Applying for post doctoral fellowships in india

About a year ago, I had embarked on the process of applying for post-doctoral fellowships after moving back to India. A post-doctoral position is a fairly new concept here and while more and more institutes and individual research bodies offer this type of funding now, I thought I could write a little about my experience before and after. Of course, this is limited to the scene in India and perhaps also to my field.

Most post-doctoral fellowships are externally funded, which means that individual professors/labs rarely offer them from their own funding. DST (Dept. of Science and Technology) and UGC (University Grants Commission) are examples of funding agencies that have fellowships. Some institutions themselves may offer post-docs. Generally, the time frame is 1-3 years. In the social sciences ICSSR is another funding body and I believe there are other privately funded scholarships too. I had applied for three (UGC, DST and an institutional fellowship), was accepted for two and eventually decided to pick the DST one.

The application process was relatively similar–most asked for a research proposal and a detailed CV with a list of publications. They looked quite closely at the academic record as well, i.e. the percentage obtained in undergraduate and other post-graduate degrees. If all criteria were met, there was an interview with the short-listed candidates, where specific questions about the proposed research were asked.

Most applications also asked for proof of institutional support, which means that one has to be attached to an institution and a department, i.e. the ‘host’. At the moment, most institutions have no idea what a post-doc does or how he/she can be put to work. But usually, as this does not require any financial effort on their part, they don’t deny a letter of support, although they are likely to add riders e.g. no guarantee of office space etc.

The total time taken from application to actual result was about six months. The hardest part was not the application materials or the interview process, it was the lack of clarity about when the results or the next step in the selection process would take place. While most of the communication was via email, for some reason, the results were announced by ordinary post. This caused some amount of confusion

Apart from the administrative challenges, which are a feature of academic life (and perhaps not very surprising as it’s India), the format of such a post doc has some advantages in that it’s possible to fashion one’s own research, independent of the requirements of a particular lab or dept. At the same time, this means that there is nothing at stake for that lab or dept to see the results of your research. The work will have to be self-driven, but there is freedom to pursue what one wants.

It is early days yet, and I believe I would have a better perspective once a year of this fellowship is completed and then write a continuation of this post. Personally, I am hoping that this gives me a chance to pursue something different and interesting: topics in cognitive science and linguistics and learn some new skills (a recent interest has been the use of eye-tracking technology to understand language processing). I look forward to where this might take me!