This summer, I had the opportunity to work with Professor Sil through the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program. The project that I worked on was to collect a bibliography of books and articles that looked at industrial relations in India. These sources were supposed to provide a broad look at various trends and major events that had an impact on workers within the industrial relation system. The time period that this spanned was from the pre-independence period to the early ‘00’s. However, there was a greater focus on the 1980’s and 1990’s as this was the age of market reforms and globalization.
I initially started off by looking at a broad historical overview of industrial relations in India, for example initial trade union formation, and the colonial origins of their labor legislation. Then, as research progressed, I slowly began to establish connections between the economic situation within the country and how that affected changed in labor legislation and how that in turn had an impact on workers. The impact on workers could mainly be observed through trends in trade union membership and labor disputes. This was especially prominent during the 1980’s and 1990’s as the government changed their strategy to one of export-oriented industrialization from import-substitution.
Looking at the trajectory of the Indian industrial relation system, I began to see similarities between India and Malaysia, my home country. The similarities were especially clear in the post-independence period of the two countries as they were both colonized by the British and had inherited labor legislation that had a comparable framework. When I mentioned this to Professor Sil during one of our meetings, he encouraged me to conduct a comparative study of India and Malaysia during the 1980’s and 1990’s to investigate how countries with a similar starting point react differently to market reforms and globalization.
As a rising sophomore, the whole research experience was one that was very new to me and made for a great learning opportunity. I learnt how to effectively extract and synthesize relevant information from various books and articles, essentially filtering out the “nuts and bolts” to get the “big picture”, and how to carry out comparative research. I also received commendable guidance from Professor Sil. The weekly updates and meetings that I had with him ensured that I was heading in the right direction with my research, which was extremely helpful when I was starting out. I also appreciated the flexibility of my mentor, as it made my research experience more agreeable.
Overall, this was a great opportunity for me to gain valuable research skills and it was also a chance for me to learn more about my own country from an academic standpoint. I can definitely say that this experience was a productive use of my summer.