We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Recession and Your Higher Studies?

Its been a while since prospective MS students are posing the question of "Should we pursue MS in the current economic mayhem that US is witnessing? " My answer is Yes, if you are willing to take some risks.

Look at the current situation as a big risk which if succeeds will make a profound impact on your thinking patterns, your career and your overall personality. The biggest problem in doing MS is the extent of money involved. This is THE biggest risk that most of us face. So my answer to this is like this. Take this as a calculated risk. Now here goes my analysis. If you are just a fresher, and recent graduate from your school. Then I am pretty sure that you have a sound financial state in your family since immediate preparation of MS to most extent immediately after graduating from school could be thought only by such kids to a large extent. Your family could buffer in the impact of any financial burden that might arrive to a large extent, if things do not go as per your plan. So to a large extent this category should not worry. If you would think will I get a job after MS? You are thinking much ahead of the time. Too many things change in say 2 years. So do not worry on that terms. Yes, you should if you are taking a loan. But the next paragraph answers some of those questions.

The other category who work in industry for some time, who might not have great financial backing other than the amount saved from the work in industry or the parents retirement money or loan :). Or those who realize that they want more from their career, or they want some new experience. They definitely have a reason to worry since the current economic situation is affecting not only industry but also the funding received from Universities. But now again, it depends on your risk taking ability. If you have enough money to fund yourself for some time, if nothing works out, you should take the risk, come to US, witness the new culture of socialism and technology. Witness the great institutes that produce great researchers. I am sure if you have capacity to take some risk, you would find some way to manage your finances somehow. This is a great country which would support you if you want to move ahead and are willing to do some sacrifices and take some risks and WORK HARD. Lets say you have enough money to fund yourself just for the first Quarter/Semester. Then do come to US, if nothing works out in the worst case GO BACK. There should not be a feeling of shame that you had to move back or things did not work out or what next. Many plans in the life go unsuccessful (that is what I learned hard core here :P), if you want to get defeated, take chance and get defeated. But take the risks as you will not get such great chances again and again. If your whole aim is to land in US for the sake of a good paying job...hmm I would say this might not be the right time to be in the US since the present conditions will not revive for atelast 1 year. But if your aim is to learn new things, get new experiences, be in the surroundings of the great professors and researchers and students with the constant urge to improve your conditions and learn. This is the place to be. Now it again depends on what kind of University you want to get into. There are equally and I would say more crappy universities in US which would give you a MS degree without much efforts as compared to the great ones who would make you toil hard for that degree. It might happen that you would want to switch for a PHD later :) who knows....

Now a quick review on US economic scenario. The condition around is hopeless and its getting worst. To a large extent US and its policies are responsible for the current state. There are jobs around but they are highly specific and needs you to be core expert in certain area with experience of say 5,7 years. Most companies have frozen the hiring and massive layoffs have occurred at some places. Companies like Google and others are hiring to some extent but its getting less and less. Research labs are still hiring but the positions are mostly for PHD students. Top notch schools like Stanford, Berkeley will stand on their own because of the sheer merit they posses and will never get affected by slowdown. But even students in these schools are left jobless. So its a bad scenario. Companies in their recruitment drive are asking for US citizens only and are not ready to sponsor H1B visas to a large extent. So people who came here only for the jobs sake are in tight spot. The conditions would get worst in coming days before it would start to improve. I believe the scene would not change till atleast next summer ie. May 2010. There are internships positions available, but they too are highly specific. But by next summer things should start to improve slowly. I understand its a tough decision.

I would say access your risk taking capacity. Believe in some luck factor :) This is a hard time. Believe in yourself. Do not get in the mentality of everything should go smooth and cheesy. There will be failures. There will be problems. The point you should ask yourself is how strongly you have that desire to be something different than what you are at present? Money is the biggest problem and its a very much practical problem about which you should be worried. But still I would say This is a great chance to change yourself and do not lose it. Try hard, nothing comes without failure. So be ready for it in the worst case. The money you will lose in failing will anyway get depreciated in some more years and economy should rebound again in some years. But the time, when you can take some risks and prove yourself will not come back to you again. And the regret that you might feel for your entire life time could be very bad :(

So all the best with your planning ...There are some posts in my blog here exclusively on MS, (mostly written around in June 08/october 08/Dec 07), and how it is worth having as an experience. I will write a post on what is research and how it is done and how it is different than what mostly people think, sometime soon.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Good professors? What are they?

Education could make or break a country's future. I have had chance to see how a professor could make a student learn better and in more understanding and confident way in my university, now while I am doing masters. I have had chance to see how a bad professor could do exactly opposite while I was doing my undergraduate engineering while in India. That brings and raises lot of questions about the role of a professor,teacher, parent in my mind.

When a child is growing he /she has lot of questions that are posed by his/her surroundings around him/her. What role adults play in developing that curiosity? Computer Science as being perceived in India is much different than what it is. Computer Science is not IT. Why do then Indians mostly relate IT to the computer science? Lots of unrelated questions. What does a professor has to do with all this? More on this in a later post someday.

Well, a child gets on the right track if she is guided correctly during the growing up years. The role a parent/teacher plays is very important. The questions which he/she has in mind needs to get answered. When the same kid enters college for higher education like say engineering the questions rise manifold. Now the intensity of the questions increase and its even more important for these questions to get answered since they directly link to his future. The role his professors play in guiding him for the correct direction becomes even more important now. Why do premier institutes churn out premier students? Why do kids of professors, researchers become good mathematicians, good researchers? Why is it that only few of the bright students who do not have a correct support system thrash up the barriers of the system and rise up to make a mark on their own?

Professors play a critical role in this entire scenario. A kid who has an amazing maths teacher during his growing year need not need a good professor in the college. What matters is developing the confidence and the attitude towards the right thing. A teenager who has a great inspirational professor during his college years will for sure make a great progress in his later years.

One can see two types of professors and teachers. One which are extremely effective in getting the best out of students, making them stand on their own by providing them the necessary guidance and the way to think. And at the same time, there could be excellent professors who are extremely renowned researchers but make a miserable professor.

How should a good professor be? First and most important quality is he should be able to motivate and interest students in the material he is teaching. Second quality is he should be able to understand that different students have different backgrounds and different absorbing capacities and adjust his pace accordingly without thinking somebody is dumb and somebody is brilliant. Yes, there are different grasping levels but nobody is dumb. Third is he should be able to provide students sufficient resources to make them think on their own the basics of what and why they are doing, the things that they are doing in his class. Have these three qualities and you will have an excellent professor.

Is every professor that is present in every US university a good professor? No. It is very hard to find excellent professors who understand the way a student should be made to learn things. So US is not an exception. But yes at the same time one will see the percentage of exceptional professors way higher than its in India. A part why US is so ahead technically goes back straight to this level of education that the students are able to receive and the way it makes them think independently without being slave of the system that many times Indians tend to get into.

Recession is here. I hope we would get good teachers and professors as an effect of it in some of the Indian schools. Money is needed but at the same time, the satisfaction of making somebody learn and understand and seeing him/her succeed is beyond description.

I hope someday we would have good professors in abundance back in India. India, you have a long way to go to be a superpower. No country could afford that burden when the basics like education are wrong. And all this hype about all this, seems a bad timed, badly scripted joke.