Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                                                               Interactive science series - Part 13

All you want to know about research...

A few Students who are really interested in their careers frequently ask me a few questions. 

How can we do research?

How can we publish papers?

How can we become scientists?

This my brief reply to them...

It is very nice to see that at least some students are enthusiastic about research and writing papers. 

Research is the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions and gain new knowledge. 

And a PhD is a challenging expedition to the frontiers of human knowledge.

Research papers in short are a compilation of a study involving a topic, the observations , table compilations, mathematical deductions and derivations, graphical representation, future application and chances of innovation with advancement in that particular field etc. It is a way of communicating your significant research work to your colleagues in the field.

You cannot write and publish research papers without doing your own innovative research first. 

But before  going ahead realize that you are about to embark on a grueling several years of  journey that will test your intellect, creativity, endurance, independence, and fundamental will power.

Reasons for embarking on this path should be: Passion for scientific research, curiosity and to help the world by finding solutions to some of the problems it faces. And your limitless love for science, if you want to be a part of it to enjoy the thrills of inventions and discoveries and to gain more deep knowledge about a subject and share it with the world.

The criteria for becoming good PG students and good researchers  are usually different. I have seen some very bright students who really got top ranks in the university exams  but couldn't think originally, creatively and critically enough to be a good researcher, or tolerate the uncertainty when joined research. These people couldn't go far enough in the field by walking on the tough and rough roads research lays before them.

I am not telling you it’s going to be easy. I am telling you it’s going to be worth it.

If you are fully prepared for such a journey, then proceed. This is how you should go about it...

Choose a topic of your interest. The first step of all research is getting acquainted with your topic and understanding it well. This includes a lot of reading of original research papers. Read everything about it in high standard journals (according to Science, scientists do read a lot of literature, ref 1)This serves several purposes: you learn what research has already been done, and you get a foundation in your topic that will help you come up with a question and design your project.  Get your basics rock solid. Then you will understand what type of work is going on and how it can impact the society you are living in.  By reading others' research papers and journals on the related topics, you can understand better methodologies and concepts used by others. Reading papers also helps you to better understand the idea.

You will also learn which areas in your field are important/interesting to explore, how to ask the right questions,  how to design experiments and how to evaluate the results.  Perhaps most important, you will know about all the other people you can brainstorm with, and who can critique what you're doing.  

Try to think critically what outstanding contributions you can make to the field. Prepare a plan.

Approach a good guide working in a university or a research institute where you have the facilities to work. If the person thinks your proposal is good enough, s/he will agree to guide you.

Try to get a fellowship/ sponsorship for your work. You have to write exams or get top ranks in the university in your subject to get these things. Some supervisors have research projects where fellowships are offered but then you cannot choose your subject when you are working in such projects. You have to take whatever is offered to you.

The two important  fellowships that researchers can apply for in India are  CSIR and UGC. You will find some more here:

Again group work makes things easy for people who are new into research. You can volunteer and assist research groups with their ongoing projects. Doctoral students have to be prepared to put in long hours mastering ideas and research techniques before starting their program. They will need to do this largely on their own (rather than having it neatly outlined for them in courses) and to learn how to ask peers, postdocs, or faculty for assistance as required. This is truly a situation in which one becomes responsible for one’s own learning.

With the help of your supervisor, go ahead with your work. Think what you want to achieve by working in the field. Want to invent a new thing or discover something already there in Nature but isn't noticed by anybody till then or  solve a problem that is bothering everybody around? Devise your experiments accordingly. Make observations. Note all the data you collected. Test several times what you have invented or discovered really works or exists under all the conditions possible. If one method doesn't work, you have to think and devise other ones. Usually it takes several attempts to succeed. People in the field say you will triumph only after making 5-10 attempts!  It takes some time for one to feel confident that one has mastered a particular skill set.  

One of the most important thing a research student must learn is how to deal with uncertainty, confusion, errors, and setbacks. These will occur with great frequency throughout one’s entire career as a researcher, and some people find this extremely uncomfortable to cope with. Recognizing what one does not know about a topic or technique is critical; learning how to effectively remedy one’s lack of knowledge is, likewise, essential. In fact, discovering how to turn mistakes and setbacks into opportunities to forge a deeper understanding of a topic one thought one already had mastered is a great way to make progress.

You cannot just quit one day if you are unable to succeed in the field because it would be like throwing away the hard work of so many years. So you have to work and try until you reach your goal post.

A doctoral student needs to be able to handle the fact that research is fundamentally an investigation into the unknown. You are out on a wire with no safety net and will have to walk on your own — there are no answers to look up in some book. Instead, you need to learn how to verify your results through approaching a topic from multiple angles, considering related or limiting cases, and finding applicable results within the literature. Even so, a few years after you publish a paper someone may prove that your results were, in fact, incorrect… and you will have to be able to handle that and move on.

Finally, when you and your guide think you found ‘this is interesting’ aspect in your work, try to arrange the data you gathered in  distinct patterns to get some statistical significance.

Write a paper based on the data and conclusions you arrived at and try to send it to a good journal publishers (editors). Different journals will have different formats and they will give you guide lines on how to write your papers. Follow them strictly.

And your paper will be sent to 2-3 experts in the field - the process is called peer-reviewing. These experts will asses your work and might ask you to clarify things or make corrections if they think you made mistakes at any stage of your work. Based on the reviewer comments, the editors make a recommendation to the senior editor that each manuscript be accepted, re-reviewed after revisions, or rejected. If they don't find your work satisfactory, they might even reject it.  In such instances you have to rework your plan and rewrite the paper and send it to the same journal or another one. If the peers approve your work, then only the journals will accept to publish your papers. 

Now this isn’t easy at all. I want to repeat once again, 'go ahead only if you think you have the courage and patience for years of hard work'.


     Peer-reviewing ( art work by Dr. Krishna Kuamri Challa from )

The cycle continues. Finally after 5-6 years, you and your guide would think you have done enough and got sufficient positive or sometimes negative  stuff that is important too to write a thesis on. It takes about a year to make all the data settle into  a pattern and after sorting it out, you write your thesis based on it and submit it. 

Now three experts in your field will assess it and when at least two of them say your work is significant, your thesis will be accepted. Then comes viva voce - sometimes an  open one where everybody in your field will try to rip you apart! Somehow you come out of it without much damage and you will be awarded your Ph.D. degree. Congratulations you are a trained scientist now! 

Now you can plan to become a full fledged practicing scientist.

It is a potentially high reward decision if you vote for it. 

Being at the forefront of research in a given field offers unique opportunities to make a very large impact that are inaccessible without such expertise. More importantly, if the researcher is truly exceptional s/he will come out the other end of the work with an enormous variety of job potential. This includes being a professor, working in R&D as a scientist, and starting a company based on the research. Essentially, having a research experience  does open some unique doors that are otherwise extremely difficult or impossible to access.

