Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Desi Professors in US – Some Random Thoughts

Join Facebook Page of this Blog (These thoughts about desi professors were formulated in me during the seven years of graduate studies in US. I don’t want to generalize my thoughts but like to know your views on this topic)
Last week a girl, who just got an admit for Spring 2010, came to my house to talk to my wife and me about the graduate program she was about to join. Her eyes lit up when she told me that she had applied for assistantship with two desi professors. The way her eyes lit up was exactly the same way my eyes lit up when I saw the name of a desi professor while I was applying in graduate school during 2001. After I got admit I used to send emails and resume from India to desi professors thinking that they will help me out. As soon as I landed in my school the first piece of advice I got from the seniors here was “Working with desi professor – keep that as a last option if nothing else works out”. I have seen few good desi professors but lot of them are extremely tough to work with. So it was my time to pass the baton of advice to that girl -“Working with desi professor – keep that as a last option if nothing else works out!”
Desi professors know the helplessness of most of the Indian students (especially with funding and visa) who come here to study, as they were in their shoes a few years back and they exploit it very well. These professors know that an Indian student is not going to complain if he is paid for 10 hours and made to work for 40 hours.
One of my roommates was working with a desi professor. That professor works six days a week and 10 hours a day. Only day he takes off is Saturday and he expects his students to be in lab all the time he is in office. In this age of internet and instant messaging, if he finds that a student is not in his lab, he writes a small note and posts it in the lab and goes back to his office. My roommate took one Sunday off and the professor promptly wrote a note on his desk around noon. My friend saw that note on Monday and when he met him the professor shouted at my friend for over 30 minutes. He did not even care to listen to my friend. It is all together a different story that my friend left that professor and joined another professor for rest of his Masters.
I have seen some desi professors having their weekly lab meeting at Friday night after 7pm. One of my roommates, working with a desi professor always had the lab meeting either on Friday or Saturday night. Another worst thing – this professor will call my friend any time of the day or night and ask him to come to the lab – it doesn’t matter even if it is 10 at night. I am not sure if that same professor could have done something similar to an American student.
I have seen so many stuffs in the seven years of my school where desi professors treat Indian students with total disrespect and disregard to their feelings. Very rarely I have seen such an attitude from an American professor. They always treat every student with equal respect.
Would like to know your opinion and thoughts on this subject….
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen the same of
desi profs used to come and hold meeting on Sunday morning... She used to treat a Chinese Phd student with total disdain while of a Indian Masters student who produced her results, she used to sing praises. All that matters is results to them whoever gives good results will be sung of. whoever does not to expectations will be berated..
I havent heard these kind of experiences what you describe. In general Chinese and Desi profs are hard task masters.


January 08, 2010 9:10 AM  
Blogger Partha Pratim said...

And here i was under this impression that Desi Professors would be a huge help in the distant land. This post is helpful and an eye opener for people like me who are thinking of taking up courses in US and other places.

January 08, 2010 11:45 AM  
Anonymous shilpa said...

Haha same with companies where there are desi bosses. Run as far away as you can if you want a normal personal life!

January 08, 2010 1:29 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks for bringing out this comment. I think too it plays into stereotypes that 'Indian students are smarter and hardworking than American students' in some aspects. Am I off base? Or is it something else entirely?
I think, too it depends on how much the Desi prof actually absorbs and appreciates the American academic culture and takes up the professional academic behaviors of their peers. These people you quote may not be doing this- they are running on some other assumptions? Would grad students be treated like that if they stayed in India, where obviously all or close to 100% profs are Desi?
I should say this too because my husband, a desi, actually despises this attitude. He's a manager over here, and manages Americans but also plenty of Desis (from TCS and other places). He wants to strive for a balance. He is actually looking for more an equal partnership, which is a big cultural change (yes he was raised in India and came here in mid 20s). But the desis who come here from TCS and other places that work there it seems go along the Indian way- don't question superiors. Brainstorming is much encouraged by him to these TCSers but they aren't doing it because brainstorming on some levels is considered questioning the boss, which is out of the question......
More can be said.. Thanks for making me think about this, Brijesh.

