What's More Important – Grades Or Pursuit Of Dream?

7 minutes
I’m Dhirendra Sinha. I graduated from IIT Guwahati 13 years back, did my MS from Texas A&M University. I currently live and work in the United States. I work as a Director of Engineering for Captora Inc, a startup in California.

I became engineer, not because of peer pressure or my parents wanted me to be one. I became an engineer, because I really wanted to be an engineer. 

Choosing my Project

At IIT Guwahati, studying for first few semesters and making robots to participate in Tech fests as I mentioned in my earlier blog, I always wanted to choose my own B. Tech Project in Robotics area. When I entered 4th year, I decided to build a staircase climbing robot. My guide recommended me to do something else but I had no interest in it. My professor’s suggestion was an easy option for securing better grades but I went against it as it wasn’t my drive.

I spoke to few of my batchmates about the idea, but none wanted to join hands with me on this pursuit as they did not want to risk their grades. I was alone for conceptualizing, designing, fabricating, assembling, wirings and programing. A huge project ahead – one student, against the wishes of the guide. It felt scary, I thought of giving up but then I wanted to be true to myself and so I took the challenge.

I started drawing sketches (at least 100!), conceptualizing the working mechanism, getting raw materials – aluminum beams, pipes and plates, dc motors and wires to develop prototypes. After I reached a plausible design, I had to use the software to get a final design. I was new to it but I was able to achieve my design using Auto CAD package SolidEdge. Finally design and the plan for the control system was locked down.

Presentation after Phase I
The day was here, when I had to present my one semester’s work. There were 4 professors and I was the only student. I was confident but when professors bombarded me with questions, I wasn’t able to answer all. My guide started questioning my work and said I should have consulted him more often. 

My project was big, I had given my 100% and I was very confident that I would get a AA (10/10) but instead I secured a BB (8/10). Most people in the class were either AA or AB(9/10). I was devastated. I felt like I have lost everything. I had put in my days and nights and chose so tough a project but no-one believed that I could actually make it work. It was termed as over ambitious project and also my guide was also not on my side. I had really hit my bottom

The last semester 
I requested my co-guide (Dr. S. K. Dwivedy) to become my main guide. I also asked him what would it take to get an AA. I even told him that I would work with 100% dedication and get an AA, but if I don’t then I will never touch robotics field on my life!

I was eating and breathing my project. The manufacturing workshop was short staffed so I had to  operate the machines myself to manufacture the robot parts. I decided to take full ownership of my project, took the key from the professor and started working in the evening and nights. I would be working and sweating all day and night and sometimes forget to have dinner. Dwivedy sir would just come and see my dedication and encourage me. Some of my close friends also would come and encourage me.I started assembling the robot, putting the frames, legs, pulleys, gears, stepper motors and trying the mechanism. Multiple times I had to assemble and dismantle it. I kept making adjustments, discarding and manufacturing again.

The final presentation

I proudly showcased my work, the autoCAD designs, the parts which I had manufactured myself, the assembly, the controls. I was in a small lecture room and on the table stood my robot. It was a beautiful 8 legged about 2 feet by 1 foot by 2 feet made out of aluminum. It had 5 stepper motors controlled by 8085 microprocessor. I was so proud of it. I had made it from scratch with my hands.

Beautiful it was, but the robot was still not in the final finished form. It didn’t walk smoothly, it didn’t move properly, it jammed! I felt like a failure, all the talking and designs I showed carried less weightage. I knew they were grading my project on if the robot walks and climbs the stairs. After seeing my robot’s performance, I knew was all over. I came out and sat on the grass and I promised myself I will stay back in campus even after graduating to make the robot walk.

Did the robot walk finally?

I was so depressed. I went to the city with my friends just to unwind. On returning, I came to know Prof Dwivedy was looking for me. He asked me what grade was I expecting. I immediately said with my low tone said BB. He smiled and said I had got an AA! He said all the judges saw my relentless pursuit of my dream and were very impressed by my dedication to complete the project on my own! But they also wanted me to complete the project. I was so happy that I almost cried.  

I worked day in and day out for the next two months when people were enjoying their time with family before joining the job, I worked with complete focus and dedication and YES, the robot finally walked and climbed the stairs! I called the professors and showed them. They were also  very happy and excited on seeing it! It was such a gratifying moment. One of the most beautiful and cherished moment in my life.

Lessons Learnt
  • Stick to your passion and dream and put everything you got and a little more. Against all odds you will succeed.
  • Take full ownership of what you want to do. When you think like an owner things happen. Somebody said: “I would like to see things happen, if not, I make it happen!”
  • Find your support system. My friends, family and professors encouraged and supported me.
  • Proper planning, multiple rehearsal in mind, laser like focus and hard work will make the universe come together to help you.
  • The real reward from any struggle is not what prize do you get, what you become through it.  
Staircase climbing robot


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