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1. Introduction (Name, batch, a program in IITB, Current position)

Udit Kumar, 2018 Batch, passed out M.Tech, MEMS Department. Currently position: Research assistant at AMPAC laboratory and pursuing my Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida (UCF) 

2. What was your Motivation in going for MS/Ph.D. over a job? Why Ph.D. over MS?

When I joined IIT Roorkee for B.Tech, I was an average student and wasn’t much interested in my core field(Metallurgical and materials engineering) at first. I got a summer research opportunity at IIT Madras and done some undergraduate research projects and got a little bit interested in core field. My B.Tech final year project even though didn’t give me any publication but helped me understand the field more and also helped me to make a career choice. I decided to build a career in research and started to weigh my options for how my future path should look like. I graduated from IIT Roorkee in 2016 with an average profile, not good enough to get me a good funded position abroad (MS or Direct PhD) then I decided to go for M.Tech from IIT Bombay to build up my profile. I had good academic standing since my priority was clear I haven’t registered for placement season at IITB and focused on my profile and PhD application.

3. If the answer to the above question is engaging in research, then why not jobs in RnD?

Let us take this question with some realism, My core field was (still is) Metallurgical engineering and materials science, what are the opportunities available after B.Tech or M.Tech for my field in India? Do even you get an RnD position what next what professional growth you can expect there? As informed by seniors of IITR and IITB it looked bleak. I’m open for a good RnD position after my PhD maybe, later on, move to academia.

4. Did you have any specific motivation for choosing the US over some other places like in Asia, Australia and Europe?

Where are the employment opportunities or post PhD opportunities in your field? We just need to think about it, I had sort of an offer from UNSW Sydney’s faculty but prospect after PhD wasn’t as good as it could be in the US, I formally applied to US universities only. It could be different for other students.

5. A question that the students should ask themselves before applying for a PhD under a specific guide and institute?

I went for a specific guide approach, many go for a specific institute approach and that is good too. I started mailing faculties of different US universities from November beginning (it is a little late). I got some positive replies and I applied to the universities where I thought I have better prospects.

6. Any exam tips, application tips, links to any personal blogs etc?

For GRE Magoosh apps, Manhattan flashcards and Kaplan online materials are good apart from it I also joined a local GRE coaching classes, I didn’t find it very useful except classes for the verbal section. Take TOEFL just after GRE few youtube videos for TOEFL are really helpful.

7. Factors considered in choosing the university, program and advisor. How do you think they are different, choosing a Master’s and a PhD advisor.

I chose faculty based on their profile and whom I thought could be interested in my profile. I gave too much emphasis on their google scholar profiles which when I look back now isn’t the best way. New faculties don’t have the best google scholar profiles, but they could be a better guide too. I went for somebody whose lab has a consistent record of publishing good papers in very reputed journals and has 25k+ citations.

8. Experience

a) Differences between IITB and the current University in terms of say, Faculty, Facilities,  Research Opportunities, Any other factor

My work here is more focused, faculty here has a better lab. We need to discern a faculty’s private lab and what central facility of the institution. My present guide has most of the facilities in his private lab, he has focused on funding which demands specific work. Now if you are comparing Institutes departmental/central research facilities, IITB is at par with UCF even better in some areas just access and facilities downtime was another issue there

b) Friends and Social Life (also if any culture shocks) 

Lots of Indian students are here and Orlando (the city I live in) has a thriving Indian community. If you want to socialize you can easily a lot of stuff are here cricket clubs (full of south Asian people), cinema with Indian movies (not just Hindi), lots of Indian eateries, temple etc. are here. I didn’t experience any cultural shock may be due to the reason I have relatively less inclination towards social aspects.

c) Significant difficulties (like say finances, research and colleagues, adjusting family life, marriage, etc.)

Finances could be trouble here on an average what a grad student get in the US is just enough for survival here. Research culture is a lot different here, one thing I would like to mention whoever is PhD student in the US in most of the cases need to be hired by a faculty member (we may get fellowship for 1 year sometimes 2) but ultimately will get paid through a private contract with a faculty member (for all practical purposes) so choose your guide very carefully who has funding. There is very little accountability for faculties if they choose to fire you and life goes downhill really fast (I have seen that with some students of different US universities including mine).

9. What are some key takeaways you have from your experience in the USA?

I think they have very good industry connect and research are very focused. They have a good collaborative network here in the US, even if you don’t have the capabilities at your lab or university but you will be able to complete work with quality.

10. What are your Future plans?

I want to join some RnD company or National laboratories here in US after PhD, later on may move to academia,

11. Any advice that you’d like to give to the students?

Decide what you want immediately after your B.Tech or M.Tech degree and start working for it at least from summer after B.Tech 3rd year or for M.tech 1st year. Work in a focused way, if you want a PhD then don’t register for placements spend your time building your profile see what is lacking in your PhD profile there are lots of opportunities which you can exploit, do poster/oral presentation at seminars, get yourself involved in some project which can give you a publication, learn key processing and characterization techniques, make a rough sketch of your resume and see what is missing. If you want placements then go for it.