PS I'd be honored if you'd give me permission to reprint this article on my blog. Thanks.

January 08, 2010 2:39 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Sorry, one more thought- are Desi students more excited to have a Desi advisor because in coming to a new country to have a Desi advisor means 'someone will relate to me better and understand me?' Is there that feeling, and conversely if it's an American advisor that "I don't know how to interact, relate or communicate well." It's taken for granted because the advisor is desi that communication, understanding (especially cross-cultural adjustment issues) is diminished. Would working with desi advisor and having mostly desi friends in college diminish adjustment into American social, academic and professional life?

January 08, 2010 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typical "Desi mentality" is that if you stay at the work place means you are working harder... Even though you are facebooking or orkuting or even commenting on Brijesh's blog... i think thats total bullshit.
its unfortunate that some americans in NYC region are adhering to the same principles especially the new lawyers and financial people.
WHen I used to work at ASU West, i used to work from home most of the times, my roommate who had 10hrs GA at ASU West with two desi profs used to slog even more than me.

and to the lady whose husband works with TCS people... good luck in changing TCS employees mentality, for some reason they have certain prinicples engraved in their brains and for those who dont, they dont last long in that organization.

take care Nair.. this one is a very interesting topic... would like to see the actual feedback from a DESI prof...


January 08, 2010 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i did my masters under a desi professor. besides using the same assignments and test papers that were being used for the last 4-5 years, the prof's was close to a null value on the talent quotient.

my research was completely baseless, ofcourse the thesis panel was also full of indian professors who didnt argue at the quality of the thesis.

besides that the prof was very anti telugu students and only spoke in hindi. i had to take his dogs for a walk, work with him on weekends in his garage and trust me guys - it was a scene out of Jaspal bhatti's ulta pulta. i somehow managed to graduate and still have nightmares about my grad days.

you are better off working at a small company in india than rather work under a desi prof. the end do not justify the means.

January 08, 2010 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, know that I’m an American (not ABCD, white American) and I know what Brijesh is talking about. I have seen most of the Desi professors and professionals with an ego that is through the roof. However, I usually don’t see this in students. Let this be a lesson to all of you Desi students: remember these people and don’t follow in their footsteps. If you do, you’re to blame for your own suffering.

The primary difference I see is that Americans don’t take any crap. I was in a class with a Desi professor with an unmatched ego. The first day of class he was trying to act super tough, lecturing about how hard his class is, how he doesn’t have time to help, bla bla bla. It was so out of control some of us Americans started laughing during the lecture. This really pissed him off. But we didn’t care. And I can tell you this – If a professor yelled at me for 30 minutes I can assure you that he can expect me to yell back at him for 60. He must remember that as a student, I’m also paying his wage.

January 08, 2010 4:20 PM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...

To Jennifer; in answer to your question, I know a fair number of desi professors in India at top insitutes who make their students work like dogs and don't award PhDs for 8 years even for good work. So the desi professors in the US who behave this way indeed seem to have failed to absorb their American counterparts' habits and attitudes.

January 08, 2010 8:29 PM  
Blogger Abhinav said...

Isnt it the same as working for a Desi manager? i havent worked for one, so this is more of a question than comment

January 09, 2010 12:34 AM  
Blogger Karthikeyan said...

First up, yes, there are desi profs who take their desi students for granted and over work them. But, let me play the contrarian here. Lets see -

1) Brijesh - You do exactly the thing you said you don't want to do. You have generalized way too much.

2) Yes, you had 7 years of grad school, however the number of profs, desi or otherwise you have met or worked with is going to be very limited. Esp if you have done both your MS and PhD in the same school. So, don't know if you would want to give all kinda ideas to students who might be aspiring to come here.

3) As Jennifer had pointed out, if desi students expect some kinda special treatment (or even understanding) from Indian profs, the logic suggests he might exactly have such an idea too. (i am not saying this is correct, just that expectations stem on both sides).

