Monday, May 25, 2009

Higher education in India - a low equilibrium

Gangan Prathap, one of the highly respected scientists in India, writes about the higher education in India. In his article in Current Science, he points out the following,

India does a poor job of educating its masses. Only about 10% of those in the age group 18–23 years make it to college... The Knowledge Commission projects that to raise the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) from 10 to 15%, we will need about 1500 universities, instead of the 450 or so that we have now. The UGC reports make a determined effort to lay down the basis for the approach and strategy for the higher education sector over the next plan (2007–12) and beyond. However, to the discerning mind, what is clear is that as before, our efforts are half-hearted and nowhere near enough.

Apparently, Indian science and higher education have settled comfortably into a low-level equilibrium groove, driven by the tyranny of low expectations. We are complacent with the 10% of the age cohort getting a college education and with 0.6% of these going on to complete a Ph D. Instead of aiming higher, we are descending inexorably down into a spiral that takes us to a low-level equilibrium point.

These are points that I have make been making several times in this blog. The number of engineering doctorates graduating from India are lesser than the number of engineering doctorates awarded to Indians in USA alone. The total number of scientists in India is around 1,00,000 and this is lower than the number of Indian scientists in USA. While numbers may not serve as an useful parameter in determining the success of science or scientists, unless the base for science is expanded, we are stuck in the low-level equilibrium.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Faculty positions in IIT/IISc

Lately, I have been getting lot of emails asking how one should apply to faculty positions in India. Almost all IITs, IISc, IISERs having standing advertisements and accept applications throughout the year. For an Assistant Professor position, the prospective candidates must have a Ph.D. with post-doctoral research experience and be preferably below 35 years of age. Teaching experience is not normally sought.

The salary will be in the pay scale of Rs.12,000-420-18,300 plus allowances. Based on the new pay commission (that will be implemented retrospectively from 1.1.2006), an assistant professor at the minimum of the scale will receive a basic pay of around Rs. 34,000, grade pay of around Rs. 8,000 and a dearness allowance of 22% (as on date) of basic pay. In addition, traveling allowance, academic allowance and telephone reimbursement of Rs. 7,000 will be provided. On campus accommodation will be provided to all new faculty. In the main metros, faculty will be paid 30% of the basic pay if they prefer to avail their own accommodation. In addition, allowances like children education allowance, subsidy for single girl child, leave travel concession for the whole family every year, medical benefits to the family, gratuity and provident fund benefits are provided. Funding is provided for attending one national conference every year and one international conference every three years. Faculty are given three months vacation during summer of each year for visits abroad or locally. For new faculty, relocation expenses of Rs 1.25 lakhs are provided.

An overview of the facilities provided to prospective faculty is available. The startup grant for new faculty is around Rs. 25 lakhs in IISc. Applications are accepted throughout the year. Interested candidates should apply by sending their curriculum vitae, list of publications with reprints of important publications, proposed research plan, names and addresses (with e-mail and fax number) of at least three referees and other relevant details to chairman of the department. The candidate is also requested to indicate a suitable time when he/she may visit the country and give a seminar to the department.

In IISc, the following procedure is mostly followed for selection. It may vary slightly in other IITs. The application material is scrutinized by the faculty and references are obtained from the suggested persons and additional references within the country. The department makes a recommendation to the Divisional Chairman and the Director to set up a selection committee. The final selection is made by this selection committee. The process takes 4-6 months and candidates may take up the appointment at any time of the year but within 3-4 months of the date of offer. IITs do not have divisional chairmen but deans of faculty affairs and recruitment.

There is more information available on settling down in IISc and on an academic career in India.

