It has been at least six months since the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) began spreading, thereby impacting the lives of billions. It has stalled the whole world. The pandemic has exponentially grown in the whole world, impacting all arenas of life. Among all, one of the most affected areas due to the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is research. Young scholars are left in lurch. After years of dedicated work, a scholar starts his/her project to carry out research. These young scholars, with the outbreak of coronavirus, find that their opportunities have started disappearing suddenly.
With the extending lockdowns and in the unfolding human crisis threatening the existence of billions, it is crucial to bring forth the issue of the budding scholars, whose research work got desperately affected by the pandemic in whatever the fields. It has left them to remain inside for couple of months. They are unable to meet their supervisors, go to libraries and laboratories.
A student gets admission into research program after qualifying exams like GATE, CSIR, SLET, NET, etc. There is a three year minimum residential period, but generally, it takes four to five years to complete a PhD degree. The fellowships are available to only JRF, INSIPRE or MANFF. In the most of the Indian varsities the departments have a limited number of seats available for research with meager amount of five to eight thousand rupees as scholarship that too for only six scholars per department. A large number of scholars were left to the mercy of God. Only a scholar can imagine the hardships he/she faces while managing the expenditure. How can a scholar think of other things than completing his/her degree in due time?
Pursuing research in a place like Kashmir is too troublesome. Here, the scholar has to manage weak internet access. His/her research always gets badly affected due to hartals, curfews, lockdowns and above all the present pandemic. A scholar has to present at least four presentations in the department during the first three years. But a few are enough fortunate to have a single presentation in three years. The pandemic has only compounded the problems on this count.
Research scholars after completing their PhD programs go for the postdoctoral fellowship (PDF) for higher academic and independent research, which makes them eligible for the faculty positions in academia. There are hardly a few who get their jobs after completing their PhD programs, and that is why they choose to go further for PDFs. Usually, two to three years of PDF experience is expected for a good academic job. A large number of researchers choose to go aboard due to limited opportunities here. This pandemic has curtailed the chances of moving abroad.
During the COVID-19 crisis, some scholars were about to submit their thesis but they are stuck badly due to pandemic. Those who are in the middle of their research are faced with a difficult situation. It is challenge for them to carry their work, and those at the initial stage have nowhere to go. These doctoral students always have other battles to fight for survival. These and other numerous challenges faced by the scholars have left them in lurch.
Those who are receiving their fellowships might still receive their fellowships, although they may not be in the institution due to ongoing lockdown. And those who do not have any scholarship are the worst victims. However, irrespective of this, their work suffers and takes them more time to complete the degrees.
The scholars who have come back from different parts of the country and from aboard, are unable to go back to their respective varsities. They are done with the previous assignments by their supervisors, now they do not have new assignments. They are unable to meet their supervisors; phone/video calls can never replace a face to face interaction. The pandemic is going to take in, at least six precious months from the productive life of a doctoral student, irrespective of the stage they are in their degrees.
The UGC, HRD along the universities should come forward to their rescue in this hour of crisis. The government and universities may do well by extending the fellowships for those whose time is over, and to provide fellowships to those who do not have even a single fellowship in their PhD period. They should also think about presentation issues, minimizing it to just two or three. Those who are about to complete the research programs should be liberated so that they shall proceed ahead for their PDFs and can move for jobs easing their burden from. Instant scholarships to all doctoral students at such a critical juncture would provide them enough respite.
Certainly, we have to live with the virus for some more time. These young PhD scholars should be allowed to ensure that they are supported. The stakeholders should come forward to facilitate new opportunities for this talented pool. Need of the hour is to frame a robust strategy for these researchers to go on enthusiastically without any impediments. The research scholars' intellect must be sharpened and the horizons of their abilities must be widened by keeping them always close to the relevant sources.
Author is pursuing Doctorate from Department of English, University of Kashmir.