It’s good business sense and no sacrifice: Why Puja Mishra of IIM Calcutta is no martyr for chucking that “plum job”

Either the Indian media are dumb or the PR cell of Indian Institutes of Management rather astute. Whatever the case, this time of the year, amidst reports of uber inflated starting salary figures, are also these isolated reports of the “real heroes” who give up “plum jobs” to “serve the society”. Puja Mishra of Indian Instute of Management Calcutta, latest demigod of the kind .

As I read the provocative headline, I became interested in reading further. The first half of the story, does not even get to the point and is only devoted at making Puja an infallible Hero, painting her move as a triumph of devotion to serve mankind over the lure of the lucre. However, 2 paragraphs later we learn that the sacrifice made by this lady is to use her Father’s land to start a private school and college in Rae Barelli District.

Anyone vaguely aware of Indian economy and business environment will realize that an enterprise in education, such as the one Ms Mishra has joined her family in, has huge money spinning potential. One does not need the McKinseys and KPMGs of the world to reiterate this, although the latter themselves are making a lot of money advising businesses precisely this, to enter India’s undeserved yet highly lucrative higher education sector. The quality and output of these enterprises so far has been far from impressive.

Returning to Ms Mishra’s case, it turns out ( as written later in the story) the husband had already started the business, and she is joining in to grow the business as I see it. Further more he is off to Kennedy School (Harvard University) for an MPA degree, as she is now available to run the shop. Aren’t these ‘I sacrificed a lucrative job to teach rural kids’ kinds of stories the perfect recipes for fat fellowships? And did you notice how a high court lawyer ( the father) is the perfect pillar of support the couple needs to get many otherwise onerous bureaucratic hurdles overcome their way.

The idea here is not to spew venom on MS Mishra and to criticize her best laid plans. What concerns me is that why does this newspaper and one of the world’s most coveted place to study business management, not frame this move as a wise business decision. The couple at IIMC and at Kennedy are merely gaining access to superior networks, that will help them grow this business only taller. She is no martyr as media make her out to be.

Is it fair to evaluate Indian B Schools on American Publication Scales? Here WSJ and I Differ

A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal reported that Indian Business Schools fared very poorly in a certain University of Texas report based on the research of a school’s faculty published in the Top 25 management journals . Fair enough, but based on this the journalist went on to suggest that for Indian B schools, joining the “global league” is still a “distant dream”.  

Although the figures reported are not surprising, but the alarm raised by a source as authoritative as WSJ  in interpreting the report surely is. Disagreeing I decided to write to the author, the email is excerpted here:

First, I do not doubt the veracity of the findings that Indian B schools do not figure in the rankings when top tier management journals are considered.

But the point I wish to drive home is  does that or should that really matter to an Indian B school. There are multiple reasons why I say this. The first two relate to the biased nature of the publishing process, which makes it harder for Indians and the next two about why then it is not worth expending energies on these.

1. Publishing in these journals is about being a part of the club. Since these top journals are almost always US based, so is the bias in the research they include and publish. Anything said in the Indian Context or rather non American Context is only included if it is generalizable enough for an american audience. 

2. A typical paper before appearing at a journal is presented at least at 1 small workshop and 1 large conference ( say Academy of Management Review, American Marketing Association). The people who attend these presentations are people who are likely to review the paper. A lot of comments one receives at such meetings are signals towards what you should do to make the paper accepted. 

These points obviously make it somewhat clear, why Indian researchers would find it much harder to get into these journals, unless they expend a considerable amount of resources into it. Devoting disproportionate effort at this would take them away from some of the other core activities. But that would lead you to ask, what is their core? To answer this, consider the following points:

1. A fairly productive economist who has been associated with some management schools in India publishes a lot in the Economic and Political Weekly, when asked why does s(he) not target some top (American) journals, answered that (he/she publishes) where the work has a greater impact. It is true. There is no gain to anyone expect the personal prestige of people when one gets published in so called top tier journals.  In terms of the ‘core’ for Indian B schools tell me how does that add to the school’s proposition in teaching, consulting or case writing.

2. Our B schools surely need more research oriented faculty, but this idol worship of American Journals is not the research core we wish to strengthen. We need more grounded theory that develops from within the country, informs both teaching and practice.  When they win some fellowships and grants from western money they can spend those on getting their articles into American journals……

Would be very keen to hear others’ thoughts on the issue.