4) For everyone ready to diss every desi prof, just because they have seen some desi profs engage in such practices, the logic is the same as saying - there are many dowry deaths in India, so every man in India beats, tortures and kills his wife for dowry.

I would rather see an article warning students to tone down their expectations (they are getting a visa to another country, thats it, not an end to all of life's problems) instead of scaring them :-)

thats my 2 cents.

January 09, 2010 2:10 AM  
Anonymous carpe_diem said...

During my master's I have seen the shit(the extremely Egoistic+talentless+outdated profs) you have described here in can into real hell if u are unlucky enough to work under such a prof/even the presence of a couple of such a***holic elements in the department can ruin the whole can get very can become tough to remain sane... forget about doing any really insightful research!!!

I'll be joining PhD in Fall 10..and after reading this post I am feeling really scared of the desi profs..!! I don't want any special treatment..just want a normal-as normal as possible environment to do some research...btw, What about the desi yet very reputed (*star*) profs in the US? Maybe, I should contact the grad students of the profs before I decide on an advisor.

January 09, 2010 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will have to disagree with the tone of the article. While there are indeed Indian profs who drive their students hard (usually, asst. profs who are yet to get tenure), this does not mean all Indian profs are mean and exploitative...

The takeaway point is that new grad students should talk to other lab members (abt work, life in the lab, etc) before making a decision to join a group.

If a particular Indian prof is not a good mentor, as you say, students will not join his group as years go by and as his behavior becomes well known in the dept.

January 09, 2010 1:20 PM  
Blogger Sachin Shanbhag said...

i am a relatively new desi professor in the US, and when i was a grad student at michigan, the stereotype you mention was widely prevalent. however, i must point out that even there, there were quite a few exemplary advisors. when i chose an advisor, my main criterion was: "is this guy smart?", "is this guy good to work with?".

i know a number of non-desi profs who are terrors to work with. like someone mentioned before, as an incoming grad student, i would do due diligence by checking the profs reputation with existing grad students.

January 09, 2010 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A big majority of students who have come to the US in this decade haven't done so for the 'right' reasons. From what I've seen, most westerners do an MS/Phd in a particular field only if they are deeply interested or passionate about it. The way Indians think is more on the lines of what will give them a good job, more money, etc. They do not get into top schools of their field of study and try desperately to get funds one way or the other in the 'lesser' school they get into. They say the right words to more gullible western professors and often end up getting more than what they are truly worth. It is not uncommon to see professors of Indian origin to look at these students with contempt and treat them like dirt. And I don't disagree with the professors who do that! :)


January 10, 2010 1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..also, if people have noticed, a vast majority of professors of Indian origin who have been here for a while (not new ones) are either from IITs or some good college in India. Of course, some of them are guilty of letting success go to their head and end up becoming arrogant. But I doubt that has anything to do with being of Indian origin.

January 10, 2010 2:32 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I am coming back again!!

Brijesh, I have posted this article on my blog here

I agree with what Anand has to say. I do think it can vary based on the person- but in general many Americans who go for PhD (in my limited opinion and experience) as Anand said for passion or a balance out of higher income in the end. I think this mentality is more prevalent among foreign (desi) students if they studied Master's here, worked for some time and go back to college, paying on their own, or if they are lucky enough for their company to pay for some educational expenses. I think when people come here simply for the fact of coming and not really look into the creditals of the school and think just because it's in America 'it's better' and a 'ticket to America', this is not a good reason to come to America, I think, unless that school is a stop gap on a plan to apply and transfer to another school. But, on the other hand I think American colleges are happy to have hard working international students than no students at all in their program. And, the other comment on students paying the teachers/prof wage is an important one, especially in America where tuition is through the roof. If one comes from India without a stipend/scholarship, this financial burden is not as heavily felt as those who are paying. I do notice if I compare 1998 to 2008 that more desis are coming to America not only for Master's taking loan from India, but also to come here as undergrad with loans as fewer and fewer stipends are available now a days. Also desi attitude toward spending, saving and borrowing money has changed very much in the past 10 years.

