Scientists Simplifying Science

Category archive

Laapataa- The Indian PhD

The disillusioned graduate student series

Nature vs Nurture- The Allegory of Research

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

 

 

 

A research idea, or a career, is a tender sapling that needs nurturing to grow and bear fruit. Young researchers, struggling to find a foothold in the world of research, often have to make a difficult choice: between subjecting a young idea to the dangers of meeting an ignominious end by leaving it where it was born, and taking it far far away from its native context in order to give it a fair chance of survival.

 

Let’s accept it that the environment in our country is extremely unfriendly for a young research career to safely grow: starting with scanty resources, to corruption, to politics, to social pressures to a variety of prejudices the world has about us, the hurdles to breaking the glass ceiling are so many that the future of many a bright research career are asphyxiated here. No wonder, for most starry eyed bright minds, the options are limited, and choice is obvious – leave for safe havens of research.

 

And yet, we could probably look at things a bit differently. A curious, analytic mind with a zeal to solve problems will never feel unsafe when he has a problem to solve. And here, there are teeming problems waiting for that creative idea which will rip them away. Just that one has to be a bit less hung up about what problems he really wants to work on.

 

Probably, it’s not about the sapling after all, but about the place.

 

In the perspective, I feel that the case is rather balanced on both sides. Choice is for the individual to make. But it’s for all of us to keep talking about this subject. Even if we have made our choices, the discussion should never be over for.

 

15aug14-271x300

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did their PhD in India.

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Managing time in Research

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/That Makes Sense by

Like most researchers, I have struggled through my initial years of research to find my groove. While I can’t say with surety that I have found it eventually, it would be vain to deny how much learning has happened in these years. I don’t know about genius minds who, with even failing breath, can come out with ground-breaking ideas. I need some sanity in my life, some space in my mindscape, to be able to concentrate, think and look around. I have found methods of time management immensely valuable in keeping away clutter from my surroundings and my thoughts. Below, I share some simple techniques that can create chunks of time/space so that you can focus your energies in doing what really inspires you.

Why is Time management Important for Researchers?

Research Myths

It can’t be planned. Actually, the real purpose of planning is to plan away those hundred other chores you must do apart from your main duty, so that there’s enough time and energy to carry it out.
There’s too much time; too little to do. Most dangerous myth! There’s too much to do. It’s just not apparent. Identifying what to do is an inherent part of research. Give it time on a regular basis.
There are no customers. There are. And they are very demanding. And you have to sell your work to them; and sell very hard. Each research community creates very high bars for newcomers.

Shabbiness indicates genius. I see no reason to believe that merely by looking shabby, or by leading a shabbily managed day to day life, one proves his genius. And I feel, it’s stupid to barter success and satisfaction in work and life to a vain bloating feeling of being a genius.
Research is all about great ideas. As the famous saying by Edison goes: ‘Genius … 1% inspiration … 99% perspiration,’ research too is mostly about persistent, hard toil. Most of it is boring, uninteresting, mechanical and mindless to the core.

Differentiators of Research

So then, what is it that’s really different about research? Really, from the perspective of time management, there is no fundamental difference. Just that the values of some variables are different.

Incentives. The incentives for which researchers work is somewhat (not very) different from that for which non-researchers work. For example, a pat for your work, your name being added among the experts of your area etc. are more important than money, promotions and suave lifestyle to researchers.

Timelines. For researchers, timelines are fuzzier. Had it been possible to have crisp deadline for everything in research, it wouldn’t have been research. Moreover, the smallest atomic tasks that a researcher may have to do would usually be much larger in size than that of others.

Deliverables. The value of a researcher’s contribution to the world is rather hard to gauge. Sometimes, the profits from the same start coming back rather late: months, years, possibly decades after the idea was conceived.

Step 1. Getting back Your Focus

Respect your own time. A feeling that plagued me for a major part of my PhD was the feeling of not doing anything important. I feel this low respect for one’s own time is an occupational hazard of a PhD student. So it’s important to be on your guard against this feeling right from the first day. Everything done in the name of research is very important: literature review, downloading software, learning programming, assembling instruments, or interacting with suppliers.
Distinguish between recreation and distraction. Learn to identify when you are seeking distraction to escape work. It is all the more important to devote a stipulated amount of time to research when it doesn’t seem to be moving.
Minimise interruptions. The time of the day you have decided to devote to your lab work (or whatever it is in your research) must be protected with your life against petty interruptions. The interruptions may appear in many disguises: invitation for a cup of tea, phone calls, and most disastrous of all, the Web (mails, scraps, posts, wikipedia, Google…). Learn to say ‘No!’
Prioritise. Divide most of your time among a top few things which show up in your grand scheme of things.

