In conversation with Jyot Antani
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Jyot Antani did his B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Bombay and graduated in the year 2016. He is currently pursuing a PhD in the field of Biomolecular Simulations and Design at Texas A&M University.
What made you choose academia over taking a job? Or any other career choice?
My interests had always been more inclined towards pure sciences rather than industry. I prefer the work ethic that academia offers. My enthusiasm towards research and academia also grew through the projects undertaken while in the institute.
What are some key tips for apping that you learned about during the apping process that you wish someone had told you earlier?
I have actually compiled the fundae I gathered either from seniors or from experience, into a document, Apping Guide, as I call it: goo.gl/xwQKug
Although this guide is written keeping chemical engineers in mind, I believe it can be very relatable for other people as well.
What made you choose to go for a PhD right after IIT-B? Do you think this was a huge risk (in terms of investing a large chunk of your life)?
A legit question many students face. I have covered my thinking about the same in detail in the document, Section 1.2.
A short summary: Even though 5 years of PhD might seem like a huge commitment, I’ve rather felt a job is too much responsibility and commitment! A PhD is work, yet while living a student life. Economically speaking, I consider a PhD to be a better option than an average core job which pays around 6 to 8 LPA. You get a stipend of at least $25k a year and you end up saving at least 5 LPA. PhD is like a job if you think about it like that: you go to a workplace–the lab–every morning, you work on a project. As stated earlier, in a job you have a boss, in a PhD you have an adviser.
If you are interested in core chemical engineering jobs, a bitter truth you may already be aware of: IITB’s placement scene is bad. And when I say bad, I mean horrible. Shell is the only company coming for Chemical B.Tech’s that offers a good package and ensures job satisfaction. And Shell took 9 people from around 150 that went for placements in 2015, which was the highest intake they have made in years from IIT Bombay.
How did you choose your advisors? What are the most important things to keep in mind while doing this? Are there any quick and dirty tips you could share with us?
In chemical engineering departments across the US, students are admitted into the department by an admission committee, and after arriving and starting the coursework, we are supposed to talk to faculty members, their graduate students and subsequently take the decision.
The prof I interned with (I ended up at the same university where I interned) did not have funding for a new PhD student, as he had conveyed well in advance. Fortunately my area of interest was broad (bio-fields in ChemE) and TAMU’s chemical department is big. So I found at least 5 people working here in bio-fields. (By the way, number of people working in your area of interest: the most important thing you keep in mind while choosing universities to apply to.) I consider myself very lucky to have found two co-advisors: an experimentalist who is a senior prof here, and a computationalist who is one of the youngest faculty members in the department.
Talking to senior graduate students is a very important part of the advisor selection procedure. Talking to the grad students working in your professor-of-interest’s lab is highly recommended by everyone, even the professor him/herself. In addition, I would recommend talking to some other seniors that you may know outside their lab and take their opinion about the professor-of-interest’s lab. Of course, all opinions tend to be biased, some a little, some a lot; but in my experience, having an ensemble of opinions always gives you a better idea about any issue. After that, it would be a fair assumption that a graduate of age >= 21 would be capable of screening the ensemble of opinions, allocate appropriate weights to each opinion, and analyse the ensemble in order to generate required results, i.e., an idea of your future; if you would be joining the professor-of-interest’s lab.
- Quick: Attending all the advisor selection seminars helps. (Not just in choosing your advisor. There are many hidden advantages to this.)
- Dirty: Emailing the profs working in your area of interest (~1-2 months before flying) helps even more.
What made you choose the US/Europe when it came to deciding where to pursue higher studies? What are similarities/differences and pros/cons between the two?
Because I applied only to US, since I interned there and loved the culture, I can best speak for US. The universities there have a system which is ideal for students who are applying directly for a PhD after B.Tech. Almost all European universities have PhD programs which are designed for students already having a Master’s degree. ETH-Zurich and EPFL do take B.Tech’s directly, but they did not have many professors working in my areas of interests, hence I did not apply there. US has the largest economy, so thinking about options after PhD, US is the best place to be. You can in any case return to India if you wish to, but potential future options are so much better in the US, and that is why we do not apply even to universities as awesome as NUS.
Can you tell us about the job/hiring market currently (or projected for the next three-four years) in Industry or Academia where you are currently?
Not really. I have a long way to go before I start hunting for a job (or decide to continue into academia).
Although, I have heard rumors that nobody with a PhD from a good renowned university would remain jobless for a long time. (And here job refers to a satisfactory work-profile.)
How are you handling the finances? What are the average monthly expenses and inflows (if any, from stipends, TAship, etc)? Is the financial situation as bad as portrayed in the general consciousness?
I am a PhD student at a well-renowned department in US, hence fully funded.
Saving at least $500/month is the norm for Indian PhD students in the US. Quality of life is a lot better if you compare it with a student (or even your classmates–most of them– who currently have jobs) in India. The general consciousness, as you put it, is derived from comparing the quality of life with a person who has a job in the US, or with Master’s students without a scholarship-who have money constraints from home.
However, there are some hardships that we go through due to limited finances in the beginning: e.g., in Texas, a car is considered to be one of the essentials for living a normal life (Roti, kapda, makaan aur gaadi). We neither have enough money to buy a car on our own nor the credit history to get one on EMI, till at least the end of first year, which makes life hard. Then again, we have seniors living in the neighborhood who do have cars, who we can tag along with for grocery shopping. For going to classes and labs, the university provides their own version of TumTums (so many jokes, no comments :P). In a nutshell, life is dependent on others in the beginning, but nothing we cannot manage.
About the apartments: well, after living in the (-5)-star hostel rooms at IITB, any other place would seem like a palace, wouldn’t you agree! (Oh shut up H10!)
Is forming a new social circle in an alien country difficult? How lonely or not is life? A brief overview of life as a student would help.
Not at all! It might seem extraordinarily bizarre to insti junta but in the real world, people are welcoming and soft-spoken to strangers! And yes, that includes strangers of same gender as well.
Jokes apart, international students are very easy to make friends with, because everybody is far from home and looking for friends.
And we have Indian ilaakas in university towns so feeling of home is not too far out of reach.
Tip: Making whatsapp groups and finding people with similar sense–of life, of chilling, and most importantly, of humor– during the 4 months that you are enjoying at home really helps.