc in biotechnology.
Seeing the education faculty here, I hope that in the next few years, I can also teach like them. That is my first goal. Last semester, I attended a seminar about teaching students with disabilities. I thought a lot about that. I would like to learn to teach these students according to their ways.
Rapid fire time!
A fun science class you recall
Gia: Probably one of the labs. I can’t choose one… oh, wait, one of the fun ones was a Brownian motion experiment where we use a smoke cell and lasers to look at particles.
Kalyani: For me, it was not in a class but on the field during our Laboratory and Field Techniques (LFT) course. It was fun to look for insects and plants in the hot sun!
One experiment that you found really difficult.
Kalyani: Last month, we had to do DNA isolation. My hands shook while loading the bacterial DNA into the wells made of gel. If you break the well, you will not get proper DNA bands to be able to identify the type of bacteria.
Gia: Probably, most of our thermal physics labs. In thermal physics, everything is idealised. You have the “ideal gas law”, and then you have an “isolated system”. None of these things exist, because how do you stop the heat from moving around, right? One experiment we were just doing was trying to count the number of particles in a system, but how do you create a moving piston with zero leaks and zero friction? *laughs*
Favourite spot on campus
Kalyani: The Central Plaza! I like to watch people hanging out there, and the sun looks so cool from there.
Gia: The library is really nice, especially when they put the AC on. The terrace of B1 which we use for stargazing sessions is also really lovely.
One item you would like to add to the canteen menu
Kalyani: Maharashtrian poha. They have poha here, but the taste is different. Once I asked them if I can make the poha for them, but they said that it is not allowed. *laughs*
Gia: The thing I miss most is fish. We have fish almost every alternate day back at home.
About the interviewer
Nandita Jayaraj is a science writer and communications consultant at Azim Premji University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org