Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home page

I have received a few emails informing me that they are unable to access my web page hosted in IISc because of the security certificate. This is in Actually, I never point to this as my web page because of slow connections outside IISc. I have a page maintained at googlepages, which now redirects you to the page at googlesites.

I have been aware of this problem for over a month and have reported it. Previously, I would logged in myself as the sysad and renewed the certificate. But I have not done it because lately I am sick of doing things, which are others are paid/supposed to do but do not do. Just now a thought came in my mind: How about making this a new year resolution?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Archives of publications

In her post, midway rants
Why can I not read online even a 1897 research paper in J.Phys.Chem for free? Copyrights expire, and this is 1897 for God's sake! It is quite annoying.

She wonders why it is not free. It is not free because it is sold. Our library wants to put all the old issues of the journals (prior to 1950) in old stacks that will be not easily accessible. Though we own the hard copy of the journals, we still need to buy the archives (the online version). Buying the archives to all the old journals from just the societies would cost more than Rs. 1.5 crores. Many universities in the USA have gone ahead and bought the archives because the space that is used to store these old issues cost more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Commercial vs Society publishers

Journals in which scientific research is published have two kinds of publishers: commercial and society.  IISc subscribes to a large number of journals and pays around Rs. 1.5 crores to the society publishers and 12 crores to commercial publishers.

Traditionally, society publications are considered more prestigious journals within the academic community. For example, most of the physics community publishes in journals published by American institute of physics (AIP) and Institute of Physics (IOP). In chemistry, it has been traditionally journals published by American Chemical Society (ACS) and Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). However, this situation is rapidly changing in sciences and engineering.

For example, in chemistry, many high impact journals like Angew Chemie, Chemistry - A European Journal; Chemistry - A Asian Journal etc are being published by a commercial publisher. In my area of chemical engineering, the top journals that publish in general area of chemical engineering are AIChE. J., Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, Chemical Engineering Science and Chemical Engineering Journal. Three of them are published by commercial publishers. In my sub area of research on catalysis, the top journals are Journal of Catalysis, Applied Catalysis B, Applied Catalysis A, Journal of molecular catalysis and all of them are owned by a single commercial publisher. Similarly, in fields like Material Science/engineering, the top journals in that field are owned by commercial publishers.

Thus, commercial publishers publish very good journals. The differences and problems arises because the quality of *all* journals published by the society and the commercial publisher. For example, how many journals published by American Chemical Society have an impact factor of less than 3? Just one. The same can not be said of commercial publishers, who publish journals of widely varying quality.

A librarian (especially in India) wants to buy the entire package sold by the publisher. This leads to tremendous cost incurred by the institute and the administration is stuck with a bill that increases every year as the commercial publishers continue to add journals without adding to the content. Researchers expect that the administration will subscribe to all journals that are possible; librarians like to give access to all journals for the researchers, while the publishers would like to maximize their profit. The efforts to contain bloating library budget ultimately seem to rest on the administrator of the university, who is unable to alter the dynamics because of resistance from every quarter. In deciding whether to continue subscription to a particular journal, at least four criteria should be used : impact factor of the journal, number of articles published by faculty in that journal, number of citations to the papers published in that journal and the number of downloads from that particular journal. Such statistics should be provided and the librarian/faculty should be willing to cut subscriptions. Unless this happens, it is unlikely that the budgets can be reduced rationally.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Administrative procedures in IISc

In a comment on the post, Bharat says,

About administrative issues, the US universities have a really good system of "welcoming" new faculty. They have a half-day to a daylong "orientation" session for all new faculty. Presentations are made by people from administrative staff that is extremely relevant to the prevailing procedures in the university.

For example, an IIX can have a single day orientation for all new faculty that deals with presentations by senior faculty or administrative staff on the following topics:
1) Settling down: Campus accommodation, pay and benefits overview, Campus facilities: Gymkhana, Health Centre, Library, etc.
2) Kickstarting your teaching: Student admission procedures, grading system, course styles offered by current faculty, resources available for teaching, teaching awards.
3) Kickstarting your research: Selecting PhD students, Grant writing, introduction to funding agencies, buying equipment, travel and reimbursement procedure, fellowships available to new faculty and procedures.
4) Projects and Consulting: Rules, regulations, procedures etc.
5) Operational Overview of the Institute: Directors' office, Various Deans, Senate, Payroll and Finance, Support Staff, Guidelines in dealing with non-teaching staff.
6) Cultural issues: Many local culture specific issues that faculty coming back from abroad after a long time(or foreign faculty) may not know.
All it takes is a group of interested faculty/staff to put this together and this can sustain itself from year to year based on voluntary work.
 Because IISc (and most IITs) recruit only 3-4 faculty every quarter, it is impossible to hold orientation programs for new faculty. However, it is possible to write about each of this in separate posts. I will write about the above topic one by one in 2010. Thanks for the suggestion.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Search engines

I have been an user of Mathematica ever since 1993 and I used to use it extensively for my research as well as during teaching a course on numerical methods. I wanted to write about a wonderful science search engine, Wolfram alpha, but Sachin Shanbagh has already written an article on it. For an alternative view, check out this. Anyway, Wolfram alpha is worth a look.

In case, mathematics or science is not your cup of tea (or coffee) and you are looking for a different sort of search engine (don't be surprised if google hits the Indian market first), look at this - the google matrimonial !

Air travel

I had earlier written about the requirement to write to the joint secretary to get permission for travel by private airlines. Please follow the format given here. You can write to one of the following,

Joint Secretary Shri P.N. Sukul 24610386
Joint Secretary Shri Alok Sinha 24616303
Under Secretary Shri S.K. Chhikara 24610372

You can fax the letter to 24640213 or call Sharma at 24632950 ext 2873.

Please add STD code of (011) to all phone numbers above.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vision in vacuum

Recently, I visited a department, which had a vision paper and in a slide, they put their vision, "To be one in top five departments in the world." I smiled and thought it must have been their innate modesty that restricted them to be just among the top five and not the best in the world. IISc and many of its departments have simply overcome this problem by not having vision documents at all.

Vision without carefully designed policies, tasks and formulated action plans are simply that - visions and, these visions are no different from visions obtained by taking LSD. To quote from my colleague and friend, Jayant Haritsa (from Abi's blog; Read Jayant's post, it is frank and enlightening, as would be any conversation with him), "..stemming the perceived rot first requires introspection about the internal mechanisms of our institutions."

Competition to attract faculty

The telegraph has an article on competition to attract faculty,

Once that is done, then the ministry should stand back and watch as the institutions compete among themselves to get the best people. The ministry could let the competition begin at home, before it goes global. And this should include playing full tilt at poaching quality faculty from institutions within the country. It should be possible to imagine the institutes of technology at Kanpur and Kharagpur vying with each other to work out the best offer for a brilliant candidate in the country. The universities can do this among themselves because they are governed by their own acts. But the Centre continues to keep the IITs under its wing in these matters, and it is now time to shed this kind of overseeing and controlling mindset.

It would be really interesting to see the competition between IITs and IISc to retain their best faculty. Incentives can include chair positions, enhanced infrastructure and better/assured funding.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Scopus awards

Congratulations to my colleagues in IISc, K.R. Prasad, Vijay Shenoy and Siddhartha Gadgil for winning the Scopus award in chemistry, physics and mathematics, respectively.

The winner in engineering, Tanmay Basak, is a good friend of mine, an alumnus of our department and is currently a faculty in IIT-Madras.

Congratulations again to all of them.

Advice on admission

I have been getting lot of emails regarding admission to IISc as a student (M.E/Ph.D) and on recruitment as a faculty.