You gain subject expertise, can publish papers and add something to the knowledge bank and learn some special techniques, and develop new techniques to help people.

And it really is thrilling despite all the difficulties you face because you will be visiting places no man has ever gone before and doing work no one has done before and helping the mankind while doing all this! 

"Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream." 

All the best.




Other questions people asked me about research...and my replies to them...

Q: Can you name a few Universities and Research Institutes that are very good for pursuing PhD in India?

MR: there are a few universities/research institutes in India  which offer very good research-facilities. Here are a few of them :

Indian Institute of Science (IISc) 
Indian Institute Technology (IITs)
Tata Institute of Fundamental Reseach (TIFR) 
Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI)
Indian Statistical Institute Kolkata (ISI)
Hyderabad Central University (HCU) 
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) 

But let me also add, any university is good as long as it has good research facilities and has a good atmosphere to encourage good researchers. 

Q: Is it true that there is no cost to pursuing a Ph.D.?

Krishna: Yes, I did my Ph.D. without spending a single paise from my purse. How? I got a CSIR fellowship which took care of everything.

Without a fellowship this would not have been possible! 

Q: I just joined my PhD. How can I ask my professor to include my name to a paper?

MR: You have to work for it! You cannot write and publish research papers without doing your own innovative research first or atleast contributing something to the work others are doing .

Any professor should allow you to be a co-author if you did some substantial amount of the research and wrote a reasonable amount of the content of the paper. First let your professor know that you want to publish a paper. Then s/he will guide you on how to go about it.

Significant contribution makes others add your name to the paper if you are not publishing your own work.  Do these things before asking your professor or others to add your name... 

Help them in an intellectual way. This is the most common authorship criteria, where as long as you contributed some intellectually relevant thing, you are an author. 


You have to contribute in the form of the physical work - at least one measurement or analysis should be performed by you. You can also collect data.


You must be involved in actually writing part of the paper providing data, statistical analysis and interpretation of results. 

Only if you do any one of these things, it would become reasonable to ask your adviser about paper authorship. Nobody will offer it to you just like that if you  wish for it!

Q: Why do professors have so many research papers?

MR: There are a few tricks of the trade...

Professors at top universities will be selected from a wide pool of applicants mainly based on the number and quality of publications they had at the time and how often such publications were cited.  

They have more funds to do research projects. 

They build labs with good equipment.

A professor's publication rate can be correlated with the number of students he has!  When he provides funds and facilities, large number of students approach him. Professors lend their brains and advise students on their papers and thus become authors, but it's the students who do the bulk of the research and writing.  So, high productivity  also comes from having lots of students.

If professors collaborate with people from other groups, then, again, they can publish a large number of papers. Team work is the key here.

The number of papers a professor can publish depends on the field he is in too. Some scientific fields such as maths, theoretical physics, computer science, etc. does not need manual, time-consuming experiments to be made and one sole author can contribute quite a lot to a theory, and they can write a paper in a relatively short time compared to the ones who need to do laborious lab work.

Q: What is it like to do scientific research?
MR: In the beginning challenging, next frustrating, then exciting, and in the end elating!

Q: What happens if a Ph.D. Supervisor expires/dies midway through a candidates Ph.D?
My reply:  Well, if you can do your work on your own without outside help, you can ask your Department Head and the University to provide another guide just because you have to have one according to the rules! At the level of Ph.D., I think you should be able to do your work independently and complete it. This happened twice in our university. I don't see any problem here.
On the other hand if you depend on your supervisor completely, you are in an extremely difficult situation unless other people in your field come to your rescue.

Q: What do they ask in PhD entrance interviews (direct PhD in my case)? 

Q: What questions are usually asked during the interviews in research institutes to the PhD (life sciences) aspirants?

My reply: Mostly about your subject. You have to be thorough in it. Questions are normally asked to know about the competency and knowledge of the PhD applicant, how skillful the candidate is with the previous experience, if not, the basics in the respective field of study.

Depending on the field, be prepared for specific questions on what is what and how they work, and what is the latest finding on the specific topic. If you worked before in another relevant field, you need to show you are best at what you have done, you just need to be technically strong.

Then again it depends on the people who are interviewing you. They will also check whether you can withstand the pulls and pressures of constant hard work and frequent failures. That depends on the candidate's personality. So be sure that you have a strong mind to deal with it.

Q: Is it true that for getting a PhD in India, one has to keep his/her PhD advisers happy and impressed. What are the things that impress advisers apart from work? There are cases where PhD students do exceptional work still their advisers are not happy, They were even give an ‘X’ grade or sometimes dismissed their PhD.

MR: We never faced such things in our university. Our relationships with our supervisors are thoroughly professional. I don’t know about the situations in other universities. But none of my friends in other universities too never complained about their guides.

I don’t know from where you got this impression. You should ask people who told you this to provide evidence to substantiate their stories.

Q: Can getting a PhD ever be easy?
M R: No, it can never be easy. Well most of the time. If you put in 12-18 hours of work per day, you will be able to complete it in about 4-5 years time. Otherwise it might even take 7-8 years!

Q: But I heard that some people like John Forbes Nash Jr. got their Ph.D. in two years? 

MR: It was a different time (1950) with different requirements for a Ph.D. Nash’s 26 page dissertation today would be rejected, it was more like a technical note that would be published in a journal today. If Nash did his Ph.D. in 1970’s or later he would have spent 2 years just writing it and it would be more than 200 pages long. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the requirement for the Ph.D. was a dissertation and some course work directly related to your field. Nash was brilliant, but it was the academic culture of the time that allowed him to earn a Ph.D. in 2 years. So it depends on time, brilliance of the candidate, country or place the work is conducted, amount of time spent working, and the subject. 

Yes, I heard of one or two people who did complete their work in subjects like  Maths in just two years in recent times. But they are rare exceptions.

Q: If sometimes directors of research institutes pressurize scientists to publish more papers, does it  effect the quality of research they are doing?

MR: It effects, but can go both ways when pressurized, more to the negative side.

Quality Research takes time. You cannot force people to publish several papers in a limited time frame. Your papers have to pass through peer-review test. And it is not easy.

On the other hand, some people might work very hard to achieve the target. But hard work under unfavourable conditions can only give limited success.

Collaborative work can relieve you from pressure. That is why people who work in groups will achieve more success than single individuals and publish more papers.

Q: How can an average PhD student cope with a genius supervisor?

MR: I think the student should consider himself/herself the most luckiest and try to reach the levels of the genius. It is a great opportunity to reach great heights. Yes, one has to work very hard to achieve this, but you cannot go anywhere without being industrious.

I can understand, first you will be overwhelmed. Then try to compare yourself with a genius and get frustrated.

But sit with the genius as often as you can and try to understand the way a genius mind works. Soon you will realize you too can become one.

Now I want one genius to work with! :)

Q: What are pros and cons of doing a Ph.D. when you are young?

MR: I started my Ph.D. when I was 22 and completed it when I was 26 and got my Ph.D. when I was 27. I didn’t have many problems as it was continuation of my academic career.

