Did you know that Google was founded based on the PhD work of Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Stanford University? They invented an algorithm to rank pages automatically, that powered the initial Google search algorithm. In a different context, John Nash introduced the concept of Nash Equilibrium in his PhD thesis. This revolutionised the field of game theory. This is what students do during their PhD — discover new, unsolved questions, and provide better solutions to the existing problems.
Traditionally, universities and research labs such as Microsoft Research, IBM Research and TCS Innovation Labs hired PhDs as faculty and scientists. However, there has been a big change over the recent years. Due to the high impact of new technologies on businesses, companies such as, Amazon, Flipkart and LinkedIn hire computer science PhDs to work in artificial intelligence, software engineering and other areas in India. Biotechnology companies hire science PhDs to work on inventing new drugs. Startups such as Achira Labs, Videoken and Strand Life Sciences also employ PhDs. To compete in the new world driven by innovation, companies in India have now started engaging with these students.
Take your pick
A PhD follows master’s (and sometimes directly after a bachelor’s) and takes four to five years. Generally, one needs to pass the GATE exam to qualify for a PhD in engineering and NET for a PhD in sciences. Institutions such as the IITs, IISERs, IISc and specialised institutions such as CMI, TIFR, IUCAA and ISI offer the country’s most prestigious PhD programs. Students work with faculty advisors who help them navigate a problem, provide training in research methods and ultimately guide in writing research results.
The primary output of a PhD student is research papers that disclose new results. These papers are published and presented at renowned journals and conferences. The premier institutions provide funding to attend at least one and sometimes two international conferences held outside India. This provides an opportunity to present one’s work to the global community, meet and hear from the best minds in their field.
The good news is that you get paid while pursuing a PhD. The typical stipend is about ₹ 25,000-28,000 per month with free accommodation included sometimes. This is on par with what IT services companies pay to freshers. Fellowships are provided by companies such as Microsoft Research and Google. The PM Research Fellowship is available to meritorious students from specific institutions. They provide for additional stipend, travel money and resources.
Jobs after a PhD could be focused on teaching, research or both. One could be writing an algorithm to better the product recommendations at Amazon, finding how diseases are linked to our genetic codes, how to prevent or treat Alzheimer's or discovering faraway stars, planets and galaxies. The salary paid by a premier institution to a beginning assistant professor is around 10 lakh rupees per annum. Salaries at research labs and top companies range anywhere from ₹ 15L-35L. And also, PhD students could also become entrepreneurs to form companies based on their research work.
If you are an inventor or a discoverer, the research career is for you. Are you very curious? Do you like to find new solutions to existing problems? Are you a maker? If any of these are true, you should explore the research career. The way to do so is to expose yourself to technical and scientific papers. Other than searching stuff on Google, start using Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) — this is a directory of research papers. You can search for an algorithm or a circuit introduced in your class here and find out how it first came about, what was used before it and what are new developments. Better still, if you wish to make a project or solve a new problem, you can look here for previous work done in the problem area.
India has a growing demand for researchers. Great researchers are necessary to propel India to the forefront of innovation and compete well with the U.S. and China. It is the career of the 21st century.
The writer is the co-founder of Aspiring Minds and the author of the book, “Leading Science and Technology: India Next?”