On admission to IISc as a student, you can get admitted to the M.E. program only through GATE. I get lot of emails asking me what is the cutoff. It is impossible for me to check and tell the cutoffs for each branch of engineering for various categories (GN/OBC/SC/ ST/PH/KM) etc. As a thumb rule, you need at least 99 percentile in the GN category to get admitted. For the M.Sc (Engg) program, one still needs to be qualified in GATE but the cutoffs are lower (around 90-95 percentile, depending on the department). The difference between M.E and M.Sc (Engg) program is that the latter program is research based and most likely take more than 2 years to complete. One can be admitted directly (after B.E/B.Tech) to Ph.D program in engineering WITHOUT GATE. The shortlisting is based on the marks obtained in undergraduate degree and other parameters. For admission to Ph.D in sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics etc.), one SHOULD have qualified in at least one of the following exams: GATE or Institute entrance exam or JEST or CSIR JRF. The cutoff marks/percentile in each exam varies from each department every year depending on the number of candidates applying.

Both M.Sc (Engg) and Ph.D (both sciences and engineering) require clearing the interview. The mode of interview also varies from department to department and I can not give general guidelines. All I can say is that it will be technical and it is best to come well prepared in 3-4 subjects (and mathematics for engineering departments).

On being recruited as a faculty in IISc, I have mentioned the procedures that are followed for an appointment and I have also mentioned the pay scales and other benefits in my earlier posts. However, sending me your resume and asking me whether you stand a chance has no meaning. I can only give you the procedure and a technical evaluation of the resume has to be done by the department. As in any evaluation, there is lot of subjectivity and one can not say whether publishing five or ten papers will make a difference. I think it is more of a fit and what field the department is looking for. Therefore, it is best that you visit the department or talk to the faculty in the department and find out.

To quote my own example,  I applied to the chemical engineering department in IISc in late 1996 and was rejected (rather rudely). In 1997,  I applied to IISc and three IITs and visited these places. I was offered by all of these institutes in 1998. In 1996, I had 15 publications and in 1997, I had 18 publications and I am sure that did not make a difference. In IISc, it seemed to me that a faculty who was doing research in separations and another faculty who was doing research in polymers were about to retire and I was recruited because I was doing research in both of these fields. After I joined IISc, the retirement age increased from 60 to 62 and then to 65. In my first year, I was really foolishly worried that I may be asked to leave. However, the department was kind enough to continue my appointment and, in my assessment, I have performed rather satisfactorily subsequently.

Why am I writing all this? Because, unlike many, I do not suffer from email bankruptcy  and, in fact, respond to all emails within 24 hours (if I am not travelling). However, lately, I have not responded to any email of the above categories. Unlike many whose are most free during Dec 15 - Jan 2, I am most busy during this period. Being on committees that have to tender and sign the contract for various services (like housekeeping, security, manpower, library journals etc etc.) with the vendor before Dec 31, there are several meetings that have to take thoughtful but quick decisions and not delay/avoid decisions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Decision avoiding

Two articles on decision avoiding or deferring. The first is from Sharu Rangnekar and the second is Chandrasekaran in The Hindu. The second article was sent to me after reading my earlier post which ended with the statement "Hasten Slowly."


The first step to decision-avoiding is to determine whether we should avoid the decision by ourselves or “pass the buck”. The third decision-rule states: If you can get somebody else to avoid the decision, don’t avoid it yourself.

*Committee Method: The most popular method of passing the buck is to appoint a committee to ‘review the problem’ This method has been patronized very widely by government authorities  but  it  is  by  no  means  their  monopoly  Non-government  sectors  also  have  found  this  method  extremely useful for decision-avoiding Although in many cases, the very act of appointing committees will effectively ensure decision-avoiding, a wise manager will doubly ensure the result by taking the following measures:

1.    Make the committee as large as possible: A committee of three may suddenly get to a decision. The  possibility  is  greatly  alleviated  if  the  membership is  increased  to  nine.  Research  has  revealed  the mathematical rule (known as the fourth decision-rule)): The possibility of avoiding decision increases In
proportion to the square of the number of members in  the  committee.  Committees  with  membership  of
thirty  and  above  rarely  reach  any  significant  decision (e.g. National Integration Council).

2. Make the committee meeting difficult: This  can  be  done  by  appointing  a  sick  chairman, members geographically as distant as possible, etc.

3.    Make the committee incompatible: At least two members of the committee should have a  previous  record  of  proved  hostility  or-  at  least  a dominating attitude. Others will develop hostility as the committee work proceeds.

*Abominable No-man Method: Many companies have an invaluable asset which rarely figures on their balance sheet. It is the “Abominable no-man”. The basic characteristic of this person is his infinite capacity to say “no”. Consequently, even a threat to refer the matter to A.N. compels the initiator to drop his proposal.

*Bottomless Joe Method: In the absence of the availability of A.N., some companies resort to the “Bottomless Joe”. B.J. has  the  exceptional  quality  that  any  matter  referred  to  him is  guaranteed  to  get  lost.  He  is  invaluable  to  his  employers because he cannot or will not complete any job assigned to him and is thus very convenient for avoiding decisions. Needless  to  say,  A.N.  and  B.J.  are  extremely  useful  as members of any committee appointed to avoid decisions.

*Make  it  a  Policy  Matter:  In  circumstances  where committees  cannot  be  appointed  and  A.N.  or  B.J.  are  not readily  available,  the  buck  can  still  be  passed  to  the  higher management by making the problem a policy matter, e.g. “There has been a proposal for a cycle-stand for workers. This basically forms a part of our employee-benefit scheme and consequently cannot be considered in isolation. In due course, the top management should consider this proposal while  reviewing  our  wage-structure,  benefit  scheme,
etc....” In  criminal  cases,  ‘insanity”  is  the  ultimate  plea.  Similarly, in  management  action  or  inaction,  “policy”  is  the  ultimate convenient label.

*Appoint a Consultant: This is rather a desperate move and should be resorted to when other remedies are not available. If a proper consultant is chosen and his terms are made ambiguous enough his report will create enough confusion and hostility so that the original problem will be lost.


Situations arise where a manager is unable to pass the buck and is compelled to avoid decisions by himself. In such cases, the manager may use any of the following approaches:

Scare the Initiator: The methods available for this purpose are:
*Tantrum Method: This is a somewhat ancient method, but is still effective. When the initiator comes with his proposal, you should throw a tantrum.

*Hush-hush  Method:  Alternately,  you  may  warn  the initiator that he is rushing in where “angels fear to tread”

*More-details-please Method: If you keep on asking for more and more details, the initiator will give up his proposal sooner or later e.g. “Regarding  your  proposal  (cycle-stand  for  workers)  we regret to note that full details have not been made available. Before the proposal can be considered further, we would like
to have the following details in quintuplicate:
1.    Dimensions of standard cycles with expected variation.
2.    Average laden and unladen weight with usual variations.
3.    Estimated capacity requirements by quarters in the next seven years.
4.    Possible modes of construction with estimated cost   (Please enclose 3 competitive quotations each )
5.    All other relevant or significant details available at your end...”

*Double-talk Method: If you have mastered the jargon of management, you can confuse the initiator, e.g. “You are talking about cycle-stand for workers. Do you realise that is just a method of their expressing the lack of mutual trust. So we must look upon the problem as a  symptom  and  not  as  a  disease.  What  must  we  do to create an atmosphere of mutual trust or harmony? Not granting material benefits, but interacting with the workers to create a feeling ,of unity...”

*No-problem-exists Method: Deny the very existence of the problem, e.g.: “What  is  this  about  a  cycle-stand?  We  have  been running this factory for 15 years without a cycle-stand. Everybody knows that cycles can stand without a cycle-stand.  Why  do  you  want  a  cycle-stand?  Why  do  you want to bring up an imaginary problem?..

The Narasimha Rao Method: There are a few ardent followers of our late Prime Minister in our corporate world. The late P. V. Narasimha Rao is one of our most under-rated Prime Ministers who, despite running a minority Government, gave us the seminal 1991 liberalisation that kick-started our journey to economic redemption. His method of action was seemingly not to act at all. His Sphinx-like silences when confronted by crises hid a fascinating way of seemingly letting things work themselves out in public on their own but he clearly did act in the background to make them happen.

The Jilebi Process: We all love the jilebi for its taste. Specialists in the corporate world love it for its shape. It is almost impossible to pinpoint where the start point for the jilebi is and where its end point is; more importantly, it has multiple loops. Once an idea is forced into the jilebi loop by experts, it is impossible to retrieve it in its original form. Time goes by, the idea loops around endlessly and people get fed up. They give up.

