“Sir, please motivate our students. They are highly discouraged as there are no jobs in our discipline these days”. A distinguished professor was talking to our Masters and Doctoral students, and this question came up during the after-lecture discussion.

It appears that we opt for a particular course because of the job prospects attached to it.  It might be true if you want to go for an MBA or a similar degree which are considered terminal and offer lucrative jobs in the industry. When you opt for an academic/ research based degree- be it humanities, natural sciences or engineering – it’s not the same anymore. In a Masters’ degree, you are expected to learn a bit more about your subject than a regular bachelor and Honors’ student and Ph.D. is a different level. Although several modern private universities aggressively market their higher degrees to attract students, NONE of these two degrees in research PROMISE a job.

Once you make a decision of joining an M.Sc., M. Tech, M. Com., M. A. or a Ph.D. – you are expected to be in a different league. What led to that decision doesn’t matter anymore. Here, the higher aim of exploring and learning guides you and a job is not the only motivation. A vocational course would be better if a job is your priority. More often than not, the Masters’ and Doctoral degrees LEAD to a career in academics and research. And this could be the basis for the widespread assumption that an M.Sc. or Ph.D. degree must end in a job in academia.

A Masters’ degree prepares you for the Ph.D. degree. A Ph.D. degree is a quest, in which you go above and beyond the boundaries of your discipline and explore the unknown. In the process, you become a Philosopher of your subject. Simply put – this is where you and your subject becomes one. You breathe it, and it flows in your veins. After a Masters’ degree you are expected to be a literal ‘Master’ of your discipline; after Ph.D. – you represent the discipline.

When it comes to jobs- your knowledge will lead you to a career in academia. The universities and institutions of higher learning are always looking for quality. This is where you would land up eventually. Now, convincing recruiters is your responsibility, and not a guarantee that comes with your degrees. The better you are at your discipline; higher are your chances of landing your dream academic job.

Poor quality of education and training results in half-cooked scholars/scientists. I have interviewed several M. Tech. Biotechnology / B. tech. Biotechnology, M.Sc. students, who didn’t have any damn idea of the most basic facts of their respective disciplines of specialization. [And this is why I could never understand why student politics is even allowed on the campuses of higher learning]. The sad part is, these students have no idea that they are expected to know these questions. In India, a Master’s degree is the enabling qualification for the position of an Assistant Professor. In the USA, a Ph.D. (for most humanities and social sciences disciplines) plus few years of postdoctoral experiences (for most science disciplines) is a must to become Assistant Professor.

Once you start an academic position, the life in research just begins. Becoming a researcher is NOT just a job. It provides you livelihood, but it is not your regular office job, and should not be treated as one. To succeed as a researcher – a continued pursuit for exploring the unknown is the key driver. An academic job does not give you a license to pursue your wild dreams. As a researcher, we have to use our skills and align our interests with that of our society and the mandate of our institute or the university. If you are well trained- you would be able to do that and continue on a path to discovery and support your research by winning grants and funding. If you are not well trained, you will fail as an academic. All the people who fail try to advance themselves through unethical means, creating what is called academic politics and negativity at the workplace. Although anyone can do any amount of politics, there is no substitute to excellence, especially in a serious organization where research and excellence are appreciated.

In summary – higher education and research degrees are not designed to guarantee you a job. They make you an explorer and a philosopher, and you are responsible for making use of your training to land an academic position. And only your training and skills would make you successful in academic and research. So, take full advantage of the opportunity you get as a Masters/Ph.D. student, and, go beyond the average classroom stuff if you want to excel as an academic/ researcher. A thoroughly trained person is never without a job.