Samyak Rajanala has many feathers in his cap. From winning various school and state-level awards in the fields of science, mathematics, computers and English to being among the select sixty from across the country that got through to the very prestigious Indian Statistical Institute in Bengaluru;the brilliant youngster now has the distinction of being offered direct admission to a doctoral programme (PhD) at the department of Statistics at Stanford University with full funding. In conversation with NT KURIOCITY the math enthusiast tells us about his journey, his love for mathematics, the application process to Stanford and more.
Maria Fernandes|NT Kuriocity
Not many like mathematics, in fact most say it is a subject, given half a chance, they would like to drop. However with Samyak the opposite is true! Pure or applied mathematics has always attracted and fascinated him. “I cannot pinpoint any particular reason for this, it is just that I liked the subject and found it very interesting,” he says. According to him mathematics forms the very basis of our existence and algebra, geometry, calculus are all part and parcel of our everyday life. “Everyone uses basic math in their life and it is impossible for us not to use it. I would rather be studying mathematics than anything else,” he adds, which is why he gave up his seat at engineering and medical colleges after standard 12, including IIT and GMC and is now all set to study the subject in depth at Stanford.
An alumnus of Kendriya Vidyalaya INS Mandovi and Mushtifund Aryaan HSS and now the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Samyak believes that mathematics is not just an engaging subject but can also be very exciting. “In one of my father’s ICSE text books I saw a quote, ‘Mathematics is like the ocean, hard rocks on the top and pearls at the bottom’ which is true.” Most people he says do not like formal mathematics that is taught in schools and colleges and to add to this, if they do not do well in the subject, their dislike for it increases. “Restructuring the curriculum and having a good teacher can help the student explore and develop interest in the subject,” he states.
Speaking about his learning at ISI, he says: “The B Math course at ISI is one of the few advanced undergraduate courses in mathematics in India. We had a very rigorous curriculum in pure and applied mathematics, as well as some allied subjects. I enjoyed it very much, and hope to pursue Probability theory and Statistics as I go ahead.” The courses that Samyak pursued at ISI can be broadly classified into four categories: probability/statistics, algebra, analysis and other allied subjects (such as physics and computer science). “Its tough to elaborate to those without the mathematical background but generally, algebra deals with the study of mathematical objects like groups, rings, fields, etc, which are discrete, and analysis studies the properties of the real numbers or the complex numbers, which are continuous. What we basically do is we construct an abstract object, taking inspiration from something elementary, and study the various properties of the object, which in turn can give us deep insight into what we started with,” he explains patiently.
Getting into the top universities and business schools especially in the United States is no easy task and follows a 10+2+4 system which sums up to 16 years of undergraduate studies. However with Samyak, not only was he accepted by the ones he applied to but was also offered direct admission (without the stipulated minimum 16 years) to the doctoral programmes with full funding by departments of Statistics of various universities that include: University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon University, Wharton School of Business, University of California, San Diego and University of Washington, St Louis. In addition he was offered admission to the Masters programme in Statistics at ETH, Zurich, along with a rare ETH Zurich Excellence Scholarship & Opportunity (ESOP) award. The above admissions were based on his incredible and near perfect scores on the tests which read: GRE (Mathematics) – 99.99 per cent; GRE (General) – 335 / 340 and TOEFL – 114 / 120. To ensure that he had all options taken care of, he also applied to IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and IIM Calcutta and was accepted by all three based on his CAT 2017 score of 99.97 per cent. To say the young lad is brilliant, will definitely be an understatement!
With so many options to choose from, it would have been difficult for most to make a choice, but not Samyak. Having decided earlier that Stanford University was where he wanted to be, he declined the offers made to him by the various universities and institutes. “The Statistics department at Stanford is one of the best in the world, and there are many people there like Persi Diaconis, Sourav Chatterjee, and other eminent researchers in probability theory and statistics, whom I am very excited to interact with,” he shares.
Giving a brief about the entrance exams to reach Stanford, he says: “Every university in the US, Canada, or Europe expects us to send a separate application, including basic details, a statement of purpose, academic transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Apart from this, we are also expected to send our TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score, for confirming our proficiency in English, and our GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores. The GRE is the counterpart to the SAT (which is for undergraduate admissions) and consists of multiple tests—the GRE general test tests your English and some basic high school mathematics. Mathematics applicants are also expected to send scores of the GRE Subject Test, which test college-level mathematics.”
In his opinion, the above exams are relatively easy in comparison to exams at a similar level in India and he says he didn’t really prepare for TOEFL or the English section of the GRE General Test, besides solving a few practice papers. “The quantitative section of the GRE general test is very easy for those who have experience with JEE and other competitive exams. The B Math course at ISI gave me a very strong foundation in what they were looking for, so the GRE subject test was also quite smooth,” he adds. Besides the various entrance exams, letters of recommendation are also a must for admission which he received from his professors at ISI.
Asked to give a few tips to those aspiring to get admission in the top colleges and universities abroad, he says: “A strong foundation in the subject you choose to pursue is essential before you apply. The admissions process can sometimes be quite random, as there are many applicants from around the world for very few seats (especially for PhD programmes, which usually receive full funding and so are limited in number). It’s good to contact professors in advance in order to understand your chances realistically and also helps if there are already seniors from your college who have received admission to the universities.” He also stresses the importance of summer internships, projects and recommendation letters from persons who are active in their field, and have interacted with you closely.
Samyak is excited about attending the different courses and interacting with the academic community at Stanford and says he hasn’t really decided whether he wants to get into the industry or into academics after completion of his course. Probably he will take up teaching but then it is just a guess and we will have to wait and watch!