Shubha Tole | 20 SEPT 2009 | filed under : Jobs

FAQs about getting a job in India

Contributors to the information in the FAQs: Deepak Barua (IISER), Jyotsna Dhawan (CCMB), Sandhya Koushika (NCBS), Swati Patankar (IITB), Shubha Tole (TIFR).
The questions below have been collated from prospective YIs who are interested in returning to India, or scientists in India and abroad who are interested in helping this process. The questions clearly reflect areas in which more clarity is required. We have attempted to be candid in the answers, acknowledging problems and lessthan- perfect situations where needed, and suggesting ways of working around them. Everything is evolving, and hopefully these answers will, too!

Feedback Please!     

Do you have a question that wasn't answered? Did you find the answers useful? (which ones did you find particularly helpful?) Can we improve on these in any way (which ones were less than adequate?) If you're an Indian investigator, is there anything we need to correct or modify or improve? Any examples we can cite that would help the reader? Please use the job forum and let let us know so that we can make these FAQs as useful to the community as possible

1a) What is the hierarchy of positions for scientists in a research institution? What is the entry-level faculty position called to which post docs can apply?
There are a few different nomenclatures:  some institutions have a letter grade system (Scientist C, Scientist D, and so on); others have entry level positions called lecturer/fellow/reader/assistant professor, which at more senior levels become less varied, settling at the more familiar Associate Professor, Professor etc.

The good part is that the applicant does not need to know the name of the position they will be considered for.  Each institution has rules that indicate what level a person can be considered for.  As an example, if an Institution's rules are that 10 years post PhD experience corresponds to an Associate Professor designation, such an applicant cannot be considered for a more junior appointment,and can only very rarely, with exceptional qualifications, be considered for a more senior appointment.  The system does not allow negotiations, and likewise, cannot be unfair to an applicant either.

Bottom line:  the level of appointment is not something that needs to be (or can be) negotiated, but you don't have to worry about getting a fair deal either- each applicant will be considered for an appropriate as per an institution's rules.  So you can just state that you wish to apply for "an independent investigator" position and let the system take care of it.1a) What is the hierarchy of positions for scientists in a research institution? What is the entry-level faculty position called to which post docs can apply?

1b) Whom do we contact at an institution for applying for a position?
The Director, the Chairperson of a particular department, or the email on the Institution's website.  Different Institutions are at different stages in evolving a prompt, responsive application system- meaning that you may not always hear back immediately..

If this happens, find a young scientist at the particular institution and ASK whether they can give you any information about their procedures (in some places, younger faculty are only minimally involved in hiring decisions, and in others, may be able to provide informal information about the frequency of Council meetings etc which may hold up processing of an application).

Most Institutions are beginning to realize that email confirmations of applications received is a good thing to do, and hopefully this is the beginning of a change in how candidates are kept updated about the progress of their application.

1c) How does the application process work? What sort of time frame are we looking at?
Time-frame:  begin making your enquiries 2-3 years before you actually want to move.  Better still, try to arrange informal visits or seminars (that are not necessarily job-talks) AS SOON as you are nearing the end of your PhD or beginning your post-doc.  Institutions are quite friendly to visitors who write saying "I'm coming home on vacation, and I want to begin to explore options of returning to India after my post-doc is over, may I visit and give an informal seminar?"  If you don't have work that suits a seminar, give a lab-meeting style presentation hosted by a faculty member in your field, to which a few other faculty may come.  This will help the department see your work evolve in subsequent years, and they will have a better background for your job talk which may be 4 years later!  Also, practically, an informal early visit will give you a contact you can write to later on when you mail a formal application.

If you have NOT made initial visits and want to move back on a quicker time-frame, that can also work.  Its not as if paperwork necessarily takes so long- appointments can be made on a 6 month timescale depending on the procedures at particular Institutions (others are known to take much, much longer- this needs to change, obviously, in order for them to remain competitive in terms of attracting back talent).  We suggest you make contact early only so that you can explore more carefully where you might fit in best- unlike the US, Institutions in India vary greatly on how things are run- so its worth it putting in the effort to visit them early on.  If you don't have as much lead-up time, just write to as many places as you think you might reasonably want to visit, and plan a job-talk tour giving talks everywhere.  In your initial email, you can indicate that you are planning a trip to India at time X, and would be happy to give a talk at that time.  Also state the time frame you want to move back in- it helps the Institution respond.

