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.


Pratik Ray said...

I would be shocked too, if *citations* were used for judging an ME student's grades too.

ME projects are of about an year's duration. It would be a small miracle if a paper got published from the work BEFORE the student graduates. Even if it did, for the scientific community to cite that paper, it will still take some time (at the very least yet another peer-review of the paper citing the ME student's paper). My bet would be that by the time an ME student graduates from just about any university in the world, the number of citations he would have received for his ME work would be zero. MSc(Engg) kind of courses might be different since students work for 2-3 years on them - and they might get cited before they graduate, but I really doubt if *any* ME student got cited for his ME work prior to graduating and being awarded grades.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Partik Ray,

Thanks for your comment. I do not understand why citations can not be used for ME grades. If some one has zero citations, it may not mean anything for the reasons you mention and one need not come to a negative conclusion regarding the paper. But, if a paper by a M.E student has been cited, then why can not it be taken positively?

Regarding your comment that it is not possible for ME work to get cited, as my research advisor said when I finished my Ph.D in 25 months, "Everything is possible."

I had a M.E. student who started his work in Jan (when he was doing his course work), finished a lot of it by August and sent it for publication in journal published by American Chemical Society (ACS). As you work in Material Science, you must be aware that many ACS journals have a quick turnaround time (with submission to publication being less than three months; For example, I had submitted to Journal of Physical Chemistry on Nov 7, 2008; it has been reviewed, revised, accepted, proofed and the online version will appear will appear before Jan 7, 2009). Anyway, his paper appeared in December or Jan issue and he was cited (not self-cited) twice before he graduated in August.



Niket said...

One of the comments I heard at my insti was that our numbers may not be high, but the quality of our publications is excellent.

When I looked at the data (Web of Science and Engineering Village), I had to check dictionary.com to confirm that "excellent" still meant the same thing.

If we do not maintain standards of our program due to the urge to be student-friendly (a misnomer), I feel the students will try to push the boundaries of what they can get away with (I am talking about the 92%, not the 8%). That is happening to us. To give an example, we gave a "B" grade to someone whose M.Tech. involved ONLY the shrinking core model on ONE single sphere.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Niket,

Thanks for your comment. Excellent often means "best in India". It is your fault that you are comparing with international standards :-)


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Came here via Abi's blog. Note that in computer science and many engineering fields, conferences tend to be the first destination for interesting research (and conference publications are fully citable and indexed, the same as journals, and while they sometimes are published in special issues of journals, sometimes they are not). So it does not really make sense to exclude conferences, as you have done.

Regarding citations, I think they should not be used mindlessly as an index; and citations within the first year mean even less, except in exceptional cases. Moreover, a citing paper may be rebutting the original, not complimentary to it. This article by Philip Bourne makes interesting reading: he notes that he himself has a paper with 6000 citations that very few people are likely to have read, but it is cited because it describes a widely-used database; and he has a paper with only 50 citations that arguably spawned a new field. His self-assessment of their relative importance would be vastly different from Thomson-Reuter's. Still, you could say that any paper with more than, say, 30 citations is important. You really can't compare papers with zero, one or two citations, and especially not if you're cutting off your search within a few months of publication.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Rahul,

Thanks for your comment.

I have used conference publications that are indexed by ISI Web of Science.

Regarding citations, note that we are not classifying papers as great, good, average etc based on zero, one or two citations. All I am saying that if a M.E student publishes a paper and gets cited, he should be rewarded with a good grade.