The ‘Naale Baa’ Technique: There was a story that made its rounds a couple of years ago in Bangalore about a ghost that would knock on doors and would go away if it was told Naale Baa in Kannada — meaning, come back tomorrow. You just had to repeat this if it came back again. Can you really count the number of times we have gone to get a decision from our bosses only to be told, come back tomorrow and the tomorrow for a decision never comes?

The Kamaraj Plan:  Many corporate honchos subscribe to the Kamaraj plan. The late K. Kamaraj was an iconic chief minister of Tamil Nadu in the 1950s and 1960s. A laconic man, his favourite response to anything asked of him was the Tamil word parkkalam — meaning, let us see. He achieved a lot as a chief minister, so his technique must have given him the latitude of not committing to anything immediately but also making sure that many things indeed got done in due course.

The Mobius Strip Manoeuvre: If an ant were to crawl along the length of a Mobius Strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed both sides of the strip, without ever crossing an edge. This is a splendid technique used by many bosses to give the worker ants the joy of feeling that they are doing something but essentially ensuring that they come back to the starting point without having achieved anything!

The Delphic Oracle Methodology: Pythia, the ancient Delphic Oracle, was supposed to be in a trance and “raved” — probably a form of ecstatic speech — and her ravings were “translated” by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters. People consulted the Delphic Oracle on everything from important matters of public policy to personal affairs. Many a corporate has Delphic Oracles who speak in a strange language which needs translation by a body of acoloytes so that mere mortals can understand and act upon their advice. Guess it also gives a handle for denial when things go wrong!

Hasten slowly is a wonderful oxymoron. I feel it is also a great way to deal with problems — think through them and act appropriately when needed. You can always choose one of the options above to guide you when in doubt!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


As pointed out by Abi, there are two interesting posts on the issue of citations. First, Arunn has a post on Quantifying Research Quality through Article Level Metrics. He mentions that "The beginning of the end for impact factors and journals, a neat online article by Richard Smith [3], explains the newly introduced ALM indices with examples." As Arunn mentions, "Nevertheless citations offer a fair measure of worthiness of an article, as it is based on other peer reviewed research articles. The measure maintains a peer-to-peer credibility.The rest of the ALM mentioned in the above section are even more incredible, if not dubious."

Let me state my own opinions. It is important to realize that impact factors were originally introduced by Garfield to validate the 20:80 rule (Pareto's law) and help guide the librarians in choosing appropriate journals for the library. Unfortunately, many librarians in India have not used the impact factor to choose the journals they want to subscribe but are instead are happy signing the big deal which bundles a lot of useless journals to a single good journal. Therefore, many libraries (including IISc) have subscribed to nearly 2000 journals but use less than 200 of them to publish and cite. See my article on Current Science on this for more details.

The impact factor was not to guide where faculty should publish. Faculty and the scientists in the field mostly knew what the best journals in the field are and the impact factor just confirmed this. Garfield himself states, "Impact Factor is not a perfect tool to measure the quality of articles but there is nothing better and it has the advantage of already being in existence and is, therefore, a good technique for scientific evaluation. Experience has shown that in each specialty the best journals are those in which it is most difficult to have an article accepted, and these are the journals that have a high impact factor. These journals existed long before the impact factor was devised. The use of impact factor as a measure of quality is widespread because it fits well with the opinion we have in each field of the best journals in our specialty." 

Of course, Web of Science started selling the list of journals with the impact factor for an obscene price and many scientists, instead of choosing the journals based on what they wanted, started choosing the journals based on impact factor. Eigenfactor is a good substitute to the impact factor because it is free, provides the cost-effectiveness of each journal, counts citations for a five year period and gives percentile rankings of each journal within each field. It is worth mentioning again that it is free.

The impact factors of journals from different scientific fields vary considerably. A common misinterpretation of impact factors and citation numbers is frequently reflected by the statements such as: "He (she) is an excellent scientist, because he (she) published three papers in a journal with an impact factor above 3, and was cited more than two hundred times".Whoever says this, should remember that, in fields such as mathematics, there are nearly no journals with impact factors above 3. On the other hand, in the subfield Biochemistry and molecular biology, there are more than forty journals with impact factors above 3. Thus, eigenfactor has introduced percentile rankings of each journal within each field. The variation of the average impact factor of the journals within each field is given by a recent article by Althouse et al., in the January 2009 issue of J. Amer. Soc. Inform. Sci. Tech.

Again, these are to be used to make decisions on library subscriptions or compare similar institutions and not to compare individuals in different fields.

Sachin Shanbag talks on Quantitative v/s Qualitative Evaluations: Impact Factors and Wine Experts and states, "I think they are a lazy substitute for actually reading a person's research and evaluating its worth individually.You wouldn't necessarily think that the musician who sells the most records, or has the most covers made is necessarily the best."

There is a recent article on Scientometrics and its fallacies in Nature. One feature of the article is that an individual's work can not be judged solely on the basis of the number of publications or citations.  But the Ponderer mentions in its blog,
"If something is important to you, you will find a way to measure it". This quote appeals to me, as an analytical person, perhaps overly so. I think often when we claim to make a decision subjectively, we are actually doing it quite objectively, but with bias - and claim subjectivity to avoid admitting the bias.

I am sure some bias will still remain, but much of it can be eliminated by agreeing to objective metrics. Maybe you like candidate A because she went to Cornell, just like you, but if candidate B has a more superior publication record, as attested by agreed-upon research metrics, can you argue with that? I think I am changing my opinion on h-index, citations and other cold objective metrics that I used to dismiss as bean-counting. We DO need objective metrics, because as humans we are intrinsically biased.

Use of these quantitative parameters for evaluating an individual is best avoided and, if used, it has to be viewed with caution. If it is used, it can be used for positive affirmation (i.e., people who have h-index are likely to be good), it should not be used to say a person who has a poor h-index is bad. Just because a positive correlation exists between high h-index and excellence (e.g. Nobel prizes) does not mean the reverse corollary applies. Thus, I completely agree that it is a lazy and clerical attitude to evaluate an individual's based only on number of publications or citations.

However, scientometrics is an excellent tool to judge and rank institutions. A large institution (with more than 400 faculty) will have all kinds of researchers: faculty who publish a lot with small number of citations, faculty who publish very little with high number of citations, faculty who have both large number of papers and citations, papers that are poor which get cited a lot and papers that are good which get cited poorly. A case in point is that if you do scientometric analysis, universities like MIT, Harvard and Caltech will come out in top 10. They are not in the top 10 because of scientometric analysis but scientometric analysis only justifies the ranking. Similarly, IISc ranks among the top in every category in India and this is only confirmed by scientometrics.

Thus, evaluating the country's research productivity on these parameters is very much valid. Research in any field should either lead to publications (that are cited) or patents (that are licensed) or useful products for end use. Research that does not lead to any of these from an individual may be even accepted but not for a large nation that puts 1 to 3% GDP into research.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Online exams

When I was GATE vice-chairman for three years during 2004-2007, there were lot of discussions to make it online. Though I was technically savvy among the members, I was the person who strongly protested against this. The reason was three fold: (a) the number of students taking GATE is much higher than exams like GRE (For GATE 2010, the numbers have crossed 4 lakhs) (b) creation of question banks with several questions in each subject area (c) the unwillingness to outsource it to a separate agency.

Unlike GRE/CAT etc, GATE has multiple papers and, therefore, large question banks have to be developed for each subject. Further, levels of each question should be established because if different students take the exam on different days, the level of the exam should be similar. Setting up these questions takes time and willingness of several faculty involved.

Many people in the committee felt that the exam should not be outsourced but be conducted locally and that IISc/IIT should conduct the exam for around 2 lakh students over 10 days (like CAT) but not outsource it. This would mean creation of huge infrastructure, security features etc. done by people whose expertise is not in this area. Now, because of the debacle of CAT online exam, we know that outsourcing it to a good company also does not work all the time.

