Impact of COVID-19 on aspirations of PhD students – summary of an early investigation

In this blog post, I will briefly share the findings of a recently published journal article in the Journal of Experimental Political Science [1].  In this article [1], the authors were primarily concerned with investigating how COVID-19 affected
current lower and senior year PhD students’ career aspirations, perceived career preparation and support, and professional development.  In particular, they constructed the following hypotheses and examined them with the responses collected from a survey of over 750 participants between March 2nd, 2020 and May 5th, 2020. Due to the timing of the survey, they were able to collect responses prior to and following the coverage of COVID-19  in the media.

Hypothesis 1. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students more receptive to nonacademic careers and will lead them to invest more heavily in non-academic skills.

Hypothesis 2. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students less optimistic about their chances of obtaining an academic position and/or more desirous of non-academic job characteristics that provide financial security.

Hypothesis 3. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students more likely to report that they have difficulties managing stress and to express greater uncertainty in the direction of their post-graduation career.

Hypothesis 4. COVID-19 will lead Ph.D. students to express greater dissatisfaction with their academic department’s support and preparation for their desired post-graduate career.

Hypothesis 5. COVID-19 effects will be greater among 5th-year students, and among those from comparatively more advantaged social groups.

Surprisingly, they found that COVID-19 did not significantly alter Ph.D. students’ aspirations and priorities. But they do mention that they found limited evidence that Ph.D. students became more desirous of non-academic jobs with senior Ph.D. students more willing to change their career paths to non-academic jobs compared to junior Ph.D. Students. The survey also revealed that respondents felt that their departments are better meeting their needs and that they are better able to manage stress, following the pandemic outbreak.  They also make the following key remarks and explanations for their findings that I found were very interesting:

“…it is possible that COVID-19 was an insufficient shock to students’ commitment to an academic career.”

“… the efforts of departments and universities to blunt some of the worst consequences of the pandemic were effective at reducing students’ concerns.”

“…pandemic may have reaffirmed some students’ commitment to academia.”

“… the cutoffs we consider were too early to capture more substantial effects. It is possible that students were still processing the consequences of COVID-19, and that they would have offered more pessimistic opinions had we surveyed them later.”

[1] Haas, N., Gureghian, A., Jusino Díaz, C., & Williams, A. (2020). Through Their Own Eyes: The Implications of COVID-19 for PhD Students. Journal of Experimental Political Science, 1-21. doi:10.1017/XPS.2020.34

Future of the University Blog Post

As I was researching on this week’s blog post prompt, one of the discussion themes that popped up, again and again, is that – “will the pandemic change American universities the way we know them?” In this post, I would like to share a very interesting article by Prof. Ian Bogost – a distinguished chair in media studies and a professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, that I found.

In this article, the author first provides a brief history of American universities. He then discusses how the pandemic threatened what it means with an underlying argument that they are not built for education: they are built for the “coming of age” and college experience. Eventually, the article starts questioning whom to blame for rising COVID-19 cases in university towns and communities and then reveals a more complicated dynamic between universities, ordinary people, and policymakers. Some of the points that hit the spot for me are below

  • American colleges and universities have always sought isolation rather than integration. 
  • How the entire structure of American family life became oriented towards college and how universities evolved from a rite of passage into the prestige of the upper-middle class to an aspiration for the middle-class.
  • How the college experience soon became a prison experience for students returning to campuses during the fall semester.
  • How people objected to the “do not party” stand of few universities as a threat to the college experience and how policymakers tried to introduce a college-student bill of rights to protect students from those “Draconian” measures.
  • A fantastic point – “Students acted recklessly toward the virus not because they are necessarily careless or juvenile, but because college promises them a place apart, where ordinary rules don’t apply.”
  • Finally, this satisfying concluding paragraph where the author disagrees with others in the field that speculate that the pandemic will kill American universities the way we know it.
    The pandemic has made college frail, but it has strengthened Americans’ awareness of their attachment to the college experience. It has shown the whole nation, all at once, how invested they are in going away to school or dreaming about doing so. Facing that revelation might be the most important outcome of the pandemic for higher ed: An education may take place at college, but that’s not what colleges principally provide. Higher education survived a civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the 1918 Spanish flu, the worst pandemic the U.S. has ever faced. American colleges will outlast this crisis, too, whether or not they are safe, whether or not they are affordable, and whether or not you or your children actually attend them. The pandemic offered an invitation to construe college as an education alone, because it was too dangerous to embrace it as an experience. Nobody was interested. They probably never will be.

I agree with all the points that the author has raised in this post. What do you think?