PS: Please do not leave comments on the pay scales i.e., how the pay is pathetic compared to industry or how/what the new committee constituted in place of the Goverdhan Mehta committee has recommended. If you are keen to do that, you can do that in response to this blog post.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reports - Undergraduation

I am often asked to write non-technical detailed reports maybe because I am good at storytelling. There are two kinds of stories one can tell. One is a story which states the obvious,
I went to Chennai (in May). It was summer there. It was hot. You know, like 40 oC. In olden days, we had only oF, and that is nearly 104 oF. More than 100 is really hot. I travelled within Chennai by train. It was hot in train also. Then I went to the wedding and it was really hot. On that day, it was nearly 41 oC. In Bangalore, it is only 35 and that is really lesser than 40. Actually, 35 is only 95 in F. Thus, it is much lesser hot in Bangalore than in Chennai. You know, the other thing is humidity. Chennai has more humidity than Bangalore. This is because of the sea but because of the sea, you get sea breeze. There is no sea breeze in Bangalore because there is no sea. However, humidity is less in Bangalore because there is no sea.
If you want to learn the art of speaking about the obvious, you should listen to the IPL commentators (except for Harsha Bhogle). You will get gems, "singles add to the total", "When a team requires 12 off three balls, one should hit a boundary," "it's important to hit the ball into the gaps", "runs do not come if you do not hit the ball" "It's the other one, just like the other one","the team batting second knows their target", "Gibbs is an opener. He has to score runs" "Two overs means twelve balls", "One ball left unless it is a wide" "Cricket is an interesting game" "Not all countries play cricket" and many, many more.

The other is a story that does not go anywhere. In the Simpsons episode titled "Last exit to Springfield", the evil Monty Burns tries to break the striking employees. So, he asks Grandpa Simpson, who says,

We can’t bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don’t go anywhere—like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. 'Give me five bees for a quarter,' you’d say...(trails off).. Now where were we? Oh yeah—the important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones.....
I do not know in which category the following report falls, but here is the executive summary (the report is over 15 pages) of the report which I wrote on why an undergraduate program should be started in IISc. Please note that this is my idea and not the idea of IISc or other members of IISc.

Molecular Gastronomy

In a recent article published in the Accounts of Chemical Research (impact factor =17.1), an article on molecular gastronomy discusses the science behind cooking. The article starts with, "Food preparation is such a routine activity that we often do not question the process. For example, why do we cook as we do? Why do we eat certain foods and avoid other perfectly edible ingredients? To help answer these questions, it is extremely important to study the chemical changes that food undergoes during preparation; even simply cutting a vegetable can lead to enzymatic reactions."

I can not appreciate good food and my taste is restricted to good and better curd rice but I am fascinated by molecular gastronomy, primarily because several chemical engineering principles are involved in such a study. My own experience in the field was when I was a consultant to a major beverage company. The taste perceived due to the carbonated drinks arise both from the mechanical and chemogenic reasons. The bursting carbon dioxide bubbles stimulates the mechanoreceptors on the tongue while the carbonic acid formed stimulates the polymodal nociceptors in the oral cavity. The size of the bubbles also play an important role. For example, the perception of champagne as a superior beverage to sparkling wine is because of the smaller bubbles. The smaller size of the bubbles leads to enhanced mass transport of carbon dioxide when the bubbles impinge upon the tongue, increasing the taste.

One would think that the amount of carbon dioxide in the carbonated drink would be the primary factor in determining the taste. However, the visual perception of the size of the bubbles plays a crucial role in determining the taste. Other than the numbers and sizes of these bubbles, how they rise in a bottle when opened adds to the "taste". For example, in champagne, the number and rate of the ascending bubbles count in the sensory evaluation of the wine. Will a blindfolded person be able to distinguish between two carbonated drinks in which only the rate of the ascending bubbles are different? These questions result in an interesting scientific study.

If you are completely bored or interested in catalysis, you can read my paper in the same issue of the journal.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Pension Scheme

For faculty who joined IISc (or IITs or any other government institution) on or after 1.1.2004, the new pension scheme would be applicable. This was notified by the government effective today. The new scheme will be a defined contribution scheme as against the present defined benefit scheme. This will be the best product for (really) long term pension schemes. Also, anyone (as in not government employees) can enroll in these pension schemes. Further details are available here.