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This webinar brief has been written by Samaradhi Pandey, from Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith and has been edited by Oishika Banerji.

The Guest: Pranushu Kulkarni, Doctoral candidate at IIM Ahmedabad (Public Policy), Former professor at Tamil Nadu National Law University, Trichy. 

The Host: Prriyankka Karwa, Head of Customer Success at LawSikho.

Who can be benefitted from this article?

People who are:

  1. contemplating on joining a program;
  2. In the initial stages of the program- coursework, choosing a topic, supervisor, conferences, publications;
  3. Who want to understand the “politics of knowledge creation”;
  4. Social Science researchers.

Issues addressed in this webinar

  1. Choosing a research topic, university and supervisor;
  2. Student-supervisor relationship;
  3. Work/Life balance;
  4. PhD and Emotions;
  5. Practitioners wanting to transition into academics;
  6. Importance of reading and writing;
  7. Policies of Research/Knowledge creation; and
  8. Importance of commitment and goal-orientation.

These are not exhaustive issues; there may be many more issues. According to the data shared by AISHE REPORT (2018-19), only 2.5% colleges run PhD programs. Within the PhD programs, majority students opt for STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), further marginalizing the Social sciences and Humanities including Law. The institutional margins are important because it explains the reason students often leave or do not complete their PhD course. Most of the problems faced by students are linked to this institutional reality. 

In addition to this, in the RTI filed by The Telegraph in 2017 asking why up to 40% researchers in some top institutions of the country may be dropping out, to which the MHRD stated the possible reasons to be “personal problems, job opportunities, alleged harassment by guides.” The data is just arbitrary possible reasons drawn because to get statically data an institutionalized data collection which is difficult to combine.

Even globally the PhD drop-outs rates are higher in Social Sciences and Humanities, not just in India, according to the Ph.D. completion and Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Demographic Data from the Ph.D. Completion Project: Council of Graduate Schools, 2008. 

Things to know before to start Ph.D and possible reasons of doing Ph.D  

WHY Ph.D.?

People willing to pursue or are pursuing their PhDs should be very clear on their reasons as to why they are doing it. Out of many reasons, majorly it is found that people pursue Ph.D. as to add the title of ‘Dr.’, other reasons which are commonly stated: Keen interest in the subject, Interested in academics, unable to find jobs, etc. A word of advice to most the people who are donating their time for obtaining a Ph.D. is whatever may be your reason, it should keep you motivated for a minimum of 3 years, extendable up to 6 years on an average, according to the UGC Guidelines.

What Kind Of Ph.D. Program Should A Person Choose?

There are different kinds of Ph.D. programs, namely:

  1. The Three-year program- where the candidate enters with a research proposal;
  2. The Five  years course, can be pursued at IIMs 
  3. Integrated Masters-Ph.D. Program can be pursued at NALSAR. 

Prior to selecting the kind of program you enrol into, certain points should be kept in mind such as:

In case you have prior exposure to the field of academics and research by teaching or assisting someone earlier and you will be not new to the format of writing a research proposal and paper, then you can enrol yourself into a 3-year program, otherwise, it is advisable to opt for the other two options from the list. Also, if you are familiar with the format you must have clarity of thoughts with respect to the research area and paradigms when enrolling in the 3 years program. In case you want to pursue from any foreign country then you should be well versed with the practical consequences of funding, relocation, etc. All the programs have their own form and it would be difficult to point out to the most efficient program.

Note for practitioners wanting to transition to academics: 

  • Your practical insights are value addition,
  • Don’t let the “academic rules” intimidate you (citation systems, number of books to be read, academic style of writing),
  • Academia studies the real world and is very much part of it,
  • Develop a sound understanding of scientific thinking to understand the academic world.

Is India a good option for PhD?

PhD is a personalized education experience compared to Masters and Bachelors, all that matter are you, your research and your guide. It all depends on the institutions and universities and tools such as do you have good books in the library, do you have any scholarship, do you have funding, how is the online database and how is the academic culture of the institute, does it support your research. 

It also depends on your choice of guide, is he/she the subject matter specialist, and is he/she a good advisor. It also depends on your reason to do a PhD which fairly contributes more than the other factors as you can lose your interest. The financial viability is yet another most important contributing factor for the process of completing PhD. Other meaningful factors such as your willingness to do “meaningful” research that is rigorous and long hours of reading lots of books as to develop a good thesis proposal and defense and your need to get out of the colonial consciousness also counts.

Politics Of Research

How far is the institutional environment conducive for our research? The institutional environment includes the National Political culture or even the University level culture or the department level culture. Your research can even antagonize the government or can be a tool in authoritarian legal culture. While deciding your research topic, your university and your research supervisor, you must keep this in mind.