Step 2. Overcoming Procrastination

Tips to overcome procrastination

Start small. When you are neck deep in the habit of procrastination, there’s only one way to get out: start small. Take baby steps. Keep small targets, achieve them and celebrate the victory profusely. Some examples: I will read this one section at a stretch; or I will get up after I have understood these 10 lines of code.

In the next iteration, raise the bar slightly. Things will gradually start falling in place.
Make it SMART.
S(specific)M(measurable)A(achievable, ambitious), R(risky, reasonable)T(timed) goals are the key to time management. For example, ‘I will present this paper tomorrow to my lab mate and make sure that he has understood’ it is a SMART goal. ‘I will understand this paper’ is not.
Create tangible commitments (e.g Involve others). When it’s hard at the individual level to ensure progress, quickly involve somebody else. Usually it could be your boss. But there’s no reason to start or stop there. Also, try to create stakeholders. This means that there should be tangible benefit for those who involve themselves in your work. Therefore, involving your friend in hearing you out in a mock presentation is fine; but presenting it to someone who might potentially be able to use it in his work is much better.

Reward yourself. In the beginning it worked for me to reward myself with some indulgence when I achieved tiny successes in defeating procrastination. For example, I used to promise myself a cup of coffee alone if I finished a small chunk of work. And on actually finishing, I used to make it a point to reward myself. It was very effective. Of course, the reward should always follow the achievement, and not precede it.

Step 3. Implementing Time management

Now, I introduce the method which, if roughly followed, will yield immediate benefit with little effort.

To-do List. The most rudimentary structure of time management is a to-do list. It is a dump of every task you want to do. As a part of your time-planning, it helps to create a to do list. This emerges from the tasks in your projects.

Schedule. A to-do list with chronological sorting of tasks is a schedule. To turn a to-do list into a schedule you have to first assign priorities to your to-dos. Based upon your estimate of how long they would take and when they ought to be completed, you allocate specific times to them. This results in a schedule.

Where to Keep your To-do List or Schedule?

Not your brain. Our brain comes with the birthright to forget. And forgetting is foul in the game of time management. Worded differently, brain is the most high-end tool we have at our disposal. There are better things than remembering trifles that you would like to use your brain for, for example, research.

Pocketbook. A little pocketbook contains the power of taking you out, away from the mess of having to recollect every now and then all your tasks and promises. It’s also the first step one takes in committing to the practice of not hiding behind forgetfulness as an excuse to laziness. Once you have it written down there, you aren’t any more allowed to completely forget anything.

Diary. As you get past the first few baby steps of time management, pocketbook soon starts proving inadequate and messy. While you would still like to keep your pocketbook for its versatility and lightweightedness, in the least, you need a page for each of your day. That’s a way of saying, ‘This is my day today!’

Planner. As you become somewhat advanced in managing your time, you start feeling the need for a more elaborate format. Something that has your tasks sorted, your goals placed at a visible place where you can refer to them often, a scratchpad where you can work on your plan (i.e. breaking down your goals into projects and sub-projects), and a space having your schedule of the days. Planners are the things to be adopted at this point. Planners come with detachable refills. So, you don’t have to carry a lifetime of sheets in your planner. Just keep the current ones.

Software. Software calendars like Google calendar, outlook calendar, KOrganizer etc. are sophisticated applications which allow you to schedule tasks and meetings, and get reminded of the same through various means: pop ups, emails and SMSs.

Important Note: Maintain only one scheduler, whether traditional or electronic.

Conclusion

Time management is one of the basic life skills we all ought to have learned in childhood. Like communication skill, analytical skill etc, time management is something that can be useful in all professions, in all walks of life. Fortunately, the subject of time management is no rocket science. It doesn’t require any special talents to manage one’s time well. It can be learned and profited from by anyone. I encourage you to experiment and find out what works best for you. A personalised combination of the tools above may turn out to be just the thing for you. Even as I write this article, I continue trying out new methods in search of what fits my needs the best. There’s no need to get stuck to one method.

The more critical and harder part of time management are: acceptance and implementation. To make it work for you, you must first trust that it is needed. Once you start, time management is to be implemented with discipline.

Resources

  1. Randy Pausch
  2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  3. Many Google and youtube videos. Just search for ‘time management.’
  4. KOrganizer (http://userbase.kde.org/KOrganizer)

Laapataa- One Among Us

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/That Makes Sense by

“It’s best to be wary of catch-phrases — be it globalization or patriotism –, and not base important decisions on them, because they can be used in any which way.  Which catch-phrases did you come across today?”