Technology and Innovation in Higher Education Blog Post

While researching for this week’s blog post, I came across how faculty and higher educational institutions in developing countries are exploiting social media platforms for enabling knowledge transfer in these unique times.  The articles that I found are based on Egypt [1] and Pakistan [2]. The premise is that the public institutions in developing countries do not have access to formal online learning management systems (LMS) for facilitating communication with students and/or among faculty members. Therefore, the students and faculty are coming up with innovative ways to use social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube to facilitate learning.  For instance, Sobaih, Hassen, and Abu Elnas noted that the universities have encouraged faculty to communicate with students using official Facebook pages and formal groups on WhatsApp [1]. In his short letter, Khan discussed that his department used Facebook live to conduct online classes and shared recorded videos on WhatsApp to promote the revision of these classes [2].

Sobaih, Hassen, and Abu Elnasr [1] investigated the use of social media for sustaining formal academic communication in universities in Egypt. In particular, they surveyed students and faculty from nine colleges providing a bachelor’s degree in tourism and hotel education. I encourage the readers to go read their conclusions section as they have made several interesting findings. Of all their findings, I thought the most interesting finding was the difference in the way students and faculty used social media – students used it to build an online community to support each other, and faculty were focused on teaching and learning.  Another interesting finding that they made, in my opinion,  is regarding how students preferred social media over ZOOM and Google Classroom. They also highlighted about 15 challenges that were identified by students and faculty with respect to using social media as a tool to foster online learning. Hopefully, Facebook can address these challenges and provide a free service to promote online learning in developing countries.

Both the authors expressed a strong belief that social media could promote a new era of social learning. As someone from a developing country, it is personally very fascinating for me to see how social media has evolved from something my parents didn’t want me to use when I was young to something that they use very regularly and that it is also revealing unique opportunities.

[1] Sobaih, A. E. E., Hasanein, A. M., & Abu Elnasr, A. E. (2020). Responses to COVID-19 in higher education: Social media usage for sustaining formal academic communication in developing countries. Sustainability12(16), 6520.

[2] Khan, T. M. (2020). Use of social media and WhatsApp to conduct teaching activities during the COVID‐19 lockdown in Pakistan. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.

Open access blog post

The journal that I chose for this blog post is “Scientific Reports.” Launched in 2011 by Nature Research, Scientific Reports (SR) is an open-access megajournal that publishes original research across all areas of the natural and clinical sciences. Like other open-access journals, the researchers are required to pay a fee to publish. It offers the benefits of a typical open-access journal – reach as many people as possible. Most of the in-house editors are from the UK and Ireland, but the editorial board consists of researchers/academics worldwide.  Because this journal is by Nature Research, it also has the “brand-value,” which is attracting many researchers. I must admit that before I put in some work for this blog post, I read a few impressive articles from SR in the past and did not know that it was an open-access journal. I had the opinion that it was a decent journal. I still have the same opinion but have my reservations after coming across the following (few) interesting scope/traits/comments/reviews of SR that I found online:

  1. “To be published in Scientific Reports, a paper must be scientifically valid and technically sound in methodology and analysis. Manuscripts are not assessed based on their perceived importance, significance or impact; the research community makes such judgements after publication. We are happy to publish papers of niche scope, that lie between disciplines, report negative results, or scientifically-justified replications.” [1]
  2. Not sure if this is the case for other journals but SR offers a waiver for papers whose corresponding authors are based in the world’s lowest-income countries as defined by the World Bank. [2]
  3. “I have to say I have read high quality research published in this journal. However, as a reviewer I have had some “bad” experiences. No matter how pesimitic are the revisions, they never reject, they often give the an opportunity to the authors.” [3]
  4. “Has anyone ever had a paper rejected from this journal? ” [4]
  5. “My take: any journal that considers rigour and validity only, and not perceived impact, will be less well regarded than an equivalent journal that has a good reputation for rigour and validity and also considers impact.” [5]

The journal’s scope mentioned in point 1 suggests that Nature Research has seen the potential of making a LOT of money by catering to a broad range of audiences without needing ground-breaking results. On the flip side, since many researchers work on niche topics, SR seems to be an excellent option if they choose to submit to an open-access journal – a win-win situation. However, SR is not a stranger to harsh criticism from the community. It seems that SR is very notorious for accepting low-quality research (for profit?) without a thorough review process, and there is a long-standing opinion on the web that they rarely reject papers – based on points 3 and 4. Concerning quality, I thought the response by Significance mentioned in point 5 was an interesting take. I share the same ideology, and I feel that a researcher who is used to reading journal articles in Nature, and Science, will think that SR accepts low-quality research. However, the fact that there have been cases when SR redacted articles and the stained opinion that they rarely reject papers is concerning. But in my opinion, I do not think SR is a predatory journal as many prominent researchers that I follow who are at reputable universities and research labs publish in it.