Of course, the long term solution is to have an online exam. This year, GATE will conduct online exam for two small papers (textile and mining). These papers have very small number of students taking the exam and can be conducted in only the IITs/IISc (eight centers). I do not envisage any problems with this. But as numbers increase and it becomes impossible to conduct the exam on a single day, the issue of question banks and thousands of computers come in. Maybe the next step for IIT/IISc is to conduct JMET (single question paper, lesser students) online, learn from this and then try to conduct any other major exam like GATE/JEE online. I repeat what I said in 2005, "Hasten slowly."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stunted growth

In an article title Stunted growth, the former associate director of IISc, Professor Vijayan says,

About a quarter of a century ago, on the basis of an extensive survey, a major scientific journal described India as a superpower in Third World science. This is no longer true. China is miles ahead in scientific and technological research. There are other countries in what used to be described as the Third World where the rate of progress in science is higher than in India. Therefore, in spite of the country’s notable achievements, Indian science is in crisis in the international context. This is an issue that needs to be faced squarely. Modern scientific research is expensive and its output is often determined by the input in terms of funding. The level of funding for research in India has been low, but India has done reasonably well in spite of it. For instance, in relation to research publications, the proportion of publications emanating from India in the world scientific literature is very low. However, in terms of publications per unit investment, India ranks high.

Investment in research and development (R&D) in India has almost always been less than 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). After Independence, this figure climbed, to approach the 1 per cent mark in the late 1980s. Then, there was a precipitous fall in the 1990s. The level of funding for R&D began to rise again in the late 1990s, a trend that has continued in the current decade. It is now approaching the 1 per cent figure again. The GDP itself has grown rapidly in this period, and hence, the increase in funding in absolute terms has been substantial. This is dramatically reflected in the rate of growth of the country’s scientific output, proving, if any proof is necessary, the importance of funding for higher research output. However, the level of funding as a fraction of the GDP remains low in India not only in comparison with advanced countries but also with some of the countries with rapidly growing economies. The rate of growth in the level of R&D funding in India needs to be maintained and further enhanced for sustained growth in scientific endeavour. In addition to funding, the number of scientists in every discipline also needs to increase substantially.
I think the last sentence is very important. It is not sufficient to ensure funding but also that the number of scientists increase. For this, I strongly feel that the second tier of institutions needs to be significantly strengthened. For example, all NITs put together in the last fifteen years have published less than 10,000 papers. In 2008, the number of papers published by all 20 NITs is lesser than that published by IISc alone. While the present sixth pay commission has sort of ensured that the pay scales in different institutions are similar, it is still very unlikely that an IISc faculty will shift to NIT even for personal reasons. This has nothing to do with salaries but with more of the research environment and financial procedures prevalent in these places. For example, in engineering, the TEQIP program was started and 40 engineering colleges were chosen for enhanced funding. Similar programs need to be started in science. While starting of IISER's is a step in the right direction like the new IITs, the quality in the second rung of institutions in sciences (like the universities) have to be dramatically improved, not just in terms of funding but in terms of quality infrastructure and economic reforms.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Statistics on science/engineering

In a recent article on the future of science in India, Narayana Murthy says

India’s research productivity would be on a par with that of most G8 nations within seven to eight years and that it could probably overtake them in 2015-2020. In the last decade, India has seen its annual output of scientific publications grow from roughly 16,500 in 1998 to nearly 30,000 in 2007. Before we pat ourselves on the back, it would be good to consider things in perspective. Although India produces about 400,000 engineering graduates and about 300,000 computer science graduates every year, just about 20,000 master’s degree holders and fewer than 1,000 Ph.Ds in engineering graduate each year.

Let us look at the statistics more closely and with respect to other countries. In 1980, India, China, Taiwan and Brazil published 10606, 692, 434 and 1638 papers, respectively. In 1995, India and China published the same number of papers (around 12,000). In 2008, India, China, Taiwan and Brazil published around 30000, 130000, 28000 and 34000 papers, respectively.Thus, one can see the tremendous growth of China and other countries compared to India. See the following table,

It indicates that the India's contribution is around 2% with a growth of 4.5%. I do not see how it can reach the top eight countries in a few years. One also has to look into quality and not just the quantity. Because I have written about citations etc before, let me introduce another parameter, number of publications in top journals.  Leaving aside, Nature, Science etc, let us take the top three journals in each field and look at the numbers,

Now, to the next part of the article. I do not know why he talks about the number of engineering graduates (rather than science). Anyway, the numbers are wrong. He says that there are 4 lakh engineering graduates and 3 lakhs are in computer science. The number of engineering graduates that are sanctioned are around 6.5 lakhs while that graduating is around 4.5 lakhs. The breakup was Computer  Science  and  Information  Technology accounted for 34% of the total, 39% for Electronics and Electrical Engineering, 12 % for Mechanical and 4% for Civil Engineering. Maybe he is bunching all EE/ECE/CS/IT together.

The numbers of the masters and doctoral students are correct. There are roughly 1000 engineering doctorates graduating every year, of which around 500 are from IIT/IISc. Thus, the ratio of engineering doctorates to engineering graduates is 1/450 (i..e, less than 0.25%), while  Germany, UK, US maintain  rates  of  7 to 9%. China had a ratio of around 0.25 in 1988 and the ratio is now 3%.  One can do a similar analysis for science doctorates to science graduates.

Later in the article, he talks about money spent on R&D. The numbers are incorrect for India. Maybe he should specify the sources from which the numbers are obtained. I think it is very important that when leaders speak, they should use the correct numbers and then give their opinion.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Promotions in IITs and IISc

There have been some inquires on the procedure for promotion of faculty in IIT/IISc.

In IISc, the normal period of promotion is 6 years from assistant professor to associate professor and 6 years from associate professor to full professor. At the end of 5.5 years, the section will ask you to file your papers. The format of the details to be filed are given here. You suggest 8 referees (4 Indian and 4 foreign) and the department will suggest 8 referees (4 Indian and 4 foreign) and this list is sent to the divisional chairman. [In IISc, we have six divisions and departments belong to a particular division. Each division has a divisional chairman.] He will pick up 8 names from this and send your details to these referees. Once the comments are received, these will be discussed by a promotion and assessment committee. This committee consists of all six divisional chairmen, the associate director, director and 8-12 very eminent scientists from India, who do not belong to IISc. The case will be considered by this committee and you will be promoted. Cases are also considered for early promotion (and termed as "out-of-turn"). These are not frequent and, as far as I know, only ten faculty have been promoted out of turn in the last ten years.

IITMSriram, a frequent commentator on the posts here, has written about the promotions in IITs as follows. This is different from how 'promotions' happen at IITM (generally similar in other IITs also). IITM does not have 'promotion' but actually recruitment to higher posts. So, every 2-3 years or so, an advertisement is put out calling for applications for asso and/or full profs (and also asst profs). Every department has its own norms for shortlisting and the institute also has some overall norms - in the form of x publications, y MS / PhD graduates, z volume of sponsored projects and some norms for teaching activity (new courses introduced, new labs, new teaching methods, tools, aids etc and also feedback from students on effectiveness of teaching). The applications received in response to the advertisement (will include local 'promotion' candidates and also external applicants) are scrutinized by a department level committee for shortlisting. The report of this committee is sent to central administration which then arranges for interviews by a selection committee. The selection committee consists of the Director, subject experts nominated by the department (through senate) and the board of governors and also one of the members of the board of governors (often one of the faculty representative on the board). In the case of professors, there is also an expert nominated by the Visitor (the President of India) whereas for assistant and associate professors, the Head of the Department takes this slot. Candidates called for interview usually make a presentation in the department; the feedback from the department from this presentation, the report of the departmental shortlisting committee and the application package are all presented to the selection committee which then interviews the candidates. Now-a-days, candidates who are not able to be physically present are interviewed over the phone by the selection committee. It is entirely upto this selection committee to decide on appointment and initial salary. Obviously, the subject experts in the selection committee play a crucial role.

