MSc Physics after B.Tech in Information Technology

In an earlier post I wrote almost a year ago I described some options available to engineers to switch to physics at the masters and PhD level. I am glad to see the positive reception that it received. Knowing that it has inspired so many young B.Tech/B.E graduates to rethink the conventional viewpoint that we entertain in our country is very satisfying. Apart from the comments under my post, I also had some people contact me through social media to know my story and ask for personal guidance. I am always there to help if there is any information or guidance you need. That being said, in today’s article I will quench your curiosity as to where and how I did my masters in physics after doing B.Tech.

I am a B.Tech graduate who specialized in Information Technology. I completed my graduation in 2006 and entered my MSc Physics studies in 2016. So there was a 10 years gap between my undergraduate and post-graduate studies. During these years I worked in many different companies and experimented with several things both academic and otherwise. I am not going to get into the details of all that but what I can say is that I became old and wise in the process. This wisdom has given me a lot of perspective in life which I probably wouldn’t have if I was just a fresh graduate from college.

If you are under the impression that I did my masters in some well known university or institute such as IIT or JNU or somewhere abroad as I listed in my earlier post, I am sorry to disappoint you. I did my masters in a relatively lesser known university. The place where I did my masters is called Central University of Haryana or in short CUH. It is an institution under the Department of Higher Education of the Ministry of Human Resource Development. There are at present 40 universities in India that are classified as central universities and CUH is ranked 28th in that list. You may view that list in this MHRD link.

Most people when they hear the name Haryana get turned off and since I am from Kerala many people have asked me how on Earth did I end up doing my MSc in Haryana. My short answer to such queries is that just because a university is situated in Haryana doesn’t mean it is bad. In fact, CUH is a good university and the physics department there is excellent. Of course there are some cons about the place Mahendragarh where this university is located as it is a rural area. However, our main concern as students must be to focus on the curriculum and knowledge transfer rather than cribbing too much about why we ended up in this obscure place. As Aamir Khan said in the movie 3 Idiots – ज्ञान तो ज्ञान होता है| जहाँ से भी मिले, लपेट लो |

CUH has a student population that is diverse as I have seen students from across the country coming and studying there. Just like in any other university, there are opportunities for self improvement with frequent talks by invited speakers and also other programs such as GIAN courses. In addition, there are many cultural activities and events. When I was studying, there were about 20 students from Kerala and we even conducted an Onam Celebration and made all the non-Malayali students to participate in various games as part of the festival. It was fun. In the following paragraphs, I will describe the way you can get in to CUH and also the physics department.

CUCET

CUCET stands for Central Universities Common Entrance Test. This is the exam you need to take in order to get admission to CUH. Compared to IIT – JAM, GATE, JEST, DU, JNU etc., this entrance is relatively easy. Its pattern keeps changing so you need to check the current pattern if you are giving this test. Now, I will never insist you to only write CUCET. If you are interested in going to only premier institutes or some place abroad then by all means do that. However, it is wise to keep CUH as a safe option just in case you don’t want to waste another year in preparation. For me personally this was the only option left as I didn’t have too many years to spare.

Following the result of CUCET, you will be called for counseling depending on the institute preferences that you have given. I had given the options viz. Central University of Punjab, Central University of Haryana and Central University of Kerala. I received a counseling invitation from CUH and the rest is history. Depending on your rank in the exam you may have to go for multiple counseling. Once your admission is confirmed, you may choose to live in the hostel or take a room elsewhere. I took up a single room in Mahendragarh town which is 12 km from Jant-Pali village where the university building is situated. The daily commute was a problem but I preferred to live in a place where basic amenities such as market, restaurants, medical stores etc. were available. So the choice is yours as to whether to live on campus or some other place.

The Physics Department

Now we will get to the crux of the matter. The department of physics at CUH offers both MSc and PhD programs. It is new compared to other departments but there are many advantages if you do MSc from here.

The Faculty

The most important part of any university department is its faculty. The faculty members of CUH physics department are experts in their respective fields. They have done their PhD from prestigious institutes such as IIT, JNU and DU. In addition, some of them have done their post-doctoral research abroad and have a good list of publications in prominent physics journals such as Nature and Physical Review Letters. They have been more than willing to share their knowledge whenever I had doubts and difficulties throughout the course. In fact one of the reasons I decided to stay in CUH rather than dropping another year to repeat entrances is because of the good faculty members. They are friendly and knowledgeable and being associated with them would be very good for your profile.

