Do you have it in you?

I receive a lot of emails these days from people, asking me to evaluate their University lists, statements of purpose, whether their GRE scores are good or not, etc. While some of them I answer personally, others are redirected to better places like edulix, or suitably to ask better people: I have no idea in blazes how good the University of Toronto is, for example, in civil engineering. But there is a common thing that I need to tell these people: involving the application process and the statement of purpose, in general what it means to become a graduate student as I perceive it now.

The basic point about an SoP is its purpose: what is your purpose in getting an MS or a PhD degree? How much value and priority do you assign to research, to learning, just because it quenches some thirst within you? If you love to do research, to explore and tweak around, it will show through in your daily day-to-day actions. As for example, how dedicatedly can you browse through the archives of endless Yahoo groups before you shoot off a question? Do you love to be down in your college library, oblivious of the time passing by? Do you lose yourself in those books... pick up interesting volumes because you'd just like to see what new is written there? Are you interested in the footnotes, the exceptions... do you love the trivia? Chances are, if the answers to most of the above is yes, you know what I mean. It comes from within: when you follow links, bookmark favourite sites, organise and network like crazy.

Even if you look around yourself in your undergrad college or if you are working, in some colleagues, you'll find the quirky variety who seem to know every little interesting detail: they know, for example, if your graph is looking crooked, what parameter you specified incorrectly. They will not know the details of obscure formulae, but they will know the tricks of using them. How do they do that? I believe these are the potential researchers at work: who explore, tweak around, and don't accept things at face value. They will put in integer values more than +65536 just for the fun of it and see what happens to the C program. They will put in little pieces of funny code in a networking socket program so that the other terminal starts printing just your name and 'messages' for you, and stand aside and watch the fun :) These sparks, these experimenters: they are the true potential researchers. If it was you who was being described just now: just let your heart flow in the SoP.

A final word, for the people who are not sure if they want a PhD: uptil now, you might have been doing your BE or your MSc as a side task. Believe me when I say that at least 50% of the junta who come to an engineering college are there just for the job they'll get afterwards rather than interest in what they'll learn in 4 years. It is not good or bad: it is just not suited to a PhD. I don't say that the priorities will be the exact opposite to a potential PhD person, but knowing stuff will be important. And if you want to sign up for a PhD, you need to understand that the studies will have to be the first priority of your life. Every new concept you learn must be a door that opens in the mind: to areas known and unknown. It must be a sudden whiff of fresh air: a concept that is suddenly cleared, a jumbled jigsaw that suddenly snaps into place. Forget about Orkut, about blogs, about emails and about your love/girlfriend/boyfriend: let your career, your studies be the first love and let the rest be there to help you reach it. Can you bear to live like that: investing 5-6 prime years of your life in pursuit of a happiness that only you will enjoy, a life of a penurious* hermit who only occasionally steps out of the forest to sharpen his axe while he spends the rest of his time chopping wood? Can you do it? You will get to (and need to) sharpen your axe, yes, but you will have to spend most of your time just endlessly chopping wood trying to get that perfect log with the perfect stroke. Do you have it in you?

*A quick update: we don't lose all social and other life because of a PhD: look below for my senior's comment. Also, by penurious, I meant penurious compared to your friends who will be working in companies and earning a lot. Life is not so penurious: you live quite well. :)

Comments

  1. A good post coming at the right time! Very true! I too had the confusion of choosing MS vs PhD and came to a conclusion after some introspection as to what I wanted from my graduate studies. I have put on a post on my blog about this for those of my friends who are still confused abt it all!
    PS:I've decided on MS because though I love work and research, it is not what I would want to do always.

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  3. This is what a senior who is already doing his PhD told me:
    My friend, you will scare away the few that remain. I am sure it is possible to lead an extremely balanced life even while doing your Ph.D. - Orkut, e-mails, and what not! I am partially successful at this, and witness much more successful people around me, in creatiing in this balance.

    So maybe I should tone down that scary part a bit: you do get to live your own life

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  4. Harini, thanks! Good to know that you decided for your MS: the question is really about knowing what you want to do.

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  5. Hi, u have some gr8 prep tips here which would certainly help me to write my GRE at my best nex year.....n yeah u have a knack for writing as well, so keep churning out more fantastic stuff here !!!

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  6. Shikha, Thanks! :) I'll keep writing for sure: it is one of the ways I sharpen my axe

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  7. I have seen my sister completing her PhD in exactly the same manner what you have described. I will tell her to read your post. She will love it.

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  8. Alka, thanks!!

    Thats what I call publicity!!

    He he ... just joking!

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  9. My dad's an MSc...but even today, in the inner walls of nuclear physics, he's referred to as 'Dr.'...I guess those were the days when you gave that honor to people who dedicated themselves to the science...

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  10. Phatichar, ahh... you have inherited a rich heritage! Yes... perhaps at that time there weren't as many PhDs around. But I guess such people would be equally if not more respected even now

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  11. great job sudipta posting all those tips,personally i have no inclination for another technical degree..though i have tried all those tweaking stuff with computers..may be i'll direct some of my flummoxed friends here..and it wont be publicity..gyan batna..:)

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  12. Half the people who go for MS/Phds abroad dont realize the importance of SOPs. People get their SOP's written (by written I mean written and not edited) by others!! How deplorable is that ?


    Some good gyaan for people in this post.

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  13. I really dont mind all of those[orkut,gf's], provided i can tweak around and have some coffee. thanks for that morale booster...

    I could find myself an intersting job, a kind of job that can burn all of my neurons and i still feel that there is still more in my brains to get burned off.. so i am choosing the life of research...

    my blog: nirvana4ol.livejournal.com

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  14. Errata : the 2nd para read COULDN'T instead of COULD.

    I cant figure out how to remove my post or edit it [and have no time for it either, i have a GRE right in front of me] . I only have a google account and not a blogger account..

    ;-)

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  15. Sajid, yup... I kind-a detest such people. Thanks! :)

    Nirvana, hey, welcome onboard! Thanks for calling this a morale booster: wish you all the best in your research life! Will visit your blog soon.

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  16. No I didnt have it in me. I gave up after the MS, though I did think of a PhD for a while

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  17. Shreemoyee, good for you to have realised it like that. It sure helps to know what exactly you want in life.

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  18. now i knw i am not the only one... lol

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  19. Well Sudipta, I often wonder.. do people who talk about pursuing a PhD enroll with their thesis topic in mind? Or is it that the thesis develops as you take courses in the first year?

    I don't know. I am beginning to feel I ought to know what "research" is like before I sign up for a PhD. What say?

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  20. Ashay, I should say that such people are rare. People I know usually have an idea about the domain they want to get their PhD in, but they are rarely sure about the exact thesis toic. As I see here in UT, it takes 1-2 years to actually formulate the topic for your PhD, and then the actual work towards it starts.

    Don't worry about knowing the topic in advance: but you must know what kind of life you are signing up for before you decide to take the plunge! All the best for your future!

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