The sorry and sordid story of Mainak Sarkar tells us a tale of dreams, hopes, tribulations, and struggle in an alien land amidst an alien culture and finally a story of failed dreams and hopes.
According to a report in Indian Express:
According to Los Angeles police, Mainak Sarkar finished his over 3,000 kms-long deadly journey by bus as he knew the bus route to the University of California, Los Angeles where he killed 39-year-old engineering professor William Klug, who he had accused of stealing his computer code and giving it to someone else.
Mainak Sarkar is also believed to have intruded into the Brooklyn Park residence in the nearby town where Ashley Hasti, who he married in 2011, lived. Where he killed 31-year-old Hasti a few days ago
As an overview, Mainak Sarkar was an IIT Kharagpur graduate, and then got into Stanford, California, USA for his Masters (MS). Stanford is one of the World’s most prestigious Research Institutes. How come a student of IIT, India and subsequently Stanford, USA was being judged poorly by his Research Advisor is a matter of great speculation. It simply cannot get better than this. Which is, having such an academically deadly combination of IIT+Stanford doing your PhD research. To judge such a High Caliber student’s research requires a Research Advisor who himself is of the highest caliber. Specifically an Advisor who is devoid of complete ego and inherent jealousies towards his/her student’s research capabilities.
The situation can be best explained through a personal example. As per rough estimates Telugus make up approximately 52% of Indians in the USA. One has to look into any family in Andhra to know the reality. I myself have both my brothers-in-law in the USA who happen to be being US Citizens. My only Sister-in-law too is in the USA. I have 3 of my 1st cousins in the USA (all Citizens) and one child of another cousin who is doing her MS in the USA. All but the child of my cousin married and settled there with their kids. Another 2 are immediately waiting in the sidelines to go there for their Masters. In a span of a decade from now, I foresee at least 20 different families (including the 7 now) from my immediate family settled in various parts of the USA. My example is from this above list.
Before going to the actual example how does one go about obtaining a PhD in the USA?
Like in India a PhD graduate has to work under a Research Advisor for his/her thesis. Thesis is basically his/her subject in the field he/she is trying to specialize in. The University places the student under a specific Research Advisor. Now this is where the journey of both the Advisor & the Student starts. Since, PhD is a qualification which is mostly dedicated to Science; there is a heavy influence of the continuous development in Science which governs the Advisor-Student relationship. For example, there might be a certain formula or discovery which has happened in the last 5 years in that field. The student would want to utilize this development in his/her thesis. Perfectly valid! But the Advisor who could be old school might discourage his student from doing so. He too is right to a certain extent!! In fact, this is one of the major starting flash points between an Advisor and his Student. One thing leads to another which ends up in the student formulating an opinion that, the Advisor is trying to scuttle his thesis. The fact that the student is a migrant out to take his job or another American’s job, or getting more fame, are many of the prejudices which the Advisor himself also has to deal with. All in all, a very explosive situation between the Advisor and Student.
Coming to my example, as mentioned above someone very close to my family is engaged in her PhD thesis in Medicine in the USA. The topic she has chosen is a very challenging one namely ‘Cancer’. She is 44 now, and still unmarried due to her Masters and subsequent PhD. I read somewhere that Mainak Sarkar was 38 and still studying at that age. Well what is 38 as compared to 44? Over and above being a conservative Telugu girl (it should be woman now). Her thesis on Cancer Research was applauded by many Medical Technical journals. But, to her surprise she was failed by her Research Advisor. In the world of PhD research being failed is simply the ‘end of the road’. Half a decade or more of pure hard work and dedication is simply thrown down the gutter.
She was a complete nervous wreck and contemplating the worse, when she received some very valuable counseling from my wife. A lifeline was thrown at her when the Dean of the University approached her and encouraged her to file a case against her Advisor, since she herself had received many complaints against her. This is one of the options available for a PhD graduate in case of any serious issues arising between the Student and Advisor. Which it seems Mainak Sarkar was unaware of. She took the advice and filed a case as suggested, since win or loss she had very little to lose.
Being all ready to indulge in her long flight back home with dreams and hopes shattered. Once you fail in your PhD you can no longer stay in the USA due to your Visa status. That is, unless you are a citizen. Which, she was not. Unlike Mainak Sarkar who took the precaution of marrying an American (whom too he ended up killing) to escape the visa issue in case he was ever failed by his Advisor. Since, he at least had his MS from Stanford to fall back on for a decent job in the USA. She ultimately won her case against her Advisor and continued her thesis and awaiting the results of her final evaluation. Irony being that, her Advisor against whom she filed a case and had won eventually and who had failed her in the 1st place was still maintained as her Research Advisor after the case was won, instead of putting her under a new Advisor. Meaning, filing a case and winning being a ‘Double edged sword’ for the student.
In the USA all PhD research graduates are in their late eighties and early forties. Their tale of academic horror under Research Advisors would resemble a hopeless situation of a janitor mopping the same floor of an office for years and years. There could be exceptions. There could be PhD graduates with more than accommodating Research Advisors. But such a scenario was easier said than done. The situation is no different in India too with PhD students (specially science) taking at times even 10 years to complete and successfully submit their thesis. My own Brother-in-law taking almost 10 years to complete his PhD well into his thirties, with the relationship between his Advisor and him going downhill with every submission of his thesis.
I wonder at times is all this worth it?? But the desire to seek more and more knowledge is a such a gift that, some cannot stay idle until they achieve the maximum their minds can lead them into. Come what may!!!