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When I was just a little boy…. February 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, KREC, life, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
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He and his wife, Deborah, have two boys and a girl (her favorite subjects are history and math—“a good recipe for what an economist does”).

Linked from here.

That thing in the bracket caught my eye. The small-town/sub-urban ( not in the American sense ) India of the day I grow up in the mid-90s, that would be odd – history and math was impossible to study together after Class X. ( Economics is more mathematical than not, even if there is a fair bit of economic history involved. ) Thinking about it today, its strange – is it true that it is hard to have good aptitude for both ?

Its heartening then that when I asked my 14 year old cousin what she wanted to do after the class X exams, she said – “I don’t know what I want to do, instead I know what I won’t. Medical and Engineering is out of the way.” A few years ago only those who sincerely thought or were made to think that their education upto Class X had not revealed any math or science aptitude would venture to say that. But this girl is somewhere in the top of her class and has been so, for as long as she can remember. While I do not advocate that one be opposed to something out of the commonplace nature of it or merely for the heck of it even if one has excellent aptitude, it is still a positive development. But then I am not sure it has changed that much today, atleast outside of metropolis.

It is not like the only advice I got was to take up Engineering. Here is what I can recall looking back – sitting in the staffroom visiting my teachers during the holiday in April 1996, my chemistry teacher of Class IX asked me if ever thought of taking up writing as a full-time career. Neeta Kishore, English teacher of Class VIII told my mom in July 1996 that I should consider taking up the IFS ( Indian Foreign Service ) because I am argumentative but diplomatic and hence would likely have good negotiation skills. End of 1999 at KREC in the Technical English class after I read an essay out aloud, the teacher said – “3 years from now when you have your placements, if you don’t get an Engineering job, you can consider a news reader’s position.” And finally there is no count of number of recommendations about doing an MBA.

And what did I end up doing – Electrical Engineering for 4 years studying primarily electric circuits, control systems, power systems and moved into signal processing – speech and image processing for 2 years – an year at IISc Bangalore and then at Boston. And now moved into statistics and language/information processing. While these changes have come completely out of choice, I have become an ‘outsider’ every 2 years. Ofcourse, this change is more marginal than others I have seen and I am only a student, beginner among beginners. There are scores of those whose current work has nothing whatsoever to do with their Masters/Ph.D work from the 1970s – these people have continuously moved on from one thing to another ( without writing blog entries about it 🙂 ).

Thinking about it then, becoming an Engineer is the only advice I did not get. And that is probably so because one suggests something mostly when they think the option might not otherwise occur to someone. And Engineering happened to be ( and perhaps continues to be ) a default choice for someone with my background – middle class, good schooling and such, so it was not something to be recommended I guess.

Coming back to the stuff within parenthesis in the extract above, had I attempted to try another combination of History, Economics, Math, Physics and English, what would things be like today ? Likely very different. I believe that baring a few, there might not be such a thing as one’s call. Our comparative advantages build much later in life ( 11+ years ) and a majority of us can develop skills to take up a range of professions. And I believe that admitting this is not an insult to your current occupation/employer/alma-maters.

In other words, “I was born to be <insert a practitioner of your favorite profession> ” might be an exaggeration more often than not.

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Comments»

1. Ashwini - February 23, 2007

“a majority of us can develop skills to take up a range of professions. And I believe that admitting this is not an insult to your current occupation/employer/alma-maters”

Couldn’t agree more.Will direct current colleagues/professors/college administration to this post..Had given up trying to convince someone/anyone [including family & friends & future families :-D] that being interested in more things than just one’s own “profession” doesn’t equate to fickle-mindedness

2. raosharath - February 23, 2007

🙂 …from what i know ..baring a miracle you shud at most expect success from family & friends …

3. Deepak Krishnan - February 23, 2007

ah, thanks man… u have finally exorcised the ghosts of my “knowledge breadth vs knowledge depth” wars to rest 😀

4. raosharath - February 23, 2007

🙂

man ..do something get the bastard abhiram aboard to start off a blog ….

Hope this will help further :
http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/search?q=breadth+depth

5. Deepak Krishnan - February 24, 2007

i see that you are yet to learn the art of taking the horse to the pool and leaving it there to drink water by itself 😉 you seem determined to make the horse drink.. 😀

hes a busy man… busy with the namesake of a famous game show on star plus 😀

6. retrospectives out there « Epistles - September 27, 2007

[…] My previous post echoing somewhat similar sentiments. […]


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