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Introduction

Our peer group shapes our Insti lives and the fear of missing out leads us to do things we rationally wouldn’t. When we begin our college experience we all feel rosy, we talk to everyone and have fun, but slowly, a sense of competition creeps in. We start to compare ourselves with our peers, and mental pressure to outperform can build up, which forms the foundation of a plethora of mental problems. The popular notion of a ‘machau’ person and our fondness for the title is subconsciously robbing us of our essence. It is hindering our ability to make decisions based on genuine interest or ability. The challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when it contradicts what other people are doing, which can lead to frustration and stress. This is only exacerbated by a culture of attitudes focused towards pursuing “resume-worthy” activities, that has pervaded not only recreational spaces of extracurricular activities, but also important career choices such as internships and projects – often at the expense of true interest and exploration. 

PoR’s

Every PoR season witnesses the same events, Facebook feeds flooding with congratulatory posts, brags, and endless status updates. While this is satisfying to some, others tend to find this distressing.

The scenario of competition when it comes to PoRs is no news to us. Our desire to hold a PoR starts soon after we enter college and is often induced by relatives or seniors by forcing a “resume-oriented” mindset upon us. “A good POR= a good job” stereotype is not without precedence but it’s also not the gospel path for placements. The utility of PORs is undeniable, but they’re not the sole measure of your capability.

The herd mentality in choosing a PoR is a prominent cause of concern. Prejudices against or for a particular PoR are endorsed by several factors. Over-idolizing certain seniors simply because of their influence and popularity is one of them. Seeking advice from seniors is great but when we let their opinions disproportionately affect our judgment is when the problem arises. Along with that, the allure of superficial benefits such as status impede us from realizing the backdrops of these glorious PoRs. And only when it starts requiring us to compromise on academics and our social life is when we come to realize the repercussions and eventually start regretting our decisions. 

It is not necessary to adhere to society’s falsely created notion of success, especially when it hampers our mental peace.

Internships

As early as the freshman year, one often hears talk about internships, that amplifies as one progresses to the second year – by seeing peers secure internships, or by seniors referring to their importance. In the beginning of one’s second year, social media feeds get flooded by congratulatory messages posted for immediate seniors by their friends for cracking that elusive Day 1 intern or equivalent. The generic sophomore is not quite sure what an internship entails, but the elevated social status of seniors who succeed in securing interns and other indicators suggest that an internship is essential. The need for pursuing internships slowly gets cultivated, alongside a fear of missing out.

This pursuit gets intertwined with pursuing resume-worthy (but not always worthwhile) activities to boost one’s chances of securing internships, which can get amplified manifold due to peer pressure, with most people around you pursuing these activities and talking about the same. For many students, a resume-oriented mindset begins to develop, and a good internship cements itself in the mind as something equivalent to a “sorted” life.

As the internship season dawns in the third year, inevitably only a small fraction of students secure early internships. Those who aren’t able to secure an internship early and face multiple rejections for many more months often start questioning their self-worth and abilities, which is only exacerbated by peers securing interns, academic pressure, and extra-curricular responsibilities.

Internships certainly offer exposure and act as stepping stones in one’s career. But does the pursuit of finding and exploring true career and extra-curricular interests go out for a toss, in favour of a mindless pursuit of resume-fit activities? 

Academics

In a system where grading is relative, competition is sure to emerge. RGgiri, an exceptionally ugly manifestation of this competition, is commonplace in the life of a student at IITB. Most people choose their branch with little consideration towards their own interests and give more thought to what the popular choice is. While this may end well for some, quite a few people end up discontent since meeting societal expectations is not enough to sustain oneself through four years in a university. However, IITB does offer some relief in the form of branch change, which is the next goal for many once they enter the institute. While some students are quite fixated on changing their branch from the moment they arrive in the institute, most students end up changing because they saw their peers aiming for it or received similar advice from their seniors. Again, the issue remains that several students are not changing departments out of interest but instead are following the herd. As a result of the ensuing competition, branch change cut-offs can be astronomically high. 

Second-year and above bring with them their own set of academic challenges such as the fight for a ‘popular’ minor (CSE, management etc.) due to their supposed benefits for one’s career. While that may be true, some people choose their minors without knowing what they entail or whether they would even enjoy such courses. Any minor can benefit your career if you’re actually interested in the field. Also, mostly based on advice from seniors, students take up courses after looking up their grading statistics. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it serves as an example of how students are not studying based on their interests but are actually relying on external factors to make their academic decisions. Thus, the inherent competition in the institute causes students to blindly choose the popular choices without considering their own strengths and interests. 

Placement Experience

The placement season is one of the major highlights of any college student’s life. It’s hands down the most grueling, yet the most invaluable experience one can ask for. The grill starts even before the season actually begins, when it comes to deciding what’s your true calling. Even after doing multiple projects, internships, and taking up a bunch of PoR’s, the ‘choice’ of the sector at the time of placements is not as much a selection as an elimination process. Every unexplored opportunity, maybe because it wasn’t glorified enough, now comes back to bite you. If one remains as clueless about life at the end of college as at the start of it, the ‘set pattern of acing college’ a.k.a being machau really needs to be questioned. 

The start of the season is marked by resume submissions. It is now that one reflects on their journey throughout their insti life – full of haphazardly made uninformed choices. Combined with the old habit of selectively referring to only the overachieving seniors’ resumes, a certain complex starts to build and people begin to question their self-worth.

Then starts an arduous semester of a grueling placement preparation. While this period might bring people closer, where they help each other, it might make relations strained, since placement is but a competition at the end of the day. The shortlists being limited, this competition can turn toxic and the ever-popular ‘snake-culture’ creeps in. constant rejections can be taxing to mental health too.

If you manage to sail through the shortlists and haven’t changed your decision to pursue higher studies ‘to explore more’, the good ol’ Day 1 comes right after. Wearing fancy formals and going in for interviews on an empty stomach, with the last shred of courage left in you, can certainly be gruelling. This, compounded with the wacky social media updates of friends and peers and the fact that you are yet to finish the race only makes it worse.

Conclusion

But is it really a fair race in the first place, when the track starts and ends differently for everyone and isn’t even marked on the same ground for that matter? Or is it just this one track in one field which has been established as a standard metric to decide who wins the race and who doesn’t? The problem with this set metric is not that it’s bad or unethical but the fact that it’s often considered the ONLY metric. The glorification behind a certain PoR or a certain Day 1 internship/job might push an individual to break out of their comfort zone and actualize their true potential, but it also blinds them to alternatives that might have suited them better. The sense of failure that comes along when socially-valued targets are not achieved, is another issue.

So what can be done to deal with this problem? For starters, it’s important to realize that freshmen and sophomores are quite impressionable. Every conversation about interns, jobs or PoRs stays with them for a long time. While one might argue that these conversations are almost inevitable given the curious nature of students, the onus is on the seniors to ensure that a biased narrative isn’t supplied. Apart from this, even tiny bits of effort such as normalizing not having a PoR, letting someone focus on their skills even if they aren’t conventionally valuable or even something as tiny as helping a friend out when in need, can go a long way in creating a better insti culture.

We must strive to create an environment that is more accepting of people’s genuine interests and is free from judgment. What is required is a systemic change in our attitudes and that’s only possible through a collective effort, which is not easy – we all believe we are immune to such prejudices but isn’t a template of the perfect college student imprinted in our heads?