It is important to realize that promotions yield hardly any monetary benefits. Continuous increment of 3% of Basic+AGP will ensure that one will reach the end of the scale of 67,000 at the end of 23 years, if never promoted (see orange columns). If promoted to professor under the IISc scheme of 6 years as assistant professor followed by six years as associate professor (see green columns), one will reach the end of the scale at the end of 21 years. The only difference will be in the grade pay.

Please do NOT post individual grievances in response to this post. This post is only meant to provide the norms and guidelines that exist in these places. Exceptions of either kind (early/late promotions) exist in all places. IIT-M recently promoted a faculty in chemical engineering directly from assistant professor to full professor. Similarly, IISc has offered associate professorship to a faculty who had only three years after his Ph.D etc.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Common cycles

Use common cycles to move around in IISc. In an excellent initiative, IISc student council has come out with the colorful `common cycles' idea to help students, visitors and teachers move between departments within the campus. Congratulations to IISc student council !

I had started an initiative where one can commute by electric vehicles, which was successfully employed during the centenary conference but that plan never materialized. But, I think this is even better.

PS: I do not own a motor vehicle and prefer to commute by either bicycle or walk.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New pay scales accepted

The IIT faculty association has accepted the new pay scales. IISc had already accepted the new scales in October and will receive the revised pay on Nov 1. The revised pay and the arrears of the pay can be calculated and will be most likely paid to IISc faculty in November.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Noble reflections on the Nobel

In the recent editorial titled Nobel reflections, Prof. Balaram, the director of IISc, says

This year’s awards had a special significance in India. Venki    Ramakrishnan’s    Indian    origins,    catalysed  a  remarkable outpouring of public interest, after the Nobel announcement; even the reflected glory of a Nobel prize can  be  dazzling,  at  times.  The  adulation  suddenly  dissolved into controversy; the rapid transformation demonstrated  the  power  of  the  media  to  influence  opinion. Ramakrishnan’s  understandable  discomfort  at  the  deluge of e-mails and phone calls from India and his characterization  of  his  Indian  origins  as  an  ‘accident  of  history’ have  been  widely  reported  and  discussed. 
But  even  as  I write,  an  extraordinary  piece  of  invective  has  appeared. While  such  pieces  normally  deserve  to  be  ignored,  the fact that the author happens to be an articulate Member of Parliament and a ‘spokesman of the Congress party’ suggest  that  a  comment  may  be  merited.  Abhishek  Singhvi writing  in  the  Times  of  India  (20  October  2009)  argues that  Ramakrishnan’s  somewhat  plaintive  request  to  be spared  the  excessive  adulation,  suggests  that  he  is  in some way insensitive to the ‘patriotic’ urges that come to the fore, when an Indian (or one of Indian origin) gets a major  international  award.  Curiously,  Singhvi  is  aware, as he should undoubtedly be,  that patriotism  can be  ‘the refuge of the scoundrel’. He notes that patriotism ‘has an intersection of noble values which in this case, appear to have  completely  escaped  the  mind  of  a  brilliant  Nobel laureate’.  Singhvi  adds  that  ‘success  has  many  fathers while  failure  is  an  orphan’,  a  phenomenon  that  is  also widely  observed  in  the  West.  Singhvi’s  diatribe  is  both distasteful and inappropriate, coming as it does from one who is distinguished  in public  life. He would do well  to remember that scientific success can sometimes be an orphan in India.
Ironically, one of the founders of the field of  structural  biology,  an  area  recognized  by  this  year’s Chemistry  prize,  was  an  Indian;  G.  N.  Ramachandran who determined the structure of collagen in the 1950s and developed  the  conformational  analysis  of  protein  chains in  the  1960s,  at  Madras  University.  Ramachandran  died in 2001, unhonoured by the Government of India even in the annual Republic Day awards, which are given by the dozen  every  year.  Cholera  researchers  also  celebrate  the 50th  anniversary  of  Sambhu  Nath  De’s  famous  work  on cholera  toxin  this  month.  De  died  in  1985  unhonoured even  by  the  Indian  scientific  community.  The  fact  that Ramachandran  and  De  did  not  get  the  call  from  Stockholm may only be an ‘accident of history’. Patriotism can often  be  misplaced.  Our  reactions  to  this  year’s  Nobel prize in chemistry are undoubtedly an example.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Subsequent to my post on JEE/GATE, people have questioned me whether data for all boards (average, top 10%, top 1%) etc are available. The answer is yes. This is the top 1% percentile cutoff for various boards in India. This is taken from the INSPIRE program of DST, India. These are for overall marks (not Physics, chemistry and Maths) but percentiles for science subjects can be generated. In some boards, having a cutoff at the 10 percentile will result in lower marks than the current cutoff of 60% marks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reforms in JEE and GATE

In my previous posts on reforms in GATE and JEE, I discussed a few reforms that are likely to be implemented. I had mentioned that only the top 2.5 percentile in the XII board exam will be allowed to write JEE. In the IIT council meeting yesterday, apparently it was suggested it will be around 80 percentage in marks but considering that there are 40 boards who conduct the XII exam and there is a need to normalize the marks and, therefore, something like 5 or 10 percentile will be implemented.

Please note it is appears to be a suggestion by the minister but actually it was originally proposed by a JEE reform committee in 2006 itself. This is akin to stating that the minister proposed the 3 years experience requirement for appointment to assistant professor [It was not, this was proposed by the Goverdhan Mehta committee].

In GATE, I had mentioned that "There should be a common section on mathematics, analytical ability (similar to the old analytical section of GRE) and English comprehension that would involve reading a technical paragraph and answering questions on that. This section would be of 50 marks and would be common to all technical papers in GATE." Well, effective GATE 2010, 15 marks each will be for mathematics and general ability with the latter being common for all papers. Also, GATE will conduct online exam for two of its small papers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AP on contract

This is a lot of discussion on my colleague, Abi's, blog on the issue of appointment of assistant professor on contract. The director of IIT-G, Dr. Gautam Barua, has been patiently responding to the comments of various commentators. I had met him when I visited IIT-G as part of the GATE committee. I laud him because he answers queries in a blog ! In response to the government notification on recruitment of assistant professor on contract, Professor Barua writes,

Some of you have succeeded in hitting a raw nerve in me :-). Directors are being seen as spineless in not opposing OCAP. What is the origin of OCAP? It seems to come out of IISc! Please consider the following: Appointment at the entry level on contract: How did this clause come up? This came up because it was a recommendation of the Goverdhan Mehta Committee. In fact. Prof. Mehta has been quoted by Business Standard in a recent interview as follows:

Was there anything in the IIT wishlist which could not be accommodated?
Yes. There was one point of disagreement. The IIT directors wanted fresh PhDs as assistant professors and we did not allow that. We wanted PhDs with some research experience in the industry so that they can launch themselves into research immediately. Experienced PhDs have a sufficient level of maturity and independently do research and that is when they imbibe the attributes of a mentor. This could be one reason why the IITs have established themselves as premier institutes for undergraduate studies but are not known for their research.
First what does Mehta's committee's recommend? Mehta's committee recommended two years post-Ph.D experience for recruitment at the Rs. 30,000 basic with AGP of Rs. 8000. It also recommended that if one has three years experience at AGP of Rs. 8000 OR five years post-Ph.D experience, one can be directly placed at PB-4 with Rs. 37,400 as basic with AGP of Rs. 9000.

This was changed to three years experience (not necessarily post-Ph.D) by MHRD. It has been a general feeling that faculty with at least an one year post doc experience in engineering and two year post doc experience in sciences perform better in research. Data can not be generated to prove otherwise because everyone in IISc is recruited only with the above profile.

Anyway, I do believe that the selection committees will ultimately decide who to hire as Asst. Prof. and let everyone start at 30+8K and move to PB4 after three years. Therefore, I do not think many will be hired as assistant professors on contract.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

UG admission

I have been getting emails inquiring about the admission of the UG program after the report by Times of India that remarked that it could be by IIT-JEE. The report states that "As IISc is a member of IIT-JEE, one possibility is take students through JEE based on their ranking and performance." IISc is NOT a member of IIT-JEE.

