(This page is based on my experiences only. These are not official policies of IDC or IITB on PhD. Also, I am not an expert. I give no guarantees. I only mean to help. Hope it helps.)
Ingredients of a PhD
So you want to do a PhD? Great. Based on my experience with guiding PhD students, and given where we are with the PhD programme in IDC, I believe that there are three important ingredients for doing a PhD: topic, expertise and time. Here are some thoughts about these. If you only want to know about the PhD topics that interest me, please scroll down.
If you don't have a topic yet, don't worry. You are not the only one. Many people don't have a topic when they start. Some people believe that they have a topic, but they don't. For example, they think that they want to do a PhD in Design, HCI or UX. None of these are a topic. Some people are more specific. They say that they want to do a PhD in "text input" or "supporting health among the elderly". While these are narrower than HCI or UX, these are still very broad areas within which several people (including many PhD students) have done research. See below for the topics that I am willing to guide PhD students on, and read on to know what else is involved, once you have a topic.
It is not enough to have identified a topic. You also need expertise. In here I am folding in many concepts - creativity, analytical ability, ability to work independently, ability to work in a team, reading, writing etc.
Expertise comes in (at least) two things. Firstly, you need to be pretty good in that topic before you start your PhD. This surprises a lot of applicants to our PhD programme. They say to me, "Oh, I thought I could learn about the topic after I start my PhD." To them I say, "If I would love to do a PhD in neuro-surgery, but I don't know anything about it, do you think any medical college will let me start my PhD?" They usually get this, and I hope you get this also. While you are always learning, and you will definitely learn a lot about your topic, you need to be pretty good at the topic to begin with. So if you are interested in doing a PhD with me in some of the topics that I listed below, I expect that you have read ALL the papers that our group has written related to that topic so far, and MORE papers related to that topic that other researchers have done elsewhere. And I expect that you have read all this BEFORE you apply. There will be a lot else to read after you apply.
In addition to your topic, you also need to be pretty good in doing research. Reading papers is one thing, and actually doing the things they report is another. Thankfully, this is a lot easier to learn now than earlier. For example, look out for doing courses such courses 3 and 4 here, or a summer school such as this one. There is a lot more similar material available online that you can consider. Again, you will do some courses on research methods when you start your PhD, but it is always good to know what you are getting into BEFORE you apply. In fact, I recommend that you do a small research project and try to get it published at a conference. Even if you get a rejected paper (which most people do get early on), this experience is helpful in taking the next step. It is like getting into the baby pool before getting into the big swimming pool.
The third most important ingredient for a PhD is time. While there is no perfect age for doing a PhD (our PhD students' age ranges from 24 to 60), when you apply for a PhD, you should be ready to give it time. A lot of time.
The first year usually goes in doing coursework, in fine-tuning the topic and getting a committee for yourself. After you have cleared the first year, have a well-fine-tuned topic, and after you have identified your guide and two more research progress committee members, you still need more time. My estimate is about 6,000 hours. This, of course, is an estimate. It could be done in 5,000 hours (unlikely) but also might take 8,000 hours (more likely). Let us assume 6,000 hours for now.
Does this mean that if you spend about 60 hours a week, you could do a PhD in 2 years after your first year? (60x50x2 = 6000). Or, if you spend 40 hours a week, you can do it in 3 years after the first year? (40x50x3 = 6000). Or, if you are doing a job while doing the PhD, and if you spend 30 hours a week, you will be able to do it in 4 years after the first year? (30x50x4 = 6000). In theory, yes. In practice, there are many things this depends on.
Firstly, it depends on your topic, how well-tuned it is, your expertise in that topic, and your expertise with research methods. Secondly, almost nobody can spend 60, 40, or even 30 hours a week, week-after-week for several years. You take breaks, sometimes long breaks.
