Planning a Master's? 

Think again. A postgraduate degree is not always a guaranteed ticket to a  good job, says  Upala Sen

  • Published 24.10.17

You don't need to crunch data to be able to argue that in India we have an obsession for postgraduate degrees. Those who have a postgraduate degree don't always know how to put it to use. But those who don't have it cannot quite forget its lack, degree of professional success notwithstanding. But sentimentalities apart, in today's job environment, does it make sense to get a postgraduate degree?

Abhijit Chakrabarti has an MSc in Chemistry, a PhD in Biochemistry and now works as a biophysicist. His response is a spontaneous - "No." Speaking for the sciences, he elaborates, "Not unless you have decided to pursue a career in academics."

For non-academic jobs, according to Chakrabarti, the higher degree actually becomes somewhat of an impediment. He says, "The employee with a Master's tends to think - why should I do this or that [on the job]? And the employer's line of thought is - he has a PG degree, I have to extract more or he should be able to deliver more." Many a time, employers are also apprehensive of recruiting someone with too much education - as they see it - for a routine job.

What Chakrabarti outlines, Kalyan Kar fills in in some detail. Kar, a start-up specialist and co-founder of InQube Innoventure (an incubation platform that creates technology for social impact), talks about a shift in "traditional expectations" of employers when hiring for the tech sector. In his opinion, the current day employer wants the employee to have one vertical deep dive competence and a horizontal skill set, knowledge of basic science, Maths, effective communication and human values.

Integral to this horizontal skilling are diplomas and short courses. True, that in the Brahminical scheme of things these lack the gravitas of a PG degree, but in terms of course content they are aligned to the current needs of the sector. And then, of course, there is the cost-effectiveness.

Kar talks about something IT firms tried a few years ago. They hired science grads instead of BTechs and PhDs. Not only did it cost less, recruiters were also pleasantly surprised to find this set made good employees.

Kar predicts that diploma holders will have a free run in days to come. And in the next five to seven years, when 47 per cent of the present jobs vanish, vocationally trained people will be more in demand. Kar's message to students, "Focus on TAD - technology, [data] analytics and design. This where the jobs will be."

A PG degree in the Arts has always been inexpensive, and therefore the popular option of wannabe academics and wanderers alike. The job prospects down the years - educator, journalist... The course content too has rarely tried to speak to the larger socio-political context.

At such a time, enter private universities offering Master's level courses in the liberal arts. Subhashree Chakravarty is assistant professor of English and Writing at Ashoka University. Earlier, she taught at the department of Rhetoric and Writing at Stanford. She talks about two new categories of PG students she has come across in her current stint. The explorers who are trying to figure out their calling - not same as wanderers - and corporates, techies and other scientifically trained minds who are thinking about the world differently.

Says Chakravarty, "In a society that pressurises you to become something by age 25, for people belonging to Category 1, the Liberal Arts is a legitimate exploration. Category 2 has figured out that the applied sciences and technology need creativity and an understanding of human psychology."

Chakravarty teaches courses such as Literature and the Making of Democracy, wherein she uses texts - such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Persepolis - to talk about oppression, fascism, etc. The point? Exposure and encouragement of independent thought, instead of mnemonic learning, and a distancing from a discipline-centric study. And tangible benefits? Well thought through policies, research that marries science and tech with actual human needs.

So where does that leave us apropos the original question? As Subhashree puts it, one must have some post undergraduate training, but it need not be a PG degree.