Psychology Don

Psychology is one subject that has always been of interest to me. My daughter had seriously been considering majoring in psychology for her under graduation. That is the time we were looking for advisors – and we were referred to Dr Sadhana Natu – one of the most popular psychology teachers in Pune. One of the hallmarks of a great teacher are listening skills. And I think Ma’am spent a lot of time understanding the background, hobbies and interests of the daughter. For people who are interested in psychology, but are not part of a formal education program in that field, she recommends taking up Coursera (not Udemy – which she feels does not have the same standards as Coursera). She has also promised to mail across a book list – which I will share. 

Besides teaching, Ma’am has her own Clinical practice. She spends a lot of time in writing – gender psychology is one of her research areas. She works with NGOs, Community Based Organisations and industry. Apart from Modern College, she is also involved with academic bodies ranging from grassroots to state, national and international level. This breadth of work allows her to give her students a bird’s eye view of psychology. It allows her to be a Teacher +, i.e. a guide and a mentor, since her own learning never stops! 

There are quite a few specialisations that can be done at PG level. Forensic psychology was one that Ma’am mentioned. IMO, both forensic psychology and forensic accounting should be made compulsory subjects for B.Com programs. My friend, Parag Kalkar, now Dean Academics at Pune University, has been trying to push the forensic accounting part – but colleges are resisting. Another specialisation she talked of is behavourial economics – a field that marries psychology with economics. 

Most of her students apply for PG programs. A lot of international PG programs have a requirement that applicants should have done internships. When offering internships, most organisations treat students as cheap labour – and give them tasks which require close to zero levels of skill – my friend Ashok Godbole calls these kind of jobs as data hamaali. Students are satisfied with this approach, because they are not really into internships for learning. It is the piece of paper certifying their participation in an internship that they are really after. 

About 75% of the psychology UG students at Modern College go in for internships at the end of second and third year. Actually, all 100% want to – but there is a selection procedure. Students are put through a program where they are asked to Write SoPs and taught basic Interview skills. At the end of this program students are assessed on basic behavioural skills. Based on this assessment, Ma’am weeds out students who will require some more time to get ready for internships. Some of these weeded out students go on to make up on the skills and get into internships the next year. 

Students identify organisations based on hobbies and interests. Maam has been on the advisory boards of quite a few NGOs for many years – and these are the same NGOs who offer internships to her students. The same companies also take part in placement programs for her PG students. This approach would also work when people who have experience in the corporate world join academia. Such teachers should continue their connect with the industry, through research, training and mentoring. And such teachers should act as gatekeepers, to decide on which students the industry should let in. 

I discussed the idea of having internships for grade 10 students. Natu Maam was aghast at the idea. She felt that students cannot be sent to companies without adequate preparation. Maybe as observers. But then her recommendation is that you don’t call them interns – call them volunteers. This is something that we thought was an interesting topic for our next chat.

We had done a program at JSPM engineering college in Hadapsar. I remember this program for two reasons – this was the first time that we had experimented with break-and-make projects. Computer science students were given Hard Disks and a tool kit – their job was to open it up – and put it back together. Was an amazing experience for both us and the students. 

The other experience was meeting with Prof Tushar, who had joined academia after a decade of experience in the heat exchangers industry. Like Prof Natu, Tushar’s popularity was because of his linkages. If he recommended a student to a company – chances were very high that the student would get hired. And like Natu Maam, he would put students through a lot of loops and hoops before he gave the recommendation. One of the simplest tricks he used is in the armoury of every good teacher – delay. Never respond immediately to a request for help. If the student is persistent enough, she deserves to be helped. If the student passed this test, then she would be given a project with the company. And it was up to the company to decide whether the project work justified a job offer.

 

Growing Up 

The generation gap has persisted over generations. A decline in the number of offspring per household has only exacerbated things. The Chinese have a name for it – the Little Emperor Syndrome. The post millennial’s first shock comes on her first payday –  when she finds out about the relative meagreness of the paycheck, about the same as her pocket money! Has all of this resulted in our kids’ unrealistic expectations from life outside the home? Are employers being hit by this new epidemic when our kids join the workforce? 