The Curriculum

The second most attractive aspect of the department is the MSc physics curriculum. It is really vast and inclusive. Depending on the specialization you seek for your future, you can tailor the curriculum with the optional subjects available. The latest syllabus (2017-19 version) is available in this link. You are welcome to have a look at it for details. I will summarize the curriculum as follows:

Core Courses

The following are the subjects classified as core in the curriculum:

  • Mathematical Methods in Physics
  • Classical Mechanics
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Electronics
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Classical Electrodynamics
  • Atomic, Molecular Physics and Laser
  • Nuclear & Particle Physics
  • Solid State Physics

These subjects are core for obvious reasons. As a physicist you are supposed to know them. If someone asks you a question in these, you should not blink. All the other advanced topics that you learn in physics are an extension of these. So irrespective of where you study, you will find these in the syllabus. Apart from the theoretical core subjects, there are three laboratory courses as well which you have to take in the first three semesters.

Advanced Courses

As I said, advanced level courses are an extension of the core courses.  You are given a choice as to which of these advanced courses you want to study:

  • Advanced Quantum Mechanics
  • Advanced Statistical Mechanics
  • General Theory of Relativity
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Thin Film and Integrated Devices
  • Superconductivity: Conventional and High Temperature Superconductors

There are other electives too as you have noticed in the syllabus. There are also two seminar presentations that you have to give in the first two semesters.

Major and Minor Projects

In the final semester, there are two types of projects offered to the students. The major project is a full fledged 24 credits project work that you have to undertake for an entire semester. You won’t be doing any coursework if you have chosen to do a major project. You can either do the project at the department under one of the faculty members or you can go to a different institute. Many students from my senior batch as well as my batch went to places like IUAC, RRCAT, SINP, DU and NISER to do their major projects. If you have an opportunity like that, I would suggest you take it as it will add a boost to your profile. You can also get references from such institutes which will aid you in your PhD applications.

There is a second option called minor project. If you are interested in doing some coursework then you can opt for a 12 credits project. But if you choose this option, then you will have to study 3 subjects worth 4 credits each to account for the remaining 12 credits in the curriculum. I chose this option because I wanted to showcase some coursework in my resume. My project was in the subject of cosmology. In addition to working on the project, I did three courses viz. Astrophysics, Nonlinear Dynamics and Superconductivity.

There will be a project viva taken by an external examiner at the end of your project. Make sure that your presentation is precise and concise because you won’t get too much time to get into details especially if the examiner has a different specialization compared to the subject in which you have done your project.

Difficulty Level

Now this is a very curious question. Was it difficult for me to do my MSc after B.Tech? Well, I would answer that with a yes. However, this answer is not generic. It is a very personal one. I am saying it because one of my juniors who is also a B.Tech graduate doesn’t find it difficult at all and he is one of the toppers in his class. I believe that any difficulty in the coursework could be related to how fresh your mind is. If you are a fresh graduate or only have 2 or 3 years of gap after your B.Tech, your mind is still fresh and you are young. My case was totally different. When I started preparing for MSc entrances, there were so many things from which I was out of touch. In 12th std and in the first two years of engineering, we learn so much mathematics. But by the time I started my entrance preparation, most of those mathematical concepts had faded away. Relearning them was the most difficult task in my opinion. Quantum mechanics was also slightly hard to digest in the beginning. I never learned QM in my B.Tech and it was a totally new experience. It was much later that I grasped the meaning of the statement, “never try to understand quantum mechanics“.

Another difficulty I faced was unlearning the engineering way of thinking and learning the physics way of thinking. Even though physicists and engineers have the same intellectual capacity, the perspective that both disciplines instil in their students is very different. You can’t ask a physicist to build a bridge and you can’t ask an engineer to sit and indulge in abstract theoretical thoughts. They both require different parts of the brain. However, it is certainly possible to switch if the situation demands it. I am glad and proud that I can now switch to both ways of thinking whenever needed.

Now that I have completed my MSc, I am confident that I can tackle any subject in physics. The two years you spend studying in an institute will certainly rewire your brain and I am happy that it did.

