Student Mental Health during the Pandemic – PITSTOP 6: Interview With Pranjal

1. Please brief a little about yourself. 

Expanding humankind’s potential is my life goal. I am a hardcore technology enthusiast with a knack for recognizing emerging and future technology trends and their impact on society. My main interests lie in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Mixed Reality. At present, I am working as a Business Development Associate at Augle AI, an IITB startup. Before this, I was the Founder Member of an FMCG startup during my college days, so I have only worked with startups all my life. I have completed my Bachelors in Commerce (2014-17) and my Masters in Management and Entrepreneurship from Cranfield University, UK (2017-18). I have also battled mild depression and anxiety. 

2. How was the lockdown experience initially? 

Honestly, initially, it didn’t affect me much, as it gave me so much more time to work on some ideas/ projects that I had in mine apart from the usual office work. Plus I utilized the time to take up quite a few online courses. Make no mistake, I am an outgoing person. I love the outdoors. I missed playing the sports I love and the drives and the dinners. But a big reason why I found comfort in the lockdown was because I had converted my room into my happy space. I had all these posters/quotes of people who inspired me so it always kept me going. I could operate and do anything/everything from my room for months at a stretch.

3. What are your lockdown learnings? Did you learn anything new? 

Professionally, as I said I did a lot of online courses. I explored a new field i.e. Human-Computer Interaction (did a Professional Certificate from Georgia Tech) which I always had a keen interest in. I also did a couple of AI-related courses. But then after a point, the marginal utility that I was gaining from courses diminished. Yes, I still completed those courses, but I wasn’t really absorbing and implementing the knowledge. That is when I stopped taking any new courses. I also learnt that any work can be done from your home if you follow a disciplined routine. There was really no need to spend all that money on traveling to and fro from the office when you could accomplish the same tasks from home and save the money. 

Initially, I was on this wave of productivity, trying to make the best use of the time that was made available to me. It almost seemed like a bonus. I am very picky about my time. If I don’t enjoy something, I cut it off / discontinue it immediately. So you can imagine how I must have felt with all this bonus time I got. But later I realized that I really need to hit the pause button and reflect. Reflect on my life ahead, my choices, and the kinda people I wanna be with throughout my life. It wasn’t easy, to be honest. Disciplining myself physically and mentally turned out to be tougher than I expected. Due to meditation and spending time alone with my thoughts (good and bad), I kind of achieved this zen-like calmness which I had never felt before. I was intense and productive, but at the same time, I was very calm with whatever was happening in my life. This experience has been life-changing and whenever I look back on 2020, I will remember it as the year which impacted me in more ways than one.

4. What was the mode through which you had learnt? 

It was mainly edX and Coursera.

5. What are the advantages of e-learning? 

If you choose the right courses, there is a plethora of knowledge readily available out there. We as a generation often underestimate the power of the internet. There is so much knowledge to consume and so many opportunities, all at the click of a button. 

6. What are the disadvantages of e-learning? 

Since it lacks all the physical attributes of learning i.e. having a professor stand in front of you and teach, going to college, interacting with peers, you need to be really disciplined to make the most of it. Most of these are self-paced courses and you are your own motivation. If you aren’t passionate about the subject, it gets really difficult to get through. I was able to finish off 3-month courses within 1 week, simply because I put in the extra hours each day. 

7. You applied for colleges abroad during covid times and were prepared to pursue it. Could you share a bit about that experience? 

Yeah, it was a slow death. I have been applying since November 2019 for the Fall 2020 intake. And I had my final offers by February. I had applied for a Masters in Business Analytics. I wasn’t really working back then because I was working with my dad and honing my skills for the upcoming Masters I was supposed to go for. Call it pure luck or whatever you want, I came across Augle AI while browsing through LinkedIn and I applied for the job just for the heck of it. I ended up getting the job and I am thankful for that because I will be deferring my Masters to next year. We all are aware of the COVID – 19 jobs scenario. 

Till May, I was still hoping for the situation to improve so that I could go this year itself but unfortunately, it’s not to be I guess. I did loads of research regarding the pros and cons of going this year as compared to next year, online learning, and other factors. It just didn’t make sense if the colleges were going to shift the 1st semester online because a large part of doing a Masters from the US, is the network and connections you make, through which you get opportunities. 

So I decided that best not to go this year, I could go next year with more work experience behind me (it’s very tough for a Commerce guy to break into the tech industry). 

