Sunday, March 25, 2018

Is your learning balanced?

These days I often find myself wondering and deliberating upon my college education. Was it fruitful? Was it worth my five years? Has it made me learn something eternal and ever needed? Has it taught me learning, how to learn, why to learn, what to learn and most importantly how to unlearn, why to unlearn and what to unlearn? But the stream of questions changes when I introspect all the more and then the only questions worth asking surface. Did I make use of learning ? Did I teach myself how to learn? Was I curious and experimental enough? Did I allow the probability and statistical modelling to die with the last exam of the semester or did I go ahead and tried to understand the implications of the classroom learning in the outside real world where ideal conditions seldom hold true? Did I try to work on real life problems in those treasured and sufficient time of 5 years? Was my interest in research only limited to the technicalities of the algorithms, implementations or I leveraged it to target meaningful problems? 

The answers are clear to me, but the most important answer that is clear to me is that I was responsible for my learning, the application-based learning; that I should be held accountable for conceptual foundation that I possess today or do not possess; that I was, I am and I shall forever be responsible for how I use my lessons from classroom and try them out in more interesting, more challenging and never an "ideal" world. Little doubt exists then that a greater part of my mind has realised that I have not studied responsibly. Today as I work on real world problems, I realise the hard work that still remains to be done to strengthen the basic concepts, the building blocks that help in putting "brick by brick" at the right place. I realise that in the focus of competitiveness and zest to score marks, learning and application-based learning never saw the light of the day. These realisations come majorly because today I think much more broadly, the way I have never thought in college and I am not proud of it but I have to admit it. I admit it so that I can alter the learning that today's students are embracing, but more about that later in the post. College life definitely teaches us things which are beyond classrooms and they are extremely vital to survive in the adult world, yet from the academic point of view I believe I could have participated more. I am shocked today actually; the shock stems from the observation that gaining highest marks in a subject paper did not prepare me to tackle the "dirty data" that needs to be analysed and understood in real world. I take the responsibility of that, full responsibility. Why? I could have been more curious more experimental and more deliberate in my lessons and their applications. 

The identification of the loopholes is the first step to mending them and addressing them. I believe that when applicative learning takes the upper hand, it becomes fairly easy to perform in exams because exam questions are diluted versions of the "real" world which assume every thing as "ideal". Say for instance, in real world data analysis problems the data is almost always imbalanced, the classes might have a proportion of (95% to 5%) and we might never observe this if we do not get our hands dirty on problems other than "IRIS classification" etc. And there is a list of algorithms to correct this class imbalance in the datasets. I can only speculate the wonder we can produce through our schools and colleges if we focus on real world problems rather than challenging our students to gain an "A" in subjects. Getting marks in exams is the easiest thing to do, the hard thing however is to take concepts out of classrooms and deploying them in problems pertinent. I believe the education system has equipped us with bibliography for the deep research and I could have used it to create a much more solid foundation for problem-based learning. 

These moments give me a lot of leeway to harken back and observe the student me. Classes to library, library to hostel, hostel to study table, study table to classes but never ever stopping and wondering what of all this knowledge. Of course, small projects were done, presented, awards won but all that which made a lot of sense then does not seem so sensible to me today. May be I call that period as the "building block period" to a much more rigorous learning that was to come, but seriously, my horizons have widened a lot ever since I graduated.

So, there are lessons hidden in this post, in this candid admission of a student's inability to 100% leverage the precious college time to learn more, create more, experiment more and be curious more. This post is definitely targeted at the students who have entered into college after schools. I want them to know something. I want them to know that graduation years are best opportunities to experiment with lessons, to understand if they hold true in real world and if not then how to tweak the approach. I want them to know that in life outside of the college, they will have to apply their lessons in solving the real world problems and therefore it would be prudent to learn a little bit of that in a consistent manner during the college time where no such thing as day or night exists. The major question of the life have to be asked during the college time, "What do I wish to do with my life?", "What will my career be in?", it helps to be a little clear while maintaining the space and acceptance for events which happen unexpectedly. 

