Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An interesting proposal to increase the number of PhDs in science and technology


This Economic Times op-ed by Jaideep Srivastava (Minnesota) and Pankaj Jalote (IIT-D) appeared two days ago. The authors suggest that we adopt a technique that China has used to increase its PhD output significantly. I don't have much time to comment on it, but do go through it and let me know what you think.

China has embarked on a bold strategy to address [the problem of low numbers of PhDs], with the help of the US in an unexpected way. The programme is simple and brilliant. PhD students in Chinese universities are given fellowships to spend 12 to 24 months in some US professor’s laboratory, when they are ready to start their dissertation research.

During this period, the candidate defines his research problem, does most of the research work, and then comes back to complete his PhD in the parent university in China. An attendant benefit is the collaboration created between the US and Chinese faculty, which can lead to more international exposure for the latter, something which is also high on the priority list of the Chinese administration. It is estimated that approximately 4,000 Chinese students will be the beneficiaries of this programme in the 2007-08 academic year.

8 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...

    I read it when it came in the ET.(Why do they publsih in ET?) I think it's good proposal with little downside. The dark horse as I see it, will US universities be willling to play along? If yes, will they treat these graduate students as a kind of second class citizen on their campus(although I doubt this)? Finally, the question of inbreeding and pay scales comapred to foreign doctorate holders.

    Nonetheless, a practical proposition. Not something you would expect out of India's regular columnists. No wonder China is doing it.

  2. gaddeswarup said...

    This seems to be a very interesting idea. USA needs students and developing countries need expertise in guiding etc. It may be a win-win strategy. See also Steve Hsu's post:
    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2007/09/crisis-in-american-science.html#comments
    and the article he mentions.

  3. Vishnu said...

    Anonymous has brought out a very important question here... what about pay scales? Average american stipends range somewhere between 1000$ and 1700$ per month!! Will Indian Government be able to provide this to the students??
    The issue of graduate students being treated as some second class citizens is also there. This can be eliminated if the hosting university in US shall also benefit proportionately from the work done...

  4. Anonymous said...

    I think ideal situation would be collaboration between faculty members or at the University level. Since students are expected to do research work, their RA/TA work in US would be just like any other indian Phd student. Main question is the fees, good universities have annual fees greater than $25,000. Who pays for that?

    Also what happens when the bright students defect and prefer to stay in US after 2 years to get PhD from US.

  5. Daze said...

    Anon #2, and RA in the US pays a stipend in addition to waiving tuition fees. Also, if the student is mostly doing research work he's not really taking many classes so waiving the tuition fees isn't burdening the University by much.

    An interesting fallout of structuring the degree this way is that the candidate HAS to return to the motherland to graduate. So he can't take a job and file for an work visa and turn into an immigrant.
    I'm interested to see if this will be the route universities take to encourage diversity on campus or if they will continue to admit "full fledged" students into their systems....

  6. daze said...

    OOps
    "Anon #2 an RA in the US gets paid astipend...." is what I meant

  7. Pratik . said...

    A stipend of $1500 translates to Rs 60K per month. Wonder which will be more useful - use up Rs 7.2lakhs for a single student in one year - or use the money for research supplies. In fact, some of the smaller research proposal in India have grants in the 5-8 lakhs ballpark.

    There can be a tangible benefit though - the prospect of saving a good amount during PhD just might convince some of the brighter students who were dithering to join academics (due to financial "setbacks") to take the plunge. But, in such case, there has to be an adequate follow up - ie the PhD students should have sufficiently good opportunities in India after PhD.

    The one reason that a PhD or MS in US pays is that there are a number of companies willing to recruit research engineers and scientists with a pay packet better than what a BS could expect.

    Unless opportunities like that exist in India, it is probably meaningless to produce more PhDs anyway.

    Yeah, there is a shortfall of faculty in colleges - but at the end of the day, it all boils down to the salary (apart from the research facilities) doesnt it? And we need to keep in mind, that PhD and faculty jobs neednt be synonymous.

    In short we also need to create good options for PhD students, if we are going to contemplate generating more PhDs this way.

  8. Anonymous said...

    I am anon 1. Prateek makes a good point above. Faculty jobs != PhD. However, this will depend on the changing labour market conditions in India something over which no has much control.

    Some of the commentators appear not to have read the proposal. The total yearly cost of fnding this proposal would be $40 mn.

    This is just part of the solution. People would want to stick aroudn in India only if they see an exciting career ahead. That means fixing mutilple problems. Easier said than done.