Stories#061 Bakul’s leap of faith

#061 Bakul’s leap of faith

The story of Vinod’s turning tables technique is a story of Bakul’s leap of faith

Board president Vinod Subramaniam and master student Bakul Patil share the same roots. Both of them moved to a completely different world, to enjoy life in another context. Today, Vinod is invited at Bakuls dinner table. ‘Try to look at a person, instead of where they come from.’

Click for Dutch version

Monday 17 January 2022

Burning desire

Vinod: ‘You and I are both from India. Do you remember your biggest cultural shock, when you came here?’

Bakul: ‘Well, the Dutch directness was a big thing for me. When I was preparing for my stay here, I had a question about my accommodation. So, I sent an e-mail to the president of the student association – to reach out for help. The reply I got was very clear: “I do not have time for this, you better find someone else.” Wow, haha! I didn’t see that one coming. But I have to say, things have changed a lot, since that particular person is my partner now.’

Vinod: ‘That’s cool! So how did you end up in Twente?’ 

Bakul: ‘Like every Indian family, my parents wanted me to become either a doctor or an engineer. During the last semester of my bachelor in civil engineering, I discovered the field of remote sensing and GIS. I was instantly attracted to it: how do you process satellite data? In search for a place to do my master’s, I googled for the best universities in the world to study remote sensing. On YouTube, I found a series of UT videos, in which students talked about their work at the ITC.

I have to say, getting an application and a scholarship wasn’t easy. At home, everyone was sceptical. I applied to about twelve universities in Europe, hoping that I would get accepted to at least one. Luckily, I got offered a scholarship from UT – and here I am!’

Vinod: ‘If there’s one thing you’ve learned from your stay here, what is it?’

Bakul: ‘To accept people with an open heart. During this two-year journey I learned that other people can think really different. It’s not easy to accept people for who they are, no matter how contradicting their opinions are to yours. But you have to find yourself a ‘home’ in those people as well.’

Vinod: ‘An open heart, you say. I like that! Very often, people talk about having an open mind. But there’s a big difference between the head and the heart. The latter has a dimension that goes deeper than the rational. Talking about the heart: did you have troubles, too?’

Bakul: ‘I know it’s a cliché, but I still can’t get used to the Dutch weather. I find it very, very difficult to get out of bed when there’s no sun. I also struggle when I encounter people who make you feel like you don’t belong here. I think that’s a real problem, actually. When you do not feel included, you don’t thrive – and therefore, you can’t perform well.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, there is a difference between IQ and EQ. There are a lot of smart people at universities – the IQ is high. But sometimes, our EQ – people skills, empathy – could use some development. That’s something I’ve learned over the years: you have to have an eye for the person.’ 

Bakul: ‘True. After I graduate, I want to do something to make people at the top understand what is actually going on in the field. Because you can’t make good decisions from your office desk.’

Vinod: ‘We’ve just had the climate summit in Glasgow. You’re working in an area that quantifies climate change and its effects, and you’re part of the generation that will have to deal with the consequences, too. What are your reflections on this?’

Bakul: ‘People are often blaming each other, by saying climate change is happening because of what they, the others, have done. But we are all responsible. We have to fight the problem as a community, rather than pointing fingers at each other.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, the time for discussions and pointing fingers is long gone. History doesn’t really matter at this point... If you were to give a bit of advice for the next generation of UT students, what would you say?’

Bakul: ‘It requires courage to step out of your comfort zone. I know a lot of people who work hard, but don’t have the courage to dream big. But you can do more than you think! Maybe the fact everybody said I wasn’t able to study abroad, started a burning desire within me.’

Vinod: ‘And rightly so. I think it’s an illusion to think there’s no talent and creativity outside the top-ranking institutions. Again: try to look at a person, instead of where they come from.’

Bakul: ‘Exactly! I have to ask: how did you end up here in The Netherlands?’ 

Vinod: ‘When I was 18, I got accepted at Cornell University in the United States. I thought I’d get a job at a technical company after my graduation – but instead, I was offered a job at the Max Planck Institute. And that in turn lead me here… That’s the way life goes, right?’ 

Bakul: ‘Yes, there’s a saying in Hindi: just take a leap of faith, and let the course of life take you somewhere. And along the ride, you learn. In my first months here as a student, I found it hard to defend my own opinion. I had good ideas, but I never learned to have a strong voice. Now when I don’t agree with something, I say: okay, I can understand your perspective, and this is mine. Can we meet in the middle? It’s the same with that e-mail I told you about: Dutch directness doesn’t give you the right to be rude. You also have to accept where other people come from.’

Vinod: ‘I hope I’ll get to see you in person on campus. We could drink a cup of coffee when I’m in Enschede, what do you think?’

Bakul: ‘That would be great! I can also make you the best chicken curry, I’m a very good cook.’

Vinod: ‘Well, that’s what I always say – I make the best chicken curry! Maybe we should both make one and exchange recipes… See you!’


studied Electrical Engineering at Cornell University and Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at the University of Michigan. He obtained his PhD there in 1996. He worked as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and at AstraZeneca in Loughborough. Between 2004 and 2013, Vinod was professor of nanobiophysics at UT, until he became director of AMOLF. In 2015 he became rector of the VU University in Amsterdam. Since September 2021, Vinod has returned to UT as president of the Executive Board.

Bakul Patil BSc (1996)

grew up in a small town in India. She studied Civil Engineering at the Kavi Kulguru Institute of Technology in Ramtek, and GIS and Remote Sensing in the city of Pune. In 2019, she came to Enschede to do her master’s at the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC). She also worked as an intern at Stichting Landschap Overijssel.