The student population is in constant hope that we can return to our usual lives as students, filled with eventful days in the institute. However, while it is the UG population who seem to be making the most noise about it, the situation is a lot worse for the PG populace.
With their research work at a standstill, most PG students were unable to make much progress in their research last semester.
Additionally, while most of the undergraduates still have a reasonable chance of continuing their education at some point, for PhD students as well as most of those pursuing a Master’s degree, it is likely the last chance they have to experience anything similar to student life. With this context, we look at some of the problems faced by PG students due to the online semester.
For students enrolled in Departments like Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, who regularly use heavy equipment in their research, returning to the institute wasn’t the only roadblock in their paths. Having not been used for months, the equipment present in labs wore out and required lengthy rounds of calibration, which meant that it wasn’t possible for the students to start with their already lagging research right away on their return.
No concrete data from the field
A major component of many students’ research is making use of real-time data from the field/industry in their calculations and studies, especially for conditions that are difficult to simulate in labs using technology. Since many such industries were temporarily shut down due to the lockdown (some permanently), the students missed out on several months’ worth of crucial data which has hampered their years-long timeline-based research.
Problems with Guides
For most postgraduates, their relationship with their guides is highly important – especially for PhDs, who could benefit enormously from face to face interaction with them – something that has been lacking for several months now. While some PG guides in the institute have been significantly proactive, holding regular meetings and staying in touch with their students; some others have had difficulty adjusting to the new normal – burdening students with either too much workload and/or maintaining irregular contact with them. While problems with project guides aren’t new for institute postgraduates, the online semesters have only helped to highlight and exaggerate these, with some guides showing a great understanding of the unprecedented scenario and giving enough leeway and support to their students to help them best continue with their work – while a few others have increased the workload of their students, adding to the pressure of adjusting to a difficult semester.
Most postgraduate research involves some level of computational work. While in the institute, this work was managed largely through computers, the pandemic has forced students to resort to their laptops for the entirety of their research analysis – a job that some devices may struggle to do; especially ones with older processors that find it difficult to run later versions of important software. This severely hinders students from effectively continuing with their research. While students can remotely use desktops in the institute for some of this, that also comes with its own set of problems relating to the effectiveness of the remote connection, as well as sudden issues like power cuts in the institute shutting down the remote PCs, that then have to be restarted by someone staying in the institute.
For those pursuing PhDs, it is a big decision to spend several years of your life forgoing a comfortable salary, to pursue research. With the online semester problems, several doctoral students had time to rethink their decision and reconsider the tradeoff, especially emphasised by delays in their stipends. With research at a standstill and no pay for the foreseeable future at the time, several students decided to cut short their research and simply drop out to look for salaried jobs instead. In their doing so, the world of academia has lost out on several bright minds, who could have been retained if there was a significant attempt to solve their problems.
The problems faced by PG students in an online scenario are worse than most people are aware, and are also not given much importance. There is an urgent need to solve the issues and figure out a method to help the PG students facing such issues.