How To Choose a Topic For The PhD  Thesis?

This is a confusing stage. You can put yourself, through this process to decide:

  1. Start by surveying your broad area of interest, it is an organic process which you find out after reading extensively.
  2. Narrow down to the topic pragmatically- passion and resources.
  3. Topic of your interest/passion v. Popularity/”Market value”.
  4. Your topic aligns with the guide’s research interest or vice versa?

In-depth understanding of the methodological choices such as what kind of research suits your research question, why qualitative and not quantitative research and within qualitative: positivist, interpretive, poststructuralist.

Organic development of interest in a research area- extensive and in-depth reading.

What if more than one research area/paradigm interests you?

Conduct a brief survey of all that interests you through foundational books:

  1. Applying a pragmatic elimination method includes extensive research on the field of interest or passion, then understanding the resources you can be helped from, the safety of your persons, funding, time to implement research plans, access to respondents and documents.
  2. Future career plans: Academia or Consultancy.
  3. Applied research techniques vs. Academic publications.

Choosing your supervisor

This is the most important stage of the PhD program. Here are some of the points to remember:

  • Trustworthy, a kind human being first, knowledgeable subject-matter professional later.
  • Strained student-supervisor relationships can break your career, morale, self-esteem and sometimes your personal life too.
  • Talk to seniors, peers.
  • Read their published articles/books, if any.
  • Talk to multiple professors before choosing the one.
  • Do not let their expertise/status cloud your thinking and judgement.
  • Supervisors are for you, you are not for them.

Is PhD in India easier than it is abroad?   

The word easier means less rigorous, which depends on the university or the institute. It is what you want it to be and you make it to be. If you have a burning desire to make a change, you will end up putting more efforts and making an original contribution.

Attitudes required doing good research

  • Competition vs. Collaboration, the later is important for obtaining knowledge.
  • The theory is not dogma.
  • Democratize the research process by “conversing” with the theorist, choose them.
  • Don’t leave your life behind while theorizing (theorizing experiences).
  • Research is not debate/argument.
  • Research is a discussion/conversation.
  • Not necessary to reach consensus/win.

What are the ideal goals of a PhD thesis? 

  • Generating new theories.
  • Looking at the world/phenomenon in a different way.
  • Adding to the evidence literature on the given topic.
  • Pure intellectual curiosity, how does this “benefit” the world? Waste of taxpayers’ money?
  • Evaluating research impact.
  • Policy reform/social reform.
  • Starting a new conversation in your interest area.
  • Communicating with the general public through newspapers, social media, online news media.
  • Knowledge creation- adding to the existing literature.

Emotions and PhD    

It is something not spoken about in the formal research institutes and universities. You can find various books on subject-matter but none about the emotions involved in the research. Studies worldwide have shown that Ph.D. students go through loneliness, depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, workplace bullying, supervisor issues, lack of resources/guidance about the subject matter, the pressure to publish, work pressure, if Ph.D. is part-time. It is recommended that the person should reach out to friends, family, counsellors, trusted mentors, and people with common research interests. It is crucial for people to prioritize their goals and choose their battles.

Balancing  PHD  with family commitments (esp. for married women)

It is a task to manage household and  PhD simultaneously. Women are expected to earn as well as feed their family. There is barely any time left for them to spend with their family causing several related problems. Also, married women are pressurized to have kids. To balance between these two is great learning in itself. It is preferable that before you start with the PhD program you should get your family on-board with the idea. On some points, you will have to negotiate with family, for the sake of the career. Stick to professional commitments while equally distributing time for household work. Try making things work but don’t use your family as an excuse to quit  PhD.

Preparing For The Marathon

  • Mentally and physically.
  • Attitude and hard work more important than intellect.
  • Professionalism and integrity.
  • Learning not to plagiarize.
  • Stop being an introvert- get comfortable talking to anyone about your research interests.
  • Get used to hearing different worldviews.

How to ace the  PhD program?

  • Be clear, the reason why are you doing it;
  • Set your priorities right;
  • Disciplined adherence to a set schedule;
  • Periodic meetings with your supervisor to gauge your progress or a lack thereof;
  • Take regular breaks to unwind and relax.

Always remember YOUR LIFE IS BIGGER THAN PhD.

Parting tips

  • Research cannot happen without extensive reading, writing and sharing of your knowledge/thoughts.
  • Be open to talking to anyone about your research.
  • Be thick-skinned to deal with publication rejections and institutional policies.
  • Get your basics right + don’t be egoistic about your original research.
  • Be confident with respect to your abilities to come up with original thoughts/ideas.

Enjoy the journey!


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