Enigmatic Academia

You would think that considering how long the Academic community has been around the industry people or people in general would understand how it worked.  But the veil of obscurity continues even now, even though Google scholar makes academic articles even more accessible than ever before.

I thought it was time to dispel some myths that exist about academic life and academia in general:

1. You’re doing a PhD? How much will you “Study”?

Yes I am a PhD Candidate. That means I do research and teach. My coursework is over hence I am not “studying” in the way implied by you.

Most of my friends thronging the bastions of consulting firms think I am still “studying” being in the 4th year of the PhD program. If writing papers and reviewing articles and teaching is studying, then I think I will be doing that all my life, even once appointed as a permanent faculty.

2.  You don’t have classes? Wow, you must be so free to do what you want!

Just because I don’t have to sit in a classroom to attend lectures after my comprehensive exams, doesn’t mean I can sit at home and watch re-runs of Greys Anatomy or party till the wee hours of the morning. It only means I have more time for research, writing papers, teaching and grading.

3. Your presentations are so boring! I can make better Power points presentations! How about some custom animation?

Now that is an insult to my creative sensibilities. 80% of academic presentations (p=0.05) have the following structure:


Theoretical Development





Future Research

Now trying fitting all of that in 15-40 minutes. More often 15 than 40. There is only so much room for mind-numbingly hilarious GIFs when you have to talk about 8 experiments in 10 minutes.

4. You need a Publication? How difficult can that be? I get published online all the time.

 Prestigious academic journals have a rejection rate of 95%. I cannot emphasize that enough. This obviously means we will be more unsuccessful at getting accepted than successful (p=0.01) in these A level journals. So when you come to us and say that you got published on crickinfo.com/poetryhunter.com/<yourname>.blogspot.com, that is not really what we are talking about.

5. How can schools hire professors who don’t have industry experience to teach MBAs?

 If you (MBA student) want to learn how things are done in one specific company rather than the general understanding of the subject which will enable you to customize and apply the knowledge to a new setting (or the principle behind the application) then you should just go work in that specific company and not waste 50,000 Euros doing an MBA.

Ergo, the need for an academic.

6. Please don’t exercise your “PhD” thinking, it isn’t relevant in this situation! Or Can you not talk like a PhD?

It is not my PhD thinking, it is just the way I think. The fact that I am doing a doctoral degree is not relevant to this conversation.


Friend: Traveling is awesome!

Me: Indeed it is. It also makes you more creative.

Friend: Can you not talk like a PhD?

Me: * Grimace *

7. You can’t come out today because you working on your thesis? I wrote one in high school. How difficult could it be?

Think climbing K2. Now multiply that by 10290.

8. Why don’t you write a paper on the economic crisis in Spain and its impact on government spending?

Why don’t I? Because I am a behavioral researcher. And I have research interests that are not even in the same continent as what you just said. Just like you work in Finance and won’t suddenly move to HR one fine day just because.

PS: Being able to do research doesn’t mean I commence research on any pressing issue that comes to your mind.


If you have had similar experiences in trying to get non-academics to understand your lifestyle or point of view do share them in the comment section below!

Photo Source: http://www.phdcomics.com (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1030)


Because we don’t want to be Hypocrites

In a world full of chaos and confusion, humans are motivated by consistency. We strive to stay true to our word and we like to think in consistent patterns. People who don’t, are in deed termed as freaks and wild cards.  Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, writes that the field of Psychology asserts that desire for consistency is a central motivator of our behaviour. Moreover he asserts, that once we make a commitment in writing or on a public domain, it engenders even a greater force to stay consistent to this commitment.  Imagine a situation when you walk into your living room make a public declaration to your family “From today I am going on a diet, and would only eat salad and fruits”. You even write down your resolution and hand it to your family members.  You are greeted with a mild applause and multiple pats on your back and leave the room inspired and motivated. Fast-forward to day 3, and you are sitting on a table sneaking glances at the Butter Chicken being consumer by your brother at an insane speed. You are tempted and want to give in, and then at the very precise moment comes this little voice in the back of your head- “But you told everyone you would only eat healthy food, what would they think of you, if you gave up your resolve just 3 days after that declaration? No, you have to be strong. You can not eat that.” This simple example summarises the entire phenomenon. The very fact that you declared publically and wrote down your intent would be reason enough for you to stay consistent with that social image you created for yourself and this would foster further commitment.  This understanding has far reaching implications in the domain of marketing, but I feel that the most radical application of this relationship would be in the generation of social responsibility among citizens.

In order to understand how this might be, we probably need to look at something closer to home- The Common Wealth Games 2010.

The Common Wealth Games, fraught with organising issues, faced the wrath of national and international media and no doubt, this critique of the preparedness appalled the masses of India. This unprecedented wave of frustration and exasperation, permeated through to the online social networks that we indentify so well with. Status updates after status updates commented upon how the Organising Committee had failed us and the government’s utter lack of foresight in the planning process. What we saw coming to the foreground was a spirit of questioning in a public forum, a kind of domino effect, where one individual’s angst ignites the others spirit of restlessness. Social Networks were ablaze with debates and discussions over how we had gone wrong. Now this has two resounding implications. Firstly, the Indian masses, or rather the Indian masses that represent the online community have angst and an opinion. Secondly, channelizing this opinion into tangible and concrete steps that make the masses accept the locus of control could have even more far reaching implications than just stirring up a good conversation.

The first half of this article discussed how commitment and consistency can arise from public and written statements. Indeed then, we perhaps have an answer of stimulating action- a kind of channel to direct the thought to deeds. We know that as citizens we have opinions and ideas, but perhaps a forum greater than our social network is required for action to come to force. Contests inviting articles about how issues from littering to corruption affect our society and can be resolved are a simplistic way of looking at it. Adding to that our knowledge of commitment and consistency, once people make positive assertions as to how  citizenship can be enhanced in the society, they themselves would trudge down the path they unequivocally asserted in their writings.

Social Networks such as Facebook, are a melting pot of ideas and do stir radical thinking and a spirit of questioning, however we need to move a step above them. To draw a simple analogy, social networks can create a thirst, but in order to quench the thirst, there has to be action. Persistent attempts to talk about thirst, won’t get you closer to water, just as talking won’t cut it. In no way is this an attempt to deride the role of social networks in our lives. In fact this is just the opposite, the social networks that constitute our online community give us voice, but we can not stop there, we need to move a level above as individuals and give our own voices a form, a face and finally constitute action.

November 2010