 The application process:   Apply with a CV, names of referees, and a research plan. If you are continuing aspects of your postdoctoral work, be certain to have a good response to the question "how will you distinguish yourself from your postdoctoral mentor".

 Your application will be evaluated, letters of recommendation will be solicited (often a greater number than at US Institutions- provide at least 6 names if possible, and the Institution is likely to seek letters from additional people who look at multiple applications over time, for reasons of comparison and consistency).  The evaluation process involves a few different levels of committees- it is best to ask because this varies depending on the policies of each Institution.

1d) What are the requirements for applying to a faculty position? Is there a minimum/maximum years of experience as postdoc required before applying for a position in India?
Most Institutions will issue an appointment letter stating a 5-year term, with extension subject to review.  The nature of this review varies widely, being stringent and similar to the US tenure track system is a few places, to being basically a promotion review (but not a tenure review per se) in most others.  That these latter Institutions, you won't lose your job but your promotion may get delayed if you haven't met the requirements (ASK what these are- varies widely).  Therefore, appointments are pretty much tenured from the start with the exception of the few Institutions that have implemented or are actively discussing the implementation of a stringent tenure track system.  This is something to explicitly ask, not assume, since it is a point of active debate all over the country.

Minimum:  usually a few years of post-doctoral experience are required.  Some Institutions have positions suited for fresh PhD applicants also eg IITs, IISER Pune, NCBS's young investigator program.  Each Institution has rules to consider applicants with different numbers of post-PhD experience. Naturally, publications, proposed research plan, and references are part of the requirements and go into evaluating the application.

Maximum:  there is no limit to the experience a candidate may have, but with increasing years of post-PhD experience, candidates must be considered for correspondingly higher appointments. As an example, if an Institution's rules are that 10 years post PhD experience corresponds to an Associate Professor designation, such an applicant cannot be considered for a more junior appointment.  These appointments have a higher bar, and naturally require more of a demonstration of success than the promise of it as is the case with more junior appointments in which "potential" is a big factor.

Age limits: There are several institutes that prefer to hire younger people-this varies quite a lot from Institution to Institution. Age limits are usually flexible- and need to be increasingly more so in order to encourage recruitment.  Make your first contact early, approx. 2-3 years before you expect to finish your postdoc.  Then you will be in touch with the changing situation at various places.

1e) Is there a tenure-track system?
Most Institutions will issue an appointment letter stating a 5-year term, with extension subject to review.  The nature of this review varies widely, being stringent and similar to the US tenure track system is a few places, to being basically a promotion review (but not a tenure review per se) in most others.  That these latter Institutions, you won't lose your job but your promotion may get delayed if you haven't met the requirements (ASK what these are- varies widely).  Therefore, appointments are pretty much tenured from the start with the exception of the few Institutions that have implemented or are actively discussing the implementation of a stringent tenure track system.  This is something to explicitly ask, not assume, since it is a point of active debate all over the country.  
1f) Where can I find a consolidated list of institutes with a brief description of it's research/ activities?
[HERE]  (see List of Research Institutes/Universities in India attachment)
1g) Do Indian Indian institutes/universities offer startup packages? Is this something that should/can be negotiated? Once I get an offer - can I negotiate for higher salaries or pay-scales, benefits, Resources?
Different Institutions have widely varying set-up packages and ongoing Institutional support.  Start-up packages will certainly include specific equipment such as a particular big fancy expensive gizmo if your work depends on it. An Institution that wants to recruit you will make arrangements for the money to get that item or items.  Negotiating for equipment or start-up funds is best done with a somewhat careful approach:  ask for what you actually need, and stop there.  Salary, benefits cannot be negotiated- this is a good thing because you will *not* find, upon joining, that someone with your qualifications got a better salary because they “played hardball” or some such thing.   

Its important to evaluate the start-up package keeping in mind that it typically does NOT have to support students and postdocs, or your own salary.  Animal costs are NOT a major expense- an example: costs for maintaining approximately 1000 mouse cages is approx. Rs. 20 lakh per year (USD 40,000). This would support several researchers!  This cost, and likewise the cost of major pieces of equipment is often covered as a shared facility by the department (though such policies vary between Institutions).  The cage charges are low because the food and bedding is inexpensive to start with, and the Animal house staff salaries do not need to come from this (they are usually on the Institution's payroll as permanent employees or occasionally additional supplementary staff from grants if someone has specific needs.  

