Friday, 21 August 2009

Finishing PhD research effectively and efficiently - Contrasting thoughts!

One of my friend once said 'starting PhD is like entering in a pipeline where there is darkness all around but one day you will suddenly see the end of this pipeline with light' and that will be the proud moment to preserve for life. Well, how to achieve this proud moment by effectively and efficiently completing PhD research is the topic of discussion here.

As you will be aware that most funding agencies such as trusts, research grants etc., in the UK have provision for 3 year funding or 3.5 years in some cases. Going over this period may prove very costly as one has to cover fees, maintenance and living expensive etc. from his pocket which is not an ideal situation. In such case, it is quite important to complete PhD within a reasonable time (say 3.5 or 4 years).

One may not like to take just a PhD degree but would also like to carry over his several technical skills and research together with realising his presence to other researchers in that research area. In fact, it is also the opportunity to sharpen the existing skills and gaining several others that can be helpful for all round development. How can one make out the most of it? Generally, people decide their objectives depending on the career path (mainly industry, academics, management or banking) they want to choose after a PhD. However, irrespective of any chosen career path, PhD is for research so this task should be fulfilled sincerely without deviating too much from its path. After all, someone is going to spent ~£80K on your PhD with lot of efforts in background.

One important aspect that totally depends on individual is whether one just want a PhD or a PhD with maximum dissemination of research through conference presentations, writing articles for various scientific/research/social societies and publishing it in top international peer reviewed journals, etc. Here starts conflicting thoughts as many of us may not agree with the dissemination idea. Therefore, these two words 'efficiently' and 'effectively' are used in the title. Following cases can be formed to discuss this further:

PhD within reasonable time with minimal dissemination
It is a straight business approach. One is paid as part of a project/programme and he delivered the results. In fact, it is quite a comfortable situation for both parties! It is efficient as well since it was finished within reasonable time span. But, is this an effective PhD as well? Did one squeezed enough from the opportunities he got during this period? One can argue that it is an effective research since it fulfilled the required objectives (fair enough to say!). I used the word 'minimal' because the above case benefited a particular party. Others could have been benefited if it would have been disseminated to a wider community.

For the answer of later question, I think one can squeeze far more than this for his future betterment and for the betterment of society and science. One effective way is publishing his/her work in peer reviewed journals. However, one can argue that my project had confidential stuff and I am not allowed to do so. Fair enough to say, if he has put sincere efforts towards it but could not publish because of such practical constraints!

2. PhD within reasonable time with optimum dissemination
I see it as a best option as it satisfy both terms 'effective' and 'efficient'! PhD research is a small contribution towards a big heap of research. If it is disseminated properly, you have contributed towards that heap and others can benefit from it. However, it is quite challenging, but there is no gain without pain.

Some of us may argue that why should I bother to publish it as I do not want to go to academia. Well, is it really necessary that one should only publish if it fulfills his/her future interests? My argument against it is that no matter what we do after a PhD, during PhD we are researchers and it is our moral duty to sincerely fulfill the objectives of the job in hand.

Moreover, how many people do we think will come to know about our work by reading our thesis's - I think very few. But many will know, if it is published in journals as probability of it reaching to a wider community and to stay alive for a longer duration are quite high. In fact, I have asked my friends that how many times they have read their thesis's after PhD or have they suggested others to refer it - the answer is not very encouraging. But, the case of publishing may be quite different. So why should we not choose the option which helps us and others too.

My personal experience is in support of this option. Firstly, one can get invaluable technical feedback by reviewers on submitted manuscripts to further improve the quality of work. In fact, it is the first time when a third neutral person is assessing your work. Once an article gets accepted, confidence level rises enormously. Motivation and drive force to publish more increases tremendously. Secondly, once you have couple of good publications, you and your supervisor know precisely how much work have been done and how much more is needed for PhD submission. After this, writing thesis is not a huge task. It is just an integration of published paper. This strategic approach can be helpful in some cases if not in all.

3. Over run PhD with/without dissemination
This is not an ideal situation for a PhD candidate as he not only have to face pressure to finish it quickly but have to fight with his financial challenges. However, if it is the case, one should not conclude that candidate is incompetent or he is not working hard or he is not taking his work seriously as several other factors can drive the situation. These could be type of work involved in project, availability of resources, supervisors interest, support and guidance and of course candidate's driving force and time management to achieve it. This situation becomes even more uncomfortable if it is over run without dissemination as it can increase the level of complexities during defense. In this situation, I feel that working strategically and calmly together with the proper time management can be helpful. At the end of the day everyone gets PhD, so it is just a matter of time. Also, one can argue than some people are better in one thing while others can be better in doing other things. So, keep up the sportsmen spirit, it is not the end of the life!

4. Summary
There may be several points which have not been considered above. There may also be several other points above with whom many of us may not agree. But one most important thing with which we all may agree is to put our sincere efforts. It can give more satisfaction than doing several things or try to fit ourselves in one of the above criterion.

Happy reading!
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Thursday, 20 August 2009

First time travelling to the UK - What should I take with me?

When coming to the UK for a short or a long duration, the first question comes in mind is: what should I take with me to the UK? I asked this question from my friends and few of my friends asked the same question from me. The following tips could be helpful in this regard:

1. Documents
Make sure you have taken all your original certificates along with you. These may include offer, invitation and/or accommodation letters, etc. Always keep them in your hand luggage; never checked them with your main baggage. You will need them at immigration checks at both home and away countries.

