Friday, January 27, 2012

Just one more postdoc

I was talking to a former student (he was not my Ph.D student, but he was a student of my colleague) about his search for faculty position. He has completed three years of post doc in engineering and has now got a faculty position in what he calls a "second tier" IIT. He feels that if he does one more post doc in USA, he will get into that "first tier" IIT. I see many students, including some of my own former students, get into illusion that they will get this "dream" job if they do one more postdoc.

The following advice is apt,

The reality is that after 4-5 years of undergraduate, and 4-6 years of Ph.D. you've painted a pretty good picture of yourself. A few years of post-doc might help you gain some new skills, but that isn't going to make or break your career. Neither is that "just one more paper" going to make all the difference. Instead, people need to put the same effort into looking for a job as they do in doing research. The results might be a lot better.

There are still others who do not apply for these jobs thinking their resume is incomplete, whether they are worth applying and if they have to do one more postdoc. The best is to apply,

Because we all know that hiring is stochastic--that elusive "fit" you mentioned and variability in other candidates--it's probably a better strategy to start applying before we think we might be the ideal candidate. And with our minds' powers to reduce cognitive dissonance, we might just start convincing ourselves that we completely deserve what we're going after. I just stumbled on this thread, which I find pretty reassuring and hilarious.
I would think that the chances of getting a faculty position actually decreases after the third year of postdoc in engineering (sixth year in sciences). It could be also due my conservativeness to think that one should have a permanent (there is no other job which is more permanent and non-transferable than a government academic position) job rather than a temporary post doctoral position.


Anonymous said...

Couple of years of Post Doc sometimes is thought to be good since it allows the new phd time to think and shape his own research ideas. Sometimes its a severe bottleneck that a few faculties who have been very good during their PhD days completely find themselves out of water when they are standing alone and when they need to frame and execute their own research distinct from their advisors. Two years of post doc and a conscious effort may actually help in that respect.
I remember that when I joined as a tenure track faculty in USA right after PhD, I was a little immatured and told my advisor that we should conitnue writing good papers and proposals and have a vibrant collaboration. His one word was "NO". He said later that he wants me to stand on my own feet and suggested that I cut the umbilical cord with him right there. I followed his advise and it turned out to be great. Even after joining IISC from US i find that advise golden and applicable to everyone.
So bottomline is developing your own research and sometimes post doc experience can help. But one has to make an effort.

Faculty in IISc

Anonymous said...

He is not talking about the first post doc. He is talking about another post doc after three years of post doc.

Anonymous said...

I must say I find this truly depressing if "The reality is that after 4-5 years of undergraduate, and 4-6 years of Ph.D. you've painted a pretty good picture of yourself". The world couldn't get more fatalistic. I so hope you don't mean that people can't grow or can become better thinkers over time. In my area one good paper can change a whole career.

Now I understand why things may not be so great in hiring in our institutions. I personally saw seniors gushing over new candidates for their stellar performance at UG level and completely ignore no-show at research level. I am constantly surprised by such an evaluation but now that you spelled it out, I am convinced that this view is probably widespread. Seems like two worlds in academia.

But this is no criticism of your post as a whole.. the thread you link to is funny and the advice is well taken. Thanks for a wonderful and candid post as usually found in this blog!


Anonymous said...

He is talking about a job after six years of post doc. In search of an elusive paper, post doc work for 10-12 years and land up nowhere.

Giri@iisc said...


The place and performance of the undergraduation is extremely important during recruitment at the professor level.

The only reason that the JEE rank is not etched in the graves of the faculty is because most of them are cremated.


Anonymous said...

> I personally saw seniors gushing over new > candidates for their stellar performance at UG level > and completely ignore no-show at research level. I > am constantly surprised by such an evaluation but > now that you spelled it out, I am convinced that this > view is probably widespread.

There are some enlightened department heads who do not hold such archaic views. In my department (at an old IIT), the HOD led an initiative to recruit one of our own undergraduates who was at the bottom of his class but later went on to do some top-notch research during his PhD and post-doc.

Anonymous said...

That does not cut ice. The person at the bottom of the class in IIT has still passed JEE. In view of many, anyone who has passed JEE is better than anyone who has not. So your department head may not be as enlightened as you think.

If you really want to show a counterexample, show someone who was the bottom of the class of his undergraduate class in a private engineering college, went on to do a good ph.d and was recruited as a faculty in IISc. You will find none, though there are many such applicants.

Anonymous said...

Last year, I met two young guys at a conference - both with undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering from private engineering colleges I have never heard of before! Both of them did short stints in industry followed by MTech and PhD at US Univs. One of these guys obtained a faculty position at a metro IIT while the other guy bagged a tenure-track position in a top-20 US Univ. Needless to say, both these guys are damn good at what they do and they appear to be doing very well in spite of the lack of an IIT undergraduate degree.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be two threads to this discussion: should one go for yet another postdoc, and should one have an IIT undergraduate degree, to be successful in academia in India?

