Tiju Thomas

Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology Madras
Sardar Patel Road, Chennai 600036, Tamil Nadu, India


ph. no: +91 8056456442
email id: tt332@cornell.edu or tijuthomas@iitm.ac.in

Our Research Group

Applied Nanostructures Engineering and Nanochemistry (ANEN) Research Group

ID6020 Panel Discussion notes (28 Sep., 2017)

Suggestions for graduate students

Graduate education is wonderfully liberating. It is the time wherein you will get a taste of full-time research work. It is also the time, during which you will discover the "auto-didact" within yourself. You will learn how to begin your scientific enquiry, starting with a nebulously defined topic. There on you will realize what it means to (i) define a problem, (ii) appreciate the context of a problem, (iii) formulating reasonable and well-grounded (and exciting!) hypotheses, (iv) test the hypotheses, (v) analyse your results for self-consistency, and finally (vi) communicate the results. I have presented scientific activity as if it was entirely linear. The truth is that it is a fairly non-linear process, wherein there is a lot of "back and forth" movement between the various steps I have identified here. By now, you should have gotten some idea of what goes into a research program.

Good preparation for a research degree involves sound knowledge in the basics of the chosen subject, openness to learning, persistence, and good communication skills. The basics of the subject is essential to everything you do during your research work. If you find yourself on shaky grounds, it is time to brush up on the basics, and strengthen your foundations. There is really no time to waste! Openness to learning is important since you will always run into situations wherein you do not know enough. Persistence is essential because road blocks are inevitable, but you should remain undeterred and focussed. Ability to self-learn, and openness to discussion will hugely aid your graduate education. Communication skills are more important than you think! Central to your success is the ability to convey your results in a manner that is clear and precise. This is the trickiest part of the scientific enterprise. You must know your results well, and present it in the right context; so that people reading your work can appreciate your contribution, and assess the quality of your work. If you do not provide the context, chances are that your readers will not appreciate the importance of your results, and your work will not achieve the impact you desired. Graduate students will derive anormous satisfaction from their work, if they decide on a problem that they are passionate about, and pursuing the problem like no one else can!

PS: Under no circumstance will I claim that I was an ideal graduate student. My musings about graduate life comes from the many many mistakes me, and my good friends have made. They say, one gains wisdom through experience and mistakes. Much of what I think about good graduate education comes from such mistakes. So in case, you find yourself stumbling at road blocks or at unanticipated crossroads, please know that you are not the only one, and there is a positive solution!


  1. William D. Callister's "Materials Science and Engineering"
  2. University of Cambridge's online learning center: http://www.doitpoms.ac.uk/
  3. University of Liverpool's materials science learning resources: http://www.matter.org.uk/universities.htm
  4. read up on latest articles in journals like "Advanced Materials", "Chemistry of Materials", or "Nature Materials". This should give you a sense for the "hot topics" in materials science, as of now.