‘JM Memorial’, a small group of USA based NRIs from Odisha has embarked on a small yet ambitious project to sponsor needy but talented Odia students to pursue their PhD in USA.
In this interview with Sandeep Sarangi of odishasuntimes.com, Dr. Abani R Samal, a key member of the team, talks about the idea behind this novel project, the research scene in American universities and what ails the higher education system in India.
Excerpts from the interview done during Dr Samal’s short visit to Odisha:
Q, Please tell us something about yourself.
A. I did my studies in Ravenshaw, Khallikote College, Indian School of Mines (ISM), Dhanbad and then moved to Imperial College in London for MS on a fully paid fellowship. When I wanted to my PhD, I chose USA because getting financial support is very difficult in Europe. In USA, the PhD program provides for itself and more by giving you an opportunity to work as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Now I work there as a professional geologist
Q. What made you form the team JM Memorial?
A. JM memorial was started by Dr. Partha Mohapatra, another Odia educationist in our circle in USA. Named after his father, the goal of this organization is to create a pool of Odia PhD holders from American universities, which it believes would impact higher education in the state. This is a purely philanthropic activity prompted by nothing other than a desire to give something back to our state.
Q. How many members are working with you and what is the source of the funding for the project?
A. Right now, we are a small team of 5-6 NRI Odias working on this project. So far the funding has been taken care of solely by Partha. However, we plan to expand soon and have our anchors here in Odisha, so that the message reaches the students here.
Q. Are you registered in USA or India?
A. Not yet. But, we are working on it because getting registered will enable us to build trust and accept donations to scale up the size.
Q. Why should a student move to USA for a PhD? Don’t we have good enough institutes here?
A. Well, we do have a few premier institutes like IITs, IIMs and some others that are on par with international standards. But most others are not up to mark in the quality and range of their research and the scope for international collaboration.
Another important factor is that PhD courses in India don’t always give you an industry exposure like they do in USA. Also, the PhD programme fends for itself in USA, enabling students to support their families while they continue their research.
Q. Why do you think people are not joining it in large numbers, if it is so good?
A. We believe it is because of lack of awareness and financial constraints. That is why one of our primary tasks is to create awareness among students of Odisha. We would need your help in spreading this message. I am very thankful to your Editor-in-Chief Soumya Ranjan Patnaik for listening to us and agreeing to help.
Also, we have seen many students, who can’t afford the initial monetary resources required for the preparatory courses such as GMAT, TOEFL and the application fees for US Universities. This is where we come into play.
Q. What are the criteria for availing the sponsorship offered by JM?
A. We are interested in sponsoring students, who are talented but needy. This program helps students for a PhD in business administration or for programs funded in US. If a student majors in statistics and wants to do a PhD in business administration, he needs to send us his or her resume with all academic performances and a Statement Of Purpose (SOP) stating the reason for taking up research. Once this is done, we will conduct an online interview and take a call.
We are also considering opportunities in European universities, but our primary focus is in USA.
Q. What exactly would be the role of JM Memorial scholarship program?
A. We would pay for the preparatory courses of the selected student and guide him as and when required. Also, based on our appraisal of the need, we can consider sponsoring his one-time arrival trip to USA. The overall cost per student may run up to Rs 1-2 Lakh.
Q. Is this scholarship applicable across all streams?
A. As of now, we are focussed on post graduates from non professional courses such as Economics, Public Administration, Industrial Psychology, Commerce, Mathematics or Statistics. We encourage students to do PhD in business as the chances of placement in this stream are better. We will consider expanding into other disciplines as well within the next few years.
Q. How many have benefited from it so far?
A. We have a sponsored only three students so far.
Q. How can students get in touch with you?
A. They can send their resume to Prof Partha Sarathi at [email protected]
Q. How many students do you target to help in near future?
A. We intend to intake three more students for the fall 2016 (August 2016) admission. We will, however, try to revise our targets and take in more students as and when possible.
Q. Amidst concerns of racism and attacks on Indian students, how safe do you find USA?
A. Pretty safe as long as one does not make the obvious mistake of getting involved with the wrong set of people. Racism cannot be wished away. But I would advise prospective students to exercise restraint and focus on the job at hand. The universities are very friendly, but one needs to speak up and ask for help as and when required.
We will also do our very best to educate the visiting students to minimize the cultural gap.