Monday, December 22, 2014

Should we send PhD thesis for examination outside India

The Senate of IIT Kanpur does not require that a PhD thesis be sent to an examiner outside India, and Senate even allows PhD examiners to be from within IIT Kanpur (at least one has to be from outside Kanpur). But any PhD supervisor who has tried to give a list of examiners where there were no foreign ones, would be explicitly asked to give some foreign names. If any PhD supervisor gave a name from within IITK, those names will not be approved. It would seem that the country and the campus does not have enough talent to review PhD theses in any area.

The normal process at IIT Kanpur is that the supervisor gives five names from within India (but outside IITK), and five names from outside India. These two lists are ordered by Chairman, Senate, and DOAA office is supposed to contact two foreign examiners and one Indian examiner from those ordered lists. But what if many of the foreign examiners refuse to examine. Earlier, we used to ask the supervisor to give another list of foreign examiners. But now, we just switch to the Indian list, and ask for more examiners only if both the lists get exhausted. This has speeded up the process of getting thesis reviews, and more theses are going to Indian examiners than before.

The feeling in the faculty is that we should stay with foreign examiners as they do a better job of reviewing. I think there is no difference in professionalism in the two groups. Particularly, when we have no guidelines on who can be a thesis examiner. Is it alright for the thesis of one student to be sent to the previous student. Will s/he not be influenced by past relationship not just with the supervisor but also the student. In the absence of any such guideline, the talk of foreign examiners being more professional is plain nonsense. Many other IITs have guidelines to manage such conflicts of interest, which we do not. For example, many IITs restrict co-authors of supervisor or student from being on the list. Since the chances are that the supervisor would have had at least one co-authored paper with a previous student or his/her own supervisor, they can not examine PhD thesis of another student. Also, some IITs ensure that a person who has been sent one thesis will not be sent another thesis within a year. At IITK, we have seen examples of an external examiner getting 4-5 theses in a year.

It will be better if IIT Kanpur also adopts such guidelines and restrictions on PhD examiners but allow these examiners to be from within India and even within IITK. We are the only institution that requires two thesis reviews from outside the country, and I don't believe that that is the prime reason for our high quality PhD program.