Interview with Kanchan Mukherjee, A PhD from INSEAD

Kanchan Mukherjee, a PhD in Decision Sciences from INSEAD, is currently teaching at IIM Bangalore. Since the beginning, Kanchan Mukherjee was focused on his goals in life and worked hard to achieve them. An MBA from IIM Calcutta, he graduated from IIT Kanpur in Electrical Engineering. He has published in leading journals such as Psychological Review, Psychological Science and Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. He is also a reviewer for the journals Psychological Review and Management Science. What inspired him to do a PhD was the monotony he experienced in the corporate world.

Go2BSchool Team got a rare opportunity to know everything about his PhD experience at INSEAD.

Go2BSchool Team: Where were you born and brought up?

Kanchan Mukherjee: I was born in Jamshedpur, home town of Tata Steel. I completed my 11th and 12th from there.

Go2BSchool Team: Where did you go for your undergraduate degree ?

Kanchan Mukherjee: I studied Electrical Engineering from IIT Kanpur. After that, I did my PGDM from IIM Calcutta. I worked in the industry for 9 years before I decided to pursue PhD from INSEAD, France.

Go2BSchool Team: Why PhD ? Why not an International MBA?

Kanchan Mukherjee: Well at some level, it was a personal choice. I was always inclined towards academics. Somewhere down the road, I got married, had a daughter and my PhD plans got postponed. I did not find enough intellectual challenges in industry. Doing a PhD was one of the best decisions of my life. Basically, I was bored in the corporate world. I am much happier now in academia.

Go2BSchool Team: When did you and why did you decide to do PhD?

Kanchan Mukherjee: I was working in the United States. At some point, I thought if I don’t do it now, I will never do it. Generally, the average age for PhDs at top B schools is lower than that of an MBA. People do not generally come in with a lot of work experience. From that perspective, I was more the exception than the rule. My aim in doing a PhD was to pursue a career in academia and that’s what I am doing now.

Go2BSchool Team: Were there any other Indians in your batch?

Kanchan Mukherjee: Yes. There was one other Indian in my batch. India is amongst the most represented countries in the entire INSEAD community which has students from over 70 countries.

Go2BSchool Team: How did you prepare for PhD? What?s the process?

Kanchan Mukherjee: For PhD admissions, one has to give GRE or GMAT. At the top schools, a score of 750+ is safe. Other than that, you need to fill out an elaborate application, which is not very different from MBA. In this application, you need to make a case as to why you want to do a PhD. The third important thing is recommendations. Here, academic recommendations are more important than business recommendations. Generally, you would get recommendations from your manager for MBA admissions. But those are not good here. You need professors from your past colleges to vouch for your academic potential, who can say that you have great interest and potential to do research.

Basically, one should do PhD in Management only if one is interested in academia. Doing a PhD and going back to industry is a big waste of time. It should never be used as an escape route. Some people think PhD is just an extension of MBA. It may be true in India, but if you consider top schools like Stanford, Wharton or INSEAD, it is a completely different ball game. Usually, people who do PhD for the wrong reasons generally drop out before they complete the program. The drop out rate at INSEAD is about 25%.

Go2BSchool Team: How did you finance your PhD?

Kanchan Mukherjee: All good business schools will offer some financial assistance which is usually enough to lead a comfortable life though not a luxurious one. In US universities, it is generally attached to research or teaching assistantships, but at INSEAD it was a Fellowship, which means there were no strings attached. If we did any assistantships, we got paid extra. On the whole it was not very challenging to pursue a PhD from the financial perspective. But if you are accustomed to a certain lifestyle in the West, it may take a hit. As a whole, I think the sacrifices were worth it.

Go2BSchool Team: Why INSEAD?

Kanchan Mukherjee: Three reasons. One is that I did not want dip in to my savings. I had a one and half year old daughter when I joined the Ph.D. program and INSEAD was giving one of the best scholarships. The second reason was that I had already worked in India and the US. So I wanted to go experience Europe, and France is so strategically located with 7 countries around it. We really had fun visiting all the places. Last but not the least, the Decision Sciences program seemed very interesting to me. All in all, it went well for me. INSEAD was a good choice.

Go2BSchool Team: Did you take part in extra curricular activities like clubs etc.?

Kanchan Mukherjee: Actually, at PhD level you do not have time for clubbing and other activities. In academia it is publish or perish. It has become very competitive in the recent years. If you join top B schools, their expectations from PhD students are extremely high. They want you to publish in the absolute top journals. It?s not easy to do that. So, you can party, but I think PhD students are less involved in extracurricular activities.

