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Science Careers Blog

January 4, 2011

Impressions from India

This correspondent is currently touring South India.  Even here, amid the splendor of the temples and monuments, the hubbub of the bazaars, and the razzle-dazzle of 21st century cities, there seems to be no getting away from issues surrounding early science careers.  On the plane from New York to New Delhi, for example, I encountered a young chemist I'll call Ashok, on his way home from 2 years as a postdoc in a mid-tier university in the Northeastern United States. 

Ashok earned his Ph.D. in his native India. He would have preferred to stay in the United States when his postdoc ended (his PI lost a grant).  The end of Ashok's postdoc meant the end of his his visa, and without a new position he could not remain in the United States.  He had hoped to find a job with an American company but did not succeed.  He doesn't have a job lined up in India, either; he will start looking soon after he arrives.  He's not sure how good his prospects are of landing a desirable position. 

Ashok's impression from friends at home (that is, in India) is that the job market for scientists there has gotten worse of late.  He reports that Chinese postdoc friends in the States were saying the same thing about conditions at home.  In Ashok's opinion, the American young-scientist glut is spilling over into the big supplier countries, China and India, as postdocs return home after their time in the United States. 

I have no way of knowing whether Ashoks' impression is correct or why he did not get the American job he hoped for. Of course, the Great Recession has made finding jobs harder for nearly everyone, scientists -- foreign and domestic -- included.  Beyond that are the usual questions: Does he have a good publication record?  Is his field in demand?  Does his PI have good connections in relevant industries?  These questions did not get answered during a chance conversation across the aisle in the economy section of a jam-packed commercial jet.  But I suspect that Ashok, who seemed serious and intelligent, is not alone in his view of life in the middle reaches of the American postdoc scene. His opinions are not definitive -- as he surely would admit -- or based in rigorous research, but they should not be ignored, either.

 P. Thrihurthy, president of the Computer Society of India (CSI), is more sanguine on the subject of scientific employment in India.  There are "plenty" of jobs for computer scientists and IT graduates, he is quoted as saying in the education supplement of The Hindu, South India's leading newspaper. But in his opinion, the article states, to be "100 percent employable" technically trained people need exposure to a broader range of subjects, especially management, with an emphasis on "real-life scenarios."  CSI offers a range of educational opportunities including "industry-oriented professional development for new graduates" and continuing education for mid-career workers. Thrimurthy's opinion echoes that of American proponents of broader training for technical and scientific graduates seeking opportunities in industry.

Ashok told me he spent his American sojourn at the laboratory bench, not learning management skills.  Perhaps if he'd had an opportunity to familiarize himself with some of the practical aspects of industry, his job search would have been more successful.


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