Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Enhancing research in IISc

My colleague,Abi, has provided a short writeup on my another colleague's (Jayant Haritsa) talk in Pan-IIT on enhancing research capabilities in IIT/IISc.

Jayant makes very valid points in his talk and it is always enlightening to listen to him. He rightly remarks that we should choose one criteria, stick with it and try to excel in it. Without excelling in anything, we try to become all rounders. I am reminded of Irfan Pathan, who was a good bowler who was asked to open the innings and that completely destroyed him both as a bowler and batsman.

In his talk, Jayant mentions that the CS department publishes around 0.1 papers in Tier I conferences per "smart person" per year per faculty and mentions
At IISc now, quite a few departments, especially in the Electrical Sciences division, have authored documents outlining their expectations and modes of evaluation for both faculty and students. As a simple case in point, a recently implemented policy in the Computer Science department is that ME students can be considered for an S (outstanding) grade in their project work only if they have submitted a paper to a journal or conference that is internationally recognized to be of A+ or A calibre.
I did an analysis of the number of papers published by M.E students in all departments in IISc. For this, I took the names of the M.E. students who graduated in 2006 along with their department affiliation and searched in the Web of Science for publications. The reason I took 2006 and not 2007 or 2008 was because I assumed that they would not be any more publications from this group. I noticed that less than 10% of the M.E. students had any publication (While Jayant talks about conferences, I am talking about journal publications). In fact, I am including students who had coauthored papers with other research students in the group. In fact, the 20-80 principle does not hold with 8% of M.E students contributing 92% of the papers published.

In his talk, he mentions that the above policy has resulted in an increase in the number of publications. I would be interested to know whether the 20-80 criteria for research publications in IISc has been breached by this recent policy change.

After reading this, one may get the impression that several departments have followed this wise course but it is restricted to two departments, while there are 42 departments in IISc. Many departments in IISc would be shocked if criteria like publications or citations are used to judge students for grades (or even faculty for promotion/awards). In fact, in many departments, both the faculty and student are more likely to be discouraged if a M.E. student publishes in Tier IA journal in the field. (S)he would be advised to work more and publish in a Tier I journal. Naturally, after the student graduates, neither the student or faculty has the time or inclination to work on it. For many departments, small is beautiful. I think these attitudes have to be revised first before any perceivable change can occur in the overall output of IISc/IIT and catapult it to be in the top 100 internationally.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Publish in Nature and Wikipedia

Anyone submitting to a section of the journal RNA Biology will, in the future, be required to also submit a Wikipedia page that summarizes the work. I am surprised at Nature preferring Wikipedia over Scholarpedia

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Indian Science Academies

In an article in Current Science titled "Losing out on Fellowship of Academies", Professor K. R. Rao suggests that the success of being elected as a fellow of the academy depends primarily on how well one can network in the community. Professor CNR Rao comments, "There are many people in this country who look down upon people who publish papers or comment on their work. In fact, I am sorry to say, some of the Academies have encouraged the art of non-publishing"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rejection Letter Genres

There is an interesting discussion on rejection letter genres. I collected a few of them for laughs. IISc normally follows the Black hole rejection model or the Don't Shoot the Messenger model (see below). When I had applied for a faculty position in IISc in late 1997, I got the job. The offer letter followed the Don't Shoot the Messenger model, " I am directed to inform you that you have been selected..." But when I had applied in late 1996, I got a rejection letter of a different genre that is listed below. I will leave it to you guess what it was.