Maybe employers are right about the first salary cheques. For real education for our kids today begins only when they start working. Only after a couple of years of work, should we expect employers to pay them their actual worth. Too much of fuss, and the first couple of years of your kids’ working life will actually be spent as SFH – Shirk from Home! One of the complaints of Indian culture is about growing up – or rather the lack of it. We remain our momma’s kids, even when we have had our own ones. Aping the West in this case can help. Let an 18 year old fend for herself!

The new reality is that parents and colleges have only half finished their job. The burden of getting our kids to grow up is shifting more and more to their employers. Unfortunately most employers are not the motivators and mentors that our kids need. Prof Natu has a very interesting phrase for mentoring expectations: kida lagana. They have to ignite the sparks in our kids – or young adults as Prof Natu likes to call them. 

Another mentoring concern is about how our kids handle failures. Like the young Siddharth of Lumbini, our kids have not seen too many sorrows in their lives. Idyllic family and academic lives turn dis-utopian when it comes to work and love. Prof Natu feels that only kids who have plans B, C, and D are required by today’s corporates. 

And Prof Natu reminds us that, irrespective of the size of the organisation, the number 1 reason for attrition is always bosses who lack. let alone mentoring, but even basic empathy skills. Bigger organisations,.whether they be NGOs. academic institutions or corporates, have an additional challenge – systems that lack humaneness. Milind Kothari raised a point of organisational politics. The only reason it happens is because of trust deficits.  

Vibhuti wanted Prof Natu’s opinion on India’s demographic dividend. She felt that this dividend is a myth. Most of our youth, in the range of 18 to 25, are actually quite deprived. We have a problem of poverty, yet at the other end of the spectrum we also have another problem – that of plenty. The mental state of our youth can be judged from a simple measure – an increase in suicide rates of this age group. 

Jairaj guided the discussion to entrepreneurship in the next generation. Our kids like security blankets that go with jobs. Prof Natu debunks the notion of job security. She likes to tell our kids that all jobs, including government ones, are actually contractual. Prof Natu forecasts a reduction in the number of entrepreneurs. Risk taking skills of Gen Next are being impacted by their sheltered lives. Our youngsters don’t feel confident enough to take the plunge into their own businesses. Prof Natu was part of the jury of an entrepreneurship contest at Pune university. She found 10 out of 12 ideas to be simply cut-paste ones. There isn’t any originality left in our students. Projects, which were supposed to encourage originality, are outsourced. To parents, when in school, and to corporates, when in colleges. 

But there are enough silver linings to these dark clouds. The first is a democratization of merit. In earlier times, age was what got you your respect. We were supposed to listen to our elders. Now, people who are older are not necessarily seen as people who are wiser. Sycophancy is much reduced. Older people have to work harder to get respect from young adults now. This is because our generation has trained our kids to make choices – from a very young age. Another positive is reduced hand holding by teachers for undergraduate students today. 

We ended with a discussion on depression – a state of distress gone out of control. In normal situations, we have one third of our population that suffers from some form of depression – ranging from distress to disorder. A recent survey of 500 upper middle class households found that the depression statistic was closer to 50%. 

What can we do to prevent depression in our families? Depression happens when our thinking moves to the emotion extreme on the logic emotion continuum. If we move the needle back towards the rational, things improve. For this we need to install filters for the information deluge that is submerging us. Case in point being the current pandemic. It’s bad, but it’s not a catastrophe. One more preventive action is to start the day by making a daily schedule. 

Professor Natu does counselling and therapy. And she feels that one of the things that we need to change is our attitude to therapy. Procrastination is a hallmark of India. The other characteristic is our reluctance to ask for help. She welcomes conversations that can change this attitude. Mail her at sana.psychologist@gmail.com