I was young with no responsibilities whatsoever. I was energetic and full of vigour. I could stay the whole night in my lab to conduct experiments.

I think it is better to do your Ph.D. when you are young, provided you are a responsible person, and several opportunities are still knocking at your door. 

Q:  What are the right reasons for anyone to pursue a Ph.D.?

MR: Passion for scientific research, curiosity and to help the world by finding solutions to some of the problems it faces. And your limitless love for science, if you want to be a part of it to enjoy the thrills of inventions and discoveries and to gain more deep knowledge about a subject and share it with the world.

Of course to get trained as a scientist!

Q: How can anybody become a scientist in India?

MR: Briefly (a detailed reply was given above), choose the field you are interested in. Select a guide for a Ph.D. from any university or a research institute and try to get a fellowship and then start your research work..

After completing your Ph.D. , which is not necessary in some cases, you will become a 'trained scientist.' If you do good work and publish interesting papers, you can apply for a scientist post in any of the research institutes either in India or in any part of the world and can become a practicing scientist. Sounds easy. But difficult to follow.

Q: Can a student who's pursing a master's degree contribute to research paper by working under a professor?

MR: Yes, if you have the confidence and knowledge to do that.

Q: Do scientists in general have a tendency to look down upon liberal arts?

MR: No. I work in several fields although I am trained only in science. Every subject has its own importance in human existence. I communicate science using art and literature. But I had difficulty working with some artists because their mental make up is different somewhat to mine. Art and science have several differences in approach while dealing with a single problem. It was difficult to get adjusted in the arts field in the beginning. Based on my experiences and those of my colleagues who worked with artists during collaborations, I wrote several articles. You can read one of those here:  Why is it difficult for people of science to be in the same room wi...

Q: Is it possible to obtain four Ph.D.s?

MR: It is possible but one is enough. I got mine in science but published a research paper in art too! I don't want to do a Ph.D. in art though. There is no need actually. You know how to go about in research and publish papers if you find something interesting either in art, science or literature. Then why waste time in acquiring more degrees? Once you have a Ph.D., it's a good idea to seek a postdoctoral position in a different but related field if you want to change .

The reason why some go for a second PhD is if they have left research for a long time and need to re-establish their credibility while also shifting fields. 

Q: How can you be sure about the reputation of a journal to which you are submitting your paper?

MR: Well, when you are in a field, you read papers published in various journals in the field and realize which ones are reliable and which ones are not. That comes naturally  with your training in research. Also, we discuss things with our supervisors, scientists and professors  who are very experienced in the field, and colleagues and get their views on various journals. And there are lists of journals that are  and not reliable. You can view some of them here : LIST OF PUBLISHERS

Q: Should I continue with my PhD when everything is going wrong?

MR: You face lots of difficulties in the field of research. I don't think anybody can succeed easily here. It takes years of hard work, surmounting innumerable roadblocks and, frequent failures. But these things should not make you quit.

"Honestly though, I feel my colleagues (male dominant department) are more knowledgeable, confident and have a better grasp of things which makes me feel I don't even deserve to be here" - these words made me think you are a women. Then you should read this article that gives you enough strength to move forward: Being a woman is no obstacle in science if you are determined and h...

Don't quit, please don't. You will definitely succeed if you try to focus in the right way.

Q: What can PhD candidates do if their research produces negative or unusable results?
MR: Go right back to the drawing board! Find the right reasons for the disaster. What makes a result unusable? Asking poor questions, designing poor experiments, or not troubleshooting experiments properly.
One has to work harder and figure out how to get results that matter. Sometimes negative results are just as important as positive results, given good methodology. If the study hypotheses are interesting, framed properly, and the methodology is sound, then the study can be published because the results, positive or negative, will be valuable to science.
If none of the above works out, one may has to start over with a new topic. The work one has put in already should make it easier to make fast progress: you now know a lot about your area -- techniques and resources as well as what is in books, and maybe you've developed the maturity and work habits that a researcher needs. But it could easily cost you an extra year or two.

Be humble and always be prepared to learn.

Q: Are there any journals that publish negative results?

Krishna: Yes, there are some journals that think negative results in science are important too and publish significant ones. Here is a list of such journals...

  • New Negatives in Plant SciencePublishes hypothesis-driven, scientifically sound studies that describe unexpected, controversial, dissenting, and/or null (negative) results in basic plant sciences.
  • Journal of Negative ResultsProvides an online medium to publish peer-reviewed, sound scientific work in ecology and evolutionary biology that is scientifically rigorous but does not rely upon arbitrary significance thresholds to support conclusions.
  • Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicineProvides a platform for the publication and discussion of unexpected, controversial, provocative and/or negative results in the context of current tenets.
  • Journal of Pharmaceutical Negative ResultsPublishes original, innovative and novel research articles resulting in negative results; publishes theoretical and empirical papers that report the negative findings and research failures in pharmaceutical field.
  • The All Results journals. The main objective of the four journals – Chem, Nano, Biol and Phys – is to recover and publish negative results, valuable pieces of information in science.

Source of the list of journals that publish negative results: Elsevier

Q: Should a PhD student publish in low tier journals?

MR: I was told publishing in a good journal makes a lot of difference to your career. I was also advised to publish in a Western journal because 'they carry lots of weight' and you will be cited more often than publishing in the journals in India. So I sent a very good paper to an American journal sometime back and although my paper was accepted, I was asked to pay a good amount in US Dollars to get published. Now one US Dollar is around 68 Indian Rupees. My one year fellowship would go away with it. How can I work then? My supervisor had asked me to send it to a good Indian Journal published by CSIR. I published my work in only Indian journals since then. They are considered as 'second grade' by people. But it doesn't matter. My work was recognized as a very good one and people here quote us quite often. What more do you need?

Q: How many hours does a PhD student usually work every week?

MR: That depends. Some experiments take a long time. I used to stay in the lab whole night sometimes - that is working for more than 2o hours per day! But on an average I used to work for 12 hours per day while doing my Ph.D. and took 4 years to complete my work. One of my friends took 7 years to complete her work because she worked for shorter periods.

If you want to complete your work soon, you have to work for longer periods.

Q: What is the difference between retraction and withdrawal of research papers?

MR: The journals initiate retractions if papers they published found to be fraudulent; authors initiate withdrawals for various reasons.  The result for each action is the same.

Q: Does somebody keep a watch on papers published to decide whether they are genuine or fraudulent?

MR: Usually people in the field try to repeat experiments or at least use the same experimental procedures based on the  information and data provided by the authors. If they fail to get the same or similar results, they report it. Then the journals that published the papers might ask for full data of the work from the authors. If the authors provide it, it will be assessed. If they found to be fraudulent or false, then the journals might retract the papers. If the authors fail to provide the data, then also the paper might be retracted. We have a blog that reports these retraction details:

So you cannot get away with fraud in science. It will be found in someway. People and experts in your field will be watching you in one way or the other all the time. Despite publishing in peer reviewed journals, people are not safe unless they are honest and genuine. That is what I like about science. Completely self-correcting, trying to improve all the time, and helping mankind in the process. You can never find a better world than this!

