Indian academics lag behind their western counterparts when it comes to responding to e-mails from students seeking research internships, says a study in the latest issue of Current Science.
The study, 'Responsiveness of academicians to e-mails: India Versus West', says only 16.38 % of the 177 Indian professors replied to e-mails sent by students compared to 36.48% of the 233 professors in universities in the West.
Over a year, three undergraduate students of Manipal College of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Amity School of Engineering and Technology sent the 410 e-mail applications to professors at 21 institutions abroad, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, the University of Pennsylvania and the George Washington University, besides 16 institutions in India, including IIT-B and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
"Non-responsiveness by Indian professors to e-mails is probably a cultural trait," said HC Pradhan, former director, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. "Senior professors are not net savvy; so their emails are handled by their secretaries who may take a call on whether or not a specific mail should be brought to the professor's notice." Last year, Abhishek Sharma, one of the researchers, did a two-month internship at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Boston, after failing to get a response from ten pharmacy institutes in India.
Professor Ranjan Banerjee, dean, research and development, IIT-B, said "The more specific a request, the more likely a professor will respond. Professors are unlikely to respond to mass mails where students send the same application to all faculty."
"No matter how busy they are, most professors abroad respond to mails," says Ankush Madan, who is pursuing his PhD at McGill University, Canada. "Many Indian professors are either not tech-savvy or think they are not obliged to respond to mails from students because they are in a position of power." In 2007, when Madan, 25, first applied for an internship to about 300 Indian professors while pursuing his second year of pharmacy at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, he received only 25 responses.
Having done his internship at the IIT-Madras, Madan then applied for a research internship the following year to around 500 professors in India, Germany and North America. While one in 20 Indian professors responded, the ratio was 10:20 for professors from foreign universities.
Some of the Indian institutes that responded to the e-mails sent by the study's researches include the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research at Pune and Bhopal with 42.86% professors responding from each. About 30% of the IIT-B professors responded while only 11.76% of the TIFR professors responded. None of the professors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, replied to the emails.
However, the response was phenomenal to emails where students wrote in asking if they could participate in national and international conferences organised by the institutes. About 67% of the Indian professors and 100% of the professors in foreign universities responded to such emails.
"Professors, heads of departments and deans are critical decision makers, and their approach and responsiveness towards students' e-mails can harm the careers of students who find e-mails the most convenient, reliable and affordable," says the study.