A Scholar's Odyssey: Neha Kumari's Evolution into an IAS Officer | Interview by Ankush Bharti


Neha Kumari is a dynamic and accomplished individual who has excelled in multiple domains, from academia to public service. Holding a strong academic background with a Master of Arts in English Literature from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Neha further pursued her scholarly pursuits by completing a PhD from BHU, specialising in British and Commonwealth literature. Her dedication to academic excellence is underscored by her achievements, including clearing the National Eligibility Test (NET) with Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and qualifying the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) in 2021. 

Notably, Neha's intellectual curiosity extends beyond the realms of literature, as evidenced by her success in the competitive arena of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), where she attained Grade A in 2022. However, her journey doesn't end there. In 2023, Neha achieved a remarkable milestone by securing a coveted position in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), a testament to her leadership qualities, strategic thinking, and commitment to public service.

1. Can you please share your journey of becoming an IAS ? What motivated you to pursue this career?

The journey of becoming an IAS begins with the dream of a difficult exam, UPSC. The job domain of an IAS is also very interesting for an aspirant. I wished to be part of governance as I had been benefitted by some of the good welfare schemes such as schooling system of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya.

2. Your academic journey from being a literature student to pursuing a PhD from BHU is quite remarkable. How do you think your academic background has prepared you for a career in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)?

Good schooling is very crucial to understand the basic syllabus of UPSC. My schooling years had nurtured me well in terms of quick reading, comprehension and cognitive understanding. I studied English literature as my major subject. Though it is not directly related to UPSC syllabus, the approaches helped me in essay and ethics paper. Further I chose English literature as my optional, which spared me extra efforts to learn another optional subject.

3. What motivated you to pursue a career in the civil services, particularly the IAS, considering your strong academic credentials in literature and research?

It is just like a twist in the journey, I wanted to attempt this exam at least once or twice. Once I was ready to take the risk I took it.

4. What was your study routine like while preparing for the civil services exam? Any specific study tips or strategies that helped you in your preparation?

As I was in a regular full-time job, I had no fixed routine to study. I studied whenever I had time. I minimized social media usage and used ample online resources too. Single minded devotion surely helped.

5. How did you manage your time effectively during the exam preparation phase? Any time management techniques that you would recommend to future aspirants?

I used to devote weeks not hours, to a particular subject that I wished to learn. I will suggest aspirants to decide and develop your own strategy. 

6. Can you share some of the biggest challenges you faced during your preparation for the exam? How did you overcome them?

I was not worried, I had already a job and new learnings during preparation motivated me. I believe one should have a backup plan as it is a consuming process. My colleagues at SEBI also boasted my morals while I was writing mains.  further I will say, do not be or feel lonely.

7. What subjects or topics did you find most challenging during the exam preparation phase? How did you tackle them?

Economics, geography and current affairs. Continuously practicing the economic concepts through pyq(previous years questions), regular newspaper reading helped me and I remained poor in tackling geography.

8. Can you discuss the role of coaching institutes in your preparation for the civil services exam? Do you believe coaching is necessary for success in these exams?

During the mains and Interviews coaching institutes are actually helpful but prelims is mostly one’s own war.

9. How did you stay motivated and focused during the long and arduous journey of preparing for the civil services exam?

I had nothing to lose while attempting this prestigious exam, therefore I am not able to talk about these things with respect to my own experience. But again, it can be said that give your all to a dream, either your dream comes true or the journey shapes you for better.

10. Can you share some tips for aspirants who are currently preparing for the civil services exam? What should they focus on and how can they stay motivated throughout the process?

Master the basics.

Practice daily.

Engage with peers.

Evaluate yourself.

Pyq is bible.

Upsc is not everything.

11. How did you approach the essay writing and interview stages of the civil services exam? Any specific strategies that helped you excel in these areas?

As much I have observed ethics, essay and interview are somehow related. Ability to think in a balanced manner helps a lot. This skill comes with continuous practice with writing and thinking style. Engaging with peer group or fellow aspirants is quite important during the interview process, for that purpose I joined telegram groups. Mock interviews are essential, one should take at least 5 mock interviews, which should be the combination of both offline and online interviews.

12. Finally, what advice would you give to future aspirants who are aspiring to become IAS officers? What qualities and skills do you think are essential for success in this field?

For the exam: Comprehension, good and fast writing skill, ability to express your own thoughts, finding the right answer based on the available limited information, understanding of nation, world and your own personality traits.

And for the next question, based on the limited experience in probation till now I would say, being able to serve along with the will to serve matters most. You never know.  One may start as a civil servant but one may finish as an external affair minister too.