I’m sure that I’m not alone in getting emails like the one I got yesterday, and I get them reasonably often. Out of the blue, I hear from someone finishing up a degree at an obscure (to me) Indian university. In this latest case, the person writing doesn’t even get around to telling me which one. And they are interested in doing a post-doc with me. Sometimes there’s language in there about “my department” or “my university” or “my research group” that they’d like to join, but in any case they’d like to be able to join whatever it is. Yesterday’s correspondent would like to know how I can arrange a fellowship for him to do that. Over the years, I may have had one or two of these from China or another country, but the huge majority are from India.
I generally respond to these letters, trying briefly to explain, among other things, that this is probably the least effective way known to get a research position and suggesting what could be better strategies. Such as explaining a bit about what you know and what your degree was about, that sort of thing (none of these letters ever include anything like a c.v.). Hearing from someone out of the blue, with no information about what they’ve studied (or in this case, even where they’ve studied) is the first problem. Doing so little homework on such an email that they think that I’m at a university is an even bigger problem, and it makes you wonder just how many of these things they’re sending out and how they’re rounding up all these addresses. The whole thing is a bit otherworldly, showing a completely different (and to my eyes, completely non-functional) idea about how anyone should go about finding a research position.
And on that level, I really feel for these people. I have no idea about what sort of scientific education they’ve received (as I say, there’s never much detail in these things). I’m not optimistic, though (based on the rest of the evidence) that they have been given any idea about how one goes about the next step in one’s career after earning a doctorate. Has anyone ever obtained a post-doctoral position by spamming people with a poorly worded, inadequately detailed email asking for a research fellowship? I can’t imagine that it’s ever worked, but as I say, I’ve lost count of the number of these I’ve received over the years. My impression (for what it’s worth) is of someone who’s put together a doctorate from a small, obscure university, and who has become so professionally and scientifically isolated by the experience that they see this strategy as worth trying – why not? I infer that their immediate employment prospects in India aren’t good, and that finding some sort of post-doctoral position there isn’t working out well, either, so this is what occurs as a next step. Which is really unfortunate, because it’s not going to work.
I truly wonder what people in this situation end up doing. At the very least, they do not seem to have been well served by their own university, department, or PhD advisor, to put it mildly. My impression is that the smaller Indian universities must turn out an awful lot of such doctoral students, releasing them into the world with few prospects and with credentials whose value is at best arguable. It’s sad. That’s the best single adjective I can apply to it. And it happens over and over.