Q: How do I do research? What are the sources? What do I look for?

MR: ( I already gave a reply before). First approach good professors/scientists/guides/supervisors in your chosen field. If you have good academic record, one of them might accept to guide you. Then select a topic of your interest with the help of your guide. Next thing is to search for a funding source. Some of the guides themselves have these project based funds. Otherwise you have to go for UGC/CSIR fellowships. You get all the information you need to know about them on their websites.
Usually most supervisors guide you on how to proceed. Some don't do that like mine. According to my guide, at the level of Ph.D. you don't need spoon-feeding and I think that is the right approach - making your student find his/her own way. I had to do everything myself including selecting a topic! I learnt everything on my own starting with ABCDs of research !
You have to read entire literature in your field in the first six months. Then you will understand what work is going on, what work still needs to be done and how to go about it. You need some basic knowledge in other fields too to creatively apply them to your field.
I don't think I need to say more than this. Find your own way from here. All the best!

Q: How can anyone contact researchers working in his or her field to collaborate?

MR: The research community is pretty small and you will soon get to know who publishes in your particular area.  Sometimes you can read a paper and email the author and of course you meet people in Conferences.  They are designed for this.  Everyone shares their latest work and findings and discuss things outside conference halls. 

But first, find out from your supervisor whether or not he or she is game for collaborations.

Q: What should I do during my PhD studies? I am going to begin my PhD studies in Neuroscience in Fall, and I am very enthusiastic about it. There is a bunch of questions in my mind about it:  How should I manage my time as a PhD student? What percentage of my time should be spent for reading papers, references, etc., and how much should be dedicated to working on projects? I appreciate your recommendations and suggestions about these topics and any other thing you may consider important.
MR: Aha! Welcome to the high voltage arena!
First grab all the literature you can lay your hands on in the first six months. Then feast your eyes on it. You should be thorough in literature in your field. Then you will understand where you stand with regard to your problem. You can discuss things with your guide/supervisor and senior colleagues but at this level you should be able to carry your own cross.
Independent critical thinking and to be able to creatively connect different things are some of the most important traits of a Ph.D. student in science. This should go along with reading the literature.
Dealing with adversity very effectively and the ability to withstand frustration and overcome failure. In the first few months, you usually never taste success. A Ph.D. student should be able to go on and on even when the going gets tough. These qualities are probably as important as a person's innate intellectual gifts because in science you need extreme patience to deal with failures over and over again as you would be the first person who would be venturing into unknown and untested worlds very frequently. You very rarely face success in one or two attempts. Only several years of unrelenting perseverance can yield good results.
One has to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge to enter the field of science. One has to feel this from the bottom of ones' heart and this feeling must come from the depth of ones' mind too.

Q: Which one counts more: the ability to carry out research or the fact that one has a published paper?
MR: With peer-reviewed published papers in high quality journals you get more recognition. You have done your work. Your professor/guide says it is good. But how can anybody really know whether it can stand up to the high standards of research? Your published paper says that you have the ability to carry out research and that you have passed the test with flying colours.

Q: Do PhD advisers proofread the proofs in papers submitted by their students?
MR: Yes, supervisors do try to check whether what their students did/proposed is correct or not most of the time. When you add their names to the papers you publish, it is their responsibility to do so.

Q: Is there a limit to the number of authors that can contribute to a paper?

MR: There is no limit. Papers from large experiments such as the human genome project or the LHC have had thousands of authors. World-record breaking number  for the largest number of contributors to a single research paper is 5,154 authors! It was a joint paper by two large teams working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN published 14 May in Physical Review Letters

However, as far as possible, try to avoid adding large number of names in the authors column- which would somewhat dilute your contribution - and acknowledge peoples' contributions separately if they helped you in some way but didn't contribute in huge ways unless they insist on authorship..

Q: How can I find co-authors for my papers?

MR: Your supervisor/immediate boss/group leader will be your first co-author. Your research group members will be your co-authors if they contribute in some way. If your colleagues help you in finding a solution to your research problem, you can add their names too. If you can collaborate with people outside of your university or research institute while doing a research project, then again you can add their names to your papers.

Q: How can students cope with rejection of manuscripts? What can they do to avoid rejection?

MR: The best way to go is do everything possible to see papers are not rejected. Check several times the methodology, observations under all possible conditions, data, results, conclusions, language and whether you followed all the guidelines given by the journals strictly and whether the paper suits the journal or not. What is more important is novelty of the idea and work. Do something that is highly creative and really adds to the knowledge in the field. That is the key for success.

My papers were never rejected but once I myself withdrew my paper because the publishers were demanding money and refused to waive the fee for handling and publication. I had a fight with them because they themselves said in the guidelines that they would consider a waiver for students when requested. Their argument was - my guide, as a professor and co-author, could pay the fee. I didn’t want to ask my guide to pay or pay myself my one year fellowship as fee. Since then I never sent my papers to any journals that demanded money for handling the manuscripts. I learnt a lesson.

I sent my paper as it was to another journal that was equally good. Time was wasted, I felt bad about it. But my paper was accepted without any conditions by the second one. And that made me very happy.

If a research paper is rejected, don't get disheartened. The publishers will give reasons why it was rejected. Correct all the mistakes or follow the suggestions made for acceptance and send it to the same journal or another journal. If the paper is good, it will definitely be accepted. There is no need to worry.

Q: How do you keep your notes while reading scientific papers?
MR: I never keep any notes. Everything I read goes directly into the box over my head and stored there and I will be able to recall things whenever I want to.
One should have a good command over the subject when you are trying to do research and it comes only from your head - atleast for me - reaching for a notepad, a paper, a computer or a book is never an option when I need references.
But then I forget everything else not related to my work and make silly mistakes. That is the price I pay for overburdening my brain.
I think most of the scientists work this way and that is why they are very absent minded and forgetful.

Q: Can a person not affiliated to any institute, write a research paper?

MR: Yes, s/he can! The conferences and journals that I know do not have any restrictions on who may submit papers for consideration. 

One can independently publish a paper without being affiliated to any institute/university. 
The quality of the work and contribution matters. 
Though, the papers get easily processed and published if it is from a known institute due to reputation but that shouldn't matter if your results are accurate and there is indeed a scientific significance for your work. 

However, these non-affiliated papers are rare. Why is the number so low? Presumably because only a few such papers are submitted and only some of those are accepted.
Why are few non-affiliated papers submitted? For one, there isn't the motivation. Performing research and writing it up takes months or years. If that isn't part of your job description, then you may not be motivated to invest the time. Also, people outside institutions may lack the means to do the research: access to labs or funds for field work or research assistants.
Why do non-affiliated papers submitted for publication get rejected? Probably for the same reasons that affiliated papers do. The research isn't deemed novel or important enough. The paper doesn't follow the standard structure for the field. The paper isn't well written.