One Among Us - July 2016

 

15aug14-271x300

 

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did their PhD in India.

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Laapataa- One Among Us

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/Theory of Creativity by

One Among Us - June 2016

Editor’s note: The last 24 hours have been abuzz with J1 waiver through NORI (No Obligation to Return to India). As a constant viewer of CSG forum, I can vouch that Immigration issues are the most sought after topics of discussion. Everyone has their own reasons for staying back in a foreign land or return to India to pursue their careers. Generalizing the reasons may be of importance to statisticians, but migration and speciation is a universal phenomenon. The debate will continue and whether this migratory behavior of scientists leads to a speciation that affects human development across the world will be the core issue. As trained thinkers of the highest calibre, are we thinking right? Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti has nicely summed up the dilemma in the current Laapataa cartoon series. Let’s provoke some thoughts!

 

15aug14

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did their PhD in India.

 

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

One Among Us

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

lapataa cubsciwri

15aug14-271x300

About the cartoonist and the blogger: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Laapataa- Understanding the Big D(ata)

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

 

One Among Us - March 2016

 

15aug14

About the cartoonist and the blogger: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

 

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Laapataa- The Indian PhD

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/That Makes Sense by

 

Doing Research in India

It is an uphill journey for a researcher working in India in many ways. One of the cited reasons talks about lack of resources or of top researchers who can really do game-changing research. I find that to be the least of the reasons.
First of all, let me try and define what I consider to be a normal researcher’s career goals. There are these dreams to be a top researcher whose work is cited in every conversation happening in a particular area of scholarship. This is a very lofty dream. It will not be fructified for most of us. Aiming for that just like that is a prescription for depression and disappointment. Instead, a more realistic goal is find a valid groove for oneself in the research ecosystem. That groove may be big or small — that’s secondary. It should provide a continual opportunity to think and work, to contribute, to communicate. Fame, recognition and riches may come, but as happy side-effects. The main product being a sustainable opportunity to work and produce, all while leading a reasonably happy life.
I know, there are subjectivity and loose ends in the above description. But that’s Okay! As long as it shifts the focus from lofty and unrealistic dreams of greatness to realistic goals of day to day satisfaction and fulfilment. And one of the first hurdles to building fruitful research career in India is related with unrealistic goals. Please don’t get me wrong in that I am trying to persuade you to give up your dreams. But dreams should arise out of your deep understanding about some problems, and an irresistible wish to solve it; it shouldn’t arise out of images of heroic achievement flashed over the media. This only leads to vacuous ambitions, unrelated with the immediately surrounding reality. Work whose only meaning is associated with the fulfilment of an ambition, whether materialistic or otherwise, is by definition a chore, and can never give happiness.
So, if a person opts to do research in India with his or her expectations placed correctly, is it a cakewalk? No! So, what other problems? A list of some of the important problems in my view are presented in my cartoon that appeared today in Club SciWri, reproduced here:

The Strong Links

  1. Talent. High talent density is made highly probable among Indian researchers by the sheer amount of competition they surmount before ending up in any prestigious graduate school. I am fully aware of the caveats in this assumption, though.
  2. Motivation. The dampening influences which will be discussed below start playing out much before a student steps into a graduate school. If, in spite of them all, a student makes it to the doorsteps of a higher research degree, he/she has proved at least one point, that he/she is highly motivated.

