Where you come from cannot limit your dreams and ambitions. Surabhi Gautam shows that confidence and hard work can take one right to the top

surabhi gautum

Education is not always a top priority on everyone’s list; to some, it holds a certain appeal, while others find their life’s calling in another way. However, there’s no denying that education can transform your life. It allows you to become the person you want to be.

Take Surabhi Gautam, who comes from a small village called Satna in Madhya Pradesh. Surabhi grew up in an extended family and understood the importance of education from her father, an advocate, and her mother, a higher secondary school teacher. Despite coming from a less privileged background, Surabhi has aced almost every exam she has appeared for – from an engineering entrance exam to topping her university where she pursued electronics and communication engineering. 

Surabhi was the first woman to top the Indian Engineering Services exam. She is also a nuclear scientist at Mumbai's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and is a successful and proud IAS officer. But the journey has not always been smooth – and it took quite a while.

Did you always want to become an IAS Officer, or did you have any other ambitions?

The title ‘Collector’ really attracted me when I was in the tenth grade. But that was much before I found out what it meant. Gradually I felt a strong pull towards the IAS examination and appeared for it, after a bit of persuasion.

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What made you decide to become an IAS Officer?

The level of difficulty and scarcity I faced during my education encouraged me to pursue this field. Attending a school in a village is not easy – lack of amenities, no school books or uniform, and sometimes having to study by the light of a lantern were setbacks that I faced. But when I found out about the numerous job opportunities available to civil servants, I decided to follow this path.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far, and how did you deal with it?

Coming from a small village, lack of timely information and inadequate global exposure constituted one of the biggest problems I have ever faced. Confidence, quality education, and financial restraint were other hurdles that often came in the way of my dreams.

However, I believe that problems are just a norm throughout our lives, and sometimes they are helpful because they push people to work hard and reach where they want to go. Gradually, I learnt to deal with my problems. Determination, perseverance, and support from my parents kept me going.

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Who or what inspires you or motivates you to keep doing what you are doing? 

I love reading and I think the books I read have shaped and moulded me a great deal. But motivation comes to me from all possible sides. My family has been a great inspiration in my life. But if I had to be specific, I’d say that my mother is my main source of motivation; she has made me the person I am today.

Do you have any thoughts on India’s education sector? How can it be improved?

Not everyone seems to know or understand this, but education is the main thing that can transform lives. India has a great deal of potential when it comes to productivity and giving our economy a strong push. But we need to have clear-cut policies, good infrastructure, and better monitoring. Only then will we see improvements in the educational sector, and only then will we witness how lives can change.

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Your journey from a young village girl to an IAS Officer is inspirational. What advice would you give young girls with big dreams?

I just want to tell them that using your resources no matter how meagre they are in an efficient way is important. I studied in a regular village school and a regular college but I did not let that hold me back or demotivate me. In fact, the lack of resources made me even more ambitious. I constantly strived to acheive as much as I could - that's how I won the APJ Abdul Kalam scholarship because I scored the highest in Science. I have cleared exams like SAIL, BARC, GATE, ISRO, MPPSC, IES and UPSC civil services, all in my first attempt, not because I write to top the exams but because I write to give my maximum best. What helped me can help anyone ace their exams. These are four main things: understand the nature of the exam, know your subjects well, maintain undivided attention when preparing, and know where you want to go – and you will make it happen.

What plans do you have for the future?

I want to be a good civil servant, and to me, that means being flexible, adaptable, and efficient in what I do. So I will try to cope with any challenges as and when they come my way. Every person has their own set of problems. No one-stop solution works for all situations; it has to be amendable and adaptable.

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Surabhi’s journey from a young village girl to an IAS officer is proof that if you have the confidence, you can do anything you set your mind to. You can always boost your skill set and competence. Believe that you are bound to do big things, and big things will come into your life.

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