I am ‘Harsh; Just Harsh’: A Russian Economist

“Hindi Rusi Bhai Bhai” – These were among his first few words after moving in as my roommate.
Let me introduce Mikhail Safronov a very Russian, Russian indeed. Eats potatoes for 50% of his dietary needs and the other 50% are met by boiled spaghetti. Here to pursue a PhD in Economics, he is an extremely bright chap. A physicist who switched streams to Econ as his scientist father told him that as an Economist he can return to Russia, but as a physicist he’d rather stay in the US

Now here are a few things he has learnt about the States and the world outside Russia:
1. Barack Obama is some man who gave an extremely long and boring speech during his convocation from New Economic School in Moscow

2. Obesity is a problem in USA because the squirrels are so fat, compared to the squirrels in Russia .After confirming from me that squirrels in India are also thinner, this hypothesis is now a theory

3. Linguistic department at Northwestern is stupid as they refuse to give him an English proficiency stamp, even though he says “Once More” if you address a long question in English. ( Takes immense pride that he was admitted despite 300 in verbal GRE)

4. A South Park addict he learns about American cultural symbols from it, for instance about ‘Fags’ and ‘Hippies’

5. He asks every Indian he meets if they know what ‘Bhains Ki Aankh’ implies

However this takes the cake :

Earlier today I was trying to locate my phone in the house. I reached out for his cell and searched my number. Optimistic that he would have saved it, I found my number saved as ” Harsh Just Harsh” . Amused, I asked for an explanation behind this really innovative name entry. And the explanation instead of writing a last name he wanted to emphasise that “Harsh, Just Harsh” was enough!

Surviving grad school: tips for ‘foodies’

I had expected, like many of my readers (..funny how I continue to remain optimistic about this aspect) that my first couple of posts from a new land will be about some interesting cultural differences I observe! But going by the hierarchy of needs I choose to talk about a fundamental need for now – one reflective of a concern very integral to graduate student life – culture can wait after all, hunger can’t !

Let me begin by putting this strip from PhD comics which sets the tone for this post

This strip should clarify why our first meeting with department seniors was at a ‘free food’ event and also the most important insight gained was that a lot of free food is usually doing the rounds at various university events. I shall digress a bit into why ‘free food’ is so critical to survival as a grad student.

Most students who come to grad school, and I would venture to guess, even those in online master degree programs have near zero net worth, at least in monetary terms (intellectual worth is subject to debate but zero monetary worth is a proven reality). In fact, some even come with negative wealth ( for instance, if you take a 100K loan for your program). Those who have been in ‘real jobs’ for some years, blow away their savings even before they begin school. Receiving the quintessential admission letter from the dream university is reason enough to quit your job, often months in advance of joining school, and travelling to exotic locations, thus finishing up your money. Even those who come funded are here for PhD programs, which tend to take anything between 5-7 years to complete and sometimes even longer. Hence Grad students don’t have ( a lot of) money. Whatever little stipends they get, after tax deductions, go into housing, buying books, groceries and other practicalities of day to day living. Hence any kind of saving opportunity is welcome.

Housing is a sunk cost once you have signed the lease for a year , nothing much can be done! Now as far as food goes, eating out everyday is not a viable option in the little money that remains after housing. Cooking at home, taking packed lunch etc is the economical path, but one that requires takes time, effort and culinary skills. The last one is something that many graduate students lack, at least to begin with. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say that boiling water in an electric kettle may be a first time for many.

That leaves them with only alternative – look for free food on campus! US universities have a sound understanding of the magnetic properties of ‘free food’ and hence serve it at every event that does not count for a grade. So all non popular events like guest lectures, library tours, student club meetings, talks by religious groups etc will come with the added attraction of free food. If a professor shifts his class timings to late evenings, it is customary upon him/her to offer free pizzas. However, people with special dietary needs ( veggies, those who think cows and pigs are holy etc) should make it on time/early as these options are limited and tend to get over very fast. If you are at fancier programs like business, you could even get free beer!

That said, it requires fair bit of effort to have high productivity levels at finding free food. I would say at 5 meals a week, one is quite productive and 3-4 isn’t doing too bad. So while choosing courses it may be a good idea to know which Professors offer free Pizzas post classes and which ones take you out for a happy hour! Sometimes making a google calender where one can regularly key in all free food events helps that one doesn’t miss out on any event. A shared calender which many like minded foodies can update will enhance your productivity even more!

Having given you all enough food for thought, I shall now scavenge my mailbox for the upcoming free food events and update them on my calender!