For a long time, I believed that no researcher who works in a niche-field should be desperate enough, if I may say, to pay money to publish in open-access journals. I always thought that submitting to open-access journals only makes sense if we are working on ideas that are ground-breaking in that they have the potential to be applied to several fields. I also felt that I wouldn’t want to submit to open-access journals as most of the readership for the work that I am doing will be from academics and researchers in research labs who will have the subscriptions to publishing giants like Springer, Elsevier, Sage, etc. While researching for this blog post, I learned that open-access journals accept payment from established funding agencies (e.g., NSF and NIH). So it looks like PI’s will now have to define publishing expenses in budget while they are submitting the proposals – not sure if it is already a thing. More importantly, I learned that more and more publishers and researchers are welcoming the open-access movement. As such, I am more willing to submit to one because who doesn’t like their work to have larger and broader exposure. Also, if I do submit to an open-access journal, I won’t have to log-in to the university VPN if I want to read an article from home.


  3. [Comment by Miguel A. Munguia-Rosas] –
  5. The response of user named Significance at


Ethics Blog Post

As I began reviewing the recent cases of research misconduct posted on ORI’s website, there are a couple of things that stood out for me. The first thing I noticed is that the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded all of them. At first, I was surprised that I could not find any research misconduct in the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded projects in the twenty recent cases on ORI’s website. This observation got me thinking if the researchers in engineering and basic sciences are soo ethical or if there is not much value in investigating research misconduct in engineering and basic sciences. A quick search on google showed me that “ORI oversees and directs Public Health Service (PHS) research integrity activities on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the exception of the regulatory research integrity activities of the Food and Drug Administration” [1]. Researching further on this topic revealed that the office of the inspector general (OIG) is the federal agency that oversees the research misconduct in projects funded by NSF [2]. By further researching this topic, I learned that although NIH supported four times the number of grants as NSF, NSF reviewed 2.5 times the number of research misconduct reports and that NSF’s faculty were two times more likely to be found guilty than those at NIH [3]. Lokith and Bauchwitz 2016 and Kornfeld 2019 noted that this paradox is due to OIG’s higher power than ORI and suggested reforms to aid ORI to facilitate better prosecution.

Another interesting fact that I noticed was that in more than half (eleven to be precise) of the recent twenty research misconducts were by researchers/faculties/practitioners of Indian origin. I should mention that I did not do enough research to determine when they moved to the USA or if they were born in the USA. But it doesn’t take a lot for an Indian (like myself) to recognize another person of Indian origin by their name – I hope this doesn’t qualify as racism. I’m wondering if there is a cultural aspect to this behavior. I am not sure about other cultures, but in Indian culture, there is usually a lot of pressure from family and society to “do well” and “be successful”. In the context of academia, that means rising the ranks in the university by producing more publications, funded projects, and clinical trials. As such, I think this pressure could have played a role in tempting the researchers to pursue dark alleys in research. This thought process also makes me ask, are international students, researchers, and faculties at more risk to be made a scapegoat in these research misconduct investigations? I did not find any relevant articles to evaluate this claim and therefore, would love to hear the reader’s opinion.




[2] Loikith, L., & Bauchwitz, R. (2016). The Essential Need for Research Misconduct Allegation Audits. Science and engineering ethics22(4), 1027–1049.

[3] Kornfeld D. S. (2019). Research misconduct, NSF v NIH: Its nature and prevalence and the impact of their respective methods of investigation and adjudication. Accountability in research26(6), 369–378.

Mission Statements Blog

In this blog post, I will reflect on the mission statements of the two public universities where I pursued or pursuing my higher education. I completed my bachelor’s from the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IIT-H) in 2016 and have been pursuing my graduate studies at Virginia Tech (VT) since 2016.  IIT-H is fairly young research and teaching university (~12 years old) in the southern part of India. On the contrary, Virginia Tech is a very well established and internationally renowned research and teaching university. As such, I expected that both the universities will have a different outlook for mission statements. I will share the mission statements and compare them in the remainder of this blog post.

Mission statement – Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad [1]  

“To be recognized as ideators and leaders in higher education and research, and to develop human power with creativity, technology and passion for the betterment of India and humankind.”

Mission statement – Virginia Tech [2]

“Inspired by our land-grant identity and guided by our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech is an inclusive community of knowledge, discovery, and creativity dedicated to improving the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world.”

Contrary to my preconception, both the mission statements of these two universities have a similar underpinning objective – the betterment of humankind in the case of IITH and improving the quality of life and the human condition in the case VT. One reason could be that younger universities in third world countries such as IIT-H are being influenced by the leading universities in the west and are adapting their ways and values.

