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Post-Graduation Series : An Interview with Queen Suraajini

INTERVIEWEE: QUEEN SURAAJINI – Climate Risk Associate with Planetrics and McKinsey, London

INTERVIEWER: BRINDHA B – 3rd Year B. Tech Information Technology, CEG (GT)


GT:  Could you briefly explain the admission procedure and exams required for PG admission to Nanyang university?

Queen Suraajini: There are two major universities in Singapore – Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and National University Singapore (NUS). These universities are collaborating with universities in the US, UK and also Europe, so there are many research centres and specialized departments. The major exams to write for Masters would be like GRE and Tofel, and in NTU, they also recognize GATE exam so either you can have gate exam results with a high percentage and also or GRE that would be useful. It's important to have GRE or GATE to stand out in the application process. Apart from these exams, the other important things to consider will be the final year projects that you have done, your extracurricular activities and your motivation for joining. All those things will add you to your CV and application.


GT: Could you explain what motivated you in choosing this particular course in PG?

Queen Suraajini:  I always wanted to work on climate change before joining Geo-Informatics. Also, I'm from Trichy, where there's this huge Cauvery River issue. I remember when I was in 10th, there used to be a lot of frequent flood events and fortunately, we were on the other side that was not flooded, but the lower side of the river got impacted a lot and then flooded back. And also, I've heard a lot about the environmental impact of climate change. I had motivation on climate change impact study. When I was searching for a master's program, I searched for universities in different places. In Europe, Singapore, Japan and the UK, some universities have partial scholarships. So, these universities had scholarships with funding and stipend for me. I started applying for Masters, and I wrote to a professor here with my CV and my interest in climate change, who was already working in climate change at Earth Observatory of Singapore, which is part of NTU. Then when he saw my application, he suggested that instead of applying for Masters, you can apply for a direct PhD program. On top of the scholarship which I can sustain my living there, I found that as a good opportunity applied for a PhD. He directed to me another professor from the civil engineering Department who is my PhD guide. So, I applied under him. We had an interview over Skype, and we discussed the project which is on climate change impact on urban infrastructures. We see all those Drainage system failures. So, I was working on predicting future flood events and also how we can redesign the system so that there are fewer flood events due to drainage system failure and also another infrastructure. So that was interesting, which is also under civil engineering, and my projects were relevant to that. So I just got it.


 GT: How is this course relevant to your UG course? Can we pursue this course in PG even if we are from different majors in UG?

 Queen Suraajini: Not really. In climate change, there are several aspects needed. One of the aspects is designing a good infrastructure that is resilient to extreme events like a flood or other cyclones, and even drought is also one of the impacts of climate change. If you have other climate goals, for example, someone is designing an efficient battery system and used to reduce carbon emission, then they design the battery which comes under the domain of the material sciences. So, each Department has something to contribute to the climate in terms of designing in terms of finding out a new device or capturing carbon emission whichever suitable is if you just have an interest in climate change. And there are several opportunities with this new climate, like carbon emission control. There are a lot of opportunities coming up in every field. It's not just one field there's also someone to design electric cars because we have to reduce oil and gas. And there's a lot of opportunities everywhere. Not just one, everything depends on your interest. 


 GT: What are the major differences that you will point out between the UG College life and PG College life in general?

 Queen Suraajini: UG has a broader scope in terms of learning and establishing yourself. You're just out from school, and you're exploring the world and seeing what other opportunities exist. You learn about everything in Bachelor's, we have a lot. Of course, it's not at one specialization that you're going into. So, it's important to know about everything. And especially it's also very important at the undergraduate level that we interact with other departments because interdisciplinary projects are more recognized now. After all, we find solutions by integrating all the departments, not just one.


 So that is one of the major things that we can learn from other departments, other schools in terms of a lot of engineering problems and applications. So that is more essential at that time. And also in terms of professional development and personality development. We get a lot of challenges and we learn from and that is quite like establishing yourself.


 But you also don't know what's next. It's a lot of confusion and uncertainty. And then you go into a field which you want to go to when you go to Masters PhD, it is more specialization. So if you're taking Masters, mostly, it is recommended that people go for Masters and go to industries like more specialized industries to get a higher position from the start. So that's one of the advantages of having a master's in a specialization. And if you're going for a PhD, it's still further deep down into one specialized topic.