The take-home point is that an applicant should not base their evaluation of a start-up package using criteria from their post-doc lab's experience.  Ask whether the costs of -80 freezers, ultracentrifuges, confocal microscopes, RT-PCR machines etc is to be paid by individual PIs or whether these come from common departmental funds.  Some very collegial departments even maintain common restriction enzyme stocks so that each lab does not have to duplicate these and have them expire before they are used up.  You can negotiate prices from dealers so that your money will stretch further. In most institutes space and its remodeling does not come from your startup and in a few it does.  

Bottom line:  no question is not worth asking- and will help you get a clearer picture of what you are getting into. Some of these questions are best addressed to friendly new hires willing to share their experience rather than the more senior members of the faculty.  Even if you don't know anything it usually will take you only 2-3 months to figure out how to work within the system to get your lab needs met.  

1h) Any suggestions for how one should tackle two-body problems? Can one negotiate joint appointments?
Some Institutes are very clear about *not* hiring couples.  Others will consider applications on their own merits.  Bring up the matter at an appropriate time and take it from there.  When is an appropriate time?  Depends on whether both partners are ready for a job search at the same time.  We have had couples interview together, giving seminars on two successive days, meeting faculty as a couple.  We have had couples apply separately and interview completely independently of each other.  All scenarios are possible- discuss with young faculty at the Institutes you are interested in before sending in your application. 

Many cities have multiple institutions and it helps to apply to all of them.  Someone who got hired at IISER-Pune, had his spouse find a job in Agharkar Research Institute with space and support.    

See opinion piece by Jonaki Sen "Coming as a pair: Finding jobs and managing careers in India"

2) Lab running, grants, procurement

2a) What are the different funding opportunities available to support my research in India?
Extramural grants (all grants are termed “Projects”):  See main website for granting agencies.  International sources of funding are HFSP, NIH (Fogharty), NSF, WT.  Currently WT-DBT is a big funding source.  These are likely to be rigourous and are more in the nature of competitions.  The other national funding sources are DBT, DST, ICMR and CSIR.  Generally you can have only one major grant from an organization but you can bypass that by participating in collaborative grants.  Researchers in ecology, evolution, conservation biology can apply to international funding agencies like the CEPF, Rufford, Ford Foundation, etc. In addition to the national agencies mentioned above, there is also the MoEF - Ministry of Environment and Forestry which will fund proposals that have a conservation goal. Some agricultural/plant related work is funded by the ICAR - Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
2b) When you apply for grants here in US institutions, we get help from admin staff with putting the grant together (both admin side and sometimes, the department has people who actually read and help you with the scientific part of the grant). Is there similar help available in Indian institutions?
The reality is that at present there are far fewer decent grants submitted than there are funds, so any decently written grant has a very good chance of getting funded.  It is not stressful to write grants and get funding!  (other things ARE stressful- getting your consumables ordered being the biggest one- see the relevant FAQ!).  So its just a different set of challenges that PIs spend time on....

There are usually colleagues who are happy to serve as a sounding board for grantsmanship and talking through the scientific part-but not formal mentors as there often are in US institutions. Regarding the admin side-Many institutes have a specific office for providing information about granting agencies and institutional guidelines/compliance with various requirements such as Biosafety, Animal ethics, human subjects etc (in CSIR labs this is called the PME-Project Monitoring and Evaluation-Cell). All grant formats are available online but submission is still as hard copy- soon to change, so stay tuned!

In some Institutions, once the grant has been received, all expenditure and staff attendance, etc are online and can be tracked by the PI.  Others are moving to such a system.  Again, this is something to ask about.

2c) Are funding available for instruments that are too expensive to be covered by a single researcher's grant money?
You can write a grant for a specific (big) equipment and funding in the range of US$ 100,000 for a well-justified purchase is not unusual.  Equipment more expensive than this can also be obtained- more quickly through the department or institution as part of a facility.  Most agencies will permit an equipment grant to be submitted as a multi-investigator grant-eg flow cytometry, mass spec, high-end imaging etc, which is to be used as a core facility. Often the Institute will get a group of investigators together to write such a grant and to justify it with many lines of research. There are also "Center of Excellence" grants that can be obtained for specific advanced technologies.  These tend to be a combination of mid-level and senior researchers rather than entry-level, but there are many exceptions, and it is Institute specific. If you require a particular/uncommon and expensive facility, you should discuss this at the time of your application. Often, that will mean bringing in a new type of expertise which can be an advantage.  

