Thursday, 30 July 2015

Getting a real job

Being within one's comfort zone may be a bad thing, but it is indeed comfortable. Having been a student all my life until now, it seems that I don't want to stop being one. I have really enjoyed my PhD and postdoc duration since I was able to completely focus on research problems without having to worry about many other things.
Now very soon I will transition to being an actual academic with all the actual responsibilities. My current state of mind looks a bit like that of the kid in this cartoon strip.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The 'two body problem' - and how we dealt with it

Countless articles have been written about the famous "two body problem". Here's my perspective and how I encountered this in the Indian context.

For those who are not familiar with this phrase, a two body problem is the situation when the two spouses are well qualified and due to the specialised nature of their jobs find it difficult to get suitable employment at the same geographic location. I personally hate this phrase due to the negative connotation and would rather like to call it a "dual career situation".

In most American and European universities, one is not supposed to talk about one's spouse at the time of job interviews. Either both of you apply independently and luckily get jobs at the same time; or one of the spouses lands a job and then persuades for employment of the other in the post-offer negotiations. In many cases, one of the spouses has to make-do with a relatively inferior job just in order to be at the same physical location. This phenomena has been discussed ad-infinitum and many times associated with the issues of gender inequality (link, another link).

like most cases, situation in India is quite different - in this particular instance, pleasantly so. During PhD and postdoc and while dreaming of becoming a professor and returning to India, this problem of dual career was the single most scary thought my spouse and I used to have. We had spent some years in different countries for the sake of career and had taken a firm resolve to accept permanent positions only when we get good and acceptable positions in the same institute. There aren't very many articles available online that discuss this problem in Indian context, barring small mentions here and there.

After conversations with some people - old professors in my undergraduate institution, friends who are currently in IITs and generally lurking in the comment section of Prof. Madras' blog - we came to the conclusion that the best way to tackle this problem in India is head-on. People are quite straightforward and most people (specially those in the newer IITs) are open to hiring of couples. Even during casual conversations people can easily ask your marital status and then offer free advice on how to make applications. During the casual visits to the IITs in the pre-application phase, we decided to go on the same days and give talk in our respective departments parallely (I was told it is a positive thing that we're not in the same field). It was also useful in gauging the mood of people and their attitude towards couples.

It turned out to be a good idea as we clearly rejected one IIT on the basis of the prejudice of faculty there. The attitude at N1 was very positive and one of our heads of department discussed our joint-case with the director who also gave a positive feedback. We applied at N1 soon after returning back from India around the same time. It so happened that the selection committees for our departments were scheduled only a few weeks apart from each other and we received our offers around the same time.

My observations during this whole process are:

  • Most places in India encourage couples to apply as long as they're not of the same field. They usually cite the fear of partiality during department meetings and possible unethical credits in case of research collaborations if they're in the same department. I don't know how true this fear actually is.
  • There is no concept of a joint application. The applications process, the selection committee etc. are all conducted independently for each candidate. (There may be some inherent bias in the director's mind if he/she wants to hire both candidates - but it is never apparent)
  • People can and will ask personal questions - this is fairly common in Indian culture. In most cases they're not trying to intrude but trying to understand your situation and thinking of solutions to ease your hiring process.
  • If one spouse is a superstar and the other one is sub-standard for IITs, most IITs will make only one offer to the deserving spouse. I was shown many evidences towards this.
  • During all these interactions, I did meet some "Science politicians" whose sole aim is to use a newbie's situation to further their own motive. Learn how to spot them and stay away.

Hopefully this experience is helpful to some other couples out there.

[N1 is an IIT I talked about in this post.]