January 10, 2010 3:43 AM  
Blogger maksins said...

I see lots of criticism going on the Indian professors, as much as I would like to adhere to idea that "statistically" such professors form a majority, I have one question in mind...why do you think this happens and what gives them such a freedom of will?

Tell me honestly guys, how many of you go to US because you actually wanted to learn something and that something you couldn't achieve here in your own county??
1. We don't have an idea of field in which you are going, the research work you going to take, even you apply for a course.
2. We sell our properties, put huge loans on our parents and study something which could be very well be done anywhere.
3. We hire an agent and ask him just to get a masters course, most of us are happy only because we get admission and not because admission in which that university is really famous for.
All this because of what? so that we can go to US, raise your profile, may be by chance get a job and then may be get a PR? People even apply for US colleges where the level of eduction is shitty. Why?
Ask yourself, are my efforts and money worth that education? If the answer YES..well my friend go ahead. But if your reasons are motived by points above DON'T complain.

Don't be a cry baby and tell me you don't have an option! Yes you do! Why do you think you get exploited, it's only because you want to. You can say..hey I don't need to take that from the professors, why consider such an option, is it really worth it? Do think an American student consider such an option?
If you are going because you want to do research or study and that university can offer you the research work experience and study in a field which you can't get somewhere else, I respect your decision from my heart.
Also get a scholarship and go, these professors can't do a jack to students who are really capable because these students have the "option". Professors thrive on your difficulties and they always would, world is not fair and I hate to break this to you! Doesn't matter Desi or American professor/employer everyone will try to exploit you, that's how the world have to see, do you the capabilities and skills on which you can negotiate? If not, you made a wrong choice..they will exploit you for sure.

So my funda:
Go to an University if you really need to, not just for the sake of going to US and it should be worth your money(if you don't get a scholarship). Let it be very clear to your professor, you have a social life and you don't answer after working hours, that's the way it is and you won't be played by them...if they try do such thing, Bye bye mister, I will look for other options.

I know I might sound harsh or arrogant and I am against the majority, right or wrong, and whole lot of you would jump on me for breaking this, but I believe that's the truth of's easy to blame on others without putting it into perspective and looking into our faults.


January 11, 2010 4:26 AM  
Blogger Brijesh Nair said...


Thanks for your great inputs. :)

January 11, 2010 4:46 AM  
Blogger Achu said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 12, 2010 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Achu said...

I work for a Greek professor (Assistant professor, he is) and he fits in the description of the desi prof of this post. He knows the financial insecurity of a grad student and takes complete advantage of that. We have weekly meetings on Friday evening (It used to be on Sundays!), expects me in lab from 9 to 9 every single day - saturday, sunday, winter break, official holiday, thanksgiving, whatever be it.

I wanted to do PhD, but now I just want to quit. And to top it all, the only American student of the team gets royal treatment.

I feel that most non-American professors who do not have the experience or tenure would treat their grad students like donkeys.

January 12, 2010 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've gone through the same thing. Just as it was mentioned in the post, this desi professor would make us work for long hours and on weekends on research papers. Criticism is harsh and progress is intentionally kept slow so that this kind of taxing can go on indefinitely. Working with this desi professor was so emotionally draining that when it finally came to my thesis work, I chose another easygoing advisor.

This has led me to wonder why we see such behavior from these professors. Many of them unfortunately do not have any social life (or any kind of life) outside of work. They are unable to sing along with a popular tune or enjoy watching a weekend game on TV. They expect their wards to be the same. Another reason is the 'I suffered, so you also should suffer' syndrome. These professors have been embittered by their own hard experiences and they believe that their students should go through the same ordeal. A payback for the next generation. Ha ha - sometimes we hear this from our own parents too, don't we?