Q: What are the chances of getting accepted as PhD candidate if we pursue masters from Indian university? I have heard that it is easier to get accepted for PhD if you do your masters from abroad as compared to Indian universities.
MR: If you have good grades/top ranks, where you did your masters doesn’t really matter unless your supervisor is highly prejudiced.

Q: Do advisers throw students out of their groups? If so why?

MR:  Absolutely. The problems that were observed with such students...

  • not really interested in research (or not having enough creativity)
  • not enough technical skill for research (often correlated with mediocre grades in at least some courses)
  • no clarity of thought
  • trying to do too many things at the same time, and being too superficial
  • plagiarism
  • multiple cheating violations
  • tend to be totally dependent ("tell me what to do, and I'll do it" - no original research output of their own).

Q: Can Ph.D. students do research beyond their advisors' research interest?

MR: Yes, if the guides allow them to!

On the other hand, nobody can make a person stop to do what he or she wants to do privately if the student has funds to pursue his or her own field of interest and the capabilities to go ahead and produce independent productive results. 

Q: Why are people not attracted to scientific research easily? Is it too difficult, or is it because of a lack of money or both?
MR: Science is an extremely difficult subject to pursue. You need years and years of training to become an expert and to succeed too in research you need to put in all you have got into it. And success is placed so high that it takes all your life's efforts to get there.
It is the mentality of the people... unwillingness to work so hard. I don't think getting funds is such a big problem if you have innovative ideas.
It is easy to do other things like running around trees and talking non-stop and get lots of money .
But don't forget, if it is not for a few scientists who are willing to give up comforts and luxuries for such hard work, the world wouldn't have been in such a comfortable and healthy state now.

Q: What is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation?

MR: There is no clear cut demarcation between these two around the world and these words are sometimes interchangeable!

However, in certain countries which include India, a dissertation is a product of a graduate/master degree and is not required to be original in the field of study. Dissertation implies that you have looked into something done by others and writing down what you have found and can include your own thoughts on it.

A thesis is a product of a Ph.D. and is required to be original.  Thesis is a scholarly written document of a detailed study on a particular topic in consistent with all details of Research Methodology. Thesis implies that original research and data are involved.

Q: I am 18 and I want to be a physicist but I feel sad and depressed when I look at genius child prodigies that are way younger and miles ahead of me. What do I do?

Q: How can I contribute to science and research if I have an average I.Q.?

Q: How much IQ is needed to become a scientist?

Q: Do I need to have a high IQ to become a good scientist?

MR: Some others too asked me similar questions earlier. People think it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are only partially right. It is the personality of a scientist that takes them to greater heights. Great scientists themselves said this.

While a scientist does need to be somewhat above average in intelligence to have a chance at excelling, how much above average is difficult to say. We don't have reliable data on this because Scientists usually don't take IQ tests. If they think they can do something, they just do it!

Read here my article :
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined (Book)

Q: Should double-blind peer reviews be the norm in science?
MR: Yes, it is the best for us despite the negativity attached to it. The scientific world is expanding and when a person in the US is reviewing a paper of a person in India who is not well known, it is highly unlikely he could guess it correctly. Even if the reviewers could guess who the authors are ( they could if they are from their part of the world or well acquainted with their work), it is a blind guess which might not reveal the true identities and keep the biases at bay.
I know a situation where when one of my colleagues was told by a professor who knew him that he got his paper for reviewing some years back. And they both discussed the paper through E-mails, my colleague gave him explanations on several questions raised by the professor which were accepted by the the reviewing professor before he sent his positive response to the journal. In a way my colleague himself was responsible for the acceptance of his paper by the journal! It happened before my own agonized eyes.
Would Double - blind peer review have stopped such things? What if the professor guessed the author and contacted his friends and asked about it? The same thing would have happened with the same results.
I think banning the reviewers from contacting the authors or the authors the reviewers - even if they are close friends - should strictly be followed.
Best solution is sending the papers to all remote corners of the globe avoiding the local reviewers. If you are reviewing a paper from a distant part of the world , even if you can guess who the authors are, you don't feel that attachment associated with your peers and friends of your region and you can be neutral.

Q: What is the best piece of advice given by people's PhD supervisors?
MR: Depend on 'your' gray matter not on 'mine'! Yes, this is exactly what my supervisor told me to do and what I followed very religiously.
(Some supervisors give full freedom to their students while some don't. But I think only if you allow your students to find their way themselves, they become strong, independent and intelligent).

Q: What difficulties do Ph.D. students face?

MR: These are some of the problems students face: 

Some students may find, after they start, that they are not really interested in what they are doing, or comfortable with the style of the group they are working with.

Some students are just not ready to do research because they feel like a baby in a forest! The students have to learn to use external tools, to dig up answers on their own, to patch over problems that are not worth solving right now, and to depend on other group members for mutual support. Some students are naturals at this, most can learn it to some degree, but some panic - one of my juniors started crying when I asked her how she felt about it. I had to guide and support her for nearly a year until she gained some confidence.

Extreme hard work (both mental and physical).

Designing experiments , interpreting the results, deriving conclusions based on data collected, providing pointers to the relevant literature,  contacting experts in the field and discussing the topic with them, cutting down the problem to something more manageable, pointing out interesting lines of attack, thinking critically and in an innovative way, creatively connecting various things to solve problems. 

Some have difficult personal lives -- maybe problems at home, illness, or substance abuse -- that they can't really focus on a challenging long-term task requiring a lot of self-motivation. 

Some are brilliant planners, and they may be good researchers too, but their communication skills are so bad and their minds are so messy that the guides can't make any sense of what they are doing.

Bridging the huge gap between the knowledge they actually have and the knowledge they are expected to possess in order to be comfortable in the research arena.

Presenting papers in conferences where they face the experts in the filed directly. Most of the Ph.D. students panic if they are not confident about their subject and work.

Speaking and writing in English (papers and thesis)  well enough if they are from other media.

Publishing papers and dealing with deadlines.

 Dealing with failures and frustrations.

Q: Do I have the right to quit my PhD?

MR: Yes, you can, if you want. But that is not a wise thing to do and that attitude will not take you anywhere. When you just quit one day if you are unable to succeed in the field, it would be like throwing away the hard work of so many years which also involves others’ work and frustrates your supervisor like hell. It is wasting of resources which are rare and difficult to get. So it is better to work and try until you reach your goal post even if it is difficult once you start it. Weigh pros and cons beforehand and if you think you cannot adjust to the research field, don’t enter it in the first place. Someone else who really need them can use the resources.

Q: How can a student make sure nobody else worked on his idea before?

MR: By reading the whole literature on the subject. By discussing with experts in the field. 

