Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

Pursuing CS/IT Research Individually - Ph.D. Possibility?

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Pursuing CS/IT Research Individually - Ph.D. Possibility?

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Extracts, edited appropriately for general viewing, from a mail exchange I had with friends on my advise/views on pursuing CS/IT research individually & industry-research-job possibilities are given below.

I have to preface the extracts by clarifying that I have never been a Ph.D. scholar - just observed and interacted with some Ph.D. scholars over 8 to 9 years. I also need to state that I personally am utterly disinterested in pursuing a Ph.D. or doing academic CS/IT research.

But that does not mean that I do not respect researchers! I certainly respect their endeavour to push the boundaries of knowledge in their chosen fields. Their life their choice. However CS/IT research does not appeal to me. What appeals to me is applying established technology to provide working software solutions that help society - a technologist's view perhaps as against a researcher's view. My life my choice. Both technologists and researchers are needed in society.

---- Start Extract of mail Eklavya Sai sent to a friend ---

I think a smart guy like you can definitely get a research job. During my days IFIRC some places like ---snip--- used to offer research jobs along with a chance to pursue Ph.D.

I don't know whether you have a feel of the CS 'research' picture. Thought I can share my exposure to it even if you know about such things already.

A few years ago while I was at ---snip---, I was forced to keep aside my scriptural study/research during the holidays and review the remarks we got for an IEEE conference paper on Web Services Security for which a student I guided and me were the main authors. The paper was accepted in the conference provided we make the appropriate modifications. I did not have a choice as the student was not in a position to go through the remarks and the papers the remarks referred to.

Grudgingly I read those papers :-) A couple of them IFIRC turned out to be from ---Major IT consultancy company--- R&D!!! One of them was from a Ph.D. scholar in ---Major IT consultancy company--- R&D. That was very good exposure to me about possibilities of Ph.D. in applied research areas like Web Services Security and how research in such areas are encouraged by even a 'software consultancy services' company like ---Major IT consultancy company---. I mean, it was clear to me that pushing the envelope in a relatively new area like Web Services security was a not-so-difficult path to publishing conference and journal papers. And that, if I wanted to, I could, without too much intellectual challenge difficulty, pursue a Ph.D. in such "Applied Research" areas.

Though I am not familiar with the Industrial R&D picture in CS research in the country, I am quite sure you may not only get an industry research job but also be able to do a Ph.D. while at it. The issue may be that you need to choose an area that is relevant for industry. Pure research into, say, Design & Analysis of Algorithms may not find takers in India.

Another point I wanted to share just in case you are not aware is how a Ph.D. thesis is evaluated. --- snip --- for CS area seems to be one well-recognised international journal publication or a couple or more not-so-well-recognised international journal publications. The thinking seems to be that if the guy could publish in a reputed journal then he has been vetted well enough by those guys and deserves the Ph.D.

Of course there are the rules and regulations and the Ph.D. defense, but I get the impression that if you go through the experience of one reputed journal publication you can handle the rest of the stuff.

So if you want to explore research I suggest you get some feel of reputed journals in your interest areas (maybe mobile-ipad computing/usability). If you like it then you can start your 'research work' in your spare time even before you get a research job/register for a Ph.D.

Interestingly AICTE/UGC have norms of certain number of journal paper publications, with an appropriate impact factor, in a particular area being considered equivalent to a Ph.D. Anybody can send a paper to a journal for publication. They, of course, can reject it. So you are free to publish in journals even outside a Ph.D. program and if you publish a few papers you may even be considered Ph.D. equivalent!!

--- End Extract ---

--- Extract (edited) from mail exchange with another friend on the above ---

Friend wrote:

The advice sounded fair. However, few 'non-functional' parameters to complement your advice.

1. Doing a PhD in India is not really a job, unlike in many other countries - a prospective student may want to remember this since he may have an incomplete picture based on his friends doing PhDs elsewhere.

2. My personal experience with Industrial PhDs in India: very few, very far apart; highly elitist. Scope for publishing in journals and conferences is all the more difficult due to IP considerations. Can consider job opportunities in Industrial PhD to be under .01% (probably a baseless statistic, but stated only to make a point).

Eklavya Sai responded: Thanks for mentioning the VITAL IP point. I forgot to mention it in my mail. Of course, the IP angle and the profit-making angle will present problems for industrial researchers to publish all their research work freely in a public journal. I mean, no company will want their research work to be used by its competition to improve their (competition's) products and use those improved products to cream the company that did the research!!

3. PhD in many Indian institutes entails menial jobs for the supervising professor (feedback from a friend doing his PhD in --- leading Indian science research university ---, under an established professor). And the time to graduation is very very long: supposedly, over 5 years - which is a lot more than in the US, where one would graduate with 99% probability in 5 years time.

4. It means having a very very very good rapport with the professor, during the entire time. Granting the PhD is usually entirely at the behest of the professor, and little outside of his word matters - feedback from friends in India doing PhDs at --- leading Indian science research university ---.

Eklavya Sai responded: 

Noted the very very very! The absolute & totalitarian control that the Ph.D. supervisor has over his research-scholar-students is really scary!!! I mean, if a naive research scholar ends up doing his Ph.D. work under a manipulative Ph.D. supervisor - that's it - his/her life will be misery, man - completion of Ph.D. will then be like release from bondage!!!

But I must also say that, as a disinterested observer, overall I have seen excellent relationships between Ph.D. supervisors and their research-scholar-students. It is almost like a father-son relationship at times.

5. Yes - depending on the topic of research, India may or may not be an ideal place for research.

6. It means a ton of possibly frustrating days/months with very uncertain days - one does not know when one can get a publishable result - can be a mental drain. And, the meager pay can add to the mental weight.

Eklavya Sai responded: 

Oh yes, man - I understand. And for a guy who was making tons of money in industry before he switched to do academic Ph.D. research the mental-drain-meager-pay-pinch can be acutely painful!

7. Many times, one needs the weight (name) of a well known professor to even get your work to be taken seriously - so working by yourself and attempting to publish papers could be a challenge. Also, most conferences have prohibitively high fees, creating yet another (possibly artificial) barrier to entry for an unaffiliated and un-funded individual - this is more the norm, not a hard fact.

Eklavya Sai responded: 
Ah! That may be the killer for unaffiliated and un-funded individual research. I mean the bar for an unknown individual trying to publish a paper on his/her own must be very high. The content would have to be really brilliant and eye-catching for it to get the publication nod.

--- End extract ---

Friend final response:
You said that you've seen the relationship between the supervisor and student to be near father-son at times. True, but in India, it is just 'at times' I am told!

Friday, September 23, 2011

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