Monday, August the 16th, 2004

This sort of occurred to me when I was in India for the holidays, but now it’s slowly getting more obvious. I’ve been communicating a little bit with my juniors recently, and academically, things there are very different from when I was in college. For starters, no one really seems to want to study further. Some stats that might put that statement in perspective. “In the old days” (you’ve got to pick words that make you seem all wrinkly), a class of 60 would have at least 40 kids proceeding to get MSs/MBAs and PhDs, a bulk of them abroad. Probably a third in places which are really worth it. Which is pretty good I’d say, considering obscure real life nonsense like financial constraints, family responsibilities, inherent ineptitude and so on. Today, it’s more like 3-5 out of the same 60. Scarier still are the kinds of places these few people are willing to go to for their further “education”. Places with names like “Eastern-South-Eastern Hullabaloo Open International State School for the Near Blind”, or similar sounding. (No offence intended toward visually impaired folk.) But I’ll reserve my beef with that for another day, at least these people are trying.

Another amazing turn of events, that’s obviously causing the phenomena above, is the ease with which these undergrads get employed once they’re done. The same stats I mentioned about education, can be easily reversed for the employment numbers, and now 40 out of the 60 people get (rather decently? according to them, but I don’t really trust their standards) employed. All is well and good, so far.

Now to the local village idiot, an undergrad degree might be a very cool thing. Getting your first job and suddenly making many tens of thousands of rupees as opposed to the uncool zero when you were in college might be a cool deal. All of this is fine if they saw these things as steps along the way. If they had plans of getting back to school at some point when they feel they’ve earned some experience in the “real world”. But no one I see does. They see the undergrad and their first “technology” job as the final destination.

Actually, it’s totally fine otherwise. That’s the sort of “life path” I see most graduate students here have followed in this country. They finish undergrad, get a real job, stick with it for a while, travel, get married?, … and then enter grad school when they’re tired of being “stuck” at some level professionally or intellectually. More power to them, society is structured differently and it works rather well here, based on the little I’ve seen.

But not the jokers I see with the programming jobs there. They enter into “cool paying” (compared to zero) jobs on graduation, and get their first feel of making money and the independence that goes with it. They soon realize positions in companies are “capped” based on the sorts of education they have. By which I mean you cannot really grow beyond assistant-someone with your bachelor’s degree. By which time they usually “lost it” and can’t get back to regular school life. If they do try to break free, they attempt business school, because that pays better. The clowns aren’t always competent enough to make it in there either. Granted, in their defence, good business schools are supposedly very hard to get in back in India. But in the end, they’re the ones who are stuck with their relatively dead-end jobs, unable to get back to school, and with the realization the “cool pay” they were getting isn’t all that cool after all and can’t really support their lives, forget other people. Nor is the work they do challenging or fun. It’s all just an awful waste of what could have been.

So maybe this new “I can get employed in a heartbeat” scheme isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Stay in school.

While I am at it, in other academics related ranting, it’s beginning to really hit me how much a PhD is just an endurance test. Sure, it’s intellectually demanding, but it drains people so much more on other levels. If you’re willing to put aspects of your life on hold for the 3-8 years or whatever it takes to get the job done, you deserve a medal. I guess the diploma is close enough. Oh that, and people referring to you as “Doctor” and believing you’re really some sort of expert at whatever it is that you do that they don’t get.

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