PhD: A challenging academic pursuit
Prerna Singh, 25 Aug 2014


Nothing comes better than Jorge Cham’s famous comic strip, ‘Piled higher and deeper’ or PHD, to get a peek into the roller coaster journey of a PhD scholar. The Stanford research scholar’s effort renders a glimpse into the challenging and enriching experience.


AFTER finishing M.Phil and Master’s, students are expected to be largely aligned with their future career goals. It could span from stepping out of the campus into turning professionals to making campus their home as research scholars. This eggs them on the path of advanced degree, or PhD. A professional will start earning immediately, but a research scholar stays back to live the passion for the subject and the academic life. The journey ends with the coveted prefix of ‘Dr.’ to your name. AruBeri, a Physics Research Scholar at IIT Ropar states the obvious: “The path to accomplish a doctorate degree is full of challenges”.


Amid persistency and consistency underpinning the research route to a PhD degree, every discipline puts forth a unique set of methodologies and approaches to research results. Each stream of work has its distinct narrative to conduct and interpret research; learning to imbibe the right attitude along with aptitude becomes an imperative.

Jeramia PolandJeramia Poland

Research scholar,


ISB, HyderabadThe only advice I follow is that if you want to produce something good, go after an area in which you are more than just intellectually interested. Curiosity is relatively easily satisfied

Motivation to do a PhD

The passion to explore the current knowledge base propels students to build a research-cum-teaching career in an academic set-up. For Tathagata Paul from IISc Bangalore, it was his “average performance in engineering entrance exams” that made him explore options in sciences. “I liked Physics among all the other sciences. So I decided to go for a PhD in Physics. It was kind of a fallback option but I have no regrets about it right now,” he said. 


Prerna Sanga from TISS, Mumbai who is currently working as a social researcher in an MNC says PhD as a degree is being increasingly taken up by working professionals too. “It’s mainly done for enhancing career prospects and strengthening the knowledge in the field of research,” says Sanga who would like to continue in the same or related field.


Career choices

“The career prospects include joining an industry in its market research division, working as a consultant and freelancing as a teacher-cum-consultant and furthering academic publications in the capacity of a Post–doctorate fellow from universities abroad,” elaborates Teidor Lyngdoh, FPM Fellow, IIM Kozhikode. Specialized roles and sectors see varying positions occupied by PhDs from social science, management and science domains. “Finance PhDs are typically either professors or quantitative analysts with banks or hedge funds,” says Jeramia Poland, Research Scholar, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.


“The common trend after PhD is to go for a Post Doc since it is a must for getting faculty positions in most places,” says Tathagata. An impressive Post Doc experience in a renowned institution with publications in reputed journals becomes imperative for an academic career. “There are always opportunities and offers to collaborate with researchers and scientists,” says Aru, whose PhD in X-Ray Astrophysics will enable her to join industries in “new technologies like optics, imaging, thin films etc”.


Apart from private organizations, a number of research roles are on offer by leading government organizations for those with doctorate degrees. 

Aru BeriAru Beri

Physics Research Scholar,


IIT Ropar Well! If we talk about challenges, it is the other name of PhD

The uphill road 

“Doing a PhD course is all about commitment, seriousness and hard work. If completing the course on time is there on the priority list,  students will do the needful to see it through,” says Prerna.


A PhD candidate is expected to have a grip of recent findings and a thorough review of the past literature. “In the beginning, research articles appear to be a black-box. Slowly, one realizes that to understand these papers one has to make an effort of reading a lot of resources like books etc,” elaborates Aru. These challenges inspire candidates to work more diligently towards enriching their knowledge base. “In the process of topic finalization, the guide was really helpful and the trust he bestowed on me spurred me to explore new subject areas and proceed,” Aru said.


The entire research fraternity from lab assistants to post-doctorate fellows can always be reached out for academic as well logistic help. “The faculty is particularly helpful, approachable and open to discussions and feedback,” says Teidor.