Go2BSchool Team: What actually happens in a PhD program? How is the coursework? What do you do?

Kanchan Mukherjee: INSEAD only has course work in the first year, which arms you with all the advanced techniques that you would need to read and understand research papers. In the second year, it is partly coursework and partly research work. This is when you start thinking about the direction of your research. At the end of second year, there is a comprehensive exam. It is necessary to pass the comprehensive exam to continue in the program. It is usually a tough exam and if one fails, one is out of the program. After the exam is done, you become a PhD candidate and you have your course work and comprehensive exam behind you.

After passing the exams in the second year, you start doing research 100% of your time. You may try to align yourself with professors in the institute that do the kind of research you are interested in. Usually, you need to first do a literature review in order to find out what questions have not been answered yet.? Then through your own research, you try to answer them. This process can take about 3 years. So on average it would take you 5 years to complete a PhD.

Go2BSchool Team: Could you briefly explain the field of Decision Sciences?

Kanchan Mukherjee: Decision Sciences means different things to different people. I will tell you what it means to me and INSEAD. I study how people make decisions and how they should make decisions. It is a cross-functional area involving elements of economics, statistics and psychology. The basic questions one asks is how humans make decisions, what kind of psychological pitfalls they encounter and how people can be helped in making better decisions. At INSEAD, Decision Sciences is considered both a basic and an applied science. So it covers a larger and general domain.

Go2BSchool Team: What are the Job opportunities after PhD?

Kanchan Mukherjee: In the last 2-3 years the economic downturn has affected the academic market too. This is because most of the endowment funds of top B Schools like Harvard and Stanford are invested in the market which has performed badly. The funds available to these institutes have reduced considerably leading to reduced recruitment. However, leaving aside the current conditions, the job market for PhDs has been pretty good in the last 5-10 years. A PhD from a good school can land you an offer from one of the top 50 B Schools or as many people prefer these days, in schools at Hong Kong, Singapore or India. The average salary for an assistant professor in the US is quite attractive, say about $150,000-200,000 a year.

Go2BSchool Team: Why did you come back to India? Why IIM B?

Kanchan Mukherjee: For me, the most important reasons were personal. I will not go in to the details of that. The reason for choosing IIM B is that I think it is one of the most progressive schools in terms of the goals it has regarding where to go in the coming 5-10 years. It is one school in India that I would bet on to make news. This year, new IIM B faculty have PhDs from great schools like Wharton and LBS. There is a lot more to be done to become globally competitive, but I think it has taken its first steps towards that goal.

Go2BSchool Team: What do you think is the difference between IIM?s and Global B Schools?

Kanchan Mukherjee: From the perspective and quality of students, I imagine there would not be much difference. The basic IQ and abilities of the students are the same. But there could be differences in maturity levels as the students in global schools usually have a lot of work experience. The average is about 29-30 compared to 25-26 in Indian schools.

Other than that, there is a big difference in the research output, I think, both in terms of quantity and quality. The good thing is that people here have realized that and are making moves to narrow the gap. However good the students are, until the research is also good, one cannot count oneself as a globally competitive institution.

Go2BSchool Team: What are your future plans?

Kanchan Mukherjee: My present goal is to do a good job of teaching and publish as many research papers as possible in good journals. Also keep learning new things, open myself to new horizons and spread the knowledge.

Go2BSchool Team: What are your tips for future applicants of PhD?

Kanchan Mukherjee: First thing is that one should do a PhD for the right reasons. My first advice is to introspect and ask yourself why you would like to do a PhD. Then go ahead and talk to other people who are doing PhD?s. Talk to professors, friends and family in academia about their aspirations. You need not have a specific research topic in mind but you should be very clear about the general area in which you would like to do research and a complete commitment to it.

Obviously, it helps to have good recommendations and a good GMAT score. It is also imperative that one writes a good statement of purpose. It?s best to be honest and not make up stories in the applications. It’s pretty easy to find out whether your answers are forced. I would say that one should have faith in one?s convictions and follow them rather than be a part of the rat race. That would be my advice.

Go2BSchool Team: Thank you Kanchan. It was nice talking to you.

Kanchan Mukherjee: Ok. Thank you!

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  4. In conversation with Pratik Agarwal- First Indian at HBS 2+2
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2 Responses to “Interview with Kanchan Mukherjee, A PhD from INSEAD”

  1. manya says:

    This Interview is very informative! I got all the knowledge regarding PhD! Great Go2BSchool Team! :)

  2. Go2B Admin says:

    Thank you Manya :)

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