The mechanism for getting equipment is a bit different than in the US, but broadly speaking, equipment money is NOT the limiting factor in setting up a successful lab in India. [What are the limiting factors?  Foreign travel funds and getting your consumables orders in at the frequency you need.  See the relevant FAQs!] 

2d) How easy/difficult is it to get companies based outside India to come and demo their equipment before deciding to purchase them?(and what about repair issues?)
It’s possible and improving each year.  Historically, certain companies have had a strong presence in India, but in general it is possible to get practically any company/their agent to demo a device.  One can also visit the company (eg visiting Zeiss if one is in a meeting in the area) or have them come to India.  The latter scenario takes longer, and because of import/export constraints, demo equipment that the company sends to India is rarely re-exported out.  So the company makes arrangements to demo the piece at multiple institutions, then offers it at a "demo" rate to one of them.   

A new approach to this is that an Institution can have what are company sponsored facilities where the Institution provides the space and pay the import duty but equipment is in the Institution for use.  The company also provides a person to maintain the instruments and pays part of the instrument consumable.  Such equipment are up for sale at any time of the contract by the investigator for a lower price.  Buying demo equipment is also good because you know someone has tested it out and its okay.  You can also demo the 'demo equipment'.  Several imaging facilities allow other institutional investigators access to them at nominal costs.   

Repair issues:     

All the large suppliers have engineers in India or the Asia-Pacific and will be able to get to you fairly speedily.  For very unusual equipment, you might encounter a problem is with a company that insists that it will not provide service onsite after you buy the device, but where you have to ship it back to them outside India for fixing-this is problematic because of customs rules.   

Service contracts are fairly expensive.  Generally it is worthwhile taking the time to do the negotiations and meeting the service Engineer before you decide on the make/model.  Even if you are very familiar and like high-end equipment made by company A but they don't have a good presence in India, its better to go with equally good but not your favorite B.  For high end equipment such as an EM, they will often provide an operator.     

2e) We hear it takes very long for orders to arrive, whereas in the US we order things at a few days notice. How does still do competitive science?
This is a harsh reality, and the single most frustrating aspect of doing science in India.  There are problems at three levels, and only the first of these is accessible to the scientist to even attempt to optimize in the present circumstances:  1) placing the order via your Institution's purchase system can take more than a month, and often involves physical files moving through a dozen desks.  Many places don't have it computerized yet.  The Purchase Order needs to be typed, approved, budgeted, pre-audited, approved again, and "released".  The last step is also a bottleneck- if the particular officer is on leave, completed orders can sit on their desk and not get faxed to the company....Finally, most foreign companies want advance payment before shipping an order, so that entails another file, this time to make the advance payment happen.  2)  most foreign companies work with local agents, and these folks have widely differing efficiencies.  Getting a price quote ("proforma invoice") to initiate the purchase order process is itself a bottleneck.  Then, getting them to arrange a shipment is full of uncertainly- they tend to want to consolidate orders and import things at once- and one has to chase them by phone and be very persistent.  3) Customs clearance is sometimes delayed- things should not arrive on festival-related holidays, bank holidays etc.  Even "perishables" take a couple of days to clear- there is no same-day clearance.  And this if you have a good clearing agent.  Your best bet is to ensure that there is sufficient (20kgs) of dry ice in each perishable shipment- that lasts 4-5 days.  Otherwise you'll have to go through even more hassles to get it replaced- again relying on the efficiency of the local agent.  Customs regulations are not accessible to scientists to modify or rail against- they have to be lived with at least in the present system.  

How, then, do we live with it?  how does anyone do competitive research at all?  New labs have the worst problems since they don't have backups of reagents- everything has to be ordered anew.  If you are lucky someone in your department will have what you need and will start you off while you struggle to get your orders through.  And people ARE really helpful and will share what they have.  But its safe to say you'll spend your first year struggling with the purchase system at your Institution- putting in as much energy getting your orders through as your post doc mentor might have spent in getting his/her grants out in their first year.  You'll have funds, but you'll struggle to spend them.  Ironic, no?  

