Monday, June 22, 2009

Stuff I couldn't find in Google

To setup an experiment we have to import either instruments or components from abroad, very often from the US. The Indian distributors will not stock these items because they will have to pay a 35% excise duty, whereas if we import, being Governmental organizations, we pay 9.36%; the price of buying something from the distributor's stock is typically three times that of importing directly. However, when we import, FedEx and UPS carries the packages over international borders and then we have freight forwarders moving packages between factories and ports both internationally and within India. In my last three experiences, twice with FedEx and once with UPS, the packages sat at the port of entry for a month and then another month in Kolkata, after which we actually paid several thousands of rupees for the space and time where they were hatching eggs in the custody of these extremely efficient courier services and snatched the boxes off their hands, literally. It will actually feel like you are being blackmailed with something that you payed to buy. I tried arguing with them that they were thus interfering with my research plans and in another occasion that they should waive their shipping fees; the folks can't comprehend these concerns; while responding they just overlook these statements.

I have found out that this is generic in India. Private organizations it seems do not face this problem. They have absolutely no problem importing stuff, like in the order of containers, not these meager cardboard boxes. The reason, everyone seems to know but will never officially acknowledge, is that they have an advanced, human lubrication mechanism in place. As intriguing as this topic is, I wish to rather highlight how this delay that I described earlier would interfere with experimental research. btw, before shipping, there's an ordering process which involves obtaining hard copy quotations with accurate terms and conditions and then there's a sending payment process.

Also, in India it seems like people are hired first, then they are provided the money that they will spend, at the end of the purchasing process described above, boxes and for some lucky folks huge crates will get manually downloaded from trucks on the passageways ( I haven't seen any fork lifts yet, except in the shipyard) and then rooms will be constructed to accommodate these boxes. Thus a laboratory is democratically formed.

India has a large population of highly educated eligible folks and therefore all selection procedures are very formal and detailed. For example, the requirement for an Assistant Prof. position in my insti is PhD plus four years of postdoc. Its not like one random person came up with this rule for a specific post. It is actually decided by a group of India's most eminent and successful scientists. PhD plus 4 years of PostDoc! I knew a guy, who got his PhD in Chemistry from India, went to the US for postdoc-ing, did eight years of it; not because he wanted to , but because he couldn't get a job and then finally did a one year CS course and got a job in a software company. Obviously a very modern and ambitious character who didn't settle down for any arbit ill-paid job. The point being, no one does four years of post doc anymore. We, in our generation, somehow value time. We will continue postdoc-ing only when we do not find a suitable position. In very rare cases, folks will settle for two terms (2+2) but in different areas so that one actually develops some new capabilities (these are the dorks btw); but even then the second term position reflects the added experience from the first term. Its not like postdoc-ing in India has any competitive advantage.

Typically, a postdoc's life in a foreign country is not exactly tourism. A scientific, creative and innovative mind or what's left of it thus gets fatigued. As if, the 10th grade, the 12 th grade, BSc, MSc and then the national competitive exams were not enough; survive through a 5-7 year PhD program and then perform in a 4 yr foreign postdoc appointment; you are now eligible to become an Asst prof in India. This screening process I would think has to be counter productive for a Nation's work force building. But once again, this could be the topic of another nightout. Right now, what I tried to emphasize was that, anyone who survives this excruciating torture is Exceptional. What does India do with these exceptional human beings then? Remember that human beings develop survival skills and one of the first things, I think someone who tries to perform outside India learns, is to value time. Thus every experimental problem that such an exceptional scientist likes, has a shelf life, precisely because many around the world care about it. Science is the most interesting game in the world because you play it against the most intelligent crowd on this planet (with the right attitude, its not as cocky as it sounds).

Now go back to the beginning of this narration...

2 comments:

Sarah said...

At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo search engine scientist cartoons!

Sandip said...

Agreed :)

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