Thirdly, other things happen in this period. For example, people who are doing their jobs (note: I don't call them part-time PhD students - a PhD is never part time), there will be periods when the job will demand time. Even PhD students who don't have another job still tend to do other things. They take more courses. They act as teaching assistants in their guide's courses. They attend or organise conferences (good job). They help colleagues do other research unconnected to their PhD (a good practice - particularly considering that you might need help from others at another time, and this is what helps you become really good at research).
Fourthly, life events happen. Incredibly, even after you register for a PhD, life goes on. The sun rises and sets. Tides come and go. The cycle of birth and rebirth continues. A housing loan is due. People get married. People get divorced. You get pregnant. Babies are born. Kids go in Std. X. Your children get pregnant. Family members become sick. Family members die. (These are just the things that have happened to me during my PhD or to my PhD students during their PhD so far. Other things could happen.)
Often, time is ingredient in a PhD that applicants underestimate the most. And yet, it is easiest to understand. I have been asked, can I spend 15 hours a week to do my PhD. In theory, yes. It will take you 8+1 years. Currently, IIT Bombay does not permit such a plan, asking students to finish in 5-6 years. But even if it did allow, is it sustainable? What is to say that you will not change your mind 5 years? What is to say that your guide will not change his/her mind in 5 years?
So, if you are still with me till here, looks like you might be interested in the topics that interest me. These, I will discuss next.
This part was updated on 1-4-2019.
PhD Topics of Interest to Me
My broad area of work is human-computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design. I teach user studies, interaction design, interface and information detailing and usability evaluation. I have research interests in two main areas that I specialise in: Interaction design for Indian needs and integrating HCI with software engineering.
Interaction design for Indian needs
This title covers several topics that my colleagues within IDC and outside and I have been working. Here is a list of related papers. Several of our projects have been about developing interactive products and services for those with less education, including those with low or no literacy. We have been working on strategies to improve interaction and communication with the help of visual, audio, and audio-visual interfaces. The applications that we have tried to apply these strategies include navigation and way-finding system, phone books, train ticket booking, banking, healthcare management, and agricultural prices. Two of my PhD students (Abhishek and Sanjay) are working on audio-visual interfaces and multi-modal interaction. One of my PhD students (Devanuj) is working on developing a technology adoption model for those with low literacy.
Other applications for less educated that we have dabbled in include voice-based social networking, usable security and better localisation of interfaces. These areas have many future research problems hidden in them that I would like to explore in future.
Text input for Indian languages is an area that we have been active in for over a decade. Today this unsolved problem seems to be the last barrier that prevents millions of Indians from the benefits of information technology. Our focus has been to develop interfaces that take advantage of the logical structure of Indic scripts both in hardware as well as virtual keyboards. We have also done some preliminary work related to script learning for adult illiterates and for children. Again, a lot remains to be done in terms of research in this space.
Integrating HCI with software engineering
This is my other area of work and has been something that I have worked on for my PhD thesis. Here are some papers that emerged from this work. My research involved developing a framework for HCI design process bringing together design activities, methods, deliverables and skills and integrating these activities with mainstream software engineering processes of the waterfall process model, the agile process models and the Rational Unified Process. I also worked on creating and validating a usability goal setting tool, a usability goals achievement metric (a metric that measures usability goal achievement) and index of integration (a process metric that evaluates fidelity of the process with a prescribed process model). I used these tools to empirically validate my proposal for integration of HCI with software engineering processes by using data from the industry projects.
A lot remains to be done. Metrics help us prove what is happening. However, they are not very good at explaining how or why something happens. Ethnographic methods are better at answering these questions. My student (Shalaka) is working on using ethnographic methods to create a rich description of what happens in software development with an HCI lens.
In February 2013, we had a workshop for PhD aspirants in IDC. I made a brief presentation about potential topics that interest me and I would like to be associated with. Here are the slides from that talk...
If you have any specific questions, please feel to drop me an email on anirudha[at the rate]iitb.ac.in.
This part was updated on 23-5-2014, so it is a bit old. Will attempt a re-write when time permits.