I ran into a second year Indian grad student yesterday, as just to make conversation, wished him luck for his upcoming prelim examination. He, in return, enquired about my prelim about two years ago; and my committee. When I told him about my committee, his instinctive response was “Ah! you got it easy”.
Instantly the bulbs for my two pet-peeves flashed.
The first is, without any rhyme or reason, slotting faculty members as good, bad, horrible advisers, examiners, committee members etc. The first year, I had other grad students advising me to stay away from certain faculty, and hope and pray that I do not get them in my committee (we are assigned one “randomly” chosen faculty). When I enquired further, the simplest question being: “How did the faculty member affect you?”, and the truth would just jump out, that the faculty failed some student a million years ago. The grad student did not even think that the student might have been failed for some valid reason. The same happened in IIT-B as well, when one faculty was literally outcast, and no student chose that person as their guide. The reason being that the faculty failed a student the previous year. This time, it was easy for me to find out more about the student, and it did turn out that he did not put in sufficient effort in his project. I try my best, not to pass qualitative judgment about faculty members. I often get emails asking me on which faculty is better as a adviser and asking me to compare two people working on completely different things. My answer is based on my personal interactions, if any with the faculty, and hence, in most cases completely useless to the person sending me the mail. But I know people, making the sort of quantitative appraisal that is being asked, and often on an arbitrary absolute scale.
The second being trying to justify that the other person had it easy. I must confess, I too have tried to do that a few times, but over the past two-three years, I have been making a conscious attempt to not indulge myself in “you’ve got it easy”. Some examples:
- This is one is a classic: ICSE vs CBSE. Millions of hours have been wasted debating ICSE toughness because of Shakespeare to CBSE easiness. The funny thing was ISC students would harp on about Physics and Chemistry being harder in 11th and 12th, whereas the syllabus was almost the same. And, being from Calcutta, where ICSE schools just mushroomed because parents wanted their kids to study ICSE, it was tough times being a CBSE student, always having to defend your board.
- During undergraduate, chemical was quite cheekily termed as “kam akal”: less brains. And constant chatter would be that chemical students have everything easy. I guess they were not too much off the truth. In my opinion, the undergraduate VTU chemical engineering syllabus results in brain atrophy. But back then, a clutch of the “kam akal” students had only an design course, in which we had to refer to a 5000 page book and draw nasty distillation towers as the only proof that chemical was hard.
- Other masters students were at the receiving end of “you got it easy” at IIT. The ChemE department had a fairly challenging 1st semester, and personally, it was a refreshing change from the brain atrophy. While, I really enjoyed the hard work; a fair proportion of the rest of my batch mates were earning sympathy from other students by cribbing about how hard the course is.
- Experiments and labs were beyond me; so I took up a simulation based project, which allowed me to soak up the experimentalists complain how easy it has been for me.
- And in the first year and a half year, soaked up daily loads of “CS is so hard” from my CS friends.
- With my working friends, I have been “reverse” doing it, painting a rosy picture of PhD life: no 9-5 types, no phone calls, long boring meetings etc etc.
I dislike “you’ve got it easy” comments because it is half baked, based on either perceptions and second hand information. But, the lot of us, have grown up, feeding from fake pity about our tough courses!