The admission procedure has not been decided yet. But I am suggesting that the admission be through KVPY because IISc has been conducting KVPY exams for a long time. Further, qualification in KVPY ensures a scholarship of Rs. 80,000 per year till the student completes the study.

Two days back, when I was travelling to Pune, I was asked by a fellow passenger, "Aren't you glad that your colleague got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry?" The reason was that the hindustan times had a front page article titled, "IISc prof wins the Nobel prize." Though the online version of the paper has now changed the title (keeping the content the same), I have the printed copy of the newspaper with me.

The message is that newspapers may create news to attract your attention. Do not believe it in entirety.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pay scales in IISc

IISc has adopted the pay scales proposed by MHRD and the new pay scales will be implemented with retrospective effect from 1-1-2006. Faculty will get new pay scales from Nov, 2009.

Existing lecturers will be placed at a minimum of 20,140+6000 (grade pay).

Existing assistant professors will be placed at a minimum of 30,000+8,000

Existing associate professors will be placed at a minimum of 42800 + 9,500

Existing professors will be placed at a minimum of 48000 + 10,500

Existing senior professors will be placed in the HAG scale at the minimum of 67,000 (no grade pay).

In all scales, you have to add 27% as DA and 4064 as TA.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

UG program in IISc

At last, it is through. IISc will offer an UG program that will combine science and engineering but will primarily involve science. As one of the authors of the document that was discussed, I am happy that the council of IISc cleared the program. Though the structure of the program has not been approved and will be discussed extensively in the next few months, here is a brief structure of what the program envisages. The program is of four year duration and will be housed in the current IISc campus.

The need of it arose because a good science program that includes engineering and biology components. No institution in India including IITs/IISERs offers such a program. While engineering students have exposure to science in their first year of engineering degree, the students pursuing a science degree have limited exposure to engineering. This program will provide a unique mix of science and engineering thus enabling the integration of these subjects either in research or industry. The frontiers of research are essentially interdisciplinary. The changing environment of industry also requires that a mix of science and engineering. The UG program will be started in many streams e.g. Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and a few interdisciplinary engineering streams but NOT in conventional branches like electrical, civil, electronics etc. Students will have the flexibility to choose the majors and minors after three semesters.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pay scales

In the issue of pay scales and recruitment of assistant professors on contract, I had written earlier,

"The Institutes need not "fight" with MHRD on the issue of assistant professor on contract, the 10% cap on this cadre, the 40% cap on the promotion of professors etc. All they need to do is to tell MHRD to change the wording to "It is suggested that assistant professors that are recruited have three years experience.." "

Subsequently, yesterday, the minister has apparently "agreed" to this. Well, what did the meeting finally do? Ashok Jhunjhunwala, the eminent professor from IIT-M, puts it correctly, "The teachers were looking for an escape route to wriggle out of this situation, which Sibal provided" However, I had no doubt in my mind earlier that the selection committee will ultimately decide who will be placed in which scale when recruited. As the minister said, "If in a particular discipline faculty is not available as per the existing norms, the IITs can relax the norms to absorb any person." Currently, in IISc, we recruit an assistant professor in chemistry only with three years of postdoc experience while we recruit an assistant professor in electrical engineering with one year of postdoc experience. Therefore, both of them will be placed at 30,000 and moved to PB-4 after 4 years. We might even place a senior professor (currently at the 22,400- scale) in the HAG scale.

Let me repeat, IISc/IIT always had the flexibility to admit students and recruit, promote faculty based on what an admission or a selection or promotion committee or BoG/council decides. This is the reason why we have 15 year olds doing Ph.Ds, a 27-year old recruited as an associate professor or a 38 year old being promoted to professor in IISc. In IIT-M, one of my colleagues was promoted to professor directly from assistant professor.

For those who have referred me to my colleague's, Abi, post calling the above as a major victory for IITs, I have only thing to say to Abi, "The emoticon for sarcasm is :d or :-J" Please put the emoticon in your posts (this one and the earlier post) because no one (except me!) is able to figure out that you are being sarcastic !

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gandhi Jayanthi

Here is a quotation of Gandhiji that is displayed in my room.

Mine is a life full of joy in the midst of incessant work. In not wanting to think of what tomorrow will bring for me I feel as free as a bird... The thought that I am ceaselessly and honestly struggling against the requirements of the flesh sustains me. The spirit in me pulls one way, the flesh in me pulls in the opposite direction. There is freedom from the action of these two forces, but that freedom is attainable only by slow and painful stages.

I cannot attain freedom by a mechanical refusal to act, but only by intelligent action in a detached manner. This struggle resolves itself into an incessant crucifixion of the flesh so that the spirit may become entirely free. This is the maxim of life which I have accepted, namely, that no work done by any man, no matter how great he is, will really prosper unless he has religious backing. But what is religion?…. I for one would answer : Not the religion which you will get after reading all the scriptures of the world; it is not really a grasp by the brain, but it is a heart-grasp. It is a thing which is not alien to us but it is a thing which has to be evolved out of us. It is always within us : with some consciously so; with the other quite unconsciously. But it is [always] there; and whether we wake up this religious instinct in us through outside assistance or by inward growth, no matter how it is done, it has got to be done if we want to do anything in the right manner and anything that is going to persist.

The incessant search for material comforts and their multiplication is such an evil, and I am bold to say that the Europeans themselves have to remodel their outlook. Let us engrave on our hearts ‘Plain Living and high thinking.’ Today it is certain that millions cannot have high living and we the few who profess to do the thinking for the masses run the risk, in a vain search after high living, of missing high thinking.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chemist or chemical engineer

I am often asked what is the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineering. Many of my friends, who are not in academics, think it is the same. In my native town, where I have several friends, all of them introduce me a chemistry lecturer, who teaches only 3 hours a week and always wonder what I do for the rest of the time (the answer is write blogs). Anyway, there is an interesting discussion on the differences between a chemist and chemical engineering. Here is what one of the authors, Rich Lemert, wrote,

The two biggest differences between chemists and chemical engineers, however, are 1) chemical engineers are much more quantitative, whereas chemists are more qualitative; and 2) chemical engineers have an economic understanding that chemists usually lack.

1) While chemistry (along with physics) is more quantitative than many other sciences, there are still large areas within the field where you don't really need much more math than some high-level algebra. Organic chemistry, for example, is more concerned with understanding reaction mechanisms and can often care less about the details of how fast the reaction takes place. Chemical engineers don't worry so much about how a chemical forms, though, put are very concerned with how fast it forms, how much heat is evolved/consumed in the reaction, and yield.

2) A chemist's economic concerns pretty much start and end with "how much will it cost to do this experiment". Chemical engineers are trained to go much further. To give an example, let's say a company has two potential products in development, both of which will require the building of a new plant to produce. Product A is more expensive to produce, but the process is not too challenging and a plant could be on-line in less than a year. Product B offers a higher profit margin, but it requires the use of some exotic equipment that require two years lead time to purchase. The company cannot afford to build both plants, so it must decide which one to build. The engineer knows how to make that decision.

My tryst with chemistry was only after I joined IISc. I was fascinated by the materials synthesized by my colleagues in solid state chemistry unit (SSCU), whose building is opposite to the chemical engineering. Encouraged by the colleagues in this department, my students and I worked on using these materials as catalysts for various reactions. This has resulted in several joint students and publications and I have been most benefited by this association, which has finally resulted in me becoming an associate faculty in SSCU. Of course, CNR Rao, who founded SSCU, has been an inspiration and I was extremely delighted when he congratulated me on the Bhatnagar award mentioning that he got the award the same year I was born !

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One more post

..on pay scales. I have been receiving some emails requesting me to write my views on the "assistant professor on contract (apoc)" and pay scales based on the current notification. I have been refraining from doing so because some of the faculty (iitmsriram, kaushal, for example) who have commented on my previous posts are more knowledgable than me in terms of salaries, comparison to UGC etc. But I thought I will write what I think on this issue of the pay scales themselves.