Q: What are the requirements a person must meet to publish a research paper? Is it necessary for him to have a PhD. If not which organisation should I contact etc. I want to know how I can do it the formalities etc.
MR: It is not necessary to have a Ph.D. to write a research paper. You can do your work independently too. If you have the confidence and knowledge to do that you can do your research at home too!

On the other hand if you want to work in a reputed research institute or a university follow this procedure…described in the article ...(above)...

How to do research and write research papers

One can independently publish a paper without being affiliated to any institute/university. 
The quality of the work and contribution matters. 
If your results are accurate and there is indeed a scientific significance for your work, you can publish it.

Conducting research and writing it up takes months or years.
Papers submitted for publication get rejected for these reasons :

The research isn't deemed novel or important enough. The paper doesn't follow the standard structure for the field. The paper isn't well written.

Hope this helps

Q:Is it illegal to publish a paper in multiple journals?

MR: As far as I know Journals usually won’t publish research papers that are already published and sent by authors. Peer-reviewed journals, will not consider submissions that are  being considered by another journal. Most journals and conferences have a clause that, when you submit a paper, it must not be under review or published elsewhere. Some journals require authors to state, in their covering letter, that their paper has not already been published or been submitted to another journal (even if they don’t ask for it, once published, the material will be in public domain and everybody in the field would be knowing about it. There is no way anybody can cheat). But some journals take special permission from other journals - especially if they are affiliated to the ones in which the an article or a blog based on research is published - or if the paper is very interesting - and republish it.

There are two reasons why editors forbid multiple submissions. The main one is because submitting a manuscript to more than one journal at the same time is a waste of reviewers' time, and that time is precious to editors. Finding suitably qualified reviewers is one of the hardest parts of an editor's job. Persuading those reviewers to donate their time, nearly always unpaid, to the journal by reviewing an article is even harder. Editors therefore regard their reviewers as a valuable resource and are most reluctant to waste their time by asking them to review an article that might be withdrawn because it has been accepted by another journal.

Consider the effect that allowing multiple submissions might have on the most prestigious journals. All authors would like their work to be published in these high impact journals, and if they had nothing to lose, not even a slight delay, they might routinely send all their manuscripts, however unsuitable, to the top journals as well as to more realistic target journals. The result would be that the major journals would be swamped with submissions.

The second reason why editors discourage multiple submissions is because they fear that some authors would let their work be published in more than one journal. Such multiple publication is only permissible under certain, specific circumstances, for example a journal might publish a translation of an article it considered particularly relevant to its readers that would otherwise be inaccessible because it was first published in another language. However, such multiple publications must always be clearly referenced to the first publication and acknowledge the original source (2).

Anyway why do you want to publish your work in multiple journals? Publishing in one good journal is enough.

Q: How can a  person learn about the process of research even before joining a Ph.D. Course?

MR: Learn it from others! Read about it. If you want to have a real experience, you can volunteer on one of  the research projects while you are still an undergraduate in your university.  

Q: I just joined my PhD. I find it extremely cumbersome to read all the details, especially following the data is very difficult. What should I do?

MR: It's pretty standard advice in many fields that the first time one reads a particular research paper, one should read the abstract, introduction, tables & conclusions and then look at each figure and read its caption.   This gives you an overview of the paper's context, content, and claims. If you find these things will really help you,  you can then read the rest of the details to understand how results were arrived at.

Read this article which shows you how to go about it...

Q: Would a research paper be rejected by a journal if it is good. Also then I can’t send it to another journal either, right?

MR: No journal will reject it if the work is good. If a paper is rejected you can make corrections based on the objections raised by reviewers and send it to other journals.

Q: Does the Author order in a research paper matter ?
MR: Yes, it does! First is the best. It means you are the principle person who dealt with the problem and found a solution. It also means you played a very important role in the group. Other names are second best! But adding your name to a paper is itself a credit as you were part of the paper and contributed something to the knowledge.

But in certain areas of science like in mathematics, the tradition is to list the names alphabetically! So author order doesn't count in them and unless they tell who the principle investigator is, you really can't judge anything about the contribution of authors. 

Q: Do number of publications matter while you are doing your Ph.D?

MR: If you publish at least one paper per year, that would be better, but publications are not the sole determinant of success during a PhD. However, if you are getting a fellowship, you need paper publications to go to the next level. 

Some subjects take a longer time to gather data because of the nature of experiments, some less. Likewise, some journals take more time to analyze your work and some less time. One paper of high quality published in a high standard journal carries more weight than several substandard ones published in low quality journals.

People in the field of science understand this and don't measure the success in terms of paper publication if they are realistic.

Q: Can we change our research field after getting a Ph.D.?

MR: Yes, you can if you are confident enough of doing research in other fields of science and arts too! Some post docs do this after obtaining a Ph.D. in one field. But it is difficult to start something from the beginning again. 

I did research in both science and art. I got my Ph.D. in Microbiology , published several peer-reviewed papers in the subject but did research in art and published a paper too in the subject! I did this without the help of a guide in art and any affiliation to any art-related body!  I even guided two art students (one studying in the UK and another one in India) in writing their dissertations - one dissertation was based completely on my science-art work!

 ( I didn’t change my field but did the research simultaneously in art to prove myself my capabilities and  just to have some fun!) . I never found any difficulty in doing that but found it is easy to do research in art!

But changing fields in science might prove a bit difficult. 

Q; Can I send failed experiment results to publishers?

MR; You can but they don't publish them unless the negative results are very useful to research in the field. It's actually quite hard to write a good negative result paper, because you have to make it relevant to others and explain the reasoning behind the failure. It's too easy to write up a paper with a negative result that no one cares about...  I put system X on machine Y for problem Z, and look, it failed badly! Even a school student can do this. 

There are certain standards in the research field and publishing and you have to follow them very strictly to stay in the field and succeed.

Your research skills during your PhD develops in two ways: 1) General research process
2) Specific skills for your field

Typically, the general research skills is the harder part to learn and also the reason why it is easy to move fields. For example, if you move from Physics to Biology,  specific knowledge about the latter subject will have to be relearned, but all the other processes are the same. You already know how to ask good questions, you know where to look (journals, conferences), and you know how to interrogate a question and how to design experiments, do observations, gather data, do the analysis and derive conclusions. At that point all you need is a very short amount of time for 'specific skill training.' Not a big problem though.
Q: Do scientists suffer from research fatigue?
MR: It would be dishonest on my part if I say 'no' because some scientists who are really not into research wholeheartedly will find research cumbersome. They might even leave the field after the initial euphoria wanes. 
But fortunately majority of scientists really love research. They give their everything to it and endure a lot of suffering in the process.  It is because of these unrelenting scientists the world has progressed so much.

Fatigue is less common in the highly motivated people, and more common in ‘hobby scientists’.

Q. Have you faced Viva? What was the experience like? Was it tough? How did you feel after completing it? Did you celebrate your success?