Different survival strategies have been worked out to deal with this.  The most common one is to order at least 6 months worth of reagents at a time (who wants to go through the wretched process every month?).  This means HUGE orders from Roche, Invitrogen, etc.  Typically you'll place maybe 3-4 such orders a year, and your lab members will get really good at taking inventory and projecting what you need.  Yes, this means storing excessive amounts of reagents- but that’s the best way to deal with the problem.  You will find, as a PI, that you spend inordinately long periods training people in projecting their needs and taking inventory- they are mostly young students (postdocs are few- see a later section).  One plus of all this pain is that its great training for them- makes them much more organized, and this helps shape their broader work habits.     

Luckily, the above only applies to items NOT available locally.  There is a local company for restriction enzymes (Bangalore Genie) that will work well enough to fill in until your import order arrives.  Plastic ware (PCR tubes, tissue culture ware, regular plasticware stuff -tips, tubes etc) is locally available and you can get deliveries every couple of weeks if you need it.  Small table top equipment is locally made and serviced- and cheap.  Water baths, stirrers, heaters, rotating gizmos- can be made to your specs.  Even fume hoods, TC hoods are locally made and can be custom-designed to fit your space. Finally, the Indian scientific community is an unusually helpful network- its not uncommon to get an email from a student in another city who desperately needs a particular antibody or something- and people take the time to help out.  The main website will have a "resource sharing" page for this, which makes a big difference when you're in a bind.  

Here are “nuggets” of advice- this is the type of thing you will get from your colleagues: >>Many places have a history of sharing reagents so you can mostly borrow commonly used reagents fairly easily. With certain companies-there are customs notified warehouses in India (eg SIGMA) so you can get commonly used reagents quickly-the problem is with unique reagents such as an antibody you didn’t think you'd need-forget about Fedex deliveries to your bench overnight when you thought up an expt yesterday! However, you are forced to think a project through deeply rather than reactively based on what showed up in Nature this morning, which can be an advantage, even if it means a certain amount of behavior modification.  

>> we have been able to work out purchasing of some reagents e.g. enyzmes from vendors who supply MBI Fermentas enzymes (we found out that although based in Lithuania, this company supplies to NEB so is very good) on a 'payment after delivery' basis. And the delivery is usually within a week.  

>> >>  One option to check out is the multiple local companies that will knock on your door and sometimes even high end local companies.  One concrete example, we tried Ranbaxy for growing our model organism (40% cheaper than Difco products) and it worked great the first time.  After a bulk order that lasted one year we reordered.  Model organism did not do as well, we spent 15 days to work out it was chemical A.  Ranbaxy gave us three different batches to test and once we chose one replaced our entire stock at no extra charge and also replaced the one bottle that we had consumed free.  We have found various local companies (for equipment, consumables and glassware, in one case of even a supplier of cheap Chinese stereo microscopes) who will work with us to satisfy our needs.  They may request you that they can offer your name as a satisfied customer to the next customer which is fair enough.  

2f) Is it possible to import mutant / transgenic strains of mice, flies, other animals?
Mice, frogs, fish:  To ship live vertebrates, you will need permissions for EACH strain of transgenic animal -from your Institution’s Animal Ethics Committee, and from the DGFT (Director General for Foreign Trade), Delhi.  The latter has periodic meetings.  Once your application is cleared it takes a month to get the actual licence from your local DGFT office.  The whole process takes at least 6 months from start to finish, sometimes longer if your paperwork is not in order.  Ask someone who has applied for a license before to help you so that your application is not returned for some paperwork shortcoming. Flies:  no problem to ship in vials  
2g) How involved should one expect to be in the care of experimental animals?
Excellent, trained Veterinarians are not difficult to find, and Animal facilities usually have the requisite number employed to care for animals.  If you have special needs, its easy to employ a Veterinarian on a grant, and this is the best way to deal with demanding animal care.  Veterinarians can also make very good research associates (“project associates”)- grant funded appointees who can take on independent projects or provide assistance in a range of animal projects.
2h) What about services such as antibody generation, sequencing, primers. Also bigger services such as transgenic and knockout mice?
Antibody generation, sequencing, primers- all available in India.  No transgenic/knockout mouse services yet (a few individual labs do make their own transgenics)- but collaborations are easy to set up (RIKEN being one of the biggest collaborations)- or you can pay a foreign company to make your mouse, and get an import license in the meantime so everything’s in place to import the mouse when its ready.  