But at the same time, I made a promise to my own self. Since my Masters was going to be deferred by a year, and I would be 25 by the time I go for my Masters, I wanted to spend this 1 year working my ass off on the projects/ideas I really cared about. I wasn’t okay with the idea of letting this year pass as just another year, I want this year to be the one where I finally wake up and take action on my goals, take risks and push myself the extra mile. The good thing about Covid-19 is that it changed me in ways only I am aware of. It really did give me a new perspective on life. 

8. What is your advice to young kids? 

I know, it sounds cliche, but always believe in yourself and your dreams. Because you are on this journey on your own, and I say that from experience. Yes, friends and family will be there to support you, but you gotta do all the heavy lifting. For aspiring entrepreneurs, I would like to tell you that if you believe in a particular idea, just go ahead and execute it. Don’t wait for a team to form, because no one really cares about your idea as much as you do. Do whatever it takes to get your idea out there, because execution is everything. 

I have battled depression and anxiety. I always had really high expectations of myself and I knew that my potential was much bigger than what it seems to be right now. But remember this, that life is a journey and you have to show patience to succeed. There was a time when I was trying so hard, but not getting anywhere. It only led to depression and anxiety. The most important thing to realise is the fact that your journey is unique to you. You cannot compare yourself with anyone else simply because each one of us was brought up in a different environment under different factors and circumstances. What worked for someone else, may not work for you and vice versa. In the 21st century, it’s very easy to get bogged down by the expectations, and volumetric comparisons. Please DO NOT do that. Be your own unique self. 

Also, do not anyone else tell you what you are capable of? Don’t underestimate your capability. Being born as a human is such a blessing. Having food on your table and a roof over your head is much more of a privilege than you think of. Be grateful for that. Whenever the chips are down, whenever you feel that all is lost in the world, be grateful for the things you have, be grateful that you are alive and breathing. There is no situation in the world that cannot be conquered upon, so even if you are down, believe that it’s a temporary phase and your glory days are around the corner. 

Start Young. As Indians, this mentality is ingrained in our minds that we can stay with our parents and not look for a job until we are done with college. We spend our college lives in fun and merriment, which is also important but to a limit. Understand that the Indian education system is just not practical enough and even if you are doing a Bachelors in whichever field, it’s just not enough if you aim to be recognized globally. Start a small business during your college days, hustle, take up extra courses, do volunteer work, keep looking out for opportunities at a young age, so by the time you are 21 you are better equipped to tackle the world. 

Perseverance matters more than talent. Put in the hard work day in and day out. It’s that simple. If you notice carefully there are these 2 voices in your mind. One, which is the weaker one, tells you to go the extra mile. The second one, which is the stronger one is complacent and coaxes you to find comfort. Always encourage the former. Find comfort outside of your comfort zone, because that is where you will grow the most. Learn to train these 2 voices according to your own will and realize that your willpower is the greatest asset you will ever have.

Also, don’t ignore your relationships. I used to be this single-minded, tunnel vision focus kinda guy where I only thought about my work and career and ignored my relationships. Having tunnel vision is a great thing, but having the right people around you is equally important. 

9. How do you envision a post lockdown world? 

It’s gonna be a much more beautiful and graceful world I believe. Hopefully, people do realize the importance of nature and their actions. Hopefully, they cherish this new lease of life. I think the concept of a 9-5 job will change drastically as COVID has proven that with the existing technologies, one can easily work from home and accomplish the same tasks. Yes, while working from home we need to be careful about blurring the lines between work and life and that is something both employers and employees should be aware of. Spending money on traveling and wasting all those hours in traffic is just a plain waste of time and productivity. 

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, I think opportunities have presented themselves like never before. Do remember that some of the world’s best inventions were made during WWII and the Great Depression. On the outside, it may seem like we are in a major recession and job losses are at an all-time high, but always remember that after the biggest lows lie the biggest highs. Endure through this period and keep your eyes out for exciting technological and business opportunities. 

Last but not least. Circling back to my life goal: Expanding Human Potential. I wanna unlock humanity’s potential through technologies and the various ideas I have in mind to execute that very goal. At the same time, as I research and learn more about the Human Mind and Humans in general, I am nothing but awestruck. If for one moment, we take a backseat from our fast-paced life and delve into our minds, we will realize what a beautiful creation of nature we are. I want to connect with people who think the same way, who are contributing their bit towards humankind in their own respective manner. If there is one thing that I would like to be proud of, is that I understand people and their underlying motivations. I hope that my quest for technology and exploring humankind will take me places I have never experienced before. 

1 thought on “Student Mental Health during the Pandemic – PITSTOP 6: Interview With Pranjal”

  1. Rishi Veeresh Prabhu

    It was really a great worth going through each point and eaxh perspective not only as for any upcoming entrepreneurs but also for all the youth seeing life.. it was an pickup point choosing to read it all

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