Monday, March 30, 2009

An Ugly Duckling in the Ugly Corporate World

It's one and a half years now in the Corporate. And I find myself having learned a lot about what industrial research is all about. How they get funded? What people want out of them? What people perceive them as? and so on. There's been some disillusionment as well as enlightenment.

One of the interesting disillusionments has been that PhD is not just all about being called Dr. Sujit and being respected for the knowledge and depth of thinking. It's also about managing people's perceptions and insecurity. In the initial days, I observed with some perplexity that I occasionally used to get into trifle conflicts with many people around during discussions. The matter of conflict could be as trivial as the interpretation of terms. Slowly, the nature of the conflicts started unfolding when they showed themselves in more significant moments -- when the charter of a research project was being drawn; when deliverables and timelines were being decided; when the very process of conducting the project was being figured out.

There are people in this industry who are around my age and have worked their up to a very respectable and powerful position in the organisation. I unwillingly learned to understand, and was also pointed this out by some, that my entry into the scene creates a very unsettling effect on the ecosystem. What existed before me was a fairly stable ecosystem, with well-defined power-hierarchies. In this place where most people have achieved success not through a degree from a premiere institute, but through the more difficult way of proving their mettle in the ugly corporate world via a prolonged struggle, I figure as a foriegn particle. I gradually learned to recognise the look of threat in many eyes, as if saying: "Don't you try throwing about your weight around just because you have got a degree." These days, when I introduce myself, I make sure not to mention anything about my academic background. My business card, my nameplate, and any other communication has my name, but no mention of my PhD. It's easier for acceptance here to mingle in the crowd and work one's way ahead as one of them. Being singled out as an alien ousts you from the race in the first lap itself.

And yet, I understand that the way I can add value to the organisation is not by conforming to the pre-existing culture, but by bringing in fresh ideas. It's not got so much to do with my PhD, but by the fact that I have struggled hard elsewhere, have learned things apart from those which can be learned here, and am able to raise questions which a person having spent his life here might have learned to ignore.

It's a tricky struggle. And perhaps the fun lies therein. Let's see how it shapes up.


ruSh.Me said...

I think the Dr. only looks good in the resume!!

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

As I mentioned in the article, that's precisely the perception I am learning to handle in industry. Most people look at such large investment of time and energy (as doing a PhD) a step towards decorating the resume. But look carefully. It doesn't make sense that way. People who continued in industry while I went away back to academics are earning a lot more than I am; they are at a higher position than mine.

There must be something else. There must be.

What I am learning to understand is that others will never figure that out, and we PhD's have to learn to live with it. As another fellow-sufferer (with a lot longer experience than mine) put it aptly: 'They have become extremely good in digging mud in all the years you spent in building an earth-mover. Now, they can't see the point in having an earth-mover. If you want to survive among them, you have to dig mud, and try to do it almost as good as they do it. Forget your earth-movers!' ;)

Pritesh said...

Well, I do see your point of view Sujit. And not just that, with a PhD, we really learn nothing about how the corporate world works. If anything, that world thinks that we grew up in a cocoon, far removed from the "worldly matters" and have no idea about how to do anything useful to the society. In that sense, PhD is pretty much like any other degree. You are an unprepared to handle the world as you are after school, after Engineering, after MS...........these people on the other hand, have gained that knowledge as insiders. And well, someone from "outside" the syste suddenly coming in an occupying this space sounds like a rude interruption to the rhythm they had established, I guess. But ya, I often do it too. Not mention my degree for people to get comfortable..........I know what it feels like when people give you that look "Your PhD hasn't made you any better than us.....".....

Rupesh Nasre. said...

I believe PhD is about improving one's perception towards things around. When I was leaving my job to pursue PhD, one of my senior managers, who is a doctorate, told me, "If you are planning a PhD for making more money later, I assure you that you would make more just by being in the corporate. Only if you are going for PhD for your own satisfaction/wish, I would not stop you from leaving the job.".

Sure enough, you achieve the same by manually digging mud and using an earth mover, but then, sometimes, you need scalable solutions. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the analogy.

tnc said...

Very interesting read... an eye opener for me at least since I'm yet to see that world..

Shiva said...

People in my company perceive PhD as permanent head damage or partial head damage based on one's condition soon after submission of thesis. Well, corporate world needs results and as my manager puts it," I don't care if you are from IISc as long as you can deliver the goods on time to the satisfaction of your customer". All our intuitions and research ideas are asked to be thrown into the trash can as soon as we enter the office. They seem to be highly practical and we seem to be highly theoretical. So are we traversing along railway tracks never to meet. Perhaps Sujit with his vast experience can give an insight further.

DDey said...

I guess if one is a kind for whom a QUESTION on mind makes the person toss n turn; restless till the answers are found, the person NEEDS a PhD. Only such a person can truly taste and live the essence of a 'Doctorate of Philosophy'. The others really don't need it.....Poor things, they would be tortured for no reason!
In short, if a question doesn't torture you to the core, a PhD will surely torture you to death! :-)

Shipra Agrawal said...

For me, PhD has always been something I want to 'do' for 5 years, not something I want to 'achieve' after 5 years. Five years is a long time, probably one-fifth or one-sixth of a whole career, so PhD has to be more than a degree earned for career growth. For me, it is a style of life and work I want to have for five years - after that hopefully there will be people/organization who have some use of my PhD, otherwise the life spent doing it and the personal growth is worth it!