Friday, May 29, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PhD from small university in India? what is your future in science?

During my last visit to India, one of my old student (and now a Ph. D. herself in physical science) came to visit me. She wanted my advise for her future course of academic career.

She wanted to know; how to get a post-doc position abroad? There are two factors here in her wish. First, she wants to gain more academic experience and preferably get faculty position in some university after returning from 1-2 years of post-doc position abroad. The competition for faculty position in any university in India is stiff (and local politics associated) and her post-doc experience from abroad will be an added advantage for her. Second, she wants to see the world. remember, that she don't have any other way to go out of the small city and see different places.

So here is my career advise in science for all of you who is pursuing degree higher then M. Sc. in science from state universities or who has already got the degree and wants to get a post-doc position abroad (and who don't see IT as the only career option in their life):

1. Be current in your field. In today's connected world through internet, it is easy to find what is going on in your field. Even if you can not do research of international standard on experimental topic due to lack of infrastructure, it is still advantageous to know what other people are doing. It will be helpful when you will look for post-doc position.

2. Try to attend national/international conference in your field at least once every year whatever is financially possible.

3. Try to get at least 3 publications out of your research preferably in international journals. It is very important. In many state universities, this is not a qualifying criteria and neglected, but it is very important to have at least few publications in international journals out of your Ph.D. work. This will lead you a long way in your academic persuit.

4. If you are ambitious to do more research and wants a post-doc position abroad. your best bet is to get similar position in India first. It is relatively easy to get research associate position in IITs, TIFR and IISc where there the funding for research is in abundance and in most cases, faculties are very supportive and encouraging. So spend some time (1-2 years) in one of these labs and gain experiance to do research which is of international standard and some publications. There is good chance that after this 2 year stance and publications in hand, you can go anywhere in the world you want.

5. And finally, just don't send your CV to every professor in Europe and USA. This is annoying and is thrown in their junk mail folder. The average professor in USA sometime gets 100 such mails per week (mostly from India and China) whereas he might have 1 position per year and he will prefer someone who can get research projects done in his lab. It is easy to find some of the old publications of the group and see if you are capable of doing similar work or not. Noone expects you to know everything in the world, but any professor wants someone who has basic skills in their kind of science and get the job done. Try to be precise about your skills and qualifications and send your CV to only people closer to your field of expertise. There is more chance that at least they will take a look at it, and if possible will think about it.

6. You may need to try at least a year before you will get your first response from a professor who shows interest in hiring you. I know a PhD friend from a state university who finally got a chance after 3 years of trying, so don't just give up if this is your dream. For comparison, if you will have publications in international journals and experience in research institute like IITs and IISc, it should not take more then few weeks to find first position abroad.

I hope this will be helpful.

Spring Bloom

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Undergraduate science education in state colleges and universities

The "Life in IISc" blog discuses a report on the need of undergraduate education at the IISc. This is an interesting topic and brings our today's discussion about undergraduate science education at the state universities (most of them don't teach undergraduate courses directly at the university but at the affiliated colleges). This report has all the important factors why there should be an undergraduate program at IISc, so we will focus on where undergraduate science program at state universities are failing in terms of producing talent needed for industry, research and teaching and what we can do to improve the current situation.

1. first, all is not black when we talk about the undergraduate science programs of colleges. Since there is a big demand in terms of computer literate bachelors students in IT sector, and almost all of my previous students are working at some or other IT company. most of them are the product of either computer courses started at the initiative of UGC or some branch of engineering courses. Can we do better? many of the students I know who are working at IT sector are quite talented and can go for science industry and earn better money and live better life however they don't have enough training.

2. and so comes the second point. when there is question of providing training, our undergraduate science programs lacks seriously. In today's environment, all they can do is to provide training to student to work in IT sector. These students although talented have no training to pursue more competitive programs or go for PHD programs at elite universities. Talent not used is talent wasted.

3. Most of teachers at state universities and colleges have no opportunity for career development. There is no incentive to improve teaching performance or scholarly discussion. There is simple lack of good library and no current knowledge is available to these faculty.

4. Many of the students produced by these state colleges are consumed locally at the education institutes (colleges, schools etc) around these cities, so its ok, but problem comes for some ambitious students who want further growth. There is no exposure for them to see life beyond their own university.

While it is a good idea to start undergraduate program at IISc, what will benefit the big amount of students and faculty of smaller cities is the opportunity to spend some time at these elite institute like IISc and IITs few months. There should be a exchange program
for faculty of IITs and IISc with faculty of small colleges and state universities. This will give opportunity for both side to see the world of other side. The 3 months I spent in IISc on a DST fellowship changed my life entirely (I got aware of my potential to contribute to the science, oppertunites available in terms of post-doc fellowships abroad and go beyond) and I wish more and more people get opportunities like that. I hope somebody in government and at the elite institute is listening out there.Add Image

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Indian acedemic world of state university and colleges

There are some Indian academic blogs out there (its easy to find them in google), but most of them are from elite institutes such as IITs and IISc, and there is no voice from state universities and colleges. A big amount of academic activities in India happens in these places, and not in elite institutes. Only small fraction of students and faculty go to elite institutes.

I follow three Indian newspapers daily, The Times of India, The Indian Express and Hindustan Times, and some local Hindi newspapers regularly, and really surprised that number of articles or some meaningful discussion about our higher education are pretty small. My previous colleagues and friends from the college complain and show frustrations about the system but never come out openly to discuss.

so my question is why there is such low level of engagement of state university and college faculties in the new and the old media? what could be reasons?

1. General public has too many other problems and don't care about status of higher education and its place (I don't believe this, I know people who fondly remember their college days and care about what is happening there).

2. The state level higher education system in India is tightly govt controlled and there is no place for any discussion when all decisions are taken by bureaucrats. (completely believable, I know the places where bureaucrat decides the course syllabus where they have no authority)

3. The system is very close, we are not open for discussion because we can not take any criticism even constructive one. (more believable)

3. University and college teachers are generally happy with their good salary and hardly cares about anything else. (again not completely believable although I know professors who are too involved with local politics, but again the system of tight government control is too blame for such a dire state of our state universities and colleges)

4. There is not enough exposure for our university and college professors to see the different learning places in the world and argue and demand for the best environment. (I think it is reasonable argument)

5. Use of internet is still not widespread in smaller Indian Universities and also the power of internet is not fully realized (more believable)

Am I missing something here, are there blogs or sites there where some useful discussion on Indian Higher Education and Research going on?

and dear readers from state universities and colleges, I would like to provide you with a medium to discuss about your environments.

A spring welcome

Welcome to my blog. Isn't it a most beautiful lamp post surrounded by spring flowers?