Monday, January 01, 2007

Faculty crunch: The view from below


I'm sure you have heard about the faculty crunch in our academic institutions, including high profile ones such as the IITs. The latest assertion about this crunch came from our President himself: "it is ironical that the IIT, which is mandated to produce the best minds for teaching and research is unable to attract the best faculty today." However, a recent e-mail from a faculty aspirant -- a friend who's a post-doc at a top university in the West -- left me devastated and utterly speechless. With his permission, I'm sharing his e-mail, edited to protect the identities of the persons and institutions involved.

I can personally tell you my experiences which are not that encouraging. So far I have applied to three places in India. ... I had sent a formal application to [Institution One] when they advertised [for a position some months ago]. The deadline was [sometime in the following month]. ... My profile exactly matched that position. Unfortunately, till today I haven't got even an acknowledgment from them. I know that they had received my application because I Fedexed it also I asked my referees to send the recommendation letters. I felt very bad about their attitude.

From [Institution Two] I got a response saying that I should visit them during my trip to India. I wrote them in [a few months ago] stating that I am coming to India the following month. They replied after a week saying that they don't have free slots during that entire month! I felt that if they really want to talk to me they should have invited me for one Saturday. ... The deadline [for Institution Three] was [sometime ago] and ... it's too early to get a response from them. [...]

Another interesting story. ... Some months ago, I wrote a mail to [a senior scientist] asking some advice from him about my possibilities of finding a position in India. Basically I asked him which Institutes I should try etc.. Since he understands my field well I attached my CV and summary of current and proposed research. He never replied! However, few weeks later I [saw him] crying about the shortage scientific professionals in India. I found such talks are highly hypocritical.

My Ph.D. colleague from [Country X] who is now in [a top university in the US] had similar experience with [Institution Four]. He filed a formal application and they asked for reference letters. He arranged that and they never replied back. His profile is too good and he has got [quite a few papers in a leading journal in his field] to his credit! Later he came to know that this institution recruited a couple of guys who are no way comparable to my friend. My another friend had similar experience with [Institution One, but in a different field]. After repeated queries, he finally got a negative response [despite his excellent record]. I am telling you these are people who really want to go back to India. But they have been hurt badly.

7 Comments:

  1. Vishnu said...

    A happy story to cheer you up: one of my good friends got an offer from an Institution even without applying formally. He just went there and gave a talk, and one fine day got a scanned copy of a letter signed by the director.

  2. Rahul said...

    There are two issues here, selection and communication. The silence is because the communication, nearly everywhere, is in the hands of the administrative staff, who don't believe they need to write to you unless it's a job offer, and then it's couched in the most appalling government-babu bureaucratese that, if it was the sole message, it would be a wonder if anyone accepted. But usually the applicant is in touch with faculty members, who may be better communicators and will at least be courteous enough to inform the candidate of a rejection or delayed decision.

    Then again, not all faculty members are good communicators, especially over email. In individual cases I may know which ones are interested but poor writers, and which ones aren't interested. But with strangers it's impossible to make out.

    That leaves the question of why someone who can make it to "a top university in the US" can't get an offer in India. One reason could simply be that his contacts are better, he took those applications more seriously, etc. (Your previous post linked to someone who says that if you're a foreign postdoc you can get away with not making a personal visit to the institute you're applying to, but I think that's not only an appalling attitude but is exactly backwards -- we, at least, insist on a visit, though the date is up to the applicant.) This is because it is easy to tell an outstanding application, but it is hard to tell a merely above-average one, especially if you have no local experts in the field. It is also hard to tell how much input the candidate had in his publications, which in many fields routinely have at least 5-6 authors.

    Whether in India or in the US, the job market works heavily on personal contact. That's why students and postdocs religiously attend mega-meetings like the APS March Meeting.

    There is also this to consider -- there are many more "top universities" in the US than top research institutes in India, and therefore far more jobs available.

  3. barbarindian said...

    Par for the course in a socialist economy. On one hand you have resources that can be utilized, on the other the colossal bureaucracy and corruption keeps the needs starving.

    Private colleges like ISB for instance will not suffer any faculty shortage.

  4. Rahul said...

    arindian -- Private colleges like ISB for instance will not suffer any faculty shortage.

    You are quite right. But what if you want quality faculty? I think you'll find the top government-run institutions are faring much better than the likes of ISB in the quality of faculty they attract, measured by their research output. And most private institutions, especially the engineering, medical and management ones (actually there aren't many in other fields), are complete jokes (for the outsider) / horrors (for the hapless students). See some of Abi's previous posts.

  5. yogesh upadhyaya said...

    Abi:

    Interesting story about faculty crunch by an IIT-Delhi Professor titled" IITs heading down a deep abyss"
    in Indian Express:

    http://www.samachar.com/showurl.htm?rurl=http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=78944&headline='IITs~heading~down~a~deep~abyss'

    Thanks,

    Yogesh K. Upadhyaya
    New Jersey

  6. Abi said...

    Vishnu: Thanks for sharing that story! Let me guess: this friend of yours is in EE/CS?

    Rahul: You are right about the importance of contacts during job search. However, I don't get your final observation ("there are many more "top universities" in the US than top research institutes in India, and therefore far more jobs available."). We are talking about huge number of vacancies in IITs (and other places too, but IITs are always in the limelight). The constant whine about lack of qualified individuals doesn't make any sense at all, when it is combined with a rather callous attitude towards potential faculty hires.

    Unprofessional conduct is one thing, but hypocrisy?

    BTW, thanks for answering Barbarindian.

    Yogesh: Thanks for that link. I will keep looking out for that book by Prof. Gulhati.

  7. Vishnu said...

    Not EECS. Continuum Mechanics.