An Interview with Dr. Kiranmoy Das
By Rajdeep Guha
It is widely believed that there are fundamental differences between the education systems in USA and India. The pedagogy followed in the US relies more on freedom of thought. Students are encouraged to nurture creativity and indulge in free flowing discussions with peers and even with professors. However, in India, education is still confined within the framed syllabus and rote learning seems to be the only mantra to succeed. In a candid conversation with Rajdeep Guha, Dr. Kiranmoy Das shares his views on the American education system vis-à-vis its Indian counterpart. Dr. Das is currently teaching as an Assistant Professor at Interdisciplinary Statistical Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, India. He completed his Ph.D. from Penn State University, USA. His webpage is: Dr. Kiranmoy Das
Hello Dr. Das,
First of all I would like to congratulate you on your selection as Assistant Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Since you completed your Ph.D. in the US, taught there for a few years and, then, moved to India to teach here, what differences do you find between the education systems in these two countries?
The basic difference I observed, when I first joined University of Florida as a Ph.D candidate in early 2006, was the teaching methodology and evaluation systems. In our country, except in a few institutions, most of the universities focus on the traditional mode of education, which means the same topics are being taught which the teacher learnt probably two decades ago. The examinations focus more on remembering and reproducing the theories discussed in the class lectures. Rarely our exams (in the Indian system of education) test the independent thinking ability and reasoning power of the student. On the other hand, in the US universities the class lectures, exams, class projects are meant to develop the talent and thinking ability of the students. Especially for science subjects, that is really beneficial and gives self-confidence to the students. I personally feel I learnt more in just one year of my study in the US than 5 years of undergraduate and postgraduate course in India.
Could you throw some light on classes and exams?
I have taught in Penn State University and Temple University in the US. A typical class consists of students from various backgrounds. Hence, when a new concept is discussed in the class, different students try to perceive it in different ways and ask questions related to this concept from their area of specialization. This in one way helps the teacher to rethink and explain it in a different way. Furthermore, the students attending the class get to know about the application of this concept in various disciplines. Such an environment really deepens the knowledge of the teacher and students.
Next comes the evaluation system. Students are evaluated throughout the semester; typically there are three exams, class tests, quizzes, homework, presentation etc. A student performing terribly bad in one exam gets another chance to prove his/her mettle in the next semester. Special arrangements are taken for students with physical and/or mental disabilities. More time is given to them and their exams are arranged separately. Additionally, students having some trouble on the scheduled exam date might talk to the teacher beforehand and some alternative arrangements can be made. I can hardly guess such flexibility in Indian universities.
How are the undergraduate and postgraduate programs different in the US?
As many of the readers might know, there is a big jump between the undergraduate and postgraduate education in the US. Typically, the undergraduate program is for four years and in the first two years, students take various courses from different departments (following the university guidelines and policy) and then choose the “major” in the third year. In the undergraduate programs, the focus is given on basic stuffs and concepts. Theories are not discussed in detail at this stage, but the emphasis is on developing concepts.
In the postgraduate classes, the same concepts are now discussed in detail at a more advanced level. Since the postgraduate courses are typically taught by the research professors, the students learn on the most recent trends in topic, current research areas, opportunities etc. In every US University, fame of a faculty comes only from the research and advanced classes are meant for developing the research interests among the students. Unfortunately, the scenario is not that promising in India.
What is your opinion regarding dual degrees?
The thing I love the most in American education is the opportunity of getting dual degrees. Say for example, I can go for undergraduate training with majors in “mathematics” and “economics”. Someone might go for a B.A. degree with “political science” and “history”. I know one of my professors who completed his undergraduate program with majors in “mathematics”, “statistics”, “economics” and “Spanish”. A colleague of mine at Temple University, Philadelphia, got a bachelor’s degree with majors in “mathematics”, “statistics” and “dancing”. People can do a masters degree in more than one subject and the same is applicable for Ph.D. programs too. I really hope the Indian education system will welcome such freedom in higher education in near future.
What are the basic requirements of getting an offer of admission from a US university?
Students will have to appear in GRE exams for almost all US universities. GRE exams are taken in all major cities in India throughout the year. Students are tested on Mathematics and English. It needs some extra effort to get a good score in this exam. However, a good GRE score is necessary but not sufficient for admission in a good school. TOEFL is comparatively an easy exam and almost all foreign universities need a good TOEFL score for an admission offer. Details on these exams can be found at ETS. A good academic record is definitely helpful for an admission offer. But don’t forget that the most vital thing in an admission process are the recommendation letters from your professors. A very good letter will help you like anything in this process.
Any final advice for aspiring students?
Before you apply to a foreign university, keep in mind a few things. The socio-economic system of US (and other western countries) is much different from India. Apart from your studies, you need to take care of many other things which you probably have never done in your life before. This includes, but not limited to, cooking, dish-washing, driving, exam proctoring, bathroom cleaning etc. Time management is the key issue in the US. You have to handle all regular routine jobs in life, and then have to spend a lot of time on your study. You might have to suffer from financial crisis from time to time, but don’t get disheartened. Also the job market in the US is not very good presently (of course, it depends on your area of specialization, but the picture is more or less similar for all disciplines). You might have to struggle a bit for getting a decent job in US. This will surely get changed in near future, but think of it beforehand.
I wish you best of luck and for any further query, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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