Life@Pre and Post APS

“I’m going to the temple for special puja, don’t worry, your APS will go well”, Minu/Ganesh’s mom informed her/him over phone on the morning of the APS day. Minu/Ganesh did well in the APS and is quite motivated now for her/his future research. It was just like a war of survival for her/him, has to win at any cost. That was a single isolated case out of some hundreds of PhD candidates/Research Scholars in every semester. Not all are that lucky or happy like Minu/Ganesh (interestingly some people around her/him are not that happy to see her/him in happiness 😦 ). Some are de-motivated, some are frustrated and some are happy after their APS. The peer-effect rules in some cases. Does not matter whether the APS was good or bad, it is certainly a party time for all of us. Time to celebrate after one year’s re-search and hard (!!??) work 🙂

Lots of discussion/gossiping happens in the Mess/Canteen Table over tea/break-fast/dinner/lunch (some time) on various topics related to APS. “My RPC members stripped me off in front of all, my guide asked most of the questions, the panel was just another nightmare for me…” are a few of the statements one can hear during the post APS gossiping/discussions. Most of the discussions are on the next step of APS; like when to go for pre-syn, some discussions are meant to be critiques; “he/she should have answered to a particular query in this way or that” or some queries in general, etc. Activities of life suddenly changes after APS – from extra-busyness to idleness (not for all). “Arre, bahut kaam kaiya, thoda to rest le le…”, “I need a break”, are the usual time pass statements and official excuses 🙂

For most of the people, the APS fever starts 2/3 months before the deadline. “What to present?”, “how to defend?” are the main concerns. Writing a report both in quantity (in terms of number of pages !!) and quality are very important. Some people are fascinated with the number of pages which creates panic buttons among their peers. In most of the cases reports are written at the last moment – at the eleventh hour. Few of them submit in time and most of them submit at the last moment (A few even submit just before the presentation). In many cases, reports are submitted as a matter of formality since it is required to be submitted; not complete in any respect neither by the student nor even glanced through by the guide(s) and the pannel members. Guide(s) as well as the panel members usually give their suggestions/comments on the report while going through it during the presentation. Some of the comments/suggestions are critical for the improvement and some are personal.

For those who have published many papers and are regular throughout the year – APS fever is not that high for them; for others the temperature is very high. Some times APS fever affects the brain resulting in depression and psychiatric problems. Suddenly life become very busy, even don’t have time to receive a call. Missing lunches/dinners are very common (of course eating Pizzas and visiting Gulmohar/Laxmi increases). Activities in the Labs get increased in many fold (if you want to get hold of some one in the APS season, then you should visit his/her lab post dinner 🙂 ), night-outs become regular events, serious(!) discussions with guide(s) become a part of daily routine, queues at the Xerox/Photocopy shops become unbounded 🙂 Getting ready for the APS day!

The most important and crucial time is the presentation time on the APS day. Some get bowled, some score six, some are cut-behind and some score a couple. Guide(s) usually help his/her student during the presentation. In most of the cases they give hints to the queries raised by the panel members and clarify a lot of issues. But, in some cases they just come in an attacking mood and instead of helping the student, they create most of the problems. Like discouraging the student at the time of presentation, asking some vague questions, raising doubts on some technical issues, finding faults with the method of work, etc.; as if venting out their frustrations on the student and become personal 😦 . Some time the panel members come in the rescue mode and step into the fight between the student and the guide. As the outcome of the presentation “a few get extension and repeat APS and most of them get go ahead signal”. Some cry, some defend and some accept with a pinch of salt.

Though in the ideal case both the student and guide(s) are responsible for the outcome of the APS, student gets the banging often. Of-course in some cases students are responsible for the poor performance, but it is not true in all. As usual guide(s) are very busy with so many activities, both in professional and personal fronts. It is obvious that they do not have that much time to spend like the student on a particular topic. But, the amount of experience and maturity level they have must be of use for the benefit of the students (which does not happen). In some cases they hardly spend time with their students on technical matters. But, that is not an excuse for the student. It is the student’s PhD and he/she is fully responsible for that; starting from choosing the guide and topic to publishing papers and defending the thesis.

Life goes on; in a different way for some days after APS, then one gets used to it and the (fear of ) preparation for next APS or Pre-syn starts. The thick (thin?) line between pre- and post-APS disappears and the joy/eagerness to complete (!) PhD increases.

aamjunta… how is your life in the pre- and post- APS? Must be enjoying 🙂 Do share.

