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 the 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 in 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 learned 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 an ISRO sponsored project. At this point in time, SASTRA University did not offer Masters 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 the 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.
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1I thank the company who recruited me. It was during those 5 months that I learned stuff about computers and also learned to speak English in American accent which eventually became useful when I went to the U.S.