flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
There are three big uncertainties in the US, that are very dependable in India: weather, women, and work. One of Michael's Indian colleagues pointed this out, and it's worth writing about.

Weather. The weather doesn't change much from day to day here; it mainly depends on the season.  It rained in Visnagar last night, the first time in over a month. Last night's rain was unusual enough for our driver's family to call him and tell him about it.  Most of the time, the days are always sunny and hot (90s to 100s Fahrenheit). I've stopped my US habit of carrying an umbrella in my purse, since I haven't needed it.

Women. When an Indian man needs a wife, his relatives arrange the marriage. The relatives investigate prospective families, their wealth, land holdings, family background, and education.  Most families handle all the details and background checks, then have their children meet each other well in advance of the wedding. There's often an extended one to two year engagement period, where the couple gets to know each other through telephone calls, movies, etc. in nonthreatening settings. Engagements can be broken without much social stigma. School crushes still happen, but most do not turn into marriage. If two friends want to marry, they will ask their families to arrange the marriage, and generally abide by their parents wishes if the families think it's unsuitable.

Indians view arranged marriages as good ways to promote stability and happiness; they pity Americans with our high divorce rate. There are hundreds of people involved in arranging a single Indian marriage.  In the US, we're entirely do-it-yourself, with elaborate dating rituals and the full spectrum of relationship ups and downs. We often wait to introduce our significant others to our parents until we're getting serious about our intentions. It's still fairly common in the southern US for a man to formally ask a father for his daughter's hand in marriage, but he doesn't need to have met the family beforehand. 

Work. In India, people don't change careers the way we do in the US. You do the same type of work for most of your life and then you retire.  It's not just caste. Most jobs have minimum education qualifications and if you don't meet them, you can't work there.  College admissions are competitive, with room for less than ten percent of all Indian high-school graduates. For college-educated people, their degrees often determine their work for the rest of their lives.  People can still branch out and start their own businesses, but it's not as common. Esteemed job holders like lecturers/professors and software engineers earn bragging rights in the Times of India matrimonials section, right next to the MBAs and medical doctors. 

The major exception to education? Housewives. All the engineering faculty we've met have wives who also have engineering degrees. In Visnagar, one (male) professor estimated that about 70 percent of the wives stay home instead of working.  I gather that for housewives, their status is based largely on their husband's job. That's why I've been the guest of honor at several functions along with Michael. There are a handful of female faculty too, but neither Michael nor I have had a chance to talk with them yet (we've both asked to, repeatedly). Kind of a double standard.
flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
My husband is a guru. Or is it a god?

Michael had a faculty member visit this evening.  As a Fulbright lecturer, Michael is not just here to teach undergraduates, but also to mentor faculty.  One of the Indian lecturers here had just applied and been accepted to a US graduate school for a master's degree. The professor came over to our apartment for the evening, and he and Michael talked for a couple hours.

In the US, we joke about the slavery of underpaid graduate students. Here, it's actually true. In India, if you want a PhD, you find somebody who already has one and you become your advisor's peon. This includes doing laundry and errands and washing dishes and other menial tasks that have nothing to do with the field of study. If you're lucky, the advisor might choose to advise you too. Doctorates are heavily dependent on a PhD student's relationship with the advisor, unlike in the US where doctorates are University-centric and students might change advisors a couple different times. Very different. It helps explains the frequent spam from hapless Indian students who send unsolicited CVs to American professors, begging for their support.

Michael explained the American graduate-school systems as he understood them.  Most foreign students to focus exclusively on rankings, and US students (and employers) are only somewhat aware of them. Realistically, it's much better to balance the rankings against the possible funding available and the chances of getting in. Multiple applications are good-- you apply to a top school you would love but don't expect to get in, a lower-tier school where you're pretty sure you'll get in, and one or more middle schools where you feel you have a good chance. A program ranked #17 is not appreciably different from a program ranked #5. And funding is critical; if a university is a regional state school it can still have plenty of research dollars, even for master's students, despite that university being ranked 70th or 80th in the country. It still provides a very valuable US degree and often leads to success (with an American job and visa to follow).

In India, there are hordes of agents who students can enlist to take care of applying to American schools and coordinating all the paperwork. Our Desi friends in the US, who succeeded, generally said those agents are worthless. (Though granted, our NRI friends are stunningly brilliant people and are completely fluent in English. It might be different for a person who less talented or less fluent.)  Michael also suggested the professor contact the Indian student associations at the schools where he was applying. They can tell what the climate and atmosphere are like for Indian students at that particular school, and they'll have the inside scoop on if a program suddenly cut its funding. For visas, the existing students also know what days and times the nicer visa officials are on duty, and can advise each other on when to go to get a visa.

After their talk, when the professor was leaving, he caught Michael off guard by bending down and called him guru.  He asked Michael for a blessing and wanted to Michael to run his hands over him, like a god! The request felt very strange. But that's the sort of esteem in which Doctors of Philosophy are held here. It certainly takes arcane knowledge and higher-than-average luck to get a PhD, but in the US it is nowhere near as prestigious as it is here. One more difference.
flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
In India, undergraduate Electrical Engineering is all about power. It's very different from the normal US EE curriculum.

Today Michael met the electrical engineering faculty and finished touring their laboratories.  The undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum is quite different from the US.  He knew that something was different at introductions when, of fourteen professors, ten said that they worked in power, three in machines, and one in controls.  It reminded him of the scene in the Blues Brothers when he asked if their curriculum covers all areas of electrical engineering and they replied, "Of course we do.  We teach both types of Electrical Engineering: Machines and Power."

The labs are different too.  In US EE labs, equipment is along the lines of breadboards, oscilloscopes, function generators, or logic analyzers. There's no need for them here; they apparently don't teach much analog electronics, electromagnetics, radio, communication, logic, or digital electronics at the undergraduate level.  However, there is a single course in digital signal processing and a single course in microcontrollers. 

Michael really enjoyed the lab equipment.  It's like props from the Frankenstein movies (or his office and our barn back home, for that matter), with Jacob's ladders and other electrical devices buzzing with activity. They also have giant tesla coils, mammoth AC motors, and labyrinthine networks of relays.  Most of the machines emit giant sparks.  The "low voltage" labs deal with 240 and 480 volts (household wall-outlet voltages in India). The other lab rooms are surrounded by thick Faraday cages.  Students don't do much design work, but instead operate preconstructed machine modules.

There are plenty of jobs for Power engineers in India, with its electrical grid still in the formative stage. So it makes sense to have that focus. Michael's doctorate is in Electrical Engineering, but that means something totally different here.  That's why he's teaching "Information Technology" (which is really computer engineering by a different name).

Most Popular Tags


RSS Atom

Style Credit

Page generated May. 28th, 2017 02:16 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios