What after BS-MS at IISER Pune? – II

Responses of People we Interviewed

After the introduction in the previous post, I will now write about the views of some our alumni who are not in academia. Here is a list of people (respondents) we spoke to, and their current position:

  1. R1: Research scientist at Amazon. He has done BS-MS and PhD in physics.
  2. R2: BS-MS at IISER, then a PhD in topics related to data science and mathematical modelling.
  3. R3: Doing a job after MS in mathematics at IISER Pune.
  4. R4: Worked in banks for 4 years, doing a masters in Public Administration now.
  5. R5: Last year MBA at IIM Bangalore. 
  6. R6: Last year MBA at IIM Indore. 
  7. R7: Marketing job after MBA at IIM Ahmedabad.

Q1) Motivation: Why did you decide to leave the academia path? Did your interest in science wane or were there other considerations?

  • R1: The plan was to pursue a postdoc after my PhD, but due to the pandemic, the number of open postdoc positions dropped dramatically, so I started looking for jobs. I worked in a startup for a few months and then interviewed at Amazon for a Data science position and got in.
  • R2: I was pretty sure from the beginning that academia was not my thing. I wanted to work in the industry, where projects are shorter and there is a lot more security. I enjoyed doing my PhD, but it was further confirmation that I would not like to be an academic.
  • R3: Academia is very tough. It seemed very toxic to me as it is a very long journey and frankly, I wanted to earn money.
  • R5: I was disillusioned by the long, difficult and uncertain path to becoming an academic. Financially, one is not in a comfortable place until getting tenure, by which time one is in his/her forties. Post-docs are not studentships. One often does not even get health insurance in the US, so the situation is very uncertain. I don’t want to waste my youth struggling, basically, to make a living.
  • R6: Until my fourth year, I was fairly certain that I wanted to do research, but in my fifth year, working on my project full-time made me realise that I would not enjoy doing a PhD. So, I decided to do an MBA. After some research and discussions with seniors who had done MBAs, I decided that I wanted to work in Sales and Marketing.

Q2) How did you end up at your current job?

  • R1: I have done a lot of scientific computing in my PhD and so, I can code reasonably well. I prepared separately for job-specific skills—mostly solving typical coding puzzles—for 3 months and then I cleared 12 rounds of interviews where they mostly asked coding problems.
  • R3: I was clear doing data science and machine learning was a good option for the future since my fourth year. So, I did a few online courses, read textbooks and got a flavour of that field and I thought it was worth pursuing. I wanted to do a PhD, but I couldn’t get a good position because of the pandemic. Then, I did some short online courses and started applying for jobs. First jobs aren’t good in general, both in terms of pay and the work itself. But, after a bit of experience, you can start getting good jobs.
  • R4: I was very nervous when I did not apply for a PhD and opted for something else. Peer pressure, family pressure and a lot of confusion are there at that stage but you should just try to put that aside and go for what you want. You are educated and you will surely get something
    • After spending a few years in the world of investment banking, I realised that I was ill-suited for that industry and was interested in something else altogether. So, I decided to pursue a masters. I am still exploring. Everyday, I learn about new kinds of subjects which I had never even heard of. I will apply for jobs in policy-making bodies and the like after I graduate.
  • R5: I applied for PhDs in the US and wrote CAT as well. I was accepted at a top US university and at IIM Bangalore. In the end, I chose the latter. I finished my MBA a few months ago and have joined a bank as an investment banker. I am very happy.
  • R6: I took the CAT in my fifth year, but because I was also working hard on my project, I did not do too well. But since I was firm on my decision to pursue an MBA, I chose to stay back on campus after fifth year. I continued working on my project and simultaneously prepared for CAT. I took the exam once again and got into IIM Indore. However, I would recommend that you aim for the top three IIMs (ABC—Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta). If not, then you can consider IIMs down to Ranchi (in the standard hierarchy) or IIT Delhi or Bombay to pursue your MBA. 

Q3) Tell us more about what you do now. 

  • R1: So, there are many departments in which you can get placed. I am currently developing an algorithm related to delivery.
  • R4: I used to work in investment banking. I did not enjoy it and did not want to do UPSC. Policy making is more up my alley. I can get into national or international policy making bodies.
  • R5: At IIM, what you do outside class is equally or more important than what you learn in your courses. In particular, you have to prepare extensively for placements at the end of your first year (for internships—which may lead to pre-placement offers) and second year (for jobs). A lot of time will also be spent in networking, talking to seniors and learning the tricks of the trade. As an investment banker, my job will be to evaluate my clients’ assets and come up with a valuation after examining their balance sheets, past and upcoming projects, etc. Quantitative aspects of my work will involve implementing suitable models for evaluation on Excel, say.
  • R7: I work at a company which makes medical equipment. I am still a trainee and the plan before the pandemic was to rotate between various roles. I was a product manager and had to deal with managing people related to my product. Right now, I am working on developing a product in the R & D department.

Q4) How big is the job market in your field, and what is the level of job security one can one expect in a typical job in this field?

  • R3: There isn’t much job security in start-ups (almost by definition). MNCs offer more security.
  • R4: A job in investment banking is quite well-paid, but it is not uncommon for people to look for different jobs (in search for better/different roles and perhaps better pay) every few years. 
  • R6: I was hired by TikTok, but since it got banned in India, my on-boarding was delayed for several months and the offer was retracted in the end. I have been looking for jobs, but due to the pandemic (and the associated economic slump), it has become difficult for freshers to find reasonably good jobs. In such a situation, some work experience would have been extremely beneficial. So you should definitely consider working for some period before going for the MBA. At IISER, I also used to think that it is very hard to get a job after fifth year from IISER. But, if you search around enough, you can eventually get it. Again, roles and pay wouldn’t be that good.
  • R7: The advantage of the corporate world is that you can choose to switch roles or companies if you are not satisfied with your current job. In particular, when I sat for placements at IIM, I was very open to any sort of opportunity. In the end, you will get to use your skills and develop new ones and learn a lot in any role that you take on.

Q5) How satisfied are you with your job and the kind of work that you do? How mentally stimulating is your job to you?

  • R1: 50% of my work is related to some new stuff (innovative) and 50% is somewhat repetitive and mundane.
  • R5: The pay is simply ***great***. To a great extent, this compensates for any dissatisfaction about my job.
  • R7: To me personally, the job is essentially a means to an end. The things I genuinely derive pleasure and satisfaction from are my personal life and my hobbies. So, the job is just something that gives me enough money to settle down. So as long as my boss and colleagues are happy with my work and I don’t hate my job, I don’t mind the fact that I don’t enjoy my work as such. Having said that, I do my job sincerely and to the best of my ability.

Q6) Are the skills we acquire at IISER (tangible ones such as our technical knowledge and intangible ones such as our way of thinking) helpful in the outside world and in your workplace?

  • R1: As you may expect, none of my physics knowledge is used at my job, but all the computational skills I developed during my undergraduate years and PhD certainly come in handy. 
  • R3: I took pure math courses during my time at IISER. None of that knowledge is used in my current job. However, I am planning to join a different firm soon, where the job will involve knowing some cryptography. General skills developed help in interviews in some cases; they help you think. Knowing statistics always helps in my field.
  • R4: In the finance industry, nothing as such in the job itself. You need to know simple R, Python, Excel and basic statistics. For interviews, maths courses might come handy. Otherwise you need to learn interview-specific things on your own. But all the quantitative subjects like maths, physics, economics are equally considered if they have this basic knowledge. You should start preparing for it as early as possible.
  • R5: They are to some extent. The quantitative skills I acquired were very useful during my MBA and definitely gave me an edge when I applied for a finance job.

Q7) What kind of differences can one expect in the work culture at IISER (or in academia in general) and in your job? (We’re very stupid. You know how IISER is; we have no experience of the real world.)

  • R1: Not much. In fact, in my time, IISER did not have the best atmosphere and I have found the work culture at Amazon supportive and nice. If you work sincerely, it is not a problem anywhere. You are held more accountable in jobs as compared to academia.
  • R2: Similar. 
  • R4: I particularly did not enjoy working at that place and that group. But that is very specific to my bank and my group in particular. Almost everyone in that group left that job. There is no general thing to look out for. Whether or not one is a good fit for a particular role is something that you will discover after going there. A lot depends on the company, boss etc.
  • R5: I liked the environment at IISER a lot. At IIM too, most of the people I interacted with were friendly and helpful. You will learn a lot from your seniors and batchmates. There are, of course, people who will use you, but it is possible to avoid them without much trouble. I cannot comment about the work culture at my bank because I have just joined.
  • R6: Life at IIM was very good. In the corporate world, the company you work for plays a big role in the kind of work environment you get. I have friends who have become very frustrated with the way they have to work and the people they have to work with. However, I was lucky to have internships with a nice set of people.
  • R7: After a management degree, you can expect a job that depends heavily on your people skills (rather than your technical skills, which are the primary requirement of a PhD). So be prepared for that. As far as the stories about the ugly side of the corporate world are concerned (involving politics and dishonesty), I would confidently say that in the long run, an honest and sincere employee can go very far, without having to resort to any unsavoury or unethical actions. The only requirement is that you must be good at what you do and you must have a strong work ethic.

Q8) Do you think it is a good idea to pursue a PhD in physics with the aim of seeking a job in industry afterwards? In other words, is a PhD in physics a useful/valuable degree? If so, what sort of PhD do you think is useful? What can we do during our PhD to network or find opportunities to maximize our chance of getting a good job?

  • R3: Not much in terms of pay. You will get promoted enough to earn a decent sum and that would be nearly equivalent to what you start with after a PhD. But, you might get a proper R&D position after a PhD. After BS-MS, you might do random jobs. Choose a PhD wisely which can increase your chances.

Q9) What is a good strategy to find a job after fifth year at IISER?

  • R6: Make a good LinkedIn profile. Also open accounts on naukri.com and iimjobs.com. Contact people in senior positions in companies of interest through LinkedIN. Talk to IISER alumni who may be working in such companies. They may be able to help you with job openings and referrals.
  • R7: It is difficult initially and you might need to compromise both in terms of the payscale and the quality of the role. But, after some experience and learning (even in startups), you can earn good money. Try reaching as many alumni as you can and ask them to see if there is any opening in their company. Join various forums, stay active, create lists of people you want to talk to on LinkedIn.

Q10) How would you compare the following three routes in terms of job opportunities: a PhD, a dedicated masters or job-hunting straight after IISER?

  • R1: PhD in physics keeps your options open as far as jobs in the corporate worlds are concerned. If you have computational expertise, you can get a good job as a data scientist and  if you have strong mathematical and analytical skills, you will have other options such as quantitative finance or investment banking. For instance, A friend of mine has moved from string theory to an investment banking job. All my friends are in some good positions after doing a PhD. I know very few people doing a job straight after BS-MS. It might be a bad option in India. Do a PhD on whatever you like and you will get something at the end.
  • R2: Decide what you want to do. If you want to get into academia, go for a PhD. If you want a job, do a master’s degree and start a job. Going for a job right after BS-MS might be bad.
  • R3: It depends a lot on firm and roles. If it is a consultancy firm, product-based firm or service-based firm. You do courses on data science and you will get a clearer idea of what you are supposed to do. Start-ups can be good points to start with but make sure you work in a funded start-up. Do a lot of background research before joining. You can work in sectors which will boom in upcoming years like pharma, cyber-security etc… 
  • R4: I would encourage you to consider doing a masters degree in the field you want to look for a job in. People at IISER just go for a PhD because everyone else is. Students are discouraged by the idea of having to take a Loan. But, it is quite a common practice and you will be able to repay a loan in a few years of your job. 

Q11) How did you prepare for the CAT?

  • R5: So, GRE English pretty much prepares you for the verbal section of CAT. You can breeze through the quantitative section of the exam. You need to practice for DI and LR part, they are doable given a lot of time, but there is only 1 hour allotted. Interviews are fairly straightforward. It’s better if you have awards and achievements like DAAD, Charpak, heads of some clubs at IISER, etc… If you don’t have a lot to show, you can start working on it beforehand. CGPA(s) from IISER, your grades in X and XII will have an impact in your interview as well as in your MBA school. You can also look at the CFA level 1 exam to make your resume stronger.
  • R6: I took coaching classes from T.I.M.E. in Aundh.
  • R7: I first finished working through the book by S. Verma on the quantitative aptitude section of CAT. I was quite comfortable with the verbal section, so I did not prepare for it specifically. For the data interpretation section, I solved a few past papers. Then, I took the T.I.M.E. test series. While taking the test series, it is important not to get disheartened if one does not get good scores on some tests, since they are very difficult by design. On the whole, the earlier you start preparing for CAT, the better. In fact, I would urge you to take all the competitive exams you can. Besides giving you several options to choose from, good results in such exams can significantly bolster your CV.

Q12) How important is it to have work experience before doing an MBA? 

  • R7: Getting work experience for about 1.5-2 years before joining an MBA programme can be very beneficial (However, experience of more than 4 years is frowned upon). The IIMs preferably (to some degree) admit candidates with some work experience. The IIMs also conduct “lateral placements”, which are held before the final placements. Only students with prior work experience are allowed to sit for these placements. 

Side Remark: Most of the alumni believed that IISER needs firm alumni support and a fully working placement cell. In most of the colleges, students take the initiatives to bring in the companies. Faculties never do anything. So, students shouldn’t expect it. We all should come together and do something coherently as a group.

Hope you got something to know, feel free to leave your feedback. Blogs are a very primitive way to do this. To know views of more IISER Pune alumni, take a look at a wonderful effort from my senior, Praful Shrishath in his Instagram series Gupshup or the recent YouTube series from the Science Club of IISER Pune.

Published by Akash Trivedi

I am a Bs-Ms student at IISER Pune (2017 - Present). I am an alumnus of JNV Jamnagar, Gujarat. I am doing masters in physics.

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