2. Phone handset

Carrying a phone set with you can prove quite useful. We normally leave it at home by thinking that it will not work there. But it is always advisable to take it with you as most Indian (probably Asian) phones works perfectly fine in the UK with UK simcards. Bringing it with you will reduce your initial expenses along with the hassle to find phone shops in the beginning. Read next section for its instant utilisation.

3. Phone calls
Whenever we are away from home, first things come in mind is to call our nearers and dearers. If you do (or do not) have international roaming in your phone, calling from from your phone or a public booth can be bit expensive. Although there is no option in such situation unless you have any friend already living in the UK and allow you to use his/her phone. one option can be to buy a calling card and call through a landline phone or a public booth.

The first thing one should do is to buy a pay as you go simcard (cost <£20; generally comes with same amount of top up in most cases) from any phone shop as soon as you get opportunity to roam around. Few (mobile world, libara, etc.) of them provide quite cheap (~5 INR per minute) calls for India or other Asian countries. In that way, you can make short calls any time you want besides having your phone number that can be given to your friends or family back home. After some time, one can always go for a phone contract that generally provides free fency hand sets with plenty of free minutes and sms's.

Once settled in the UK and have access to internet, the best option is to use VOIP (voice over internet protocol) for making calls to any landline or mobile in back home. There are several such service providers (e.g. smart voip, 12voip, free call, nymgo, etc.); the use of such services will cost you less than one INR per minute. Note that you should keep an eye on new VOIPs also as competition among various service providers can benefit you in the form of reduced calling rates.

4. Money
Note that even if your scholarship/salary advance bank cheque is ready, it may easily take up to a month to cash it. Most of this time goes in opening a bank account. It is always good to have at least couple of hundred pounds with you for the expenses of first month. It is quite common to pay house rent and deposit money in advance which is one of the most expensive affair. It is better to clear it first with the landlord in advance. Generally, food expenses will fall within £200/month for a single person if cooks himself; however, it is just a rough idea which can vary from person to person. Also, it can be a good idea to exchange money in your home country through an agent rather than doing it on airport . This option can provide you a better exchange rates but do not forget to take exchange receipt in case you need to show it during immigration! Although it can be easily exchanged at the airport also in case you did not get enough time to do so in advance.

5. Clothes
While in home country, we generally think that UK weather remains cold throughout the year. But you will get chance to enjoy summers also between March and August (though it may not apply to some part of the UK!). As far as clothes are concerned, it is always good to pack some thermal and jackets. You may also pack some summer clothes which you will get chance to wear during summers. Although, your home jackets may not be effective in winters so you have to buy a pair of jackets from the UK itself. It is not a bad purchasing though as you will find the quality of jackets pretty good. The good place to buy these can be sports direct and Mark and Spenser's, etc. It is always advisable to bring an umbrella as predicting the UK weather is not easy!

6. Food items
We miss home cooked food after leaving home. Therefore, it is not a bad idea to pack some well-packed ready-to-eat food. It can be quite helpful in early days of your settling. However, you can find almost every kind of food material (raw or ready-to-eat) in the supermarkets (e.g. Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda) here.

7. Utensils
You can find every kind of utensil here except pressure cooker. In fact, there is no such utensil exist in the UK. It is strongly advisable to bring one if you cook yourself. Note that you should also be careful while using it in your kitchen as your neighbors get frighten from its whistle!

8. Final words
You can try to arrange the above but life will go on even if you do not have any of the above or you miss something. So no need to worry. One of my dearest friend Kaushal said to me when I was in such preparation ' just enjoy the last couple of days before you travel to the UK with your family and friends - bring yourself and your confidence - rest will be automatically fine'.

Hope you will find the above useful.

Good luck,
(PS: Never boil eggs in the microwave or be ready for the blast!)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

How to arrange funding for PhD / Masters research in abroad?

PhD Hunting - Beginner's Tip

It is always a tricky business to arrange funding for pursuing a PhD, MPhil or MS degree in a foreign university. It is quite frustrating some time despite having excellent academic background. There are few ways where one can try for:

1. Arrange funding through a research project
One has to browse through various Universities and/or academics web pages for applying to them. They may have any project to fund your research!

2. Apply to the University directly
In this case, applications can be randomly make to various universities. University may contact you if anyone from its faculty has interest in individuals CV or research proposal. Though one should not totally rely on it.

3. Self- Funding
It is a most definitive case to get PhD admission offer from an University, if got a decent academic profile. Although it is quite unlikely that anyone would like to spend a big some on his research degree. However, if this is the case, one can get admission in a good university even with a relatively weaker academic background.

4. Arranging a Scholarship / Fellowship
There are various independent bodies such as Commonwealth Trust, Gates Cambridge Trust, Cambridge Nehru Scholarship etc., that can fund your entire research programme. Although it is quite competitive but 'no pain - no gain'. Few of them are listed here.

5. University Scholarships
It is a good idea to browse through various Universities' web pages and apply for University scholarships, if are available. Click here and here for examples. Outstanding candidates have good chances to obtain one.

6. Web subscription
A good option can be to subscribe to this website for receiving regular emails; this site is particularly good if one is interested to pursue his/her research in the Europe. Other places to look at could be this and this.

It should be noted that many European Universities require a decent TOEFL and/or IELTS score while US Universities require GRE despite your first degree being taught in English. However, there are also exceptions for exemption; it is always better to check with the University before sending an application to them.

Good luck,
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