Advantages of B.Tech

This my friends is where I am going to make all B.Tech graduates happy. We are first and foremost engineers. We build things ranging from large scale structures to computer software. Throughout our B.Tech curriculum, one thing that is taught always is to gain practical skills that can be readily used to solve problems. My B.Tech degree combined with my corporate experience gave me so many advantages over regular physics graduates who were studying with me. The most important among those were computing and communication skills.

While I faced difficulties in the coursework, when it came to computing, I was the king in the class. People used to look at me as if I am some kind of alien because coding and other computer related activities came naturally to me. Whenever there was a computing issue, I was the first person people called. Many students had sought my help in making presentations and other things and I was always ready to help.

In the final semester, my instructor asked me to learn LaTeX and I learned it in about 4 hours and wrote my project dissertation in it. I never learned LaTeX before that in my life and I just learned it without any problems. To my knowledge only 4 students in my class wrote their dissertation in LaTeX while everyone else wrote in MS Word.  In my project, the initial work was learning cosmology in a computing perspective. From Day – 1 I was sitting and coding in Python to simulate galaxies as point objects. And every day I visited my project guide and reported on my progress (Yes! Every single day!) This comes from my corporate experience where I had to work under pressure to achieve targets within time limits to make my bosses happy.

For my project I also had to learn a software called Galacticus which in my opinion is the most difficult software that I have encountered till date. It is a Linux-based tool that generates plots related to galaxy formation and evolution. If I didn’t have the advantage of my computing background, I don’t think I would have been able to do anything with that software.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not indulging in self praise. I am just pointing out the advantages I had which helped me balance my disadvantages. Yes, there were few physics students who were equally skilled in computing. But compared to the majority in my class, I did have my advantages.

Living in Mahendragarh

If you decide that you don’t want to live on campus or anywhere near it but in the township of Mahendragarh and travel to the university daily then my suggestion is to take a room that has an attached kitchen and cook your own food. In Delhi you get something called “one room set” which is a combination of a bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom but I didn’t see those in Mahendragarh. There is a food problem in Mahendragarh. It is very difficult to get tasty and healthy food that would satisfy your nutritional needs. There are a few restaurants but they are just “okay” type i.e. not too great. I had taken a room in one of those “PG accommodations” where food was provided but it was a bad idea as the cook didn’t know what he was doing. I would much rather cook my own food. My advice to you is to do the same. If two or three people can take a house and run it properly with cooking food and maintaining the rooms, it would be the best. I have seen tiffin services but never tried them so I can’t comment on their quality. There are laundry services available so if you don’t like to waste time washing clothes then you can avail those.

The town has two supermarkets and one elaborate market that resembles Sarojini or Lajpat Nagar except on a much smaller scale and lesser quality. There are also home appliances and furniture shops. I bought my table from one of them which was a good deal for me. There are tailoring and bag repair centers and also clothing and utensils shops. There are also many medical stores and hospitals in case of emergencies.

Winters can be as cruel as the summers or even worse and therefore you must be prepared for those. And regarding power failures, I would refrain from commenting on it because it is pointless.

Conclusion

So, do I recommend the physics department of CUH as a place for higher education? Absolutely yes! If you want to do your MSc there, go ahead. You won’t be disappointed. But as I said, there are better options out there and you may want to keep CUH as a backup option just in case you won’t make it to the other places. Most of my readers I am sure are young and energetic and can do much better than me in their academics and thus get their admissions in premier institutions either in India and abroad.

There are many engineers who have made it to the world of physics before me and some of them did it really spectacularly. There is another blogger who has written about their stories. You can read about them here.

If there is any feedback, suggestions or queries you are welcome to comment below. In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that in addition to commenting on my previous article, some students had contacted me via social media. You can certainly contact me via social media if you want to talk to me directly. I am very active on Instagram and you can follow me here if you like.

I will be writing a future post about what it is like when you embark into academia after you have crossed 30. It was a funny as well as annoying experience for me and if you are an aged candidate there are certain things that you must know before you make the same decision as me. So that’s it from me today. Thanks for reading!

The 3G Saga – TATA Docomo and Me!