Another interesting feature that I noticed is that the mission statement of IIT-H is aimed directly towards the improvement of the whole country and beyond, unlike VT, which is aiming first in the state and then throughout the world. It is relevant to mention that IITs are premier institutions in India, and almost every state has an IIT [3]. Therefore, I was baffled to notice that the mission statement is not aimed for the state first and country and beyond later. I think the reason behind this is behind the factors that motivated the birth of respective universities. IITs were launched to support and pioneer post-war development in India in the 1950s. At that time, only a handful of universities were proposed (4-5) to prevent regional imbalance, which is now expanded to 23 to meet the growing demands. On the other hand, VT is a land-grant university, and each state was facilitated at least one land-grant university [4].

Finally, in line with the findings of Cortés-Sánchez [5], both the mission statements aspire a global influence and do not possess any quantitative elements. I think the mission statement does not need to provide quantitative details and that the statement should guide the university’s strategic plans, goals, and initiative, which often include quantitative and measurable metrics.







My case-based learning experience

It was the spring of 2015 when I was in my junior year when I had to finish an elective course requirement and was forced to take a course called Nonlinear oscillations. The only reason I took the course is that I didn’t have pre-requisites for any of the options available, and the instructor of this course was not very stringent on the pre-requisite criteria. Nonlinear oscillations course was a theoretical course with advanced calculus, and throughout the course, the instructor took us on a journey of solving several complicated differential equations that describe different incredible (satisfying) phenomena.

The instructor had provided me a brief idea of what the course entails, and I was not looking forward to taking the course – way too much math. However, the course has transformed my perspective towards complicated math, as now I had understood that why an equation is they it is more important what it is or how huge it is; and motivated me to pursue graduate studies. Furthermore, I still used some of the ideas taught in that course and have used them in six out of seven journal papers that I have published. For the reasons mentioned above, I believe that the Nonlinear Oscillations course is the most valuable and impactful in my student journey.

As mentioned earlier, just like in most of the classes, the instructor started with basic concepts and introduced different case studies (equations), which became more and more complicated as the semester progressed. The crux of the course was teaching students to use a perturbation toolbox that can be used to gain useful insights into nonlinear differential equations. The instructor not only provided detailed analysis for every case study but also explained it’s importance and application. Further, the instructor went above and beyond what is required by providing us with relevant research articles and notes of experts in the field. Due to the nature of the course content, I don’t think it is possible to utilize the material taught in the course to a new problem. However, I believe that the instructor was successful as some of the students who took the course still use the toolbox in our research.

Since the instructor used pieces of already existing solutions to teach the toolbox, this type of teaching is case-based teaching [1]. I think this approach is ideal for a course where a novel project component is not realistic and would implement a similar strategy in my teaching. Since I have some personal experience, I will share my experiences, in particular, the problems that I solved and the reasoning behind why I did what I did to enhance the learning experience to my future students.

[1] Janet L. Kolodner, Paul J. Camp, David Crismond, Barbara Fasse, Jackie Gray, Jennifer Holbrook, Sadhana Puntambekar & Mike Ryan (2003) Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design (TM) Into Practice, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12:4, 495-547, DOI: 10.1207/S15327809JLS1204_2

Heated research group meetings

Having difficult discussions is the topic that resonated the most to me in the readings related to inclusive pedagogy. I firmly believe that to safely execute a difficult conversation by de-escalating the unexpected landmine moments that are beneficial for knowledge exchange is a quintessential skill that every teacher should possess. An essential point that I noted in the reading is that the discussion in an academic setting should never be about the people and that it should always be about ideas that they are exchanging.

I’m interested in applying the tips & strategies for difficult discussions, which are tailored for a classroom setup, to research group meetings (RGMs). RGMs are a lot like a classroom but are also very different. In a typical RGM, students present their work, and each presentation is often followed by a thorough discussion involving peer students (colleagues) and a principal investigator (PI) – the teacher. More than usual, the conversation can become heated as the presenter and audience might not share the same level of understanding of the presenter’s work or might disagree with the assumptions made and (or) conclusions drawn by the presenter. It is particularly important to enforce inclusive pedagogy and maintain a healthy relationship in RGM as the students often work together for a considerable amount of time (more than a semester), which is not always the case in a classroom setup.

As suggested in the reading material, I think the PI should set up ground rules of exercising an RGM and enforce them whenever needed for constructive intellectual dialogue. Since it is not possible to anticipate the needs of every student, the PI should be willing to make changes to the rules if needed. It is also beneficial for the PI to know about potential hot-buttons of individual students so the PI can intervene if they’re triggered in a discussion. More importantly, the PI should know his/her hot-buttons and have a plan to make sure that the debate is not compromised. Bluntness is often confused with rudeness and is a potential cause for individuals getting offended, which results in a heated discussion. It is desired that the PI should be mindful of this behavior and bring the focus back to the ideas. On a final remark, I believe that a rude comment by a student might be a sign of something more complicated happening in the student’s life. Therefore, I think the PI should have a confidential meeting and direct the student to helpful resources available at the university.