Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Open access

The faculty senate at the University of Maryland voted down a resolution supporting open access. The faculty resolved

The University Senate encourages faculty, students, and other researchers, where practical and not detrimental to their careers, to (a) publish in open access journals or journals that make their contents openly accessible shortly after publication, (b)negotiate with the journals in which they publish for the right to deposit articles in an open access repository, and (c) consider the price of the journal as one factor in the decision on where to publish.

The University Senate encourages faculty, students, and other researchers to deposit all reprints and reprints of articles, when permitted, in an open access repository such as the DRUM archive or, where appropriate, in discipline-specific repositories such as PubMed Central.

The scholarly kitchen features a nice article on this. It says, "The assumptions that open access publishing is both cheaper and more sustainable than the traditional subscription model are featured in many of these mandates. But they remain just that — assumptions. "

I have written before on open access and I am firmly for option b and almost 95% of the publishers allow this.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

JEE and entrance exams

There is an interesting article discussing the reforms that are needed for JEE. I had written about it in detail before. I had mentioned that JEE may allow only those candidates who have secured among the top 2.5% in their board exams to write the exam. Prof. M.S. Ananth, the director of IIT-M, mentions, "suggestion is that the school board examinations be treated as a screening test, with only the top one per cent of students being allowed to attempt JEE." 

I feel before we take such steps, one should do some statistical analysis. How many percent of the current students in IIT-M (say) have qualified in the top 2.5% (or 1%) of their board exams or have represented in the Olympiads? Is there a linear correlation between the marks obtained in the board exam and the CGPA obtained in IITs? 

Professor Idichandy, who is looking into the reforms for JEE, feels that JEE and all entrance examinations should be abolished and this would lead to the collapse of the coaching classes. Tamil Nadu, for example, has abolished the entrance exams for admission to its engineering colleges. Guess what has happened? The coaching classes for 12th standard have sprung up and replaced the coaching classes for the entrance exam. The coaching industry is not going to disappear because JEE is abolished. It will just shift to another examination. 

Currently, most of the examinations (board exams, several entrance exams) rely only on the student's ability to memorize and not understand concepts. Therefore, board examinations and, consequently, teaching in schools should change first. Maybe make all the board examinations open book exams.

Because the competition to get into IIT is unhealthy, the quantity and quality of NITs and other engineering colleges should be significantly improved so that people feel that not getting into an IIT is not a big deal. 

Without doing any statistical analysis or implementing some reforms in board examinations, simply abolishing a well conducted fair examination may not be a good idea.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Four year B.S. Programme

Bangalore university is planning to start a four year B.S. programme in sciences. The program by Bangalore university is to attract science graduates and become equivalent to the B.E/B.Tech degree. Currently, B.Sc students doing masters degrees are not eligible for scholarship by the government but B.E/B.Tech students doing masters degrees are eligible for scholarship. Making all bachelor's degree uniform is not a bad idea. So far, so good.

The article says,
the proposed B.S. course has on offer a doctorate degree within the next two years. If the candidate does not wish to continue for two full years and comes out after a year, still he/she will get a M.S. degree. In essence, one can become a ‘doctor’ within six years after coming out of the Plus Two science course under this system.

Ph.D two years after a bachelor's ? or one year after a masters? Wonderful. When I heard that people were coming up with ideas to increase the number of doctorates in sciences and engineering, I never figured out that this would be done by giving out doctorates in two years. The next step would be to rename the M.E/M.Tech programs that require also two years after B.E/B.Tech as Ph.D.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Survey in IISc

I wish to congratulate the students who conducted the survey and benchmarked all the services offered in IISc. The results of the survey were published in Voices, which is hosted in NCSI. I read the article with great interest over the weekend. What struck me was not just the professionalism in conducting the survey but also the thoroughness of the analysis of the data. 

None of the services got five stars (excellent) or one star (very poor). Three services got two stars (poor). Of these three, the contract to two of these services may not be renewed next year and we will use this input by the students as a parameter !

I have only one suggestion: increase your sample size from the current 10%. Two ideas for doing this: (a) The survey was open only for a week. Send a reminder through the broadcast at the end of seven days and tell the survey deadline has been extended by two more days (and keep it open for three days :-) Most of us work only after getting a reminder. (b) Keep printed copies of the survey near the messes with the boxes to put them. Someone, of course, has to enter them in the online survey manually. 

I do not know whether anyone from the Voices team reads this blog. If you do, congratulations again.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Undergrad research in India

This will not be applicable to the undergraduates who will graduate from IISc !

If you are undergraduate (B.Sc/B.Tech/B.E) student and interested in doing research, read this post first. The post ends with, "spamming the inbox of professors with 'I want to do summer research' doesn't serve any purpose. Write compelling, personalized and relevant emails that convey your goals and intentions to specific professors whose work interests you. It shows when you have taken the effort to look through their website and read about the projects that they work on. Ask at least a few people to review and proof-read your application."

I could not have put it better. I receive around 10 emails a week from undergrad students for the summer project. Though our department website has clear instructions for summer trainees, no one seems to read them. Prospective candidates should at least read the websites of faculty before applying to them directly. I also request one should proofread the application. Grammatical errors can be forgiven, typographical errors can not be excused. However, this is not restricted to undergraduates. See the following email I received for a post doctoral position,

Hey prof.,
good morning, i introudce myself presently doing my post doctoral fellwo job at X (since 2006 begning), and seraching suitable position in india. I did my phD in IIT Madras. I read your aritcles recently due to curiosity of the name and I pubilshed. I am intrested to continue to my research area related to engery applicaitons, i am also intrested in fluides, i collected many articles recently. I need your suggestion regarding to apply for Reserach Associtate fellowship from IIS to work with you as my principle investigator for your convenice.


Mark Twain said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." In an interesting article on QSAR, (QSAR is the process where the chemical structure is correlated with chemical or biological activity), the author shows a graph that shows a linear trend that shows that US Highway Fatality rate decreases linearly with an increase with the lemons imported to US from Mexico. He goes on to say, "By not following through with careful, designed, hypothesis testing we have allowed scientific thinking to be co-opted by statistics and arbitrarily defined fitness functions. Statistics must serve science as a tool; statistics cannot replace scientific rationality, experimental design, and personal observation."

While this is one end where the use of statistics is to bolster weak arguments, in India, we usually the follow the other end and disparage statistics that do not support the perceptions. For example, IISc and IITs are often compared with the top universities of USA. As a country, India published 43 articles in Science for the ten year period of 2000-2009 (this includes several articles which had a foreign collaborator). A single university, MIT, published 291 articles in the same period. The numbers are almost exactly the same for publications in Nature (45 and 295).

Other these top journals which are common to science, I have also taken the top three journals in each field of science and engineering. The numbers for chemical engineering has already been published and the rest will be published in a separate paper.