How does one go about finding a PhD guide in a good Indian university? First, the student needs to be clear about their area of research. Whether it is the social sciences or pure sciences, the student must have already identified a research topic, which will form the core of the PhD. Next, the student must spend some time browsing faculty profiles at departments where they wish to study. The purpose of this exercise is to identify professors whose teaching and research interests match those of the student.
Identifying the right professor
How does one know if the professor is a good match? It is a good idea to look at the publication records. How many academic publications does the professor have? Does he or she have a record or writing regularly? Which are the conferences where the professor in question has presented their work? How frequently has their work been cited by other researchers? Such information is usually publicly available on the internet and the student must take these criteria into consideration while selecting a guide.
Then the student must establish contact with such professors. This can take the form of an email where the student outlines their academic background, professional experience if any, and their research interests. One could also attach their CV and research proposal if available. Once the professor responds, they might express interest in the student’s research, and also ask for changes or rephrasing of the research topic. It is important to have a steady line of communication with the professor. If possible, students should visit the university department and make an appointment to meet the professor or chairperson of the department. The student can send an email to the professor concerned and request a meeting. However, this may not be possible, especially if the student resides in another city or town.
In some universities, departmental committees decide which professor should be assigned to a student, based on the teacher’s availability, time and complementarity of research interests with the student. In this process, the student prepares a synopsis of their research project after finishing course work. The synopsis too is a determinant in the assigning of the guide. It also helps if the student has a good prior academic record so that the professor is reassured about the academic performance of the student.
As one would have guessed, selecting a guide is a process which requires time and energy. Hence, it always helps to start early. This also gives the prospective guide time to respond and improve on the student’s proposal.
Qualities of a good guide
There are a few aspects which need to be kept in mind with regard to the guide. Usually, students want to work with guides who are well-known in their field. However, the disadvantage of having a well-known or ‘star’ guide is that the person may always be preoccupied with their own research work, or travelling for conferences and lectures. In such an event, the student suffers because the guide is rarely available and fails to give adequate time and energy. A guide should ideally be hands-on, responding to emails and regularly meeting with the student. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
It would therefore be a good idea for PhD aspirants to consult with other students who are already doing a PhD in the same department, and ask them which professors have good reputations as guides. Ultimately, the student’s research is at stake, and if they are saddled with a guide who is unavailable or difficult to work with, the research suffers.
Since students may end up spending a lot of time with their guide, it is advisable to develop a good rapport with them. The role of the guide is to advise the student in their research, advise them on career options, and to ensure that the student delivers their research in a timely manner.
Doing a PhD takes at least five years in Indian universities, which is a long period by most standards. In these five years, the guide is someone who needs to be regularly consulted. The guide will help the student frame time-schedules, and should also support the student in identifying research funding and career opportunities. A lot also depends on the initiative and the interest of the student, without which the guide has no reason to invest in the student.
An ideal guide-student relationship
As Susanna Chamberlain, a lecturer at Griffith University says, a PhD candidate is supposed to be treated like a colleague who is in training. The relationship between the guide and the student should be completely professional. The work of the candidate must be respected, and the supervisor should guide them through rules and regulations and provide training in methodology and research processes.
Do not be daunted by the process of selecting a good guide. It may appear long and tedious, but it is rather straightforward. One just needs to prepare as early as possible. One should also try and consult their peers, i.e., other students who are also trying to identify guides. Do remember that a good guide can have an extremely positive influence on your life choices. The relationship between the guide and student established in the course of the PhD can continue long after the PhD is complete. The guide becomes a friend, mentor and a source of constant inspiration.