3) Salary, Travel, meetings     

3a) What is the approximate pay scale for new faculty?
The new pay commission has just come into play.  A PI with 5 yrs post-PhD experience will earn (ballpark) Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 50,000 per month (before taxes).  Housing is usually offered to faculty members at no cost (or sometimes a notional amount of a few hundred rupees) or you are given a House Rent Allowance (HRA) of approx. 30% of your salary.  In addition, faculty members and their families can also become members in whatever Health service scheme the Institute offers, again at very minimal cost.  Therefore the total compensation would be the salary+housing+health benefits.  Market rent rates in metropolises can be up to 5 times the salary per month, thus raising the value of the compensation significantly!  Special “re-entry” fellowships are offered by the DST (Ramanujan Fellowship) and the  DBT (Ramalingaswami Fellowship).  These, and Wellcome Trust-DBT fellowships offer significantly higher salaries (approx 50% more) to incoming faculty. 

Many institutions have daily visiting doctors or even a full medical clinic all free.  They provide primary/GP services and prescriptions.  Some Institutes have tie ups with hospitals.  Usually the insurance through the institute will cover prescriptions.  Hospital stays will be covered in the range of 50-90% depending on the type of room (private v/s semi-private) you choose.   

3b) What types of grants are available for foreign travel to conferences, collaborator's lab etc?
At present only a few DBT/DST grants permit foreign travel, though they do permit travel within India.  The purpose of such travel gets approved by an authority at the Institution- most often the PI themselves, or a Chairperson, or another official, and deemed to be an "official" visit.  Then it doesn't matter whether its a collaborative visit or a meeting or a field trip to collect samples or whatever- the funds can be used. For foreign travel, you will have to scout out grants that allow it.  E.g. 

DST:  Swarnajayanti Fellowship, Ramanujan Fellowship  

DBT:  Ramalingaswami Fellowship Most international awards allow foreign travel- to name a few:  HFSP, FIRCA, Wellcome-DBT, MPI grants. Some institutions have local funds that permit foreign travel.  These can vary widely, ranging from $2000 per year to $2000 every 5 years.  At present, our advice is to make sure you have a grant or a collaborative arrangement that will allow you at least ONE foreign meeting a year.   Put in significant amount of energy into this- or come up with creative arrangements that will allow you to visit your post-doc mentor for example.  This is particularly crucial in your early years and the ability to travel to foreign meetings correlates well with a successful start to one's career! If you apply early, you can avail of specific travel grants from DBT/DST. There are also other types of fellowships from these agencies that can be used for longer periods of stay abroad, for example for a specific type of training, a workshop etc.  

As a PI you will manage to get money to travel – but it’s hard for students to go to International meetings each year.   There are CSIR/DST fellowships that will cover a student’s travel ONCE in their 5year career.  This can be supplemented with your own grants (if you have foreign grants with International travel money) or from the Institute’s travel funds- each Institute has its own policy for supporting student travel.  What works is to write a DST proposal to fund a 3-month visit to a collaborator’s lab, and send the student to learn new techniques, complete a part of a collaboration etc- and arrange the timing so that they get to attend a major International meeting too.  

3c) How easy is it to invite top researchers to come and give a talk and interact with students/faculty in India? Are there allowances for travel reimbursement for such scientists?
Very much possible, but obviously, budgets do not stretch to inviting a foreign researcher to just visit for a day and give a seminar (you can use your own travel funds to invite a visitor, but foreign travel funds are pretty constrained, as has been described in a different section).  Usually, overseas scientists are invited as part of a topic-specific meeting organized by an Institution or an across-Institution group of scientists.  Often, there may be student-focused training workshops or lecture series associated with the meeting- this component is what granting agencies will provide travel funds for.  For example, the IBRO offers funds for workshops in neuroscience for which scientists from Asia-Pacific countries can be invited.   The Frontiers of Science meetings (Indo-UK, Indo US) are another series that pay for travel of scientists from the respective countries to India.

Sometimes, PIs do some networking and take advantage of the planned visit of an overseas scientist to one Institution, to plan a local "travel junket" so that seminars can be arranged at a couple of more institutions.  We find top researchers who are willing to fly out to India for a meeting are usually willing to go to the trouble of traveling to one or two other places and give seminars there too.  What it takes is good networking on part of the Indian PIs- a network we hope to nurture and strengthen among YIs, with efforts such as the YIMs.