First, what I do not believe in. That the IITs do not need to do anything because the attrition rate in IITs is nearly zero. It is certainly not correct in many departments, especially in electrical sciences (EE/ECE/CS/IT) departments. Many good people do not even bother to apply looking at the starting pay and nearly 10% who join these departments leave within the first two years. The number of vacancies in almost all IITs is more than 25% of the faculty sanctioned strength because of the low pay.

What are the salaries? According to the table, for an assistant professor on contract i.e., with no postdoc experience, it would start at 37,000 + accommodation. A regular assistant professor will get 52,000 + accommodation and will move to 62,000 + accommodation after three years. In addition, they are other benefits. This includes telephone allowance, academic allowances, children education allowance, subsidy for single girl child, leave travel concession for the whole family every year,medical benefits to the family, travel money for attending conferences etc.

In addition, one can get fellowships that vary from Rs 60,000 to Rs 6 lakhs per year from DST/DBT, depending on the fellowships. Faculty can go abroad during the three month vacation every year and get paid in international currency. One can take sabbatical for one year every six years and get paid at both places. In addition, one can earn considerably from consultancy from industry (or even government labs) depending on the area they work in.

Any discussion on pay scales in India takes several routes. One argument is the PPP (purchase parity power). Assistant professor in India gets $1200 a month, so by PPP, it is nearly $6000 a month. PPP is based on a assorted variety of food, services and housing. The service component is extremely cheap and a professor can afford to have a driver for his car, have a maid and cook, which is impossible in the USA. On the other hand, the cost of food is not significantly different from the USA if one buys food and cooks. A cost of an independent house just outside IISc would cost you a crore of rupees ($250,000) and that is also similar to USA. Thus, one can have a driver, maid and cook but no house ! So, PPP arguments are flawed because the lifestyles in India and USA are different. One would probably stay in an 2-bedroom apartment and have a maid and cook rather than in a five bedroom independent house and have no help like in the USA. The other argument is the comparison with IAS officers, who after all decide the salaries of IITs/IISc. One becomes a professor when he/she is around 40-45 and will get 10,500 grade pay, which is very high compared to what an IAS officer of a comparable age makes. So, the salaries proposed look fair. The next is the comparison with minimum wages. The central government minimum wage is Rs. 5500 per month. An assistant professor on contract gets around Rs. 50,000 (including cost of accommodation) and thus is roughly 10 times the minimum wage. In the USA, the minimum wage is $1000 per month while an assistant professor in engineering makes $6000 per month, Thus, an assistant professor in India gets more times the minimum wages than what he would get in the USA. But the lifestyles are different because what can be bought for $1000 can not be bought for Rs. 5500.

However, all these arguments have flaws for the simple reason that no faculty candidate who is applying to IIT from abroad is going to compare himself with IAS officers or with minimum wage requirements or by PPP. One simply can not compare the quality of life between USA and India. One often decides to come back to India for other reasons. I believe that the benefit of living in one's motherland, close to family, friends, local culture and having a secure satisfying job can not be quantified in terms of money. This is at least true for me !

When one decides to come back, one often compares the salary one would get in the industry and compare it with what one would obtain in IITs. The salaries at IITs look pathetic, especially because we advertise only the basic and not even mention DA, allowances, grade pay etc. In my earlier posts in this blog, I have tried to present details of salary and benefits just for clarification. Thus, I feel that IITs have not at all marketed the positions well to inform the applicants of the benefits of working here. This has led to a curious case of wherein many faculty (but not all) in IIT/IISc are quite happy with the salaries (not that they will refuse more salary) but those who intend to join are shocked at the starting salaries, especially seeing only the basic salaries, and even refrain from applying.

What a faculty candidate is likely to look at what he can make in India in industry. In India, the salaries are the same for a professor of history, math, chemistry, chemical engineering, elextrical engineering, computer science, management and law. In the US, the salary will rise as you go up in the above order.

Therefore, salaries given by the government will never reflect the price of a faculty member (especially in electrical sciences) and will be significantly lower. The salaries that are given by the government have to be lesser than that offered to the top IAS officers (which is why the salary of the director of IITs are matched with the secretary of the government). Because the top salaries given to IAS officers have to be linked in some fashion (20 times or so) to the minimum wages and have to maintain parity across disparate sectors, one can not expect anything significantly different.

Therefore, what can be done? The Institutes need not "fight" with MHRD on the issue of assistant professor on contract, the 10% cap on this cadre, the 40% cap on the promotion of professors etc. All they need to do is to tell MHRD to change the wording to "It is suggested that assistant professors that are recruited have three years experience.." "It is suggested that around 10% of assistant professors are taken on contract and only 40% of professors be promoted to AGP of 12,000. However, the BoG of IITs/council of IISc can make exceptions for deserving cases..." Currently, in IISc, we recruit an assistant professor in chemistry only with three years of postdoc experience while we recruit an assistant professor in electrical engineering with one year of postdoc experience. Let the selection committee of that particular branch make the decision where one should be placed and there is no point in saying everyone should have three years experience. The number of increments in the current system was always decided by the selection committee and thus the practice can continue in that the selection committee can decide where one should be placed.

If one thinks that the contract system will be like the tenure system, it is not. Let us take a case of someone who joins IISc with 1.5 years of postdoc, he will be placed under contract for 1.5 years. Considering it takes atleast two years to set up a lab and write papers with students, one can not comment on the productivity (or the lack thereof) in the first two or even three years. Therefore, all people taken on contract will have to be confirmed. To judge scientific productivity, one needs 4-5 years and that's why the tenure system is normally for 6 years in US.


Considering that salaries can not be increased much higher, what can be done by departments, Institutes and the government in the current system to attract and retain faculty?

The easiest thing the government will propose is to have a performance linked incentive scheme (PLIS). This is a great tool for an administrator who has an objective number to judge faculty. However, evaluation of individuals in academics is not easy. Scientometrics is a great tool for examining groups of individuals or institutions but can be abused and misused if used for individuals. Further, scientometrics differ significantly from department to department. Let us take publishing. Publishing in a journal of impact factor of 1.5 is an achievement in Mathematics, is good in chemical engineering, is not at all good in chemistry. Then the journal impact factors have to be scaled. Evaluation in terms of patents have to be introduced but there is a huge difference in filing for a patent and licencing a patent. Let us even assume that we develop a perfect measurement tool to objectively judge faculty based on a combination of publications, citations, patents, teaching, committee work and other aspects. Of course, the "formula" has to be different for each department. An applied engineering department may prefer patents over publications while a basic science department may prefer publications over patents etc. But, then, the individuals have to be judged not just within the institution because the best faculty in a particular department of IIT may be just an average faculty in IISc (or vice-versa) though the base salary of both will be the same.

Therefore, faculty have to be compared nationally and internationally. This is primarily the reason that government has introduced several national fellowships, which have both research and personal money, that can be awarded on a nationally competitive basis. The government has instituted several fellowships ranging from Rs. 60,000 per year to Rs. 6 lakhs per year. The funding agencies should increase the number of fellowships awarded at various levels to ensure that a wider group is rewarded. The institutes can reduce their share in consultation fees. For example, currently, the institute takes 40% of the fees as overheads. This can be changed to what some IIMs do. No overheads upto six lakhs, 20% for fees between six to fifteen lakhs etc. The former would increase the salaries of faculty who do fundamental research (like in sciences) while the latter scheme would increase the salaries of faculy who do applied research (like in electrical engineering).

Departments should form inter-department committees of senior faculty who have a track record of mentoring young faculty. This committee should meet new faculty both formally and informally and ensure that he/she is nominated for awards, fellowships, is advised on applying to different funding agencies, facilitate collaboration within the institute etc. Few departments in IISc already do this. The department should also ensure that the new faculty get doctoral students and have negligible teaching load in their first year after joining. Few departments like my department in IISc already do this. Finally, departments should ensure that the young faculty come to know the various administrative rules and regulations like purchase, leave, sabbatical etc. For this, they should send their young faculty to people like me who serve on a myriad of committees.

