U.S. trying to peddle drones to India. No, thank you!

One of the highlights of the latest Modi U.S. trip was the admission of India in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). It is important because it opens doors for various defence deals involving missile and drone technology. What is not really being highlighted though, is the fact that US is planning to sell Predator Drones to India, as an immediate consequence of this deal. And this could have huge consequences on the future of India!

Predator Drones have a dodgy history.  Of course this fact is ill reported in the mainstream US Media. No country likes knowing about the bad deeds being carried out by its military. The word of the recklessness of the U.S. Drone program, however, has even got into popular American media. Criticism notwithstanding, Obama has increased the drone strikes 9 times as compared to Bush. Noble Peace Prize winner ladies and gentlemen!. Even with the state of the art capabilities of the US Army, the current surveillance and intelligence is not sufficient to provide good accuracy of drone targets. In the hands of Indian military, one can expect only worse!

Now, the US can afford to experiment with the drones because they are not doing it on their own soil. The civilian casualties are merely collateral damage and more importantly, merely Pakistanis. Pakistani government is heavily compensated and supported for this. We however, could only use the drones in our own country as neither Pakistan nor China is going to allow India to fly armed drones in their territory.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize where would the Indian military use their drones. India is seemingly impressed by the use of predator drones in Northern Pakistan. Probably because of the similarity of the terrain with Kashmir. One could argue how much the drone attacks are responsible for the insurgency and chaos seen in Northern Pakistan, but only a fool will say that they have had zero contribution. Pakistan has been struggling to counter the terrorism emanating from that zone, leading to more drone attacks. It is a vicious circle and it is only getting worse.

This is not to say that all military action in Kashmir should be stopped. That would be a disaster of Iraq proportions. But relying on technology which increases the capabilities of destruction, without guaranteeing reasonable accuracy is definitely not going to solve many problems. If anything, it will create greater problems as seen in Pakistan.

The solution thankfully is simple. We are not obliged to buy the Drones being sold to us. Just like we ‘guarded’ net neutrality through social media, we can tell the government to not waste money on harmful toys. Drones are not deterrents, and their use till now has only led to increasing chaos.

So if you get time off from outraging over censorship, help save some lives from unreliable technology. The money could be used for better purposes. Say #NoToPredatorDrones.

In defence of PhDs

Contrary to whatever you have been hearing lately, No! We PhD students are not mentally deranged! Well, at least not to begin with. The nature of research and how academia is organized, however, could lead to students facing extreme professional pressures. But that’s just the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’. What is often forgotten is the human side of it all.

There is a common belief that genius induces madness. Cantor, Boltzmann, Nash are a few among many such examples. The line between the genius and crazy, is very fine and hazy, they say. It has been popularized further by shows like Big Bang Theory. However, these are just exceptional cases. Most of us in the scientific community are just trying to make our place. We are not all grappling with fundamental laws of the nature. Our struggles are much more real than that.

The most basic struggle faced by PhD students is the rapid depreciation of self-worth. The difference in the average intelligence between your research colleagues and those before PhD is understandably huge. This is the kind of environment where even a student graduated from IIT Kharagpur (reputed Indian institute with one of the toughest entrance tests in the world), and Stanford University can be considered « subpar ». The unrelenting scrutiny and one-upmanship of the scientific community in conferences and seminars, beats down even the best.

To further dent the self-worth, at this age, most of our friends are settling into family lives. While some PhD students do manage to have a family, it only adds to financial troubles and destroys work-life balance. This makes us feel like  a professional, as well as a social, under-achiever. Social stereotyping and the supposed « uselessness » of our work  just amplifies those feelings.

The final nail in the coffin of self-worth is the powerlessness of a PhD student vis-a-vis the PhD supervisor. Being a supervisor is a post of great responsibility and it is rightly given only to a selected few. However, this results in supervisors who are way ahead of students’ in terms of knowledge, experience and scientific standing. A PhD student therefore is almost a dispensable commodity for a professor. We are the minions. The responsibility of the supervisor, just like that of a teacher, is to not give up on the student. However, they have little punishment if they fail to do so. Of course, in most cases, its beneficial for the supervisor to not invest any of his time or resources on the student and concentrate them elsewhere. But this leaves the student vulnerable to abandonment by professor. I was lucky. I had an ideal professor, who helped me out of jams, and invested his time with me without thinking of returns. But many of my fellow PhD students were not..

You might say, hey, its the same everywhere. Everyone has a boss, and most of them are pricks. Unlike normal organizations, however, a PhD student cannot change his PhD midway. Its a contract which only ends after the PhD is defended, and the thesis supervisor has a big role to play in it. An abandoned student could thus be stuck in a limbo of self deprecation for a long time before being put out of misery. And it only gets worse as time passes.

There are no solutions to this. Its the natural equilibrium, because its efficient, at the expense of a few students. That’s the working model of the world! Thankfully we have PhD comics to let us know we are not alone.

As a society however, we need to cut some slack for PhD students. And please, stop calling us ‘mental’ just because we’ll kill for a PhD! It has nothing to do with our religion or origin as some trump supporters might like to believe.