3d) What are the top scientific meetings held in India?
The Indian Academy of Sciences, The Indian National Science Academy, and several subject area-specific organizations such as the Indian Society for Developmental Biology, the Indian Association of Neuroscience, the Indian Society for Cell Biology, Society of Biological Chemists- all hold annual or bi-annual meetings.  in addition, several institutions organize topic-specific meetings in which leading scientists from all over the world are invited.  These are often associated with workshops in a related field, led or taught by some of the visiting scientists.  Examples:  visit the websites of CCMB, NCBS, NBRC, IISc, IISER Pune, TIFR, to get a flavor of some of the past meetings. These include annual workshops and meetings on different topics of current interest, satellite meetings to other major meetings being held in the Asia-Pacific area etc. In general, there is a 'meeting season' between September-March (good weather) when a number of international meetings are held. There are also some workshop type meetings like the Mahabaleshwar meeting which have been held for >40 years annually and where there are usually a few international lecturers.

Specialized meetings focused on some fields are lacking in India - e.g. there is no meeting that covers plants, or ecology, or evolutionary biology.  

Here’s a creative example addressing this shortcoming:  A group of 5 faculty working in the same sub-area, but in different Institutions got together and started arranging student directed meetings.  This got the students in each of their labs talking to each other and the second in the meeting series was a Mahabaleshwar conference which was just awesome for both students and faculty.  The meeting happens every year or two and it is a good place to get a few people in your area (build contacts) and more importantly get your students to grow intellectually in the area of your research.  The travel portion (local ie within India travel funds, that are available on Indian grants) of your grant will also cover travel, registration and other costs of all your students which is a big plus.

3e) Do Indian institutes/universities grant sabbaticals?
Getting LEAVE for a sabbatical is not a problem- to the tune of 2-3 months per year, or consolidated ie a year every 6-7 years.  In teaching Institutions there may be specific policies due to teaching commitments- ask.

The bottleneck is securing FUNDING to support a sabbatical.  Your Institutional salary is continued during your sabbatical but this is not enough to support expenses abroad.   

Sabbatical funding is most often obtained through grants (Wellcome Trust, IBRO).  While there are Indian funding sources for sabbatical they are tightly linked to age and may not work through out your career.   The Indo-US foundation is an example- supports people up to 40 yrs.  Other options, at least in your early years, are to line up a post-doc type of position, funded by your host or host Institute, if that suits what you want to do in your sabbatical.  


4) Recruiting students and postdocs, teaching, administrative work

4a) 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. program, often outside the country.

4b) 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.  

4c) 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 alliance early career fellowships are very high-paying- check out their website.  

4d) 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. 

4e) What is the teaching load for new faculty members? Can you start a new course for grad students if necessary?
Teaching load is very variable depending on whether you are at a University or a Research Institute.  University faculty have a significant teaching load, but some of these places have their senior faculty bear the major portion of this, because they recognize that new faculty need to prioritize getting their research programs off the ground.

At IISER Pune (one example of a new Institution with a mandate to integrate research and teaching, and with undergraduate as well as graduate students) the research: teaching time is approximately 80:20.  IITB is similar- average one course per semester, less for new faculty.    In primarily research institutions the teaching load is one course/year at most.   

Yes one can usually start a new course- the system is quite flexible- but again this is something to ask during your interview.  Sometimes a place not known for flexibility becomes flexible- it really does depend on the approach and attitude of the person doing the "flexing".   One person can be all it takes

this is an awesome site! is there an equivalent one for

this is an awesome site! is there an equivalent one for Humanities and social sciences? Thanks, Nirmala.

Very thorough and detailed description of relevant matter.

Very thorough and detailed description of relevant matter. Will help those seeking academic positions in India and trying to establish their own labs.

Thank you.

This is a very well organized and comprehensive article. We

This is a very well organized and comprehensive article. We applied for positions in India recently and this article help provide us with a lot of answers. A suggestion: The pdf link for list of research institutes doesn't function. Could you please fix this issue. It would help immensely.
Thank you!

Post new comment

  • Use [collapse] and [/collapse] to create collapsible text blocks. [collapse collapsed] or [collapsed] will start with the block closed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Use to create page breaks.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Bookmark and Share