PS: This article is dedicated to all Research Scholars of IIT Bombay. For the benefit of the reader, APS stands for Annual Progress Seminar. It is an annual event and each Research Scholar (PhD Candidate) has to appear for the APS once in a year. Monthly scholarship/fellowship gets renewed only after the successful completion of the APS. Similar activities can be observed in MTP/DDP/BTP presentations also.

And at the End of the Day …

Yes this is the end of the day…. uploading this article that I promised at the beginning of the day 🙂

Couple of days back we had our Valfi (Valedictory Function). The function was great, attended by many dignitaries. But, the response we got from people for whom the function was arranged was pale. Hardly 50% of the number expected turned up for the event, even though repeated reminder emails were sent and some had even confirmed through emails that they will attend. And the time sense … 😦 , better not to discuss. Neither I am cribbing here about the attitude of people in general, nor I’m worried about their responses. I’m just reflecting upon a general trend which I have experienced for the past one year or so.

The trend I observed was quite interesting, and some times frustrating though! For instance, some of the feedback we got from people during valfi were quite interesting, “no comments” every where, and in some, “this is bad, that is bad and so on”. In most of the cases, the feedback we got, from people for whom we did so much was frustrating as most of them were ignorant about their own state and environment. The other interesting fact I experienced is people’s attitude about achievements. Many are always crazy about what others’ achieve not about what they themselves achieve or should achieve. They are curious and critical about why some one else got an award, but don’t reflect about why they did or did not get that award. I don’t find the statement, “I envy nobody, nobody envies me” true any more; instead it has changed to “I envy nobody, but somebody envies me”, true most of the times. Should I say this as “Leg pulling”? It is just the de-construction of construction 🙂 .

The other instance is IITBGeneral. One can witness infinite number of emails on silly things and even out of context discussions, without a single point of implementation or action. I’m not against the discussion in IITBGeneral — what worries me is some thing different. People have enough time to crib through emails, because that is free. They spend hours and hours on discussing and cribbing that happened this didn’t happen or that didn’t happen; but will not spend a moment reflecting what good has been done for them or how things can be actually improved from the point of “non-happening” in the real sense. One will hardly find any one physically if he/she wants some thing to be done. Their concerns are just confined to emails and discussions in news groups, but how does discussions help the “common man”? I still have not been able to figure out in my 6 yrs of IITB life. That reminds me the famous “Armchair Agriculture” of the writer RK Narayan.

There is a wide gap between action and intention. When the fellowship hike came into light we were bombarded with emails — “when will it be hiked?, “what is the amount?”, “when will it get implemented?”, “it has already got implemented in such and such place” and so on. Fortunately or unfortunately, I hardly got any mail after the scheme got implemented. Fortunately, because my mailbox didn’t get spammed 🙂 , unfortunately, because it shows the selfishness and ignorance in the same aam junta. They want their things to be done but don’t want to contribute a pie to the process. Then why would some one else do for them? – that is the big question!

One more interesting thing one must have experienced during his/her research career is the thesis submission and its duration. It is the most disturbing and irritating moment for a research scholar, when he/she is pellted with the questions like, “when are you completing?” , “how many years left?”, “how long have you taken?”, etc. It is more frustrating when a fellow research scholar quizzes these things, not to know earnestly as to what have you done or how are you placed? Rather to show what he/she is up to. Some are crazy about finishing things quickly and leave. But, that should be personal, not generally expressed. In my opinion, PhD is not a time bound process. It should not be valued in terms of years, rather should be valued in terms of quality and quantity of work. One has to realize that the quality of things one learnt in the process is important. PhD should not be treated as a set point, rather should be treated as a journey; if one spends his/her hard work he will definitely reach at a point, where he/she can philosophize — and a PhD degree of course. Saying that, neither I am undermining and nor am I de-emphasizing the time frame set by an institute to complete a PhD. It should be followed, but with a positive spirit, not to put unnecessary peer pressure to just complete rather than one should aim to complete qualitatively. One of my Professors at IIT Bombay used to ask, Have you done a good literature survey? – if you are a first-yearite, do you have a problem at your hand? – if you are a second yearite, how are you doing? – if you are a third yearite, and how is life? – if you have crossed the 4years limit 🙂

Yes, let me ask – how is life my friends? Must be enjoying. Keep doing and complete as soon as possible. Remember, It is your PhD, and at the end of your PhD, it is the quantity and quality of work that matters, the quality of understanding in your respective disciplines that matters, which will sail you through the rest of your life. One should remember, we all are fellow Research Scholars and we will get PhDs from our respective departments, from our respective streams earlier or later and at the end of our tenures. So treat your peers as fellow research scholars, not as any superior or inferior.

