Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pursuing Graduate Education in USA

Title: Pursuing Graduate Education in USA

Published in The HINDU Opportunities on March 21st, 2012

Online Link to published article

Selecting the right university for your higher education in America can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Most international students, who come to pursue graduate degrees in the United States, choose a master's degree (MS) over a Ph.D. largely because of the flexibility of the programs.

While a master's program can be completed with two years of coursework and may or may not require a finishing touch such as a thesis, oral boards, or a research project, a Ph.D. program requires years of coursework followed by a thesis requirement.

Hence, a master's degree is a logical choice for many students wishing to pursue higher education.

Kaushik Shankar is pursuing his masters in Industrial Engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California.

“Since my undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering, I was able to get into a program that matches my background and also helps me broaden my interest and skills in the field, which is a great way to help me prepare for a job in the outside world.”

Pursuing a master's degree is no easy undertaking.

Handling a full course load in a new environment, getting used to the grading system and the curriculum and handling living on your own in a foreign place can be daunting at first.

Many students are concerned with the high costs of studying in USA. The cost of education could be anywhere between USD 15,000-USD 50,000 per year, depending on the course and the institution. In addition to the tuition fee, students also need to plan for funds towards living expenses, books, health insurance, air tickets, transportation, etc.

Many students also take up an on-campus job such as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or working at the campus library, bookstore, cafeteria etc. to supplement their living expenses.

Chandra Reddy considers himself fortunate for receiving a tuition waiver and a stipend for his education at the University of Kentucky.

“Since my tuition is covered and I manage my living expenses within my stipend, I don't work on campus.

Instead, I focus my time on taking additional courses, so that I can graduate earlier and start job hunting sooner than my peers to land a good job in my field.”

For students who are looking to pursue higher education in USA, here are a few pointers that can help you find the right university and make the transition successfully.

Pick a university that matches your interest

Since an American education can be expensive, choose an institution that offers you the required funding, tuition waiver and scholarship potential.

After starting your degree, you can also work for 20 hours per week on campus positions to help with your living expenses.

Make sure that the university has courses with specialisation in your area of interest, rather than applying for the program that your friends are opting for.

Today, there is a plethora of resources available online such as: university websites, department profiles, and research interests of faculty, school rankings, tapping into the Indian student organization (ISO) contacts at the university you are seeking admission for and of course talking to seniors, friends and peers who have already gone through the process.

Other factors to consider

The percentage of international students accepted into the university, the geographical location and weather conditions are other aspects that you may want to keep in mind as you seek admission. Also, being aware of the cost of living in the place where you will be residing, knowing if you will be staying at an on-campus residence facility or if you will be renting an apartment off campus and sharing with other students are all decisions that you would need to make as you go through the process.

The application process

If you are applying to top-ranking and good institutions, make sure that your undergraduate grades are excellent and you also have good scores in tests like GRE, GMAT and TOEFL. For admission into a master's degree you need to have had 16 years of formal education.

Most universities require a statement of purpose essay as part of your application and also proof of your contribution in extra-curricular activities.

Once you have narrowed your universities, keep your list short, as this saves up on time and money (application fees and mailing charges).

Adhere to the deadlines mentioned in the application and apply early to enhance your chances of getting admission in the preferred university.

Are you Appreciating your Employees? And are you doing it right?

Title: Are you Appreciating your employees

Published in The HINDU Opportunities on March 21st, 2012

Online link to article

When asked people usually say they change jobs for more pay, but survey after survey shows that they quit because they did not get enough appreciation.

As a top performer reveals, “Employees have a basic human need to feel appreciated and to be recognised.

If you don't give them that, they will seek it out elsewhere.”

So, if you have people who don't receive employee recognition or enjoy their work, you company is failing to make profit.

When you reward and recognise your employees, and do it the right way, they are happier, stay longer and are more productive at work.

Several companies have employee recognition and award programmes to say ‘thank you', ‘well done', ‘we value you as an employee' etc., but, for an employee recognition programme to work, it must be custom-made to fit your company's culture.

The point is to say ‘thank you' frequently to employees who deserve it in a number of ways and this need not be expensive.

As a manager, here are some tips to make sure that your employee recognition programmes are being run the right way.

Think about your organisation

Knowing about your company's culture, understanding management's style in dealing with employees and finding out what your people are thinking, so you can improve are crucial to making your employee recognition programmes successful.

Understanding the atmosphere within the company is important - is the culture an ‘open-door' philosophy or is it closed and private?

How does management operate when dealing with employees?

Is the general mood in the office fun-filled and casual or more business-like and formal?

Thinking about these questions and also keeping in mind the feedback that you receive when sending out employee surveys will ensure that you are sincere in your efforts to make your employee recognition programmes work.

Determine the programme's objectives

While your company may have several employee recognition programmes such as one for rewarding length of service, another programme for employees who have demonstrated exemplary performance etc. it is important to contemplate on why and how each recognition programme will benefit your employees. Gather input from both management and employees about their expectations for the programme.

In a well-known IT company, it was just assumed that money was the biggest motivator for its employees.

The management thought that as long as they kept paying people more, they would do more work and be productive to make profit.

Later, when a new CEO took over and they conducted a poll, it turned out that the biggest perceived perk wasn't the highest salary or the largest bonus- it was the parking spaces.

Many of the employees had to park several buildings away and hence nearby spots were a highly valued perk.

The company then started rewarding improvements in behaviour with better parking spots and got incredible results.

Peer recognition

Many employees consider this a very key aspect of the employee appreciation process. Managers and senior management play a vital role in this type of employee recognition. Taking a few minutes out of an all-hands meeting or at staff meetings to thank employees who have made outstanding contributions is both cost effective and rewarding.

This is most beneficial as the employees value each other's influences more than their supervisor's.

Timing and flexibility

Decide the timing for the recognition programmes. Attempt to conduct smaller awards more often and other competitive awards such as employee of the month, quarter, year, spaced out more logically to encourage employee engagement.

Also, be prepared to change and modify your programmes as situations warrant.

This can be done in accordance with the feedback you receive from employees and management.

Lastly, remember that improving employee engagement is an on-going process and not the end result.

It is something that you have to do every day.