Resources Q & A

Recruiting Student and Postdocs

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  • How does the student recruitment process work? Do students apply through a common pool or do they apply to specific labs? Do they rotate in different labs before settling on the lab of choice? #

    Each Institution has its own selection procedures- usually annually, and in some cases twice a year. Some places offer completely free rotations, others restrict them based on density of students in labs, or similar criteria. Other Institutions have students matched up to labs as part of the interview process, with PIs writing up projects and students selecting from them and handing in an order of preference. These procedures can be changed by the members of each Institution, and indeed have been changing over the years. So contribute to the process once you join—the same strategy may not work as well from one institution to another.

    Some Institutions have restrictions on number of enrolled PhD students. However there are few restrictions on number of JRFs (Junior Research Fellows, grant funded research support staff, who can do work ranging from technician type of work to handling a research project by themselves—its up to the PI of the grant). JRFs come for anywhere between 1-3 years (2 being average) and can also pay themselves out of their own independent fellowships if they have qualified for one such as the CSIR/DBT/ICMR/UGC fellowships. These students are highly motivated because they want to get into a PhD program, often outside the country.

  • How are graduate students paid? #

    This is one of the major advantages of doing science here-grad students come fully paid. This will be either from Institutional funds or from a CSIR/DBT/ICMR/UGC fellowships that they qualify for by appearing for an exam during their Master's. This cohort is highly competitive having qualified at a national level. In fact, most institutes have the luxury of only interviewing students who already qualify for such fellowships. Rarely are grant funds required to pay graduate students. Students also get free or nominal cost housing, usually an on-campus hostel or nearby accommodations.

    If the fellowship term of 5 years is not sufficient, you can write in a SRF ("senior research fellow") position in your grant to pay your graduate student for the last 6 months/year. You can also keep your Ph.D. students around for an extra year finishing their papers but paying them as post-docs off their grant. Nearly all Institutions have a requirement for one first author paper for graduation.

  • How are postdocs paid? #

    Either from Institutional funds or from fellowships offered by the DBT. Most Institutions also offer nominal-cost housing to post docs. Grant funds may be used to pay post doc stipends (if you have lots more post doc applicants than your Institution's fellowships allow! but sadly, see the next FAQ. There are no additional benefits/overhead costs, so typically the only amount that is to be budgeted for is the stipend and HRA (house rent allowance). Stipends are under Rs. 20,000 per month, and HRA is an additional 30%. So the total costs of a postdoc salary on a grant are approx Rs. 3 lakhs per year.

    CSIR now has a Nehru fellowship that offers 35,000/month (only for CSIR labs). The Wellcome-DBT India Alliance early career fellowships are very high-paying- check out their website.

  • A good lab needs good post docs, which is one of the things that is currently difficult in India. Any plans to entice good postdocs to labs in India? #

    Currently the post doc population is limited. Candidly put, most people with a decent PhD go abroad for their post doc, and this is a good thing. Typically the pool of post-docs one attracts is people who need a bridge position until they arrange their foreign post-doc or people who are good at their work but are not necessarily interested in a faculty position in the top Indian institutions. There is also a pool of extremely good people who need to be in a particular city for personal reasons, and these can be very good if you find them!

    The dearth of postdocs also makes the labs somewhat "youthful" which has its advantages and disadvantages! PIs need to plan strategies to bring new techniques etc into their labs by sending their students to collaborators for a few months, or bringing in new skills themselves. This is an ongoing challenge. PIs usually have to put some thought into the different approaches needed to "manage" a team that is barely out of college, though it is impressive how quickly these students mature and become role models and student leaders. One of the biggest changes will be fine-tuning your approach to students. Compared with their US counterparts, Indian PhD students need a lot more direction from their advisers on all aspects of the scientific process, including designing experiments, troubleshooting, interpreting data, presenting in seminars and writing. The first few years are challenging, then you have senior students with the maturity of post docs, and it becomes easier. The lab functions as much more of a family- people work together and spend long hours because they like being with their colleagues.

    Creative ways of attracting post docs to your lab are well worth spending time on. For example, graduate students in labs abroad who are near the end of their PhDs may be interested in doing a 6-month "mini-post doc" in an Indian lab, if there is an interesting project, and they are interested in getting a taste of living in a different country. Several Institutions offer positions (with stipend and housing) of varying durations to such candidates, and agencies such as the British Council, or the Company of Biologists will offer fellowships that cover travel and/or a stipend. As always, finding such candidates is where the hard work comes in (rather than finding the funding for them, which is not a problem), but it is well worth it.

    This scenario may change with the Wellcome-DBT fellowships that offer attractive packages to post doctoral applicants from within and outside India- 4 year fellowships with funds for travel, experimental costs, and impressive salaries.