Faculty Position in India in 2019: Opportunities and Challenges

To the Faculty Hiring Committee in India, 2019

In a populous yet developing knowledge-based economy like India, getting a coveted Faculty (Assistant Professor or Scientist) position in a premier institution in India, in 2019 remains an enormous challenging.- in a country where thousands of talented researchers from in house and abroad compete for only a handful (10s!) of positions across only a few hundred institutions. However, based on the recent experience (mostly failures!) of Faculty job applications of my colleagues, I have identified certain specific “points” which are mis-matches when it comes to the hiring committee’s expectations versus the candidate’s abilities. I would kindly suggest these as mere guidelines for our esteemed faculty hiring committees for future selection processes.

Teaching experience as a challenge: Postdocs and early stage investigators working in the US and Europe, are hired for 100% research efforts. Asking them for teaching experience is harsh on their training. Even during a typical graduation at premiere institutions such as IITs or Central Universities in India, a graduate student does not teach. Expecting these candidates to teach for 5-40 minutes (typically asked by faculty selection committees) demands extra hours for preparation from their current Postdoc and Faculty positions. To my experience, no Postdoc, None of them, in Biological sciences departments or medical schools or research institutions abroad get an opportunity to teach, neither is expected from them, and nor they do have protected time for it. Some might be “lucky” enough to take a few classes at the behest of their supervisors or mentor, or some guest lectures in their respective areas of expertise- but certainly no semester-long teaching. Only those who graduate in US, Europe institutes have to teach for teaching assistantship (i.e., salary support) which definitely provides them with a competitive edge. However, most candidates in research have been studies and academically sound and loved their subjects- so teaching would come to them naturally and they would simply do it out of passion and genuine interest!

Brand: Looking for faculties in the form of employees, students, Postdocs from ‘branded’ institutions is a very common phenomena to look for such candidates from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Max Planck and other such institutions or those who had a chance to go to such schools by choice or caliber. This approach is not incorrect, as long as one does not only support ‘elitism’ but candidates form all other institutions should be considered. Challenges remain as to why an in-house candidate form IISc, IIT, IISER, NISER or ICGEB would not be as good as someone who graduated or Postdoc-ed from the elite institutes of the west/ abroad. Also, by following these brands, are not we excluding a lot of deserving future investigators and independent leaders just because they are not associated with a brand?

Independence: Independence is not just defined by having first author publications in ‘branded’ journals- Cell, Nature, Science etc. but then from contribution in the form of single-author publications and reviews, as corresponding author as well. Moreover, thrusts should be given to ‘weigh’ independence from the ability to bring in extramural fund in abroad in the form of fellowships, grants, seed and pilot grants among other federal and agency funded research money. Understandably, Postdocs would not be able to do much of it, but early stage investigators (biological scientists, Assistant Professors) do so and should be acknowledged by the hiring committees. Are we not judging scientific and grantsmanship skills based solely on high impact (factor) publications alone as a dummy for independence?

Online (audio-visual interview): Typically, for foreign candidates this option MUST be there. Mostly so, because most of the times candidates are stuck in their full-time responsibility and research efforts, which does not allow them to visit India frequently. Also, for VISA restrictions to family duties, not everyone would be able to travel back to India for a singular or even multiple interviews in a very short time frame. Moreover a lot of technological advances from Skype, WebEx to Hangouts are accessible via internet revolution and such technologies must be seamlessly adopted and that should be an excuse to make sure that no candidate has to appear in person.

Freshness to the Board: Among other newness that is expected from these new hires would be to see novelty in approaching science. From path followers to becomes path leaders, how these faculty hiring candidates show support for open access, open science, are part of society’s early career membership teams, are involved in influencing social media’s inclination towards science in positive manner among others. Skillsets from statistical interrogation of data to data visualization to data sharing and standardization/ reproducibility approaches need to be evaluated as well.

Acknowledging interdisciplinary research: It is great to have a mandate for a given institution for either basic or applied research as a focus and hiring candidates along those lines or expertise. A typical researchers focus on tiniest details of a given gene or protein is very important to help advance the basic research progress, but a lack of the big picture view (1000 feet view of science/ disease) renders such innovations useless. However, it is important to appreciate the upcoming newer research avenues just for the shake of technologies starting from gene editing (Crispr) to omics sciences (metabolomics, genomics, proteomics), big data, robotics, high throughput screening, automation, bioinformatics, epidemiological research, newer microscopes, phenotyping, nanotechnological and biomaterial and nanomaterial, microfluidics related advancements into the Indian research arena too.

Questions remain, and answers must come from candidates, whether from India or abroad- on a normalized scale of measures that simply does not judge them on the basis of brand, papers, teaching exposure, research area among others. However, a reconsideration of the above discussed criteria would help the committees get bright and deserving quality candidates for their institutions!

-Biswapriya Biswavas Misra, PhD

Really nice article. I agree with the author about teaching experience requirement expected by hiring committee. It is not possible to acquire teaching experience during PhD or postdoc because they are paid to do research work via fellowships or through PI’s project grants. Of course, they regularly supervise bachelor, master students and sometimes PhD students too(during postdoc). Also the mode of teaching is changing at institutes. Students at my current work place (Singapore) take online lecture modules, this means less interaction with faculty. Also there is team based learning approaches which is quite different from my time in university.

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