Still I would like to believe that some of them might have our best interests in mind. Maybe they want us to be just like them and believe that it is best for us. Unfortunately, such a life is difficult how 99% of the population.

I have the same advice as Brijesh for grad students. There is no reason to gravitate towards desi professors. Professors are all the same. Some teach well, some don't. We might feel happy seeing a desi's name in the faculty list but he/she is just one among many. They may not be able to give any special help because his ethnicity matches with yours. If you have a career goal or if you are interested in a specific topic, see which Professor specializes in that area. And try to work/research for him/her. That would be more fruitful for your career. Afterall who would want to research something that they don't care for?

- Sreekanth K B

January 14, 2010 1:54 AM  
Blogger Andrew Brice said...

Odd that there is the opposite of camaraderie between countrymen/women.

Also, as an American student, I highly agree with this statement by an anonymous poster,

"If a professor yelled at me for 30 minutes I can assure you that he can expect me to yell back at him for 60. He must remember that as a student, I’m also paying his wage."

Unfortunately, such 'luxury' may not be felt as available for a student here on visa. I feel that if I were to study abroad, I would be more likely 'well-behaved' as well.

January 18, 2010 8:44 AM  
Blogger Hari said...

same thing with desi managers

January 29, 2010 5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My personal experience was different. I wasn't close with my advisor (a desi) outside school. His expectation for me and his other grad students (desi and non-desi) was reasonable.

But what set him apart for me was his generosity. He offered me an RA along with another professor. At the end of 9 months I went and told him to cancel my RA, that I had not made sufficient progress and felt guilty about taking an RA. I spent a couple of months without assistance in the summer. At the start of the next semester, on 9/11 to be exact, he offered me another RA, with a different prof in an area I wanted to work in. I would forever be grateful to him for this. He didn't have to do this.

A friend of mine who also didn't have any assistantship when he joined got a $500 a month part time for doing some sys-ad work - there was hardly 4-5 hours of work per week. While not a full RA or TA, this was very helpful to my friend.

I know some friends who had a bad experience with desi advisors, but my personal experience was a pleasant one and like I said before, I will be always grateful to my advisor for supporting me far longer than I deserved.


February 08, 2010 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I wouldn't totally deny the kinda behavior shown by "desi profs" as I was one of the victim..luckily escaped after one full semester of bonded labor..My prof insulted me a lot and being my first semester in US, it shook my self-confidence..But again, I consider it as a nice experience which helped me in saying "NO" to certain unacceptable things. I guess initially its the student's mistake as we agree to do all the work assigned to us irrespective of analyzing the intensity of work amidst our own hectic graduate course schedule..And profs lure students by extending their assitantships (which is all the more sick !) And I was expected to respond to emails/phone-calls at anytime of the day..

In my case, I slogged to finish my research work and paper apart from being a TA. On the last day, I was allowed to leave by my professor at 2:00 in the night and guess what, she had to board a flight to India at 6:00 am(i.e. after 4 hrs).. :(..But anyway, that day was the end of all the suffering for me.. :)


June 15, 2010 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think its the same with any Asian professor. Indians and Chinese.. He make you slog because they are aware you will slog for it.

July 07, 2010 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Full latest pc games links said...

My personal experience was different. I wasn't close with my advisor (a desi) outside school. His expectation for me and his other grad students (desi and non-desi) was reasonable.

November 04, 2010 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that there is no point in arguing against a poor fellow's personal story. There are good as well as bad professors. Similalry there are good as well as bad students. You are making a generalization from a personal story without a supporting rationale. Almost all indian professors were once indian graduate students. So I dont see how you can see yourself as being not part of the problem.

March 26, 2011 8:46 AM  
Blogger BON KAP said...

This blog is too good to be true. Check with Arthi Kanthasamy, Anumantha Kanthasamy, Ravindra Singh in Iowa State University. They suck blood out of graduate students with low pay, severe work and excessive micromanagement. Keep these names in mind for future applications.

April 19, 2013 1:34 AM  

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