The Weak Links

  1. Unrealistic Goals. The first weak link that saps much of a young starry eyed researcher’s energies are his ignorance about what research involves. He starts off at a high note thinking he can pull it off only on the basis of his intelligence, knowledge, hard work and what not. Disillusionment sets in when he finds that these qualities barely enable him to make any dent.
  2. Communication. Most of us hardly ever start at working on our communication skills. Those of us who do start hardly ever graduate beyond thinking of it as good English and confidence and all that. Communication is a much deeper skill. It has its roots in a practice of thinking with clarity, ability to sense lack in clarity, and seeking clarity by acquiring information through the means of listening, reading, guessing and imagining.
  3. Selling Skills. My PhD got over before I got over the feeling that no one cares about my research. This lack of confidence sits so deep in our soul that we are never able to utter a single word about our work to others with an honest fervour. Yes, many of us pick up styles from here and there by noticing ‘what sells’. But, to a trained eye, they look artificial and disgusting. The marketability that arises out of a calm and peaceful confidence in the meaningfulness of our work is widely lacking in us. This again has a lot to do with the fact that we start our journey by setting unrealistic goals.
  4. Collaboration Ecosystem. A sense of deep mistrust pervades the Indian research scenario. Industries think researchers just want to talk crap. Researchers and academicians think that industries only care about money and short term goals. Both cling to their IPs like … I don’t know … which is that animal which clings?! Yes. They cling to their IPs. And they sign such watertight MoUs that it chokes the life out of any effort. Funding agencies wait endlessly before releasing the first cheque. And they play safe by funding well known candidates. Institutes over commit, thinking that the money will take its own sweet time to flow in, if ever it flows in; so we might as well write ten other proposals. Institutes hesitate to share students, equipments, information … unless shown businesslike incentives. What are they afraid of? Hard earned status? Disappointment on working with a bogus partner? I don’t know. But, there’s something in the air that prevents us from collaborating with each other. And collaborate we must, if we want to exist at all.
  5. Financial Stability. Finally, the whole process of doing a PhD simply stops making sense when it fails to get us a commensurately paying job. 5-6 years appear like a sunk investment of precious youth and avenues of securing financial stability when it doesn’t even give us a foothold in the market. If a PhD student in India decides to live off Government stipend, in a bachelor hostel, eating subsidised mess food, he can easily be fooled into thinking of himself as a king. If he thinks of letting the other aspects of his life move on in a normal way — getting married, investing, owning a house — he will wake up to his real penury. This financially unstable condition is the cause of many a casualty.

The Stumbling Blocks

  1. Lab Politics. The stresses generated primarily by the above sources hits the individuals so hard so as to cause the internal environment of most labs to become completely toxic. Lab-mates, who should be working closely with each other (without it being forced by the supervisor), should take interest in each others work, evade each others’ eyes, hide their data, lie to and about each other. Essentially, the broken collaboration ecosystem invades the very home of research — the lab. What these labs end up being are pressure cookers with stressed out and lonely souls afraid of their inmates. It creates a terrible prospect for the work that can be expected to come out of such places. No wonder, much of the research that comes out of Indian labs is toothless.
  2. Social Pressures. All the above topped up with social pressures deals a deadly blow to the Indian researcher’s will to put in that extra amount of effort which will tip the balance favourably for him.
    • Get married.
    • Support your family.
    • Finish fast.
    • IISc? What’s that? Tell me one great invention that came out that place! Why didn’t you do it abroad?
    • Dress like a human being, you geek! Smile. Attend the party… Be, or at least look, more like us all.
 An Indian research student functions in presence of continuous squabble created by his relatives, friends and immediate society. Many wickets fall under these Yorkers; any vessels are sunk by this torrent.
So, there you go. If you are contemplating taking up a research career here, please consider taking help of the above points in doing a bit of soul searching. For God’s sake, start with realistic goals. There’s a lot of ways in which a PhD can contribute to nation building in India. These ways mayn’t quite look like those idolised by science books, magazines and journals. Preparing a society that has forgotten the faith in deductive reasoning and knowledge to start using systematic thinking for finding its way up, is challenging enough. This may need us to drop our ivory tower images of a scientist and get down on the field and get our hands a bit dirty.

 

 

15aug14

About the cartoonist and the blogger: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

Sujit has previously posted the blog here: http://sujitkc.blogspot.in/2016/02/doing-research-in-india.html

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

Meanwhile @IISc on any public holiday

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

722540594_aad4da2819_o

 

 

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Laapataa- The Disillusioned Graduate Student

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

721665643_35b6913196_o (1)

Dear SciWri,

 
First of all, a heartfelt thanks for bringing back my work to people. Cartoon strips, unlike other forms of fine arts, needs a context, and at least a minimal audience who follow it, identify with it. Thanks for giving this to my old cartoon strips which had been slumbering for a number of years now.
 
It was really gratifying to see how my cartoons were accepted by IISc crowd, now more than a decade back. It’s heartening to see that they still have takers. Given this excellent opportunity, I promise you that I will try my best to offer fresh work at an acceptable frequency. Let’s see!
 
Laapataa, by design, is a lost soul. That’s how I was when I was a young PhD student. I didn’t find it a challenge to identify with him back then. Fortunately or unfortunately, I feel, I have found some semblance of direction in my professional and personal life now. My perspectives have changed (hopefully broadened).  I am hopeful that as and when I am able to draw new cartoons, they will reflect this evolution. May  be Laapataa has evolved too, in the intervening years. May be, he no more looks so cutely lost, which was his USP during his PhD years. We may also see a slight shift in the attention: may be there are other issues than just those of a groggy PhD student which need to be discussed; may be there are characters other than Laapataa who desire and deserve attention.
 
As I said, let’s see!
 
Thank you all once again!

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which SciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Go to Top
%d bloggers like this: