Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Graduate Student Dilemma: Part1

This is an interesting phase in every graduate students' life I guess. When we apply to universities for grad studies in the US we have no clue what we will be getting into. What we learn in the process of getting our prestigious degree named Btech or BE or BE(Hons.) we feel we have every possible knowledge of the respective field. Then we look at our projects and we mention that field in our SOP in which our maximum projects lie and quote names of some professors and a couple of their research papers (which sound interesting by reading their name!!). We get an admit, we feel we have conquered the world.. and we come to the US!

After coming here, everything is different! Professors are big shots in their field and batch mates range from people like us to married people having few years of industrial experience (in short Uncles). Seeing the variety of courses offered we get confused as to what to take and what not. Mostly in first sem we take courses that have funky names.. advanced powertrain controls, mechatronics and what not. During the course we get to know its nothing but math, only math: matrices, numbers and differential equations and ex tensive use of MATLAB!

Towards the end of first sem, we are in a process of selecting our next semester courses, and unknowinly we get our nam
es: controls guy, fluids guy, design guy etc. I am a controls guy! According to what kind of guy we are (which has nothing to do with bachelor's education ..gone are those days.. move on!) we start taking courses and start searching for internships for summers. Grad education suddenly feels expensive when we have to pay second sems tuition and we realise the fact that we got admit so that PhD students would get funded!! The "conquering the world" state of mind slowly fades away.We take up independent study projects with the sole hope of getting money some day!

Up till now we hardly know what we want to do. Seniors say, if you want to do a PhD, its better to stay and work for a prof in summers. If you want a job, get an internship and convert it. We say.. I don't know.. Let me keep my options open!

We fight, we attend career fairs, we apply to companies on the job portal and finally sooner or later we secure internship. Some profs tell their students to do a PhD and they will pay them.. such get converted into a doctoral student. Others fly to their respective company towns. (Some face a problem in their background/ DNA checks due to insufficient sample of hair etc, but even they fly one day! :P)

We say after internship, after getting some experience in the company/in a university lab, "I will be in a good position to decide what to do" and with this notion we start our third sem. Many people turn their heads off the PhD option as they either have converted their internships to full times or do not consider themselves as "PhD Materials", or have a greater vision of "starting up" something, or the sole reason is monetory. Some people like me are still confused and say.. PhD karni hai yaar, agar accha project mila to! Job as a back up to rakhunga! Ghanta backup! Excuse for having no vision in life!!
Coming next..... This decision / confusion phase comes from intense discussions on telephones during the summers! What happens next.. Stay tuned!
(*pics taken from PhD comics)