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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are we serious about PhD program - part II

Yesterday, I talked about one hurdle that IITs put to block good candidates from applying for PhD program. There are other problems in the system, which are well known, and yet no action has been taken for years.

Many good students are confused whether to go for graduate studies or to go for a job. Once they get a job, they stop considering other options. One way to attract them to graduate programs would be to offer them admission, before they are offered a job. It was pretty difficult thing to do when companies were willing to offer jobs in the 6th semester itself. But for the last couple of years, a self-restraint has happened on part of industry and they have started offering jobs only at the end of 7th semester. This has given a great opportunity to IITs and other top institutions to attract good students away from industry. In the lounges and the drawing rooms, most of my colleagues (not just in IIT Kanpur but in other IITs as well) would agree that if we could offer admission in the 7th semester, at least to a few bright students, it would help the graduate programs tremendously.

But are we going to implement what we think will help our graduate program. Of course not. I have had the experience of faculty members sitting in the lounge agreeing that this would help, and then in the formal meetings of Academic Senate opposing the proposal to do the same. What they really are saying is that yes, this would improve the program, but we don't want an improvement in the program. Perhaps the reason is that that would force us to work more.

In IIT Kanpur, we have a program called SURGE, where by we admit bright under-graduate students after 3rd year (some after 2nd year) for a summer internship, all expenses paid, including a reasonable pocket allowance. We have had the opportunity to see their work for 2 months. If at the end of two months, we feel that the student is excellent, shouldn't we just grab the chance and make an offer. We will never get to see any student for 2 months before making an admission decision, except these interns. But, as I said above, faculty members outside the Senate meeting agree that this would improve the quality of the graduate programs, but inside the Senate meeting, would oppose offering admission to such students.

Similar summer internship programs are run by most top institutes in the country, and all of them could easily make use of this golden opportunity to evaluate these students over a long period of time and then offering admission to select few, but none does it to the best of my knowledge.

There are other things that IITs can do. They could encourage students to give GATE exam in their 6th semester, instead of the 8th semester, by suggesting that a fraction of the graduate program seats would be filled in by making offers to students in their 7th semester. So, one does not even violate the GATE requirement. And the admission offer could be provisional subject to certain academic performance in the final year.

And, I am not the only one to suggest ways to attract students. Many others are far smarter than I am, and have made other suggestions. But implementing such suggestions would be possible only if we are serious about our graduate programs.


sonu said...

Respected Sir,

I have been in pune for past 7 months after completing my from IIT-K. I had completed my B.E. from Bhilai Institute of Technology, Durg (C.G.).

One of the reason the student community of India is not interested in higher studies is- they do not find it "cool". It is not attractive to them because it is not glamorous. They follow [M]tv and [V]tv. They want a lifestyle full of parties. Believe me, I have met so many talented people who can go for academics but they go for a job because they want instant money (though they are paid much less than what they deserve and they don't even realize it).

When I was in BIT. The toppers of my Batch preferred to go for Cognizant and TCS. I was a bit shocked and asked the topper of my batch, she replied- they have different preferences.

They think that being a person who is interested in studies is so UNCOOL. They had made it a kind of profanity. Nobody wants to be uncool. They take pride in passing exam by studying in the last hours.
Hard work is stupidity and passing by studying in last hours is a talent.

The culprit is culture or say non-culture or mis-culture. There are some students who are interested to go for higher studies.. but this mis-culture puts up a lot of pressure on them.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@sonu, You are right that a majority of good students are not attracted to higher studies. But, my point is different. Even those who are interested in academics, are academic institutions able to attract them. The answer is no. In fact, we are very good at sending the signal that academics is uncool.

Santosh Sali said...

To add on Sonu's comment ,

Our faculties are also responsible for not attracting students to Ph.D. program.

I find very few faculties emanate the radiance of true scholarship, they don't show interest in research papers, shaping the thought process of research work or simply contributing in the development of their students.

Though I am pursuing my research outside technology, one of senior faculty commented to me , that research programs are never priority in premier schools like IIT, IIM and I can sense that ...

vivek singh aka vfix said...

There are some more issues.See our undergraduate engineering System is really good reason is that best students from the country get selected to the undergraduate programs in say top 50 -top 100 colleges .During these 4 years the students are exposed well ,taught well and by the end of the program most of them end with good placements (abroad) or research programs (again abroad). Good side of the Story

Coming to bad side In most of the private institutes the engineering education is not that good .The chief objective of every student is to learn one language solve few apti books by the end of fourth year and enter some service base firm.Students are not exposed to deep knowledge and most of them are not interested also.Assignments mostly consists questions asked in previous year external exams .Practical classes are taken just as formality .And college management pay more attention in teaching accent and how to dress ,how to prepare for HR ,what to tell about hobbies stuff instead of optimizing the coding ,conceptual and application skills and mathematical rigor .REALLY VERY DEMOTIVATING ENVIRONMENT
Situation is more difficult for students who actually want to gain some concepts .As for day scholars there is 12 hr schedule from home to college and then back to home.And there is no proper environment around them.

So at the end of fourth year there are few students who manage to gain most of the principles and qualify GATE with high scores and few who gain some principles but were not able to qualify GATE or if they did they did it with low score

To summarize quality of Higher education can only be improved by improving the quality of education in institutes apart from top institutes in country

Shaman said...

I am in my fifth semester of BE now. I wanted to write GATE in sixth sem, buy this year prefinal year students are not eligible only to write gate!

Ish said...


Positive steps to attract students who show potential towards a phd need to be taken in many areas.

Offering admits to PhD programs as soon as potential students are identified is definitely a good idea. Something similar has been implemented for admissions to IISER BS-MS programs (Which is possible through KVPY, JEE and Board Exam Marks). This, done for PhD programs, would give good students the choice at the right time.

I believe something more needs to be done to help them make a choice towards research. That one can lead a rich life in campus and that the decent stipend allows one to live in moderate comfort should be communicated to those making the choice. Those who're interested in academics, should not get second thoughts about these issues.