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Introduction

I am Pranay Ladiwala, currently a second-year PhD student

Department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins University. I graduated from IIT Bombay, Class of 2018 (Honors in Chemical Engineering)

What was your motivation for going for MS/Ph.D. over a career in core?

Starting off with the cue above, one needs a Ph.D. to get good jobs in R&D divisions of any company. Though I never had any experience or chance of working in a company, from what I learnt with interaction with the faculty, seniors and other (mentors and all during my internship), the kind of work one gets right after Bachelors would never be the same as one would get after doing a Ph.D. This is simply because we are not exposed to that kind of research during our UG owing to the overwhelming academic coursework and other extra-curricular activities one is associated with. Hence, it gets difficult to have the kind of seriousness and time devotion that is required for doing some quality research.

Another reason for my case was that I wanted to go for higher studies eventually (just I wanted to do, I have no reason here. I wanted to do for the sake of it). And hence, I didn’t see any point in spending another year working in a company if I eventually wanted to do a Ph.D. Also, it is easier to continue with the momentum of staying in an academic setting instead of shifting gears after a couple of years.

Why did you choose a Ph.D. over an M.S.?

Well, this is simple! I can summarize it in 2 points:

  1. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree from IIT Bombay and then going for a Masters abroad is not that big a value addition except for the international exposure to research. Most of the coursework in the MS program of US universities is already taught at UG level at IITB. Even for the research factor, it is very difficult to achieve any significant milestones in research in one-year period (for MS). The only advantage I see of doing an MS abroad is it opens up opportunities of looking for jobs in US (or any other foreign country), something which is difficult to find or get after UG.
  2. The other reason is easy to explain. Money! It is hell of a lot expensive to do MS from US whereas PhD is fully funded, and one can even end up saving money.

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

Can I just refer to Jyot Antani’s apping guide (http://tinyurl.com/apping-guide-jyot) here? I can go on and give my set of fundae but they would be along the same line.

What factors did you consider in choosing your ​university​, ​program​ , and advisor​ (For Ph.D.) 

First and foremost, research interest. One should look for atleast 3-4 faculty working in your field of interest before applying to a particular department. You don’t want to spend the next 5 years of your life working on something you never really wanted to do. In fact, better to reach out to the faculty itself (though they seldom reply given their other commitments) or read a little bit about their latest publications.

Next, you can look at the rankings of the universities (please follow USnews rankings and not the QS world rankings for US universities. One should shortlist a mix of universities which includes their dream place they would want to be and at the same time some places where they would easily get in (safe school) so that they have atleast somewhere to go after graduation.

As far as choosing the department is concerned, though it is okay to apply to switch departments for graduate studies, it is easier to get an admit to the same department given our prior knowledge/degree in the same. The admission committee would usually prefer some who has basic background in the department one is applying to.

Experience 

The major difference between IITB and JHU in terms of the research being done at the two places is the availability of resources for doing research itself. Working here provides us with the chance of work hand in hand with the world’s leading science and technology labs alongside leading scientists. This also provides the right exposure at an international level to think out of the box while working on some of the exciting problems.

So far, my experience has been really great. It feels like a different world out here. Being used to getting everything easy at home, it takes a little while to get used to the grad life here. However, once you get the hang of life here, you start feeling more confident and independent which is a different feeling altogether.

Future plans

To be honest, it’s still a long way to go. I am only starting my second year here, so I have a lot to learn. But if you just need a candid answer here, I intend to join the industry as opposed to academia. That being said, I am still open to all the options and would in fact be really happy if I learn things along the way that make me rethink my decision.

Advice to students / Key takeaway

My key advice to the students aspiring to pursue graduate studies abroad would be to go ahead and finish it off right after the UG unless they want to pursue management or some stream in which work experience would help. This way one has the momentum of spending long hours studying from the UG life and would be easy to adapt to student life here. At the same time, they should have a clear mindset about what concentration they plan to pursue as they would be able to make the most out of it.