And at the End of The Day — we all are fellow human beings who are made of flesh and blood and should have some respect and concern for another human being.

Aamjunta kya khayal hai?

This article is dedicated to all my fellow research scholars of IITs and any other universities.

PhD or Marriage — aamjunta decide first!

“So, when are you giving the treat”? I asked Bhim. “No Sir, I’m not the lucky man, the girl got married last week to a Software Engineer”, Bhim replied. “What !!” I couldn’t say anything more, had no words to console.

We changed the topic, discussed something else. In the entire conversation, I was uncomfortable. Bhim finally narrated his story…. The girl’s father found some Software Engineer (professional) who had 2 or 3 foreign visits in his CV, a high CTC and a flat in Mumbai (of course on Loan !) and fixed her wedding with him, without bothering about the commitment he had given to Bhim and his family. Bhim was merely a PhD for the girl’s father and was not a Software Professional — this was the clarification that he (Bhim) got from the girl’s side. Bhim was heart broken, he was in touch with the girl for almost 8 months 😦 and now he had to move ahead in life alone.

This is not the only story, this is a story (fact) among many other such stories. I asked myself, thought for some time, tried to analyze all the success and failures in marriages of some of the people who were doing or had completed PhD around me. I could not see the value of a PhD at least in Marriage Bazaar. Be it girls doing PhD or boys, the issue rounds up to “what /how much are you earning and how many times you have gone abroad”? In Marriage Bazaar, money and jobs have high bidding value than the intellect or degrees. This is a “Pan-India” phenomena cutting across caste and cultures. In a slightly similar case, Nakul, another PhD-ridden fellow could not get a girl to marry even though he visited some 15 would-be brides, registered in all leading matrimonial sites and spent around 2 months keeping his Post Doc on hold. Every girl he met and liked, rejected him on the grounds that he does not have a job. No one understood what Post Doc in a leading university abroad meant.

Even with a good job after PhD, getting a suitable girl or boy is difficult. For instance, Sahadev was forced to marry a girl with an age difference of 15 years even though he was well placed in a University as a Professor. Not only a visible age difference, there was a huge educational difference in his case. The reason- same, Professors do not earn as much as Engineers /Doctors earn.

Marriage during PhD is also a tough bargain. Even if some one finds a girl and gets married, he might find his marriage a costly affair, not only because of the commitment towards PhD and work load, but also due to his commitment towards his newly wed. First his guide, then finance and then his domestic affair… every thing demands equal or more attention. If he gets a marital accommodation in the campus, it is somewhat relieving, because one can hardly afford a rented house outside the campus with a meagre private or institute fellowship. You are lucky, if your sweet-heart is understanding and your guide is cooperating… you might enjoy your penury.

Work pressure is not the only thing that affects, peer pressure too has a high impact. Suni (also Manu) was constantly dogged by her (his) PhD mates that she (he) did not have a boyfriend /husband (girlfriend). Many of her (his) friends were engaged. In desperation Suni (Manu) made a wrong choice and proposed, only to be rejected: “I don’t see you as my long term companion, we can be friends 😦 “. Manu got into some sorts of alternative involvement (like alcohol) and Suni became depressive.

Doing a PhD after marriage is also full of risks. Taking the decision to join PhD when you already have a family is the toughest. The reason being- you have to convince your spouse, family and kids for the 4 or 5 years commitment. It is a calculated risk to be taken care of. I still remember Arjun’s wife jokingly but firmly asking Arjun to sign the divorce papers, when he proposed to go for a PhD after his MTech some 4 years back.

It is not just men who suffer, the girls have no better luck. A girl doing PhD is both misunderstood as well as over-qualified in the Marriage Bazaar. Misunderstood, because, she has chosen the untrodden path, which is time consuming and requires more commitment than domestic affairs. Over-qualified in the sense, that very few men choose to marry someone having higher qualification than themselves and even qualifications at par. Even if the girls marry during PhD, then the strain between domestic and professional pressures becomes so high, that it can disturb the marital bliss.

