Jun 7, 2013

Confessions from a Ph.D scholar

"Will you get a job at least now?", was the question everyone asked when I shared the news about successful defense of my Ph.D thesis.

"Will I get a job at least now? Did I not qualify for a job earlier? Why did I opt for a Ph.D? Why did I even opt for a graduate program after my Bachelor's?", I asked these questions to myself.

I did get a job from one of the leading software companies in India soon after completion of my degree from Mechanical Engineering. I opted for Masters degree by choice and not out of compulsion. When I took the decision to join SASTRA University as a JRF, I was still an employee at that company.

For many in our society, four years of Bachelor's in Engineering/Technology is a valid pass to get a job. It does not matter whether one has a sound understanding of their curriculum, nor are they really concerned about whether the four years of learning is applicable and useful for rest of their life. But deep inside, I was never satisfied with my learning. I realized that Bachelor's curriculum is only surface level deep. How can I rejoice myself after scratching only the surface?

“When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.”  - Paulo Coelho in Alchemist.
How true!

When I quit my job, I did not have an alternate plan. I quit because I was not satisfied with the work1. Like many engineering graduates, I could have continued with my job, have a raise and/or promotion with time, marry a girl and get settled. But, I had a dream - to continue my education, learn more and go deeper from the surface. It was a risk when I quit my job not knowing what to do next. As if the whole world conspired to help me achieve my dream, one fine morning I received an email with an offer to join SASTRA University as a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) and work with Dr. Katte.

That one mail changed by destiny.

First few months I spent with Dr. Katte helped me in molding myself into a research material. It was during those days I learnt the nuances of doing research such as critical thinking and technical writing. Soon, I quit JRF post to fill the vacancy for SRF with Dr. Katte on a ISRO sponsored project. At this point of time, SASTRA University did not offer Master's by Research program.

"What are you doing? ", my "well" wishers asked. I did not have an answer to them. How can I say I quit my job to pursue higher studies, but have joined a university which does not offer Masters?

Thanks to Dr. Katte, SASTRA finally introduced the Master of Science in Engineering by research in 2005. I was one of the three students who had registered for the program in first batch. After two years of hard work, I defended my Master's thesis successfully and shared the news with everyone about graduate conferment. 

"Are you going to work at least now?", they asked in one voice. "Nope, I am going for a Ph.D", I said. I am pretty sure they heard it as "he did not get a job yet".

My association with ISRO continued during my Ph.D as well. From VSSC, ISRO sponsored project at SASTRA, I joined in a SAC, ISRO sponsored project at IIT Madras. After four years, I submitted my thesis with five papers (of which three are based on my Ph.D work) in international journals and 6 international conference papers.

"I have defended my thesis successfully", I shared the news yet again to everyone.

"Will you get a job at least now?"

"Nope, I am going for a postdoc", I said.

"A what?"

"Never mind. Well, I won't be working for quite some time yet!", I replied to them.

No, not too soon. I am happy that I had gone a level deeper, but I still have miles to go.
1I thank the company who recruited me. It was during those 5 months that I learnt stuffs about computers and also learnt to speak English in American accent which eventually became useful when I went to the U.S.