Institutes can pay signup money for new recruits, pay for administrative jobs like head of the department, warden etc. This has been already implemented in IIT-Bombay, for example. In addition, the institutes can provide better housing for young faculty, better startup funding and advertise better. For the established senior faculty, the institutes can establish chaired positions and many institutes like IIT-Kanpur already do this.

What does it imply? Without increasing the base salaries, both the government and the department/institutes themselves can do a lot to make the prospect of joining IITs as a faculty more attractive, especially for a young assistant professor.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

44,444 the number of visits to this blog for the last six month period (March 25, 2009 to September 25, 2009). A big thank you to all the readers, especially the readers who have taken the time to comment and/or respond to queries of several faculty candidates. Thanks again!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New pay scales

The new pay scales have been notified by MHRD for IIT/IISc/IISER. The major change (and excellent news) from the previous notification is that assistant professors will move to PB-4 after three years of service. However, if my interpretation is correct, only
people with 3 years experience and Ph.D can be recruited as assistant professors. This is not good because engineering departments will find it difficult to find candidates with three years experience.

Update: I had been travelling and did not have access to internet to post the fitment table for new AP. Knowledgeable readers like iitmsriram please correct the table, if you find anything wrong. I have not included allowances like HRA (30%, if you live in metros), academic allowances, telephone reimbursement etc. TA quoted here is based if you live in metros. Please note that the years need not be post-Ph.D, it could be any experience except the experience during your Ph.D

Continuous increment of 3% of Basic+AGP will ensure that one will reach the end of the scale of 67,000 at the end of 23 years, if never promoted (see orange columns). If promoted to professor under the IISc scheme of 6 years as assistant professor followed by six years as associate professor (see green columns), one will reach the end of the scale at the end of 21 years. The only difference will be in the grade pay.

PS: IITMsriram points out that the 3% increments are to be rounded up to the next highest multiple of 10 so that the pay will always be a multiple of 10. But because the table is generated in spreadsheet in google docs, I do not know how to do it automatically.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Grade pay and entitlements

There has been several posts on the academic grade pay (AGP) and entitlements in some blogs. Some questions have been raised on whether faculty will be eligible for air travel or not (see the comments section of this post).

Here is the official notification. What does this imply?

The transport allowance that one gets every month is the same for everyone who have grade pay of 5400 or above. Otherwise, lower AGP means lower entitlements when traveling on government money. If your grade pay is less than 5400, then you can not travel by air. If your grade pay is between 5400 to 8900, you are entitled to travel by economy class by air. The government has not notified what happens if your grade pay is between 8900 and 10,000 because the grade pay of 9500 was specially created for associate professors in IITs. If your grade is above 10,000, you are entitled to travel by air in business class. Regarding other things you might miss out is that if you draw more than 10,000 grade pay, you are entitled to A/C taxi; otherwise, you have to travel in an non-A/C taxi.

Friday, September 4, 2009

All are equally outstanding?

Subsequent to my colleague, Abi's post on "All of us - yes, all of us are outstanding", some of my colleagues read my post that he cites and asked me whether it is true of all institutions in India and whether groups of institutions also follow this rule.

In my post of Gini index , I had written that 23% of the faculty contribute to 77% of the publications. A more recent analysis for the period of 2004-2008 indicates that the ratio has improved to 27% faculty contributing to 73% of the publications. However, it has a caveat. 22% of our faculty strength are assistant professors who have joined within the last six years. [In IISc, the normal period of promotion is six years from assistant to associate and six years from associate to full]. They are establishing themselves and their labs. So, one can not expect them to contribute significantly.

Back to the Pareto's principle and Gini index, in most of the institutions in India, the 20/80 rule applies and 80% of research output is by 20% of the faculty. Similarly, 80% of funding is brought in by 20% of faculty and 80% of administrative work is done by 20% of the faculty. I am not counting teaching because I assume nearly all the faculty teach. Ideally, if each of these 20% of faculty are different, this would mean that atleast 60% of the faculty are active. But it is not !

However, if one discusses the research output of institutions and compares them, it is even worse than 20/80. 10% of the top institutions in India contribute 90% of the publication output and 3% of the top institutions in India contribute to 50% of the publication output. Naturally, many of the institutions like IISc, IITs, TIFR, AIIMS etc fall in the top 3%. Because these institutions are small but contribute significantly to India's research output, there is a tendency to think that everyone in these institutes are outstanding. But statistics and nature are wiser and the Pareto's principle applies even in these institutes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ratings and rankings

Soon, departments in IITs, IISc, IIMs and universities will be ranked and rated. This will based on the manpower trained in terms of undergraduates, postgraduates and doctorates, number of publications, citations of these publications etc. It may not be long that a formula is evolved such that the funding provided to the institution depends on this number. One of my colleagues mentioned that it will not be long before some of these institutions create high-paying industry/alumni funded chair positions so as to attract faculty to their institution. The presence of these faculty would lead to higher citations or patent numbers leading to higher funding from the government.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Last year, I had written about my thoughts on "reforming" JEE and GATE. In that blog post, I had written that,

is to only allow candidates who have represented the country in the (Math/Physics) Olympiad OR secured an average plus two standard deviations in their respective board exam to write JEE. Because most of the board exams follow a normal distribution, only the top 2.5% will be allowed to write JEE.

Apparently, this may be implemented by 2011. Four years back, the committee recommended 85% in the board exam as the cutoff to write JEE. This was later reduced to 60% to account for the wide variation in the marks awarded by various boards. Considering there are 40 boards who conduct the XII exam and there is a need to normalize the marks and, therefore, something like the top 2.5 or 5 percentile is being thought of.

Similarly, some GATE reforms may also be introduced. For example, I had suggested that there should be a common section on mathematics, analytical ability (similar to the old analytical section of GRE) and English comprehension that would involve reading a technical paragraph and answering questions on that. This section would be of 50 marks and would be common to all technical papers in GATE. I do not know, however, whether it will be implemented in the near future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New pay scales - IITs

Update: Protests at IISc.

Here is a detailed site that discusses the Implications of the new pay scales. The government's response can be found here.

The newspapers that reported that UGC professors get Rs. 10,000 as AGP while IIT professors get Rs 10,500 and thus IIT professors get marginally higher. Professors of IITs in the pre-revised scale were getting 18,400-500-, which did not exist in UGC. Professors of UGC and Associate professors of IIT were getting the same scale of Rs. 16,400-450-. In the new revision, the professors of UGC get Rs. 10,000 as AGP while associate professors of IIT get Rs. 9,500 as AGP. Thus, existing faculty in the same scale of Rs. 16,400 will get more if they are in UGC than if they are in IIT.

It is claimed in many reports that assistant professors with three years experience will get more pay under UGC than those with similar experience in IIT. This is incorrect. Assistant professors under UGC are in the prerevised 10,000 scale and not in the 12,000 scale. Assistant professors in IITs are under the 12,000 scale. The correct statement is that existing faculty in the same scale of Rs. 12,000 will get more if they are in UGC than if they are in IIT after three years of experience.

I think the final implication is this. Initially, IIT faculty were unhappy with what the Mehta committee had recommended (which was much lower than what the faculty federation had recommended). Now, because the interministerial committee has reduced even what the Mehta's committee had recommended, faculty will be happy with what the Mehta's committee recommended !

Travel - Air India- relaxation

Subsequent to my last post on travel by Air India, one of the staff members of IISc wrote to me that I should write to the joint secretary for exemption. I was granted permission within a day. Here is what I wrote,

Sub: Air Travel on official duty

      I am writing this letter to you in connection with the recent circular dt. 13.07.09 of the Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India, notifying the usage of Air India for travel on official account by the officials of the Govt. and autonomous bodies.

      I intend to fly from Bangalore to Pune and back on 12th September to attend an official meeting. As Air India does not have a direct flight from Bangalore to Pune, the possible means is to fly to Mumbai first and then take a taxi. In view of the time constraints of academic schedules and the extra expenditure involved in the route deviation, I request you kindly to permit me to use the private carriers to fly directly from Bangalore to Pune and back.

      Thanking you in advance and awaiting your favorable response through FAX.

With kind regards,