Image of TATA Docomo 3G Data Card

TATA Docomo 3G Data Card

It is a warm evening of March and I am writing this post from my new TATA Docomo 3G Internet connection. Since I moved to my new house, there had been no Internet and I feel as if I stumbled upon some magic elixir.  This post is named “The 3G Saga” because there is a long story behind how I got this connection and how we got it up and running. We faced many issues with it. This is the story of how we isolated each issue and what we did to finally solve each one of them. This post is dedicated to those poor souls who have taken the TATA Docomo 3G connection and are finding it difficult to make it work in Linux. You can treat this post as a tutorial as well.

In my earlier house, I used the horrendous TATA Indicom wireline broadband. I never changed that connection because all my attempts to change it failed. Anyway, when I moved to my new house, I approached them to move my connection. For any kind of Internet connection, there is a feasibility study conducted by the concerned ISP in the area applied for. In my case too it was done. Eroor apparently is not an ISP friendly area and TATA Indicom found the area not possible for their wireline internet.

The same was the case with Reliance NetConnect. Reliance guys should be penalized for using the word “feasibility“. Their big bosses are capable of constructing helipads on top of their houses and do ever grander things across the country. Nevertheless, I moved on with my other options like Asianet, Airtel and BSNL.

After a two month-long fight with BSNL, I finally got fed up and canceled my request. My only option remaining was using wireless broadband. A previous experience with Reliance wireless dongle caused some reluctance but apparently I didn’t have much of a choice. My manager had taken TATA Docomo 3G and she said it was okay. So I went ahead with the same.

Image of White Shark

White Shark

I always consider the behavior of mobile and Internet guys tantamount to white sharks. One drop of blood in the water and the sharks appear immediately and these guys behave exactly the same way. I applied and they came running. The dongle they offer is however the ZTE MF631 HSUPA. The Chinese company ZTE had released this model quite some time back and it seems to be an outdated one since their website no longer lists this device. What I believe is that TATA purchased large numbers of these old stock devices from ZTE China and is selling them at a higher price to the unsuspecting customers in India.

Image of Ubuntu 10.04

Ubuntu 10.04

Anyway, the guy who came to my house was not able to make the device run on my Ubuntu 10.04. When he saw Linux, he got scared and lost all hope immediately. He did not even know the APN of the connection he was providing. Terribly annoyed, I started working on it nonetheless. They did have a driver in the device for Linux and after struggling with the terminal for a few minutes, I got it installed. The device was getting recognized as a modem; however it did not connect to the internet.

I thought there was some issue with the device or their driver and I asked him to go find the fix. He went and another guy came but the story repeated. He said that I was the only customer in the city who asked this connection to be configured in Linux. I asked him to go and check it on another Linux computer. It is ironic considering the fact that Linux has a huge user base in India.

Image of OpenDNS

OpenDNS

Meanwhile, I called their customer support and asked for help but they refused to help me without buying that device first. But I observed another thing. My laptop was not able to connect via GPRS either. But I did have a faint memory of connecting using GPRS. I suspected whether this had anything to do with my attempt to prevent network manager program from updating my resolv.conf file with OpenDNS addresses.

My brother, who has more expertise in Linux called yesterday and I updated him with the status and my doubts. He asked me what exactly I did to get rid of OpenDNS. I told him that I  ran the command “sudo chattr +i /etc/resolv.conf” in the terminal. He looked up the man pages of that command and told me that the resolv.conf is now immune to any sort of updates, let alone OpenDNS. He asked me to check the “/etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf” file as well. I did and sure enough, there were the two OpenDNS addresses viz 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.

Now everything fell in place. The network manager took the addresses from this file to update the resolv.conf. I immediately appended the two addresses in the dhclient.conf. Then I ran the command “sudo chattr -i /etc/resolv.conf” to undo the security I imposed on it. He asked me to me to check the GPRS and hung up.

Image of ZTE MF631

ZTE MF631 - The outdated device sold in India

I connected my phone to the laptop and voila! There was the connection! I called up the TATA Docomo guys on the morning of 5th March and informed them that I had found the solution. The guy came and I plugged in the dongle and ran the wizard and there came the connection. I didn’t have to install any software to get 3G. Ubuntu can detect 3G devices automatically and connect and I knew it was going to work without that software. And yet the representatives kept blaming Linux.

So I got connected on a Saturday. It worked fine except for the heat in the device. Once it got heated up, it didn’t connect and once the connection is kept idle, it didn’t connect. I went to my native to attend a marriage on 11th and when I returned, still it was  working. But the next day it stopped working.

