Having been a PhD student not so long ago, I remember spending countless nights wringing in anguish worrying about rejected papers, research plans, the shrinking job market in academia as well as research labs in the US for pure computer science researchers , the dreaded “our research interests do not align with yours” letters of rejection and ruing how the specialization of my PhD had woefully restricted the positions I could apply for. At the same time that I tossed and turned in agony, Masters students from the same department were juggling multiple overtly generous offers from the big hotshots for “product development” type jobs. However, I did not let that get to me in any way and instead told myself and my similarly anguished fellow-PhD-candidates in the way of consolation: “Well they will never be able to define their own work. And most importantly they will never be able to put a PhD after their names”.
Yes I firmly believe that when these fat-cat Masters speed by on their Lexuses wearing non-Walmart clothing, thinking of the health of their stock options, and look at me on the street kicking the bumper of my worn-down 94 Honda as I try to get it to start, they feel a sensation of emptiness in the pit of their stomachs, awash with the realization that, paraphrasing from Deewar, “iske paas maa hain”.
Or in other words, a PhD and a level of academic independence.
My PhD-pride, never in short supply, brimmethed over when a few months ago I learnt that Shilpa Shetty can, like me, put a Doctorate before her name—-with her degree having been given by the Leeds Metropolitan University in honor of a significant body of work in the areas of anti-racism struggle, butt-thrusting, navel exposing and “UP Bihar lootna”. Or as the eminent university official Mr. Kumar succinctly put it: ” for making a difference to society and using all her talents to the full.”
Yes the talented Ms. Shetty. I recollect making conference presentations, early in the morning, to somnolent audiences slumping in their chairs , with the only ones excited being the ones who felt I had not cited their work. And then when I see the way Ms. Shetty packages her research presentations making the audience go wild with excitement even when all they hear is “Chiki chiki chiki ta chiki ta”, I realize why Ms. Shetty is now Dr. Shetty. If any further proof was ever needed of her sagacity it was when after the Richard Gere kissing controversy she compared herself to Lord Shiva saying if He could have swallowed poison so shall She (it was not clear if Gere’s saliva was being referred to as poison here) thus revealing a defining characteristic of a good PhD: thinking oneself to be God.
Of late, I believe that someone should hood the new Shilpa Shetty-wannabe Rakhi Sawant, if only to cover her fake bouncers up, because that self-martyring lady has it in her to be a good PhD. For starters, she has opinions on everything—from how Sonu Nigam should deal with man-love, to what should be done to make the Indian cricketers to perform better (make their wives and girl-friends sit in front row taake unki aankhein idhar udhar na bhaatke) not to speak of worthy mongraphs on topics like how “kaapre utaarna koi asaan baat naheen hain sir”(Link no longer present: source Prabhu Chawla interview) which translates to “It’s not easy taking of one’s clothes”. I specially like the fact that she tries to explain everything in the world with her own pet theory , a common trait among researchers who develop a theory and then try to solve every problem, sometimes forcibly, with it. This silver bullet theory in question—-simply that Rakhi Sawant is very hot and everyone wants her, which is how all her soundbytes end whether it be on cricket, society or the Grand Unification Theory.
But I should point out that a PhD is not for everyone. And I would strongly oppose any attempt to give Rakhi Sawant-wannabe Mona Chopra (or as she know calls herself Sheryln Chopra) a PhD, despite her most sincere attempts. Let me explain why. One of the things professors hate is that “generic” mail from prospective PhD candidates which follows the following template “Sir, I am interested in networks and have, ever since I was toilet-trained, wanted to work with you”—they hate it even more if the professor concerned does not works in networks. Receiving a mail like this means a few things—1) this guy is sending this mail to hundreds of professors saying the same patently false thing 2) this guy has either not read the professor’s webpage or has no idea of what networks is or what the professor does for a living.
Q:Would you like to act in a porn flick?
A: It depends on who will be directing it. I like Martin Scorsese. If he is the one, then I’d go to any extent for him.
Now as we all know that Martin Scorsese does not make porn flicks nor has he ever expressed any inclination to do so. (and no the movie is called “Gangs of New York” and not “Gangbangs in New York”). It is obvious that Ms. Chopra has not done any research and has just mentioned the biggest name she could think of (like many desi PhD prospectives mention “networking” because they have been told its “hot”). Even if she had said “C”-cup-olla I could understood but Marty?
Unfortunately this horrible mistake ruins the rest of her application which had some positives like a clear statement of past work(especially in the domain of multimedia streaming), experience with using analysis tools for self-satisfaction and even some quantitative data (the ratios 1:3, 2:4 etc) —something that attests for experience in a field of interest much more than glorious declarations of intent.
This post, like my thesis, has become quite verbose and runs the risk of being read about the same number of people who read that dense tome. Which is why I shall stop here and remind readers that no matter how much those Masters and Bachelors earn or go up the corporate ladder they shall never have what a PhD has— a mark of excellence, a recognition of superiority.
Kind of like the “Export quality” label that they used to put on my box of Bapi baniyaan.
[This post was written in response to a mail I got long ago from a reader asking me to write a post on advice for prospective PhD students]