Having completed his graduation and post-graduation at DTU and currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering here, Shashank Shekhar Singh cleared the UPSC Civil Services Examination in his first attempt, achieving an AIR of 306. DTU Times had an opportunity to interact with him.
DT: What’s the mind frame that guided you through these years while preparing for UPSC and how has your journey been?
SSS: I came to DTU as an M.Tech. student and worked my way to a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering specialising in arsenic ground water mitigation. Though I had always wanted to become a civil servant, I wanted to finish my post graduation first. It was only after working on my doctorate for one and a half years that I decided to pursue civil services. I studied rigorously for a month and a half before the prelims and for about two months before the mains and then for the interview I brushed up on my general knowledge and current affairs. Thus undoubtedly, my journey has been an academically enriching one.
DT: Ideally how much time is required for civil services preparation.
SSS: For those who read the newspaper daily and are up to date with their surroundings, devoting five to six months religiously is enough to hone their skills. For others, a period of one year is optimal for scoring well. Since I, was aware of at least 45 percent of the syllabus, my preparation phase went more smoothly as compared to my peers.
DT: What role does coaching play for the same?
SSS: No coaching can guarantee that you come through with flying colours. Any serious aspirant just needs to be proficient with the basic framework of the examination. In my case, coaching did not play any role as I opted for self-study. It is my belief that 5-7 months of complete devotion will take you through easily, rather than being dependent on any institution.
DT: What is the difference in 3 stages of the exam?
SSS: Well I would like to say that Prelims is an exam of rejections, where 15000 people are selected from a bunch of 5-7 lakh people. To make your chances better, religious practicing of tests would do. I practiced question papers daily.
If one has practiced some 10000 odd questions, then Prelims is a cake-walk. In mains you need to be selective in your approach. If something is asked in a political perspective, you must integrate the historical aspects, current scenario and the speculated future.
One thing to be kept in mind while answering questions in mains is that you have to practically positive. For example I got the all India highest marks in the Ethics exam in the Mains 2 paper, only because I suggested innovative solutions at the end of my answers.
Interviews are very unpredictable. One thing you can do is that you should study your Detailed Application Form, which you submitted to UPSC thoroughly. If you have written something about your hobbies for example cricket, then you should have in depth knowledge about cricket. Also you should stay calm and positive during the interview. Since there are 7-8 different boards and each board will have different types of people, you really can’t predict anything. They will judge your personality and not merely your knowledge. Special emphasis should be placed on your outlook and perspective and not only your content as they have already tested your content in mains.
DT: What subjects did you choose for mains and why?
SSS:: I chose sociology because it has a concise syllabus. I never deviated from academics and my Ph.D. so I needed a subject which had a clear learning path. I browsed the UPSC website and went through the previous year questions of quite a few subjects before coming to the conclusion that even without any prior knowledge I was able to answer a lot of questions of Sociology. Sociology is relevant subject and takes into account what is going in your society and being in India, one has knowledge of the same.
DT: Which subject, in your opinion, should engineers opt for in order to obtain appreciable scores in the Mains Examination?
SSS: There is no such thing as an easy or difficult subject. For example, a civil engineer should be an expert in his/her field.
DT: Is it better to opt for graduate subjects, or is it easier to go for social sciences?
SSS: It depends on the person. Engineering subjects are really vast and preparing 4 years’ worth of engineering subjects is quite difficult. Thus, it is easier to study subjects like Political Science, Geology, Sociology and Anthropology, and the various literature subjects to an extent.
DT: In what portions would you attribute your success to your hardwork and your own aptitude?
SSS: I think 50-50 to both, although I believe that aptitude would have a greater share. I didn’t spend a lot of time studying. On the day of the declaration of Prelim results, I forgot my roll number, tried checked the result after one hour of declaration and when I remembered the roll number, the network gave up on me. When I finally saw my prelims result, I decided to collect the study material for the MAINS examination according to the syllabus. The closest library to my home was in IIT Delhi, so I went there daily for the next 2.5 months, and was subsequently able to clear MAINS. I would hence attribute my success to my aptitude, and to those 2.5 months of intense hardwork.
DT: Who are your role models, and who do you look upto for inspiration?
SSS: I look upto myself for inspiration – I want to improve every day. Being a poet, I also refer to my poems for inspiration. Above all, I am inspired by my grandfather, by the hard work he put in in life, and my parents, who continue to do so.
DT: Can you please share more details about your preparation phase? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
SSS: The vast syllabus and the time crunch were the major challenges. Before starting preparation, I decided precisely what I wanted to study. I did not go forth and study all topics – in fact, I prepared only 70-80% of the syllabus for the exam. There were certain topics that I left altogether, since I was sure I could answer those from experience and previous knowledge. The most important place in your preparation is occupied by the newspaper. If you are socially aware, your preparation requirement comes down considerably.
DT: Your success must have inspired many aspirants back in your home town, can we expect more selections in the future?
SSS: Ever since the results have come out, I’ve been receiving more than 50 calls a day from Balia alone, with aspirants wanting to interact with me. I will soon be organizing a session back at home, in order to guide prospective Civil Services aspirants. I feel extremely proud to have come from Balia to Delhi and tasted success. I hope many more do the same – this is one of the many ways that national integration takes place, and the rural-urban divide is bridged.
DT: What made you choose the Civil services? Which service are you opting for?
SSS: I would like to opt for the Indian Police Services. I want to improve the situation of law and order in the country. I feel the job will be more satisfying and challenging, and I love facing challenges.
A large part of the credit goes to my family, especially my grandparents, parents and sisters. I further owe my success to my Ph.D. guide, Dr. S.K. Singh. All the best to the future aspirants!