 So during PhD, I realized I had to learn a lot of courses that are relevant to what I was doing. And on top of that, I had to learn courses in electrical and electronic signal processing, which is not there in undergrad. Once you finish your undergraduate studies you should have the mindset that you can learn anything. You should have that adaptability to learn other courses that will help in the research. And most of the years will pass by with having one problem and finding a solution for it. So, it's not like you have coursework for a definite period of you few weeks and then you finish it up and go away. So, you keep working on it. Sometimes you can get a solution earlier and sometimes you don't, because there are no old solutions, the problem is new. So, it's your responsibility to find a solution. That takes sometime and you will get stuck and will be there for a very long time. Around 1 or 2 years and you might have the same problem. So that kind of resilience and keep learning and revising that, that would be in PhD. And also interacting with others networking on this, in the background and going to a conference. That would be that. And major thing when you are moving out of India, is that there will be a cultural change. You have to adjust even though, you know, you will see movies, you know, everything. So, when you really are there and you're away from family, and that's this like a personally you will you have that kind of complexity. You have to take care of yourself and establish yourself alone and meet new friends. It's like I said, creating a new world for yourself. So those cultural changes will take some time. 


GT: How has the pandemic affected the PG courses?

Queen Suraajini: I finished before the pandemic. Still, two of my friends had to change because there was a travel restriction. So, even though you got admission the most of the universities were studying online, which is, which was difficult because you pay so much and you're not experiencing the life that you want to be outside India. That's the main reason you apply for Masters, not just for the course, you can learn anywhere. But the main thing was exposure. That was missing. Most of them had that issue of, not meeting people or not having that interaction and most of them were staying in India. And in terms of finding jobs, also had a greater impact in all the countries, especially in Singapore. They also had a restriction on visas for students and processing is added kept delaying it and eventually it was opened, but it's a slow process. So, it takes some time for them to process and make the students come over there. And I think now it's getting better in many countries. It was not restricted until now and now with a new variant and winter semester and they're trying to have some control, but everything is changing. It's better now. Hope everything comes backs to normal.


GT: How different is the placement and job availability once we complete PG from that of opportunities available after we complete UG?

Queen Suraajini: It depends on the field. From my experience as a PhD, after PhD, usually, people go into Academia and become professors and then publish more papers. It is more challenging outside India, especially in having many Publications, some competitions, as with several people who are finishing their PhD. And it's most important to get funding for your project. So, it's important to show that you have a lot of research ideas, the idea that gets you funding, that is one of the avenues. And the other one goes to Industry which I choose. So, it's also more practical applications and seeing the real-world problems and solutions. One of my friends was in the research field so she worked as a postdoc in NASA. So, if you want to be in the research, you can just go into any research organization around the world. And there's a lot of research organizations in every field, not just climate change and also another area. And in terms of, for Masters, it is mainly industry-oriented working opportunities. It depends on if you take some time to find the right opportunity because it's not like a placement that happens in Undergrad. Each country has more scope for some specialized works. There are more job opportunities in that particular area. So, if you already have an idea on which specialization you would like to go to, you can choose a country that is specializing in it so that would be easier to find. 


GT: Suggestions and tips for students pursuing post-graduation now? 

Queen Suraajini: It is mostly about how you keep on improving yourself and keep learning. You cannot stop learning after an undergraduate. So, when you find a job, it is more important to show that you can learn stuff and keep yourself updated. It is completely irrational to expect undergraduate studies will cover everything the company requires. But you must prove that you can learn new things and adapt easily. And also, there will be a lot of change and you when you are earning yourself, we have to learn to manage our finances. There will be a lot of uncertainty of what to do next and how to go to the next higher level. So it's you keep learning and also not giving up at some point. If you're feeling stressed, then you must manage your stress. Well, you just cannot give up on anything. keep going on. that's what matters. It's not that you have to be mentally prepared for anything. Other than academics managing proper health is important because a good mind is and a healthy body. A healthy body is needed to accomplish anything. That part we do not concentrate on much but that is essential



GT: A few words on your opinion about this Post Graduate Interview Series Initiative by GT?

Queen Suraajini: I am happy that you guys reached out. I passed out in 2011. It has been almost ten years now. It is great that you guys are networking with alumni it will be helpful for the students to gain exposure and get to know about the opportunities available. I am impressed and happy for you all. 


The Guindy Times thanks Queen Suraajini for sharing her experience and wishes her all the best for her future endeavours.