I also believe that everyone just learns what they are supposed to as they go ahead in life, the only thing needed is a sharp eye. One cannot afford to live unconsciously while growing up. The best thing however is that we do not need to be in a University to be a student, all of us are student of a lifetime and only we can ensure how appropriately we are learning as we are going ahead. For instance, if you are in a job, do the task not just for the sake of it, but try to understand it from inside out, how it really works. If you are a researcher, try to learn why a particular algorithm suits your research problem and what happens if you deploy any other approach. The biggest roadblock to learning is to get rid of "acceptable solutions" or "recommended observations". Not getting what you expect is sometimes also the best stroke of luck and might steer your ship in a completely different direction. 

Once a very funny thing happened with me. I was performing some research operation and its result was also acceptable and was pleasing to me. Not before long did I realise that the data was not proper, it was skewed and had to be processed further. Guess what happened next? The results that were pleasing were no more there and I observed completely contrasting results. The natural tendency in the human me was to resent at current results. I  tried to  understand the current result and why it was not performing the way I had expected. I was comparing current results with the old results which were obviously wrong and then with much difficulty, I told myself, "Hey ! You cannot validate these results against something which is false" and then I tore the old "acceptable" and "pleasant" results, threw the pieces of paper in the dustbin and embraced the current results and investigated them further. Turned out, getting same results would have been monotonous and not challenging at all. This incidence taught me a lot; we do research not to validate and verify our inherent theories but to identify the story that experiments have to tell. It was tough but the right thing to do. The burden of a false research result is too great to carry !! 

To me this outside world seems like a much more advanced University. I study the problem and then try to identify how to go about taming it, it seems like a real learning experience to me. Graduation years were useful but as I said they taught me about the bibliography of learning, the rest body of learning I seem to be learning outside of the walls of the college. But it does not have to be the same with you. While still being in the college you can advance your learning, hone your creative abilities and strengthen your concepts all the more by never forgetting to ask, "What real world problem can be solved using this piece of lesson?" Learning then would not only become more fulfilling but also blissful, studies will not seem a chore then but a an opportunity to manifest self much more meaningfully. 

"Work is love made visible" - Khalil Gibran 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Separations, Meetings or Experiences?

Separations, they are inevitable and this is a well known fact and truth, yet when it is time to acknowledge their presence it is always a hard time; separations often lead to a sinking in the heart , a strange yet familiar feeling which often creates some pain in heart, even though for a short while. 

Often during the research conferences I attend I meet a multitude of people , people who are unique in their own ways , I spend time with them discussing so many things , it leads to an increase in my knowledge bank and gives me lots of ideas to ponder upon. At the same time it also teaches me about humility, tolerance , adaptability, flexibity and organizing abilities. It is never a joke to organize a conference and much patience and management abilities are tested during the conference days, the days during which the maximum challenges and confusions also arise. But the most significant part of the conference is always people; people who make it possible and successful. Often times I end up making some connections at events like these . Lunch, breakfasts , dinners and tea breaks often open avenues for discussions, debates, friendly chats and what not! And these times over the period of 2-3 days do create some unique spaces in our hearts, spaces which sort of get torn apart when the moment of separation  quietly sneaks in. 

It is funny how human heart is created, it always has the tendency to feel unsettled when separation knocks at the door, even though that period of unsettlement is small; the presence of that feeling of emptiness cannot be denied. 

Towards new unexplored shores....

I often wonder why this happens and when that happens to me, I am usually taken aback in a pleasant way. One by one when you bid good bye to people with whom you had spent good 2-3 days you begin to feel it and with that separation the doctrine of life further gets solidified: the truth that the 2-3 days of conference are exactly like life in all its entirety. As people bid good bye one by one, so do people good bye one by one in life, sometimes forever. These days teach me that life is precisely the multiple episodes of meetings interspersed with separations, that in life we meet people, spend some good time, make memories and ultimately go on our own unique paths; in our lives some souls touch us, some deeply some profoundly and some create marks indelible on our bosoms. 