  • It's Not You, It's Us - "You really truly are special and a unique and valued human being, but we really had an astounding array of highly qualified applicants and..."
  • Postcard or Mass Email - "Your application to Snooty U. is no longer active."
  • You All Suck - "We had a kazillion applicants. None were suitable. We closed the search."
  • Baby Announcement - "We don't want you. But let us tell you all about the Chosen Person..."
  • Weirdness - "We had a bajillion applicants. None were suitable. But you were great but sorry"
  • Dear John (Jane) Break-Up Letter: "It was great getting to know you better and let's stay friends..."
  • The Black Hole Rejection - apparently the sheer density of Important Academic Minds all located in such a small area prevents rejections ever from leaving the desk of the search committee chair.
  • Don't Shoot the Messenger - "The search committee has asked me to inform you that you are no longer under consideration."
  • The pleasure is ours: We want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to review your incredibly interesting materials that you put together to apply to our job, which we won't be considering you for anymore.
  • No Social Skills: "The SC has formulated its short list and I am sorry to report that you are not on it."
  • Ooops! There's no $ for this Position - We know we put you (and others) through phone interviews, campus interviews, checked all your references, but now it appears that we do not have the $ for this position after all.
  • HR Robot - "Dear NAME OF APPPLICANT, Position #24601Q55X has been filled. Please see [HR WEBSITE HERE] to apply for another position."
  • We're Totally Lying - "Dear DR. WRONG-NAME, After carefully reviewing your materials with the utmost consideration possible, we regret to inform you..."
  • Odd Euphemisms[We wish you a beautiful day and the best of fortune in your journey towards employment..."]
  • The Make-Us-Feel-Good-About-Rejecting-You "Please accept my sincere wishes in your job search, and I am sure there is a high probability that you have already signed a contract for another position elsewhere"
  • Keep Your Chin Up "We would also like to emphasize that our decisions had at least as much to do with the needs of our department as with our evaluations of an applicant's qualifications, and hope that our decision will not discourage you as you continue on in the job market process."
  • Can’t Write My Way out of a Paper Bag. Thank you for your interest in the faculty position at X. We have completed the search and have selected an individual for this position.
  • Tautological rejection letter. The Search Committee for this position met recently to review all the applications, which were received. Unfortunately your application was not among those, which were chosen for the short-list of candidates.
  • Social worker's rejection letter. Our decision should not be read as a judgment on the quality of your work or your abilities.
  • Too Toxic. Thanks for applying. Here are your application materials. You might need them in the future.
  • Diversification. We used you and a bunch of other people to apply but had no intention of hiring anyone since we had someone already on the faculty/staff (or their spouse/lover) who we needed to transfer and just needed to convince ourselves that we are committed to diversity.
  • Old Friends. Although you are a stellar candidate and we should be kissing the bottom of your shoes to get you here, we prefer to hire the ABD candidate with no pubs, grants, or presentations because he is an alumnus of our university.
  • That Which Shall Not Be Named. On behalf of my colleagues and myself, let me thank you again for your application and for the chance to look at your work so closely. I am sorry to have to bring disappointing news. What news?
  • Friends and Family. We are pleased to announce the hiring of Professor Great White Hope from Awesomest University, who has done X as well as the Y we really need and who is moreover an alumnus of our department, returning to us after a two-year stint at Awesomest. We look forward to adding him to our marvelous faculty. Good luck in your job search.
  • The Double Down, two rejections in one letter. "I am writing to let you know that we have successfully completed our search for the position in our department for which you applied. This process took considerably longer than we had anticipated because a second, unanticipated position came open in our department, and we also considered your application for this second opening. I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your candidacy twice.
  • Insincere Sympathy. "I know from personal experience how painful the job seeking process can be and wholeheartedly hope that you find a position in the future."
  • Do I need to open this? An email saying, "Please see the attached file regarding your application." The attached file was called, "MyNameRejection.doc"
  • Monday, December 15, 2008


    The Hirsch index is probably the most interesting measure provided in scientometrics in recent years. Some statistics based on h-index for IISc

    Number of faculty who have h-index more than 80: 1 (Prof. CNR Rao)
    Number of faculty who have h-index between 50 and 79: 1 (Prof. P. Balaram)
    Number of faculty who have h-index between 40 and 49: 2
    Number of faculty who have h-index between 25 and 39: 26
    Number of faculty in engineering who have h-index more than 30: 0
    Number of faculty in engineering who have h-index more than 25: 3
    Some interesting correlations that seem to be valid in IISc. Np > h*5; Nc > 3*h*h, where Np and Nc refer to the total number of papers and citations.

    However, one area in which h-index fails is for a young scientist, who is starting his career. In fact, h-index below 5 has no significant meaning. Therefore, a new method has been proposed to modify the index for graduate students and young faculty.

    Impact factors and Citations

    In an article, "Should we ditch impact factors", the problems of using the impact factor of a journal in deciding the quality of a paper is discussed. A journal's impact factor is calculated based on the total number of citations of all its papers published during the previous two years, divided by the total number of papers.

    The logic behind using an impact factor of the journal in determining the quality of the paper is that we believe that journals with high impact factors publish high quality papers while lesser quality papers are published in a 'low impact' journal. This argument is fundamentally flawed because several analysis have shown the 20-80 principle to hold i.e., only 20% of papers published result in 80% of the citations in that journal for that year.

    The current way of determining the impact factor of a journal can be manipulated. As an editor of a polymer journal, I know ways that editors/publishers manipulate to reach a higher impact factor. For example, because the impact factor is calculated for two years from Jan-Dec, reviews (which typically receive more citations than other papers) are published in the January issue of the journal.

    My detailed analysis of publications from IISc showed that a paper from IISc in a journal received more citations than the average number of citations for all papers published in that journal. Therefore, citations is a much better parameter to be used than impact factor. If a paper receives 20 citations after being published in a journal of impact factor of 2, it should be considered better than the paper receiving 10 citations in a journal of impact factor higher than two. Of course, citations should be compared in the same area of research or suitably weighted.

    The corrected impact factor, of course, is given by this :-)