Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When are you finishing your PhD?

...that's the question I hate the most and also am asked the most!! In fact, anyone who is in the third/fourth year of his/her PhD faces this. Yet, that's the only dialogue anyone with a non-PhD/non-research background will indulge in with you. There are several people who this question.

First of all, those Chachas, Chachis, Mamas, Mamis et al will always pester you with these questions, especially if they have a son/daughter/son-in-law who has been working (mostly in a software company), say, for the last 3-4 years i.e. since when you started your PhD. The question is asked for either of two reasons: One. To make a comparison (by letting you subtly know that a comparison is being made) between you and this particular son/daughter/son-in-law. You always know that such a comparison is absolutely invalid but it's only you (and a very few others) who knows this fact. Two. There exists a female entity ('male' if you are a lady) who is to be married off this year and the Chachi/Mami somehow sees an ideal candidate in you (although the value of a PhD candidate in the Indian marriage market is quite low). Now, if you are already committed to someone, then you should easily deduce that the question is being asked for reason One.

Then there is the relative who has a son/daughter who has already finished his/her PhD (and by Murphy's law, almost in all cases, this person started his/her PhD with you if not after you). This question and the resulting pain seen on your face gives your relative a vicious happiness. Again, you know that a comparison between any two PhDs is not a fair one. But, it's again only YOU who knows that.

Third on the list is that confused entity who did not know what to do after graduation/Masters and ended up getting admitted in a PhD programme. This sinless character is interested in knowing your progress because he/she thinks that your answer will clear any self-doubt he/she holds. However, your answer won't do any good if you are in the, say, sixth year of PhD. In such a case, the rookie thinking goes something like this: " I surely won't take this long to complete! I shall start working really hard once my course-work gets over". The poor soul, however, is unaware of the fact that in a couple of years or so he/she is going to fall in the same ditch and will be asked the same question. But by then, he/she will have several people to blame for his/her slow progress: guide, guide, guide, guide......

Fourth: The shop-keeper near your home. He will ask you the same question but phrased differently: When will you start working? This guiltless person only knows that you are not yet earning and haven't still completed your education. He is worried about your parents, your wife (if you are married), your unborn kids (if you are unmarried). The baker near my house in Pune still thinks that I am taking some vocational course in ITI (for him, IIT = ITI). In fact, once he asked me why I was going to the ITI in Mumbai when there is an ITI in Pune. Well, explaining to him the progress of my PhD is 100 times more challenging than the problem I solved in my PhD.

Fifth: Your collegues, contemporaries...the fellow-PhD students...they ask the question with pure intent....they just want to really know when you'll be finishing.

Last but not the least: Your near and dear ones (read parents, better half/would-be). They will rarely ask you this question. But when they ask, you get down to work, with determination, with zest and sometimes with moist eyes....

Whether or not you answer the question, you shall someday put down your thesis and be called Dr.....so what if you take 4 yrs, 5 yrs, 6 yrs.......

Before signing off, yours truly would like to give a truth:
Under no circumstance and at not stage of your PhD, shall your Guide ask you, 'when are you planning to finish?' and shall keep mum (with a smirk) when you ask, 'when will I be finishing?'


Vinay said...

who said fellow PhDs ask only out of pure intent? they might be eyeing your lab space or your lab PC, or your hostel room, which they get to take over once you graduate :)

and yes, there are many people around you who seem interested in marrying you off. infact, they seem much more interested than you actually are, leading you to wonder who is the actual beneficiary of the marriage?

kaushik said...

Hey controlman :)

Howdy? When do you finish :p

I agree with Vinay, I need a new office, and I won't get it till this other guy moves (or graduates, whichever is earlier), and he want's to go to another place, but that is occupied by a grad student from when time began, who refuses to wind up :(

kaushik said...

btw, absolutely loved your url !!!!


aamjunta said...

Cool... Well written and explained. I too have gone through similarly. ITI/IIT, Marriage/PhD, Software/Teaching..

Toughest question: "When are you finishing your PhD?"... I don't know what to say.

And about marriage and PhD... PhD is like a marriage between the guide and the student. The divorce paper needs to be filed in time (the presyn/thesis submission) before going for the marriage. Marriage and PhD -- most of the cases creates problem. One can't satisfy both :)

Thanks again. Keep writing :)

Susan Deborah said...

Abhijit: I cannot agree more on this. My my! The question: 'When will you complete?' never never ends. Sometimes the very question is the perennial source of angst within me. I just feel like blasting everyone with words (thats my only weapon).