Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Today is Saraswati Puja! Let me narrate a sweet academic experience. I cannot gurantee whether it really happened or conjured up from my dream. The quotes that appear below are reproduced from those faint memories. These may not exactly be the verbatim of the conversation but the sum and substance of it.
It was a cold winter evening of January. We were back after a short visit to Tikka, a tradition we religiously followed whenever a journal paper is accepted from a lab. student. For the uninitiated, Tikka is not what you may have thought, it is a food joint.
"Let me play the role of a TV anchor and interview RS", I started. Before this I told RS that he might have to make a speech. I believe that the modified mode of conversation was more likable. In the audience, besides 4 newcomers there were 4 seniors.
"Usually, people begin from the beginning. Let us begin from the end. What exactly went through your mind when you first saw the email stating your paper is accepted in the journal?" I asked. This was a special issue in an international journal with guest editors , the stalwarts in our field.
"Early morning, I was in g-talk when a message flashed in the screen that a new mail has arrived." RS started slowly. "It showed only first few words, "Your paper has been..." and didn't show the rest, if it was accepted or rejected."
"I got tensed, couldn't muster the courage to open the mail. Many different thoughts came to my mind. How much effort went into this work, how the next piece of work got interrupted in answering queries of reviewers, conducting new experiments etc. and what shall I do if I get a verdict 'Reject'. With renowned editors on charge, there will be many good submissions in this special issue and unless our paper cuts above the rest, it won't find a place. May be I shall send to another journal with some more work on it based on the comments made." No doubt that for a first timer who has just completed 2 years as PhD scholar and this being his first piece of work communicated to journal, apprehension would always be there.
"So, what did you do? You gradually gathered strength and opened the mail..." I asked.
"No, I could not gather sufficient strength myself. I called my grand father over telephone. By talking to him I gained some confidence. While he (grand father) was on telephone line I opened the mail and a sense of great relief descended on me .... yes, it is accepted .... my this piece of work is complete ... I can focus on the new threads which are at semi-finished stages."
"Then I rang you", RS was addressing me. "You must have observed that my voice was trembling in excitement." Yes, I did. Excitement like this is unparallel when one's good work is acknowledged by an international panel of experts.
"Now that you have completed a full cycle on your first piece of work, pls. share with the audience how the journey was constituted" I asked. "Compared to ERS, the first PhD from our Lab. in this area you could start from something, not zero."
"Yes, Sir (ERS) had to start from the scratch. He studied the subject by heart. Given a sentence, he can tell where does that appear, the paper title, author, page no. etc." RS continued, "I found that one need to read a lot. The older papers of 70s and 80s were better written and help to develop the fundamental. If faced difficulties, I took help of books e.g. MS suggested me Papoulis and that helped me clear some doubts on mathemtaical issues. I found that the books are more authentic, reliable. I cannot say the same for all the joural papers even when eminent names are therein the author list. And conference papers are mostly unreliable. Some papers I have seen are demotivating and mis-leading in certain sense. They try to say that the roads are closed in a particular direction while it is not."
"Any suggestion for juniors, specially the new comers?" I asked.
"Yes. Don't waste time. Looking back I find how much more I could do if I had used the available time more fruitfully." He sounded tough in advising, "Now that you have taken research as a career, stop worrying about job market and concentrate on work. If job is what matters to you, then leave research ... it is not for you. You have to give more time, need much more dedication." Strong, terse statement but for the well being of the juniors. I am sure they will understand. Only a well-wishers cautions, shows weaknesses so that it can be overcome sooner than the later. I chipped in saying that one is entitled to worry about future but there is no such case where a student after getting a IITkgp MS or PhD degree remain unemployed. The more you focus on your work and get output, the more will be the employment opportunities.
The meeting eneded at 8 p.m. when I received a phone call asking me if I feel like returning from tha lab. and if I have other responsibilites or not :-)