Ms. Neethu Rajan (IFS : 2016) is a PSG Alum (B.E. Civil Engineering 2008 - 2012), currently working in the South Block at the Ministry of External Affairs as the Under Secretary (South - II), incharge of matters relating to India and the South East Asian group of Nations. Many UPSC aspirants may be discouraged by the hardships and difficulties associated with preparing for the same, but fear not! Ms. Rajan gives you guys an insight on her experience @ PSG Tech, and how to prepare for UPSC effectively, as a PSG student.
Why did you choose IFS?
Being in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), we get to understand the nuances of foreign policy, and lead and shape India’s international relations, which is critical in creating a conducive environment for our country to grow. This is a unique advantage that the job affords.
A career in the IFS is also filled with diversity. Each posting, be it Delhi or abroad, offers new opportunities and experiences. Understanding the country of our posting in all respects - such as history, culture, language, politics, economy, its ties with India and other major countries, is a fundamental requirement of the job. Therefore, as far as exploration and learning goes, sky is the limit!
These are some of the most attractive aspects of the IFS.
What are your professional demands?
Generally, our postings alternate between New Delhi and Indian Embassies or Consulates abroad. The duration of each posting is generally between 2 to 3 years. However, if one wishes to spend greater time in India due to any reason, there is flexibility to do so.
There are several roles that one could play during his/her posting abroad, depending on the Wing (department) to which he/she is posted. As a political officer, we act as the main link between the governments of both countries and are required to analyze, observe and report on the various developments in the host country. As an economic and commercial officer, the goal is to promote Indian exports, attract investments into India and safeguard the economic and business interests of the country. The role of consular officer pertains not only to issuance of visas, but also safeguarding the interest of Indian citizens in the country, as well as to assist Indians in distress. As a cultural officer, our main role is to promote awareness and understanding of Indian culture, and strengthening people to people relationships. Apart from these, in some countries, the Indian government is extending developmental assistance through infrastructure projects. The Embassy oversees and facilitates these activities. Indian government also offers scholarships to foreign students to study in India. Our Embassies abroad facilitate the same by disseminating information on such schemes and facilitates admission of foreign students.
At the Headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, one gets to deal with bilateral issues while being in territorial divisions, and with multilateral issues when posted in multilateral divisions. Headquarters is the place where policy decisions are made.
My first foreign posting was to Beijing, China, after joining the service. As part of my training, I learnt Chinese language in a local university in Beijing, and then started working in the Indian Embassy there. Subsequently, I was posted to Headquarters, where I am currently working.
What was the thinking process before you opted to do UPSC?
I used to notice news reports of how civil servants can bring about changes in the society, and of the high esteem with which they are regarded. I was also inspired by reading interviews of people who cracked the Civil Service Examination. However, I did not consider Civil Service as a career option until I started working in a private firm after completing my bachelors degree. As I mentioned earlier, the diversity of roles and the scope for influencing positive change prompted me to write the Civil Service Exam. However, I strongly feel that one should not compromise the development of a deep understanding of their graduation subject for the sake of preparation for the Civil Service Examination. The preparation for the exam can start near the end of graduation or even after graduation if one so desires and not before that, as it may hinder one’s coursework.
How did your experience at PSG influence your decision to make the leap?
PSG, with its excellent teachers, infrastructure and brilliant students provides a great atmosphere for students to push their limits and pursue their dreams. Though as a student I was focused on more immediate worries such as my semester exams and campus placements, I must say that my college days acted as a launch pad for my career in the civil service. I spent some time reading books – many of them were fiction and autobiographies, which allowed me to dream beyond what I thought was possible. To achieve something, we should first believe that it is possible. The environment at PSG Tech and reading of such books helped me trust myself to take the leap.
What are the aspirations that you have aside from IFS?
I try to work on myself - to grow emotionally and intellectually, use my experiences and knowledge to make wiser decisions, to lead a healthy lifestyle and a balanced family life. I also like to work on my hobbies- reading and painting.
What advice would you give to fellow PSG IFS and/or UPSC aspirants?
Taking the UPSC exam is a commitment of at least two years. So, one should be prepared to fully devote oneself for the preparation. While selection of right books and guidance material is important, emphasis on writing practice is equally paramount. This involves taking a test series, not necessarily from coaching centres, but also by yourself, by referring to past question papers or through online test series. Repeated revisions and taking notes in one's own words help in internalizing the topics at hand. Right from the start of the preparation, one can keep the main examination syllabus in mind and prepare accordingly. Particular focus on the preliminary examination can be done closer to the exam date as the gap between them is too short to complete the former's syllabus requirement.
It is good to remember that Civil Services Examination is an examination of perseverance and hard work. If mixed with smart work, one can achieve astounding success. The Civil Service Examination gives an opportunity to enter a fulfilling career. However, one should not lose heart over not qualifying this examination, as there are multiple career options available which can be equally and sometimes, even more fulfilling. So, one should enter into the race with an open mind and take things as they come.