A look at the last decade indicates that except two (AIR 1 2011 Shena Agarwal and AIR 1 2015 Tina Dabi), all the UPSC CSE toppers were from the engineering discipline. In the CSE 2020 results, the top 3 rankers were engineers and in the top 15 ranks, there were 8 engineers. CSE 2019 result saw 11 engineers in the top 15. Relatively fewer—that is, 7 out of top 15 – were engineers in CSE 2018. In CSE 2017, 11 out of top 15 rank holders were engineers; CSE 2016 also witnessed 9 engineers in the top 15. “Interestingly in all previous 5 years (CSE 2016 to CSE 2020), all India rank 1 in CSE was an engineer. So, this year’s result marks a break in that trend. However, barring the top 2, the next 3 rank holders in the top 5 are engineers. In fact, among the top 15 rank holders, there are as many as 9 engineers,” says Pranay Agarwal, director, IAS Gurukul.
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What partly accounts for top ranks being grabbed by engineers in UPSC is their rigorous academic training and the slew of competitive exams such as JEE Main and Advanced that prepares them even before college. “They also have a pragmatic approach to problem-solving,” Agarwal adds. Many of them start their preparation right after graduation, yet others quit their corporate careers to devote themselves full-time to the preparation process. “It is true that the private sector does typically offer higher pay than what a civil servant takes home. But a career in the civil services offers far greater chances of job satisfaction,” says Agarwal.
In case of Gamini Singhla, AIR 3, 2022, whose parents are medical officers in the Himachal Pradesh government, it was the same sentiment that drew her to the profession. She ditched a campus placement job offer to pursue her dreams of being an IAS officer. “Engineering gave me ample time for preparation which is why I could focus on my studies, though any person with dedication, irrespective of their field can excel in the Civil Services,” says the Computer Science graduate from a leading Punjab engineering college.
Yasharth Shekhar, AIR 12, 2022, echoes a similar view. “Background to a great extent does not determine success. Hard work and focusing on core areas does. Geography as an optional subject is usually considered by engineers but I have done well (306/500) given my humanities background,” says the St Stephen’s College graduate whose background in Economics prepared him to understand the scientific nature of things while his focus on writing better answers with practice catapulted him among the top 20.
Retired IAS officer JK Dadoo, agrees, “Candidates with better preparation and nerves will win. After all, the CSE is attempted by around 3 lakh candidates of which around 2,000 students get selected. The scales are evenly balanced, though engineers tend to do better if they take up Maths/Physics which are more scoring than Humanities.”
Aggregate data indicates that most engineers opt for humanities as their optional subjects. “In CSE 2019, 63.1% recommended candidates were engineers and only 24.2% were from Humanities. But 82.6% of optional subjects opted by the recommended candidates were related to Humanities, and only 4.7% of recommended candidates had an Engineering subject as their optional,” Agarwal says.
The trend in earlier years is similar. “The humanities optional subjects require a timeline ranging from about 4 months for a subject like Sociology or Philosophy to about 8 months for a subject like Political Science. Engineering optional subjects, on the other hand, require longer time commitment. Secondly, better resources such as competent teachers, exam specific study materials are easily available for the humanities optional while not so for the engineering subjects. More importantly, UPSC offers only three engineering subjects (Civil, Electrical and Mechanical) in the list of optional choices. Engineers from other streams, such as Computer Science Engineering or Petroleum Engineering then prefer to opt for a humanities subject instead of these which for them are equally alien,” Agarwal explains, adding that aspirants can choose any subject as long as they can adapt and follow the right exam strategy.