This is part of The Newsletter dated 11th April, 2019.
It’s that time of the year, the sun’s already beating down on us and summer is upon us. The semester’s steadily coming to a close. Decisions are to be made, especially for the second years, as the honors application forms come out. Which lab do I apply to? Will I have to stay back for the summer? Would I be allowed to go for so-and-so internship? Do I even want to take honors at all? These are a few of the questions plaguing the minds of the extremely bewildered second years. Add to this confusion, the feeling of betrayal as you come to the horrific realization that the lab you wanted the most is no longer accepting students? This constitutes a surprising amount of the UG2k17 demographic.
Previously, when inquisitive second years would ask around about officially starting research in the summer, there was always a rather vague mention of some mysterious form that would be released before the end of the semester, comprising a list of labs to pick from. Beyond that, other than an incredibly brief introductory session where each lab was given just 5 minutes to appeal to the aspirants, students were given next to no information on the honors application process. There was no communication on behalf of the college on what kind of system was being employed by each lab in the selection of prospective applicants. Some of the professors had already taken a few students in if they had exhibited prior interest and/or had worked on a project with them beforehand, and when the time to accept Honours applications rolled around, some of them were unable to accept any more.
The manner of prior selection varied as well. Some of the faculty followed selection procedures involving interviews and tests completely independent of the actual Honours form, considering the form a mere formality. It had recently come to light that a number of students in the UG2k17 batch had had no idea that the aforementioned professors had already started inducting students into their labs before the release of the honors application forms. They found instances of some labs propagating information about interviews and the like on informal channels such as WhatsApp, where there was no guarantee of all the aspiring individuals ever receiving the news on time due to various circumstances.
The batch is divided as some students had believed it worthwhile to go ahead before the application forms had even been released, and had personally spoken to potential mentors regarding their fascination with the work being done in the lab and had hence been informed about the lab’s selection process. They argued that everyone should have been so passionate as to have taken time out of their busy schedules to meet professors in the middle of the hectic semester as they themselves had. But it is generally agreed upon that information about the entire process should be formally disclosed, prior to the forms being released, so that all students would be given an equal opportunity to properly explore and give every lab a go. A lot of students have missed out on this opportunity and unbeknownst to them, had filled the form at the last minute with options that were no longer even available before being told, when it was far too late to do anything about it, that that lab was no longer accepting applicants. In such cases, it is entirely possible that a student may have filled 3 preferences, none of which they would receive due to the limited number/ lack of vacancies. These revelations were often followed by terrifying stories of students from previous batches, wasting away their summers after a grueling semester of coursework, fervently roaming between labs like rudderless boats without an advisor to speak of, wondering if they would ever get the chance to do research in a field they were truly passionate about.
The issue was brought up in the latest Faculty Student Interaction Session(FSIS) that was held on the 4th of April. The students who had felt that they’d been wronged spoke up and spilled their woes to the Dean Academics who in turn told them to keep the subject of the FSIS strictly to academics and not research. The concerned were advised to write an email to Prof. Vikram Pudi, who replied by saying that his job was only to coordinate the allocation of labs to students. The advisors were free to select their students according to whatever process they chose. While he believes that the faculty in general does not follow a first-come-first-serve process, he acknowledges that approaching early on does show a significant amount of zeal and enthusiasm, and this cannot be restricted. Nevertheless, even now after the honors applications have been submitted, he assures that “The students should feel free to approach any faculty member and request to join them, providing a compelling case based on their interest, dedication and competence.”