Having said all that, the world still goes on with hope and hit and trials. “Aap bhi free, mein bhi free… so, what do you say”, an opportunity not to be left in many cases; does not matter whether your engagement is broken or you are looking for some fresh start. This gives hope to desperate souls. Search continues for a partner who will fit into one’s long term goals or itemized list of desirable qualities — sometimes we become selfish, sometimes stubborn, sometimes opportunistic… but giving up hope is impossible. Who knows, some or the other trial may click … marriage is a research proposal in life for many. “Ye nahin, toh aur sahi…”

So, aamjunta… what do you think? Prepared for two marriages; PhD and Spouse !?! 🙂

Pehle Aap, Pehle Aap — Zindegi ki Gaadi Chhut Jayegi

“Mujhe Kuchh Kahena Hai …. Mujhe bhi Kuchh Kahena Hai…..
Pehle Tum, Pehle Tum …. Pehle Tum, Phele Tum …..
Tum Dekho, jis Tarha Lukhnow ke do Nawaabon ki Gaadi
Pehle Aap Pehle Aap Pehle Aap Pehle Aap karte Nikal Gayi thi
Us Tarha Hamaari Pehle Tum, Pehle Tum, Pehle Tum
Pehle Tum mein Yeh Masti bhari ruth na Chali Jaaye

These are the melodious, romantic lines of the song from the Bollywood Movie Bobby. This evening I switched on my FM Radio for the cricket updates between India and Pakistan. By mistake, I tuned to some other channel instead of All India Radio where this sweet song was playing. Though initially I thought of changing the knob to All India Radio, on a second thought I felt like listening to the full song. The lines of this song are really touching and practical. The voice of Shailendra Singh and Lata Mangeshkar are in a playful sweetness.

Many memories came into mind; memories of teen age and early adulthood of friends and my own. I became nostalgic and a few faces of friends emerged from the past… The first thing that came into my mind was one of my friend’s failure to have his life with his childhood sweetheart. They were very close, used to share every details of their life. Everybody in their vicinity were in impression that they were in love. But, they were not clear, even though they were feeling the chemistry of love between them. My friend was desperate to express his feelings and tried many times to propose. Finally, one fine day he went to her place under some or the other pretext and expressed his desire and feelings with anticipation. But things had already taken a different course and “nawab sahab ki gadi” had left by that time. With a smile the girl simply turned down the proposal saying she was already in love with some one else and it was too late for her to leave her sweetheart at this stage.

But to his surprise, she added, “I too had the same feelings for you, but was expecting some positive movements from your side for a long time, until I met this guy who proposed me in no time“. My friend felt really angry with himself for delaying it so much and so must have been the case with the girl. Not only the delay mattered, but also his ego kept him away for so long from that moment. Poor guy… Sometimes, a small delay or ego affairs in relationships and friendships can lead to big failures in life.

The other thing that came to my mind was my own old memory of my school days. We were very good friends, used to fight a lot, study together, share everything about our life. We were 1st-2nd in our class. But, something happened… It was my bad luck or some thing like that… I was declared as “failed” in more than 3 subjects and got 18th position among 150 students of my class whereas my friend got the 1st position. I could not believe my ears when the result was announced… “How can that be”? I topped in the Half-yearly exam in my class. Then? … there was some thing wrong, some thing else was being cooked up some where and I was being victimized. Many of my friends were not ready to accept this. Some of my other classmates including my friend knew this before hand, but did not react/open their mouth due to some parental pressure or invidious feelings. I could smell the foul in the game, where so many people were involved.

I could read from my friend‘s face the story behind, though we did not exchange a single word on that day. I could see the (innocent!!) eyes with tears, but could not accept… After rechecking and serious discussions among my teachers, I got a fresh life, declared 2nd, still 3 marks away from the 1st position, made that deliberately. I had accepted that verdict, but could not digest the matter. That was a very small incident of my life, but a big blow between us… We never spoke to each other after that incident. Got a chance to meet and to have few words after two years outside some exam hall at a distant place from our home town. But, again… pehle aap pehle aap… we could not break the ice even though we spent 15 minutes together, the conversation did not happen; and we left for home. We have missed an opportunity of our life to bridge our gap, the gap between two close friends… by a simple ego of pehle aap pehle aap.