MR: Yes, I faced an open viva, after the thorough external review of my Ph.D. work, where anybody from my field could ask any questions, get clarifications about my work, discuss it in detail and rip me apart. It was just introduced in my university and imagine I was the first person to face it.

My supervisor was very tense and asked me several times whether I could really face it. I was fully confident because I did all my work myself and didn’t depend on my guide for anything. It really helped me to become independent, innovative and a good researcher.

It was a four hour grueling marathon where the whole Microbiology Department of our university, apart from the three external examiners who reviewed my work, participated. I answered several of their questions and discussed my work in detail. In the end they allowed me to leave only when they exhausted all the questions and thought they couldn't unsettle me in any way.

I think I gave satisfactory replies and made them accept what I did was good work. Moreover, I had already published some peer-reviewed papers in good journals based on my Ph.D. work. So they had no real choice.

It was such a relief to see a broad smile on my supervisor’s face when in the end everybody applauded my supervisor, not me, for making me so self-assured :) , which made my guide hug me tightly and pat on my back.

When all my colleagues and professors who too till then tried to ask tough questions and make me uncomfortable ( all in the name of science! ), were applauding in the end, my mind simply went blank. No emotions at all! I still don’t understand why.

Later on, of course , when it all started sinking in that I came out of it with flying colours, when everybody I know started congratulating me, then I thought, maybe, I did something worth doing. And I felt satisfied.

I am the only Ph.D. in my family and circle of friends and relatives and that made them respect me in several ways. My parents were extremely happy. They all celebrated my success more than I did! How to keep myself grounded despite all this was the only thought on my mind then!

Q: How was your experience attending your first academic conference?

MR: It was a great opportunity to meet experts in my field, discuss my subject with them, listen to their suggestions, observe and understand how they work, capture the all important work going on in my field. I was over whelmed by all this.

Presenting my paper then became secondary. 

Q: What is the emotional life of a researcher?

MR: We go through a rainbow of emotions actually.

In the beginning - first six months - it will be challenging and confusing. Then a bit disappointing when what you plan doesn’t work properly. You get impatient when the deadlines set by fund providers are approaching and you still have lots of work to do to get the right results that can be published or patented. Finally when you achieve your goals you feel elated.

On the whole it would be very thrilling to tell the world what you have found and nobody knows about it until you do! I faced it several times and it is a full life worth living. Nothing compares to it!

Q: Western researchers say "plagiarism" is quite common in Asia. Do you think this is true?

MR: I don’t support plagiarism but know that people who cannot write in good English (non-English-speaking ones) usually copy entire paras from ‘translators’ (one of my Chinese friends told me this). And they don’t think it is plagiarism. They say they have no choice if they want to publish in good journals of the West. One must also see it as a language problem and understand it that way.  

Q: What is a research gap?

MR: research gap is defined as a topic or area for which missing or insufficient information limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.

Q: What is the difference between a good researcher and a bad one?

MR: A good researcher is the one with clarity of thought, high motivation, who is fully independent, a very hard worker,  who has complete knowledge about not only his/her subject but also various other  fields and can creatively connect various things to solve problems.

People who lack these qualities are obviously the other ones.

Q: How can I find topics for research?

MR: You have to select the ones that really interests you and can help people in some way. Your work has to add some knowledge to the field. One should have a clear research objective.

Also consider  the availability of strong and helpful advisors and colleagues, and the prevalence of open and doable problems in the area. You must be able to explain how your research fits the bigger picture. Reflect on what you are good at, and on your biggest areas for development. If you’re not sure, get feedback from trusted colleagues, mentors or friends. 

You have to be very clear about the above things.

First read the entire literature in the field. Then you will understand what type of research is going on and what more should be done. Discuss this with your supervisor. S/he will guide you in selecting the topic.

Q: If research paper is published by guide without informing candidate what should be done?
MR: I would go and ask my guide why he did this, softly though. If my name is included in the author’s list, that is okay. If I can’t find my name there, I would definitely complain with proof.
Q; I want to write a research paper, but I don’t know if it has already been published. how do I know if a research paper is already published?
MR; This Q itself denotes wrong approach. If you want to do research, first you have to go through the whole literature related to it. When you do that you automatically know what work is already done and whether the same has been published or not.

Q: People say not all research results, even when published,  are reliable. Is this true?

MR: This video explains it all...


You can find some more Qs and my replies to them in other discussions but the second part of this article discusses more problems in research:
Find more Qs on science and my replies to them here:


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Replies to This Discussion


Pressure effects. It can go both ways when pressurized, more on the negative side.

Quality Research takes time. You cannot force people to publish several papers in a limited time frame. Your papers have to pass through peer-review test. And it is not easy.

On the other hand, some people might work very hard to achieve the target. But hard work under unfavourable conditions can only give limited success.

Collaborative work can relive you from pressure. That is why people who work in groups will achieve more success than single individuals and publish more papers.

Another person asked me:
What happens if a Ph.D. Supervisor expires/dies midway through a candidates Ph.D?
My reply:
Well, if you can do your work on your own without outside help, you can ask your Department Head and the University to provide another guide just because you have to have one according to the rules! At the level of Ph.D., I think you should be able to do your work independently and complete it. This happened twice in our university. I don't see any problem here.

On the other hand if you depend on your supervisor completely, you are in an extremely difficult situation unless other people in your field come to your rescue.
Another Q: What do they ask in PhD entrance interviews (direct PhD in my case)?
My reply: Mostly about your subject. You have to be thorough in it. Then again it depends on the people who are interviewing you. They will also check whether you can withstand the pulls and pressures of constant hard work and frequent failures. That depends on the candidate's personality. So be sure that you have a strong mind to deal with it.
Q: Can getting a PhD ever be easy?
M R: No, it can never be easy. Well most of the time. If you put in 12-18 hours of work per day, you will be able to complete it in about 4-5 years time. Otherwise it might even take 7-8 years!
In order to avoid even the suggestion of "pals-review" which can bring the independence of peer review into question, why aren't all peer reviews double blind where reviewer is unaware of the identity of the author and vice versa.

A PhD teaches you how to do research at a level that can credibly add to the sum of human knowledge.
A PhD makes you eligible for career paths that require PhDs.
A PhD is also one of several effective ways to develop and demonstrate skills in writing, critical thinking and planning and conducting lengthy projects at a higher level than you will get from an undergraduate or Masters degree.
It also develops high-level and rare skills in your specialty that can often be very much in demand. These may be rare lab skills, data analysis skills, clinical skills, or any number of other possibilities.


An interminable PhD programme, tensions with the guide, an uncertain US job market ... Mainak Sarkar's problems are those of many desi scholars 

Pathetic homeless dork. Patiently hoping for degree. Professor had doubts. These are some expansions for the much-vaunted acronym PhD, formally a Doctor of Philosophy no matter what one's subject of research and expertise. Regarded as the acme of scholarship, it stands at a rarefied academic height that takes immense effort and time to reach. Probably heavily in Debt, please hire -- desperate, and patently headed downhill are some of the other self-deprecating expansions doctoral candidates throw out to explain their striving. 

