Exploring research opportunities

Rama Natarajan Mar 14 2018, 22:29 IST
Many IT companies have tied up with leading educational institutions to identify deserving students who wish to take up research. REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE

After the launch of the 'Prime Minister's Fellowship Scheme for Doctoral Research' - which is jointly implemented by the Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) - six years ago, many IT companies have tied up with leading educational institutions to identify deserving students who are looking to do research. The purpose is to offer financial aid to facilitate such studies, while encouraging development and growth of academia and industry.

These awards are instituted by the government, universities, industrial houses, research centres, academic institutions, laboratories or foundations. While a scholarship always implies financial aid, the same is not the case with a fellowship. Whereas student fellowships come with monetary support, assistant fellowships and fellowships could also be a status awarded, and financial grant is not automatically implied.

Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries in the IT field appoint a select number of senior engineers and scientists as 'technical fellows'. This is the most senior rank or title one can achieve in a technical career, though some 'fellows' also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

How does it work?

Though the terms scholarship and fellowship are often used interchangeably and are basically a grant or funding for academic pursuits and research studies, they are slightly different. Students can avail scholarships at the early stages of their academic career. On the other hand, fellowships are generally merit-based internal or external awards to support a student in a full-time course of study. Fellowships often include an internship involving extensive studies or other service commitment and these aspects are often clearly spelled out before the agreement of fellowship is drawn and signed.

As a research student, one may want to explore various topics like database and data mining, algorithms and complexity or any one of the long list of developmental studies. A fellowship programme provides these opportunities. An IT company interested in sponsoring deserving candidates will enter into an agreement with selected academic institutions and decide upon a number of fellowship awards to be granted each academic year. The sponsor company uses the fellowship programme as its 'pipeline for leadership talent'. In turn, the 'fellows' are expected to lead and deliver key projects.

Fellowships are purely accorded on the basis of merit. Hence, it is necessary that the selected student or proposed 'fellow' is registered with the partner institution for research studies. The company draws up an agreement and spells out the endowment amount and its utilisation for the entire period of study. This could be anywhere from one year to four years, depending on the study undertaken. The institution and the proposed fellowship candidate sign the agreement. The award then becomes operative and the awardee is known as a 'fellow' of the sponsor company.

Better exposure

Status reports are sent periodically to the sponsors to ensure continuance of the award. Apart from the monthly stipend and other benefits, the institution is entitled to use a portion of the grant to augment their library, organise seminars, conferences and study travels. The fellowship student is required to write a report at the end of each academic year. The institution of study and research is obliged to acknowledge and accord visibility to the role of the sponsor in the research work carried out. "It is a three step process to a great career - get selected, train as you learn and land a job," simplifies Aditya, who recently completed a fellowship.

Vinod, an intern working with a start-up in Bengaluru, feels that it is the sheer joy of discovering something new, may be a different approach or a simple solution to a long-standing problem that attracted him to engage in research. He points out that it took discipline, strategy and some amount of foresight to get ahead in the field of research. Any kind of research aims to observe or study what has been seen and recorded, and apply thought in a way that has not been attempted. Research is beyond mere curiosity; it is poking and prying with a purpose.

So what kind of assessment do you face when you join as an intern? Some of the IT houses use the Myers-Briggs type Indicator (MBTI), an introspective self-report questionnaire that indicates differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions. Others have lean in sessions to encourage leadership qualities and provide educational resources. These are designed to break the ice, foster a feeling of belonging and a happy team spirit.

Many companies have contests for individual experts in their company to be pitched against other experts in managing innovative challenges. This is a big tool in creating social entrepreneurs, creative entrepreneurs and market strategists. The IT sector also has the Imagine Cup contest which aims to empower the next generation of Computer Science students to team up, share and use their creativity, passion, and knowledge of technology to create
applications that could well change our lives.

India is committed to the development of a knowledge-based society which will work with Gen Z youngsters and use their fresh and enthusiastic ideas to build on our values and strengths. The IT companies are adding their might to strengthen these young shoulders to take the load of a developing nation on their back. Research and Development go hand in hand. Staying focussed on innovation and continuous improvement, in key areas, is what our 'fellowship worthies' do, to take the nation forward.

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