I can tell you from my own experience that I have an undergraduate degree from an IIT, a PhD from a tier-1 US university, and no postdoctoral experience. I have a lot of papers and patents, which came from working in the industry. During my interview, I felt that IISc bent over backwards to hire me, and a few (tier-1) IIT professors on my selection committee were trying to hire me for their IITs, while still interviewing me for a position at IISc!

Do I think my IIT degree helped? Perhaps. Do I think the lack of postdoctoral experience hurt? Of course not!

People may tell you otherwise, but I think a good industrial position after your Ph.D., where an environment exists for patenting and publishing, is orders of magnitude better than a postdoc, or two. But I think this is only true for engineering.


Anonymous said...

@ Anon at January 28, 2012 2:54 AM:

That's such a silly and unacceptable reason you just wrote. Of course there are extremely good researchers with undergrads from totally unknown places in India, and MS from an OK-kindaa US school, followed by a PhD at a good US school..they do not go back to IISC/IIT because they get lucrative and competitive positions here in USA...I mean, if you get $ 140k/annum immediately after passing out PhD, why would one, in general, join IISc/IIT to get a pay ten times less (with no post doc experience) ?....

And I do know such people, whose fundamentals as well as research profile are in no way less than an IIT-ain with a PhD in US... did I tell you Nobel Laureate Venkatraman FAILED to clear JEE, way back in 70s?


Anonymous said...

Going by the argument here, Bhatnagar award in Engineering Sciences should be reserved for JEE topper. It should be given to him, 25 years after his passing out.

Being a good student, being a good researcher, being a good teacher and above all being a good human being. all these traits are unrelated. How can you guarantee that one will be a good researcher simply because one has cleared JEE? By the arguements here, DST should start giving his INSPIRE fellowship to those who are doing coaching classes in KOTA.


Digbijoy Nath said...

I think if one's research specialization is in area A, and plans to continue in the same are after becoming faculty, then, if he/she feels confident on his depth in his PhD, then post doc is probably not so helpful, since further study in the same area A would make him/her feel saturated and a waste of time. However, if he/she wishes to expand to other areas B/C/etc., then a post-doc in the relevant field is very helpful. Now, gauging one's confidence in one's depth of his/her area would depend on how well his/her advisor grooms him/her, makes him/her a leading expert in that field, etc. ... Just my opinion.


Anonymous said...

so the rule for recruitment at most IIX's is that one must have an undergraduate IIT degree, irrespective of how competent he/she is in research/fundamentals, etc?

or in other words those who have(/do not have) an undergraduate IIT degree are(/are not) good researchers.

as a poster above put it, maybe these fellowship must be reserved 20odd years after one passes out of an IIT with an undergrad.

archaic notions/philosophies in public display yet again from faculty at IISc/IIT. according to most of these profs one cannot grow intellectually after giving a JEE exam at the age of 17. :-|

Anonymous said...

Prof. Giri,

Your UG degree is from a non-IIT. Yet you now have the highest h-index amongst the engineering faculty at IISc.
Doesn't your own example argue that a fair chance must be given to students not having an IIT UG education?
Don't you think this bias for IIT undergrads risks missing potential gems?
And we keep hearing about "deadwood" in IIX. Seeing as how IIX hire the "best" UG degree holders(i.e IITians),we may argue that some of these IITians end up as deadwood.
So what is the logic in saying that "place and performance of UG matters" if some of the "best" candidates end up as deadwood?

Vimal Mishra said...

This discussion is baseless and should be stopped.

Anonymous said...

giri may have the highest h-index among engineering faculty in india but that is not the point. he is correct in saying that many selection committee members feel that iit undergrad is important. In his comment, he is certainly sarcastic by mentioning that the professors will have their jee ranks in their tombstones and certainly does not support recruitment based on undergrad. his blog post only mentions about one more postdoc and not about undergrad

iisc fac

Anonymous said...

anon: i do not agree. just because Prof.Madras has the highest h-index among engineering faculty in India or that he has 5000 citations do not make him an above average researcher. Academic excellence is more important.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon @ 11:55 PM,

And how do you measure "Academic Excellence"?

Prof. TA

Anonymous said...

I thought Prof. D. D. Sharma in IISc has higher h-index (=48) than Prof. Madras ?.... you can check in web of science

iitmsriram said...

This whole thread is getting heated up just because Prof. Giri chose not to put a :-) on his post, assuming that the sarcasm would be apparent. Prof. Giri serves on selection committees and has seen enough of these first hand to comment.

Anonymous said...

ddsarma is in science. Prof. Madras has the highest h0index among engineering faculty in IISc and most likely in India.

Anonymous said...

apologies to prof giri.

kindly add a :-) when you post sarcastic comments so that us numskulls can figure things out :(

Anonymous said...

I have a B. Tech from a never heard of engineering college, but I did my masters from an IIT. After which, I have worked in industry for a year. Then I got my PhD from a good North American University. I have 2 years of post doctoral experience. I got a faculty position in one of the metro IITs. I hope this information helps.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

So many comments, but it is still a pointless thread.

gautam said...