Which one of these gloomy explanations applied to IIT-Stanford alumnus Mainak Sarkar as he lost it one fine morning last week is hard to say. Perhaps all. He loaded up two guns he had purchased, broke into the home in Minnesota of his estranged wife Ashley and shot her dead. He then drove 2500km to snuff out the life of his PhD adviser and professor William Klug at the University of California (UCLA) in Los Angeles. 

Mainak Sarkar met every gratuitous grad student putdown -- to a high degree. 

The life of an Indian PhD scholars in the US centers around ''adviser and Budweiser,'' goes an old joke in desi circles. They are generally regarded as a quiet, reticent, insular, and industrious lot, who tread the straight path between lab, library, home, and an occasional beer. American universities covet them because of their undemanding and non-confrontational nature, and the fealty and value they bring to the program. Often socially awkward and taciturn, many work doubly hard and wrap up their degree in quick time. 

From all accounts, Sarkar conformed to the mould. Hailing from a modest Bengali family from Durgapur, where his father was a clerk in a cement factory, he was said to be a bright student in school. Accounts from his college years suggest he was introverted. After a bachelor's degree from IIT Kharagpur in 2000, he worked briefly at Infosys in Bangalore before heading out to Stanford for his master's, a route taken by many Indians, notably Google's Sundar Pichai. 

But while IITian titans such as Vinod Khosla and Pichai chose to do an MBA after their masters, setting the template for what many of today's US-bound Indian engineers do, Sarkar opted for the road less travelled these days because of the toil and hardship involved: A PhD program -- at UCLA's Henri Samueli School of Engineering. 

PhD programs can be brutal. In fact, such is the struggle involved in earning a doctorate that a dedicated satirical strip called PhD comics by former grad student Jorge Cham, which follows the lives of several doctoral students, is a must-read for the PhD crowd. PhD in this instance stands for Piled Higher and Deeper, a degree that follows BS (Bull Shit) and MS (More of the Same). From the difficulties of research to the complex student-adviser equation, Cham explores the exhausting grind of the indigent PhD scholar, from slumming it out in deadbeat digs to the perpetual search for free food. 

Central to the strip is the tortured time-span of a PhD program that appears to be interminable. One brilliant strip shows a fresh PhD candidate in his first year announce to the world ''Here I come!'' with visions of winning the Nobel Prize, and in the second year, revolutionizing the field. By the third year, he is reduced to hoping he'll get a job in the university, and by the fourth year, just get any job, anywhere. By the fifth year, he's just hoping to attend some conference in Podunk, Minnesota, and wishing they will lay out pepperoni pizza. 

Mainak Sarkar's struggle to earn his doctorate extended to at least eight years, in part because he was locked in a grad student's ultimate nightmare: an adversarial relationship with the guide/mentor/supervisor. ''You can't even begin to describe the sense of gloom and doom,'' one grad student who has been through the mill explained. ''And it gets worse as people who joined the program after you graduate before you, and you are still there, hanging on in quiet desperation.'' 

The situation has gotten worse in recent years with US universities awarding doctoral degrees at an accelerating pace (nearly 60,000 annually), despite the economic downturn proving a dampener for the career prospects of those who graduate. According to one recent study, less than 17% of new PhDs in science, engineering and health-related fields find tenure-track positions within three years after graduation. Stress levels are high and fear and frustration are endemic at the prospect of seeing a lifetime of study not pay off. 

Already 38, Sarkar struggled to make a living after a tortured academic career culminating in a PhD that was grudgingly granted to him in 2013 (earlier versions of this story said he was a grad student into his tenth year, but Klug colleagues have said they graduated him in 2013 despite his subpar thesis mainly to get rid of him). He then took up a job in Ohio, working remotely as an engineering analyst. For reasons unknown, it did not last long. Nor did his marriage. 

It is not clear what role his personal turmoil played in the deterioration on the academic front or whether it was the other way around. But early this year Sarkar started ranting online about his adviser Klug, accusing him of stealing his code and passing it to other students. 

Such intellectual property spats are not uncommon in the doctoral research world, though the UCLA Engineering School, named after its professor Henri Samueli, is a standout example of an ideal mentor-mentee relationship. Samueli and his PhD student Henry Nicholas founded Broadcom, a chip company that topped $150 billion in market cap at the height of the dotcom bubble and sold for $37 billion a couple of years ago. It is arguably the most successful teacher-student collaboration in history in financial terms. 

The Sarkar-Klug ties didn't follow the script. It ended in death - a murder-suicide that took them both to a different PhD: A premature and horrible Death. 



  • In most fields, it is the only way towards an Academic career
  • You learn how to do research and finish a problem from start to finish
  • You learn how to write - a valuable skill no matter what you do later on
  • You get to dive deeper in a specific field
  • You get to study deeper a variety of topics (same as an M.S.)
  • In some countries (say, Germany), the title of Dr. actually is rather prestigious
  • Even if you don't pursue an academic career, if you like research, a Ph.D. may help land a researcher job, which I consider the most fun jobs to have (but I am biased of course)
  • If you know how to enjoy your life, it really is a thrilling experience.


  • It takes a lot of time to finish; by the time you finish, your colleagues may advance faster
  • Not many jobs require/need a Ph.D., so you may be considered overqualified, especially later in your career


 How can anyone frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred?


[1] Page on
[2] 10 Universities Getting The Most Government Money


- How did earning a Ph.D. change you?

When I think about my own experience, I find it very surprising that after getting a Ph.D. in sciences, my entire view of the world has changed! Every belief, opinion, misconception I came across before that got a thorough analysis and almost all of them have been tossed out of the window! 
But most of my colleagues still stick to their old beliefs. 
Then what is the difference between the training I got and theirs? Even though some of them studied and did their research in the same university as I did, there is absolutely no change in them! The cultural, religious conditioning of their minds is absolute!
The difference, I think is 'my grandfather' who was a social reformer and his views have been fed to my father and from him, I got that radical analytical behaviour. 
Your family, loved ones, culture, religion will definitely control and condition your mind. Scientific training gives courage up to some extent to overcome it. But if you are not strong enough to go against the tide and can ignore a tag of 'arrogant person', you will never change. Only a handful of people will have the courage to come out of the safety nets they are in to do this.


Tips to write a good research paper in science:

  1. What are the observations ? (Your Findings)
  2. What is the reference or bench mark of your comparison? (Current state-of-the-art)
  3. How does is compare to the existing work ? (Literature Survey) It means to find where the current boundary of the work exists ? Does your observation push the boundary forward ? If not, what does it showcase.
  4. Is the mathematical model / business model clearly built with strong fundamentals (Work Analysis) ?
  5. Can you present it in a form that conveys the message clearly. If not, take help.

You can begin with these points. Once you write the above, you can expand it accordingly to suite either a journal or a conference proceeding.






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