The arduous journey enables flexibility with students getting to choose the course and programme guide. But the difficulty is in staying motivated enough on a research topic for a long time. “Research takes a lot of time, mostly spent reading and becoming frustrated over paths of analysis that do not produce the pay-offs you wanted,” explains Jeramia. As a Direct PhD candidate in the programme for working professionals at TISS, Prerna feels the programme offers the “flexibility to work and study at the same time. It may be a lonely process when it comes to the peer level as you are the only working on that topic”. 


Libraries-picPlus factors

Apart from academic learning, PhD lends an opportunity to mange one’s life as a future researcher. The PhD project imbibes skills of time and resource management. The self-learning phase grooms students to live on a tight budget. “When compared with my peers who went in to join engineering and have jobs by now, you will find the reason why so many people stay away from basic sciences. We work almost as much as they do but are paid as little as half of what they get,” says Tathagata.


An FPM fellow, Teidor remembers his two years of coursework with PGP students as rigorous. “With the passing out of PGP batch, you miss the friends you made in your initial years during classes and projects. A feeling of uncertainty looms large over finishing the course on time. Sometimes the feeling of isolation creeps in owing to the nature of the programme that renders limited interaction with students. It is important to have a social life and go on travels to get a break from the rigours of FPM programme,” he says.


Step-by-step learning

The research scholars evolve with every passing stage of PhD programme. Tathagata summarizes research programme in sciences into three stages. “Beginner/Learner; the stage which I am in. You pick up the skills necessary for your work under the guidance of some senior colleague. Stage two belongs to a ‘Researcher’; this is the time when you start publishing and consolidate your position in the field. You take up the role of a ‘Teacher’; the ending part when you teach all the skills you have learned to the juniors of the lab so that they can do their work properly.” Aru says the initial stage students must pass is, “To identify a research problem in an area of interest, specific to one’s field. The major challenge is to find useful data and optimize the way to use that for your work to fulfill one’s desired goal.”

Teidor LyndohTeidor Lyndoh

FPM Fellow,

IIM KozhikodeThis requires a consistent and an in depth understanding in the direction of your research interest. Patience and hard work are the only two things that pay in this field

The Fellow Programme in Management at most IIMs requires students to have a broad understanding of the core management courses before they embark on research work. “The different stages of the FPM programme would be firstly the PGP coursework and FPM coursework, followed by the Pre-thesis and comprehensive examination. The Pre-thesis is a precursor to the future research work. The candidate undertakes a mini research project in preparation for the dissertation he/she undertakes post the comprehensive exams. The fourth stage would be the submission of Proposal and finally the dissertation work which includes public presentations/seminars for evaluation and suggestions at different stages,” explains Teidor.


Every stage offers an opportunity to step out of the comfort zone to try out a new technique to understand the previously learnt concepts better. Communication and networking skills get enhanced during the process. “We are also expected to publish in high ranking journals to and present papers at reputed conferences to maintain the quality of research work,” says Teidor. Communication of research by means of publications in journals is one of the most rewarding phases of a PhD student. Students are encouraged to participate in conferences for poster and paper presentations relevant to their research. “The interactive session with the subject experts is an additional benefit. This exposure plays a big role in shaping your ideas and helps you in doing something marvellous,” explains Aru.


Achieving results

In every stage of living the ‘PhD student life’, senior colleagues pass on words of wisdom to convert challenges to solutions and achieve results. “You should go after an area in which you are more than just intellectually interested.  Curiosity is relatively easily satisfied,” says Jeramia who has a mathematics background. Aru says the students make progress with every phase of the programme with “creative and divergent thinking”. As the relationship that research scholars share with the guide is crucial to staying motivated, Prerna advises that, “If given the option to select your guide, choose a guide whom you think you can work together with for the period of study and that the guide is as passionate about your topic as you are.”


The enthusiasm in research must be through a holistic approach by “learning to juggle between the personality, mind-set and approach of a manager in the making, as well as researcher and academic. As an FPM student, I try to have a mixed approach of both academics and recreational activities with a balanced mind,” concludes Teidor.  

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