Makings of Monash: IITB’s unique joint PhD programme

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Set up in 2008, the IITB-Monash Research Academy (the ‘Academy’) offers a full-time joint PhD program between Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and Monash University, Australia. Housed in a swanky building near the Industrial Design Center, the Academy offers projects in several departments at IIT Bombay. Students have at least two supervisors, one each at IIT Bombay and Monash University. The Academy students have a higher scholarship than regular IITB students, and also avail a one-year, fully funded stay at Monash University in Melbourne. Graduands of the Academy receive a dually-badged PhD degree that is quite unique. Currently, there are 175 students (across all departments) and 45 graduates from the Academy. Another distinguishing feature of the Academy is the close interaction with industry. The Academy considers itself fortunate to have the likes of Orica, BHP-Billiton and CSIRO (Australia) and TCS, Infosys, JSW Group, Reliance, Tata Chemicals, SABIC, Tata Power and CISCO (India) as its industry partners.

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Talking about the unique multiple supervisor nature of the programme, Prof. Murali Sastry, the CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy and one of India’s leading materials scientists, “This is a huge learning for our students, to be able to work in a truly international environment, often in highly interdisciplinary projects and managing collaborations across continents. They are exposed to the best that IITB and Monash University have to offer thus preparing them for the demands of the modern workforce”. Talking about the programme, he offers his insights, “There is more focus on well-structured timelines and deliverables and improving the efficiency of the PhD research process with an eye on better quality research outcomes.”

Students of the Academy have also been successful in winning the prestigious Prime Minister PhD Fellowship, 9 to be more precise. It is a matter of pride that close to 60% of the Academy graduands have been placed in industry while the rest have secured faculty positions in leading academic institutions as well as post-doctoral positions.

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The Academy is continuously evolving and very recently, welcomed Humanities and Social Sciences students into the joint PhD programme. It is expected that Industrial Design will also accept joint PhD students from the Academy from the June 2017 intake.

To encourage dissemination of research ideas, the Academy organizes a yearly competition called the 3 Minute Thesis Talk (3MTT) competition. In a 3MTT, a student talks about her/his research in three minutes to a diverse audience. Preeti Gopal, one of the winners, talks about her experience, “Preparing for a 3MTT was challenging as I needed to explain the crux of my research in simple, non-technical words to an audience consisting of people from various specializations. Winning it definitely boosted my confidence.” The Academy also has in-house communication experts, Mr. Krishna Warrier and Ms Sheba Sanjay, to help students with writing their papers and general verbal communication skills.

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Prof. Vikram Vishal, Department of Earth Sciences, has an interesting connection with the Academy. He is the first graduate of the Academy (and among the fastest to complete his PhD), and now advises some Academy students himself in the capacity of an IITB supervisor. Prof. Vishal says, “I think I am able to understand challenges of the Academy students better because I’ve been a student. Also, I think I see the challenges and opportunities for both sides well, because I have seen both.”

The publication record at the Academy is a testimony to the Academy’s performance. With 14 patents in different stages, 10 book chapters, 217 journal papers and 255 conference papers, research at the Academy has gained visibility in several forums. The Department of Metallurgy and Material Sciences and Department of Mechanical Engineering are the departments with the highest publications by Academy students. Since applications for the Academy are accepted for a specific set of projects, the time taken for students to complete their PhD also tends to be lower. The overall average duration for a PhD at IIT Bombay is 5.96 years ( Source ), while that for the IITB-Monash Research Academy is 4.83 years.

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For more details, please visit www.iitbmonash.org

Aditya Joshi, Research Scholar IITB-Monash

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I was an MTech student in CSE at IIT Bombay in 2011. I worked on sentiment analysis with Prof. Pushpak Bhattacharyya, and developed an interest in natural language processing (NLP). I worked in an IT firm following my MTech. Having spent two years, the desire to do a PhD in NLP grew. I wondered what my options were, and got to know of an interesting PhD programme right here at IIT Bombay. This programme was the IITB-Monash Research Academy.

I filled in my expression of interest, submitted my SoPs and appeared for the interview process thereafter. Many ask me why I chose to do my PhD at an IITB programme despite having a Masters degree from here. My experience at the IITB-Monash Research Academy since January 2013 gives me enough reasons to answer that question!

I completed my coursework at IIT Bombay in 2013. Both my supervisors, Pushpak Bhattacharyya at IITB and Mark Carman at Monash, have been instrumental in shaping my research here as a PhD student. Their guidance led me to explore sarcasm detection as my core research area. I also spent an awesome time in Melbourne (which included teaching a class of multi-cultural students, and a sky-dive, apart from interacting closely with Prof. Carman).