These are just a few instances where pehle aap, pehle aap changed the direction of life. It has happened with me, happened with my friends… who knows.. who is the next victim…

Aamjunta be-aware … Pehle Aap, Pehle Aap karoge to Zindegi ki Gaadi Chhut Jayegi !!

Yaar … yeh Tum Tum Kab Ayegi?

Meeting with guide at 9.30 am! My God, need to wake up early in the morning and have to prepare. Thanks to alarm clocks, managed to wake up in time.

After taking a quick bath and breakfast, thought of going to lab by Tum Tum. It was 8.20 am, very early for IITans. Seeing a Tum Tum standing near the canteen gate/cone, started running towards it like a child running for toffee and was thanking God for sending the Tum Tum in time. But, alas! no one was there near the Tum Tum. Could not locate the driver anywhere nearby. On inquiry, came to know that driver had gone for breakfast. How much time will he take? 20 minutes, no… 15 minutes.. was trying to puzzle it out in the midst of a tension for the meeting at hand. After checking the time on the ancient wrist watch, decided to wait for the driver to come. 20 minutes passed… 25 minutes passed…, driver was nowhere to be seen near the Tum Tum. Thought of going to mess and ask the driver to come back.

In the mean time 10 more students had gathered for the Tum Tum. Some one shouted, “hey… Tum Tum has come, Tum Tum has come“…, Wo nahin ta ye sahi… will take this other Tum Tum and go. All of us rushed to the Tum Tum gate anxiously. But that did not materialize again. Driver got down from this Tum Tum and said, “aata hun.. Breakfast khake“… “kitna minute lagega“? – some one asked, “10 minutes” was his response. Adding salt to our wound, he also did not come back in 15 minutes. But I was hopeful and added a little stubbornness to it… will get the Tum Tum before the meeting! Within a few moments, the third Tum Tum came. The driver parked the Tum Tum outside the cycle stand instead of driving it to its usual parking slot. “Kya hua????? What’s this? Are you also going for breakfast?” “Yes… will be back in 10 minutes“. He smiled happily and entered the mess area…all of us stood waiting helplessly (roughly 30 odd students and some summer interns).

It was 9.10 am, started getting restless and tensed. Thought of taking the cycle out, walked to the cycle stand with frustration, “shit! yaar! ismein bhi hawa nahin hai!“, came back to ground zero. Not a single auto-rickshaw in the vicinity, the drivers of Tum Tums were happily enjoying their toothpicks, I started walking towards the department. “Behold!” Someone horned from behind…”driver aagaya! driver aagaya!” breathlessly all of them jumped, pushed and rushed into the Tum Tum. By the time reached the Tum Tum it was almost full. Somehow I squeezed myself into it only to be badly hit on the head by the iron racks (side iron racks). “Ah! ah!“, before starting to express the pain in words or with tears… the phone rang!!! Painfully picked up the phone to answer the usual question: “Hey! Where are you?”, “Reaching lab in five minutes sir!

It was 9.27 am when reached lab, exactly three minutes before the meeting! The duration of my Tum Tum journey was just 1 hour 10 minutes for a mere 1.6 kms 😉 .

That’s the story of an aamjunta traveling to department on an aamday in an aam Tum Tum. The story and the history repeats almost every other day for some of us. Sometimes if your luck shines you get the Tum Tum in time or if you are in desperate need, you might see the Tum Tum coming from the opposite direction!

But there is a human angle to the tragi-comic story of coming-going in Tum Tums. People are used/addicted to it. A funny incident occured recently while coming from the department to the hostel. We were just crossing H-5 Cross when someone inside our Tum Tum shouted and surprised the driver to a screeching halt — “ruko! ruko! woh aa raha hai!” Everyone turned their heads in surprise to see “woh kaun hai?”…from almost half a kilometer distance a stout young boy with his satchel was running at a speed of 100 mts race towards the Tum Tum. Everyone broke into a laughter inside the Tum Tum including the driver. Some one compassionately said: “arre yaar! bichara ish Tum Tum keliye jee-tod daud laga raha hai…aaur thoda laga leta toh tum-tum se pehle khud daud ke hostel pahaunch jaata!” The guy entered the bus and joined in the laughter…everyone enjoyed this moment of fellow-feeling.

Sometimes on time, sometimes late, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating; that’s the life in general for an aamjunta waiting for Tum Tums — after breakfast, before lunch and at any other time at any other stop.

The question for aamjunta still remains…“Arre Yaar … yeh Tum Tum Kab Ayegi?”

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