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The arduous climb is worth it

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NAGESH PRABHU

Skills, stamina and diplomacy are needed in equal measure to bag a Ph.D.

It is all about the quest for generating knowledge, not learning what already exists. That sums up acquiring a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), the highest degree offered in the world. The aim is to excel in academics and add to the existing body of knowledge.

Ask any person who has achieved it and the first thing you will be told is “the Ph.D. is both a journey and destination.” After understanding that this journey is going to be arduous, a voyage of discovery where you will have to find your own route out of the maze by the trial-and-error method, you must be ready to live the frugal, simple life: there will not be much money coming in, at least not in the beginning.

Students are responsible for determining what topic they are interested in. Work on more than one or two problems (topics), feel your way around them, and get your hands dirty, even if your efforts seem to come to nothing. Just turn them into a couple of papers that can be published in peer-reviewed journals. Don’t get disappointed if they fail to make it to print. This is really the time when one develops the habit of reading other people’s research papers, books and journals. Take your time finalising your topic, trying a few out, and abandoning them is okay. After all, the final choice of topic is what you will be literally, “eating, sleeping” for the next four-five years or so until you get to prefix “Dr.” to your name.

The Ph.D. is conferred by all universities in all subjects in which post-graduate courses are run. Admission is normally open to candidates who obtained more than 55 per cent marks in aggregate in M.A., M.Sc., M.Com, MBA, M.Lib or any other Master’s degree.

Fellowships

The University Grants Commission (UGC), the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), and the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) provide scholarships to students for the Ph.D. programme.

The UGC has initiated the Faculty Improvement Programme to enable teachers in affiliated colleges to improve their professional competence through the award of fellowships to work for a Ph.D.

Various institutes have called for applications for the Ph.D. programme commencing from the 2008-09 academic year. A few of them are:

ISEC

Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore, has invited applications and the last date for submission is May 15.

ISEC will conduct written test on July 15 and interviews on July 16 and 17.

It offers a fellowship of Rs. 6,000 a month for candidates who have qualified in UGC-NET and Rs. 5,000 for others for a period of three years.

Students are eligible for annual contingency grant of Rs. 12,000.

Candidates with Junior Research Fellowships (JRF) are paid as per the UGC norm. The number of seats available is 15.

Working persons can pursue part-time Ph.D. at ISEC. But preference will be given to candidates working in institutions of higher learning. From the 2008-09 academic year, the ISEC has introduced the external Ph.D. programme.

Selection depends on the successful presentation of a research proposal before the faculty and a panel of experts to be constituted by the Director.

NIAS

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, conducting research in areas that bridge the gap between the natural and engineering sciences, social sciences and the arts, has invited applications for the doctoral course and the last date to apply is April 10. A limited number of scholarships is available.

The scholarships are open to those who have completed or are completing a Master’s/M.Phil degree in any relevant subject in engineering, mathematics and social sciences, humanities and the arts with minimum 55 per cent marks.

Candidates who passed the NET/SET tests or qualified for JRF/ICSSR/CSIR fellowships will be preferred.

Those admitted will be entitled to fellowships for three years. The amount is fixed at Rs. 12,000 a month for the first two years and Rs. 14,000 a month for the third year, with additional 30 per cent a month as House Rent Allowance.

CDS

Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, has invited applications for M. Phil and doctoral programmes. The last date for submission of applications is May 19. Students of economics, social sciences, humanities, law and life sciences can apply.

Candidates selected for M. Phil will be eligible for a fellowship of Rs. 3,000 a month and those selected for Ph.D., Rs. 6,000.

Environment

The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a Bangalore-based research NGO, has invited applications for admission to its doctoral research programme in Conservation Science for the academic year starting in June 2008. The Ph.D. degree is offered through Manipal University.

The candidate must have a Master’s degree in science and humanities and must have qualified in the entrance exams conducted by UGC-CSIR, GATE or have an M. Phil or have published at least one peer-reviewed paper. Candidates are eligible for fellowship of Rs. 12,000 a month.

A limited number of seats is available. There is no entrance test. The application should be submitted by April 21.

Science

Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, has invited applications for the Ph. D. course. Candidates holding M.Sc. degree and interested in cognitive and pedagogic studies, mathematics, technology education, socio-cultural and gender issues in science can apply.

Deadline for application submission is April 15, written test is on May 25 and interview in the third week of June. Monthly scholarship is available.

African Studies

African Studies Association (ASA) of India, New Delhi, has invited applications for the Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship from Indian scholars, registered for Ph.D. in Indian universities, to work on South African issues. The last date for submission of applications is March 31.

Rapport

It is important to establish early rapport with the professor who is going to be your guide. It is very difficult to even get admission into a Ph.D. programme if your start off with the guide on a wrong note. He/she is likely to end up constantly cancelling out your efforts and disparaging your work.

Students must keep in regular touch with the supervisor.

Research proposal

The candidate has to submit a research proposal on the topic, explaining its relevance, scope, objectives and methodology. The proposal is normally about 20 pages. During the Ph.D. course, some universities consider the half-yearly progress reports of candidates received through the head of the departments.

The general rule is that if the candidates fail to submit the thesis within a stipulated period (normally five years and extended by one or two years), the registration is cancelled.

In some institutes, after passing the pre-Ph.D. course, candidates should pursue full-time research for a period of not less than two years and not more than five years.

The most gruelling part of the Ph.D. studies will be writing the thesis. You will write, and re-write things over and over and over again. This takes time, a few months at least. “How and when to finish” and “what to do next” are questions that will crop up all the time. If you do not have good rapport with the supervisor, one fine day he will say, “Enough! Write your thesis and get out now.” However, the universities constitute doctoral committees for the purpose of directing the research.

Evaluation

There is an annual progress seminar (APS) where the doctoral committee evaluates the performance, and whether he or she can continue with the studies.

The last APS is a pre-synopsis where you present your entire thesis and major findings.

The pre-synopsis is like an internal defence. “Once you clear this you can submit your thesis” says a professor who guided several Ph.Ds. Once the thesis is submitted, the Fellow can start working. “You unofficially are a Ph.D.”

The Board of Studies of the department concerned in the university selects the panel of examiners for evaluation of the thesis. The examiners will forward to the chairman of the evaluation committee individual reports on the thesis, merits and demerits of the thesis and on the fitness of the thesis for the award of the degree.

A viva voce will be conducted after receiving favourable reports from all the examiners.

Many look for jobs during pre-synopsis or thesis writing.

There are opportunities in institutes and NGOs. Then there are academic positions in universities, institutes and colleges in India and abroad.


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