I hadn’t given the address proof since they were not ready to accept the rental agreement as proof. Those buggers deactivated my connection because of that. I asked the representative whether they will accept the postpaid mobile bill. He checked with his manager and told that they won’t. I told him that the postpaid connection is also from TATA Docomo and asked him why should the company reject its own bill.

I asked my dad to intervene. He called that guy up and asked him the following.

1. “The current district collector of Ernakulam lives in a rented house. Won’t you guys give him an internet connection if he asks?

2. “26 out of 30 high court judges live in rented houses. Won’t you guys give them internet connection if they ask?

Image of TATA Docomo SIM

TATA Docomo SIM

He said that he will try something and get it reconnected. In the interim, I gave him a copy of the postpaid bill and PAN card. Yesterday he called me up and told that the SIM was manufactured for 2010 and they have issues reactivating the SIM in 2011. I wonder what kind of problem would that be.

He finally called up and told that he reactivated it. I was able to browse but the connection was intermittent. It kept switching between 2G and 3G networks and when it did, it disconnected. Finally I called up their support on Wednesday and asked what was going on. The guy told, he would send someone on Friday. I waited and no one came. I called again and another guy promised that a person will come on Saturday. I waited and still no one came.

 

Image of 3G Only

3G Only

In the interim, the guy who gave me the connection finally came with the bill. Also another guy, a chartered accountant, called me to verify my address saying that all postpaid customers have to go through that procedure. He also added that the connection will get fully activated only after he submits a positive report. I asked the guy who gave me the connection whether this was the case and he agreed to it. I also told him about the 2G-3G switching issue. He told that I need to use the software provided by them to get rid of that problem since it has the option to choose “3G only” setting.

 

Image of usb-modeswitch

usb-modeswitch

My brother and I again started troubleshooting on the phone to get this software working. He suggested that if we install “usb- modeswitch“, may be we can connect using the network manager itself rather than using their software. But whenever I tried to install or uninstall anything related to “wvdial” or any other program pertaining to USB internet, I get the error “E: crossplatformui: subprocess  installed post-installation script returned error exit status 2“. Though the programs used to get installed and uninstalled, it still gave the error. I thought it was some issue with synaptic. Further the software provided by TATA gave another strange error “Fail to connect! Link ppp0 wasn’t built !” to which no one has a clue on the internet.

My brother said that it was 1 AM there and he wanted to sleep. So we wound up the troubleshooting and I too went to bed. Today I called up their support and spoke to a girl who said that my number has been forwarded to the concerned persons. I said that they are forwarding it every day but no one calls me or comes to my house. TATA Docomo call center is located somewhere in Gujarat. I kept pushing to get the number of someone here in Kochi. Finally she gave two mobile numbers of one Renu Moncy, the Nodal Officer in Kerala. However no one picked the call when I rang.

Image of Reliance Netconnect

Reliance Netconnect

Anyway, my brother had figured out that crossplatformui had nothing to do with linux and that is some program from Reliance. That was news. I checked synaptic immediately to see whether there was something with that name. There was a crossplatformui listed and when I looked at the manufacturer of the package, sure enough, there was Reliance Netconnect written there. I wonder whether it got installed when the Reliance guys were trying to connect their wireless connection few weeks back.

So my system was more corrupted than I had actually imagined. I removed crossplatformui and usb-modeswitch. I also ran “sudo killall TATA_DOCOMO_3G” and then ran its uninstaller. Once done I reinstalled the driver and the software and it connected. But the issue didn’t end there. The software doesn’t create an entry in the network manager which continues to show that we are offline even though we are connected. And because of that my Pidgin didn’t connect since it keeps looking for a connection in the network manager with a message “waiting for a network connection“.

Image of Pidgin

Pidgin

My brother called today and he gave another solution too. He asked me to run “pidgin -f” in terminal. I did and it opened up fine and connected. I asked him what this command meant. He said that this workaround was actually meant for Red Hat but it works in Ubuntu too. This command forces pidgin to find the available internet connection and get connected. Further, when I run the TATA_DOCOMO_3G program with admin privileges, there are less number of disconnections.

Today, on 13th March, one week after I took the connection, I finally have a consistent way of connecting without being at the mercy of the device. Hopefully it will continue to connect and things may go smoothly. I will keep you informed with further updates as I use the connection. Thanks for your time.