Oh why this, why this metro IIX di? Guwahati pretty pretty; place is classy classy; IIT degree no need, no need; why not IITG IITG di?
Selection is a fairly subjective process as barely 30 minutes are there to decide whether the publication record matches ability of not. So biases do creep in : class X and XII marks, UG from where? PhD from where? This is but natural. But we have to recognise talent without the help of these crutches. And the ability to do this is what distinguishes the "men from the boys" :-).

Digbijoy Nath said...

Dear Prof. Barua, your last post was really catchy :-)....I must appreciate your sense of humour ....I guess apart from the nightmarish traffic, Guwahati is not a bad place to settle down.


Anonymous said...

OK, I see why are people coming so strongly on this particular post. Over an issue of "undergrad from an IIT", which was not at all what was raised by Prof Madras, people are not refraining to show their arrogance. The reason is as simple as this. In the recent times, the selection committees have indeed shown generosity and now one can fine a lot of non-IIT undergrads as faculty at IITs. After getting into an IIT as a faculty, such people are not able to stand this proposition that IIT undergrads are indeed few best brains in India. No matter what argument they put forward, it was their failure to get into an IIT and they landed up in other places. The comments in the blog are just a demonstration of their frustration and nothing else. To such people I would say, "buck-up" and realize.

-- A "non-IIT'ian" faculty at a "Metro-IIT"

vergere6 said...

Ad Hominem attack, much?

Anonymous said...

Prof. TA:

Academic excellence is defined by the quality of mind, not by number of publications, citations and h-index.

My contention is that Prof. Madras has the latter but not the former. This is exemplified by his lack of success in JEE.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous [January 31, 2012 9:28 PM]:

Making a general claim (which can never be proved), and hence, drawing a specific conclusion (about any person, in particular, Prof. Giri) in a forum like this is totally childish.

I have never seen fights like this in the United States, there is no MIT vs Berkeley vs Harvard vs Yale vs ... and more importantly, this line of thread digresses away from the topic!

Ankur Kulkarni said...

@Anon January 31, 2012 9:28 PM

LOL! You are really funny! Keep them coming!

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Being an IITian myself, here are just a couple of thoughts: the most embarrassing kind of IITian to have around is the one who clings on to his IIT entrance endeavors and his JEE rank years after the event has passed. The most socially useless IITian is one for whom clearing the JEE remains his biggest achievement in life.

Anonymous said...

Anon@ January 31, 2012 9:28 PM

You are really funny and childish.

Prof. TA

Anonymous said...

Nevertheless, I feel that the recruitment process in IITs and IISc needs to be streamlined. I have come to know that to put forward your application, there should be someone known to you in these institutes to pursue this for the interview to happen. Even in my case, I do not know anyone but still waiting for an acknowledgement after applying to IISc three months ago. I agree that there could be a lot of applications, But still there is no right for an IISc or IIT to keep the candidate in the dark for not graduating in an IIT. If this is the case then Indian institutes will lose some key researchers and the outcry of the Prime minister that India should excel in research will not be valid !

SMukhopadhyay said...

For some time I was wondering about the weightage of relevant industrial experience after MTech in the selection process for academic appointment in India. After reading this post and comments I think I can delete a large section from my academic CV.

Will it be right in concluding that for getting into an IIX an undergrad degree from a IIT is all that matters? If so is the case, then I don’t mind it, if the IIXs put it in their advertisement and stop making fool of the candidates who do not satisfy this criteria. This will save - time, effort and not to mention the grief of failure.
And any pointers for the smart entry?

A PhD Student
Academic Aspirant

Anonymous said...

@ January 31, 2012 5:55 PM

very good point. let us bar entry to those people who do not have an undergraduate IIT degree for faculty positions. in this way we can "filter out" the 'not so good' researchers. let us also kick out those faculty who do not have an undergradute IIT degree, even if this means kicking out good researchers like prof giridhar madras who have contributed much to science in india.

as the person above put it, let the selection committee make this point(having an undergrad IIT degree) clear, and thereby save much of time and effort for aspiring candidates.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree to this point and it reduces a huge amount of work to the committee, Faculty etc., Then they can make their own IIT selection process, IIT or IISc
may do very good research , but this will not deter research calibre in institutions like BARC, CAT, RRI etc.
we will see in future how IITians alone can do good research in INDIA

Giri@iisc said...

I am closing comments on this thread because it is leading nowhere except for personal insults. I do not understand where my h-index and quality of mind has anything to do the post: whether it is worth doing multiple postdocs.

I never remarked that IIT undergrad is required or not required for getting a faculty position.

Research capability is usually judged based on the research done by the candidate. While the place of undergraduation, postgraduation etc, ranks in JEE, GATE etc play a role, the deciding criteria is always the research performance and the requirement of the specific department in that area of research.

I thought this is amply clear by my various other posts. Many of my colleagues and all my students who are faculty in IITs did not do their undergrad in IIT.

@Anon January 31, 2012 9:28 PM and Anons on Feb 1:
You can still post your comments again in the other thread on faculty positions.

Anyway, the thread is closed.