As much as my mind would want to believe in separations I know that there is  no such thing as separation; meetings or separations I only call them experiences for that way it becomes easier to handle the unsettlement in heart that ensues during and after separations. But not only that , I do believe and firmly that everything in life is an experience meant to be experienced in a detached manner for the events lined up in lives are nothing but opportunities to improve and become more human. Ultimately we are going to get separated from everyone and even this physical structure will one day become incompetent to house the soul that sustains us today and makes me write all this; these little experiences then teach us inch by inch that all of us are moving towards our Reality, our Real Home.

Right now in this moment, sitting at the Goa airport I know that Grace is steering my life in the direction which is calling my name , I very well feel that new experiences are lined up my way and I also know that slowly but surely I am moving towards many other meetings and many other separations which are nothing but opportunities to meet my Self.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thoughts on Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day and I would like to take this day as an opportunity to stop for a moment and express my sincere gratitude to all the wonderful women I have met in my life and who have helped in my spiritual growth and helped in making my heart warmer, a bigger fountainhead of reverence, tolerance, affection, compassion and of course, acceptance. 

My mother comes first in the list and no single post can ever elucidate the sacrifices she has made and is making for my life, career, well-being and existence on this earth. I think she is the one who has to cope up with my eccentricity every single day, my moodiness frequently yet she forgives my recurrent insolence with a unfathomable tolerance. She never keeps account of my bad behavior towards her, she misses me when I do not call but never lords over me; I believe she is the epitome of a deep ocean of tolerance, forgiveness, LOVE and care. Only in my transformed new life have I been able to look at her with meaning, her important role in my life so far; only now have I become mindful of - her hands which have only worked for my growth, education, her heart which has only sung one prayer, the prayer of my success and health. Only now when my eyes are more clear than before, vision unclouded and glass empty, am I able to hark back to all those times when she has struggled without a word of complaint on her lips; only now the wretched heart in me has come to realise the heavenly gift in her form. Writing about my mother as the first person I can think of shocks me for I have seldom behaved this way, but I have come to realise that she is the one because of whom I am. As children we seldom acknowledge all humanly qualities that our parents harbor and hesitate not when it comes to lauding the same qualities in others. Only now, after one-fourth of my life have I come to understand my mother's labor, her services and pain for my life, and this acknowledgement I know is just miniscule. So, my first gratitude is to my mother.

And after my mother there is a whole litany of friends, colleagues and strangers who have whitened the black parts of me. I think the acts of kindness are the ones that can never be wiped from our memory and remain long after the memories of "happiness" fade away. Almost from all of them have I learnt the meaning of kindness, the meaning of care, the art of sharing and needless to say, but most importantly, they have helped me become  more mature, more discerning, more conscious in living life and making decisions. 

I do believe, and very staunchly, that women are the most exotic creations of Lord and they can do wonders if they have firm hearts, strong minds and total disregard for coming across as a pleasant soul  for the fear of being judged.

 In fact, being a woman myself it has taken me a long time to learn about how to behave with women younger, elder or of the same-age. So, yes I do express gratitude to all my women comrades and acquaintances who have touched my life, pierced my heart, uprooted the weeds of ego and planted the seeds of acceptance and tolerance; women who have compelled me to look within and get rid of self-inflicting pain and sow the seeds of bliss and detachment; women who have taught me that we are merely fellow travellers in this long journey called "life" and meet each other for mutual learning, mutual growth, receiving-giving, sharing, discovering and then moving on on our solo journeys towards the treasure of our hearts. My most profound, intimate and meaningful associations have been with women and the more I have known them, the more I have discovered myself, the more I have shared my life with them, the more have I got acquainted of my own idiosyncrasies and the more intentional I have become in my life and its decisions. So, of course, on this day I remember them, and I remember them with all my heart and with all warmth that it can gather. 

I believe, to conclude I have something to say. As women, we have to become each others' unflinching supporters. "No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among each other" - taking cue of this adage, we have to learn to support our sisters, our mothers and our daughters in their life and help them become better version of themselves be it in education, home, research, career, sports etc. 

Wishing all women across the globe a happy women's day and do not forget, every day is YOUR DAY. 
Love & Blessings. 

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