Saturday, December 25, 2010

Overheard the New Delhi airport while boarding the Indian Airlines flight to Bangalore. "I can't understand how rediff can say that Google is the best company to work for in terms of work and salary. Nothing beats a government job in terms of pay to work ratio. It is nearly infinity because the denominator is nearly zero."

Friday, December 17, 2010


One of my colleagues sent me this paper published by my  colleague in IIT-B titled, " Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective." 

This is possibly because I really believe that Homeopathy works, just like placebos. I am reminded of the conversation in "The Simpsons". Homer Simpsons panics after seeing one bear and gets the mayor to have a bear patrol. Then,

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
 Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
 Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
 Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
 Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
 Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
        [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
        [Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

Anyway, back to the paper. Homeopathy believes, contrary to all scientific evidence and thought, that potency increases with decrease of concentration. Thus "medicines" are sold at various dilutions from 1c to 200c. The paper discusses the procedure and concludes, "Further, we have shown that despite large differences in the degree of dilution from 6c to 200c (10^12 to 10^400), there were no major differences in the nature of the particles (shape and size) of the starting material and their absolute concentrations (in pg/ml)." All it means that no dilution really occurs beyond 6c. 

Being busy

Professor Balaram writes on being busy.

 How often  have  we  all  heard  the  familiar,  ‘I  am  too  busy’  excuse,  when  something,  however  minor,  needs  to  be done.  As  an  administrator,  of  sorts,  I  have  often  had  to recruit  colleagues  to  the  task  of  carrying  out  the  many (and sometimes tiresome) chores that are so necessary in academic   institutions.  Not   infrequently,   accomplished and  capable  colleagues  tell  me,  ‘I  am  too  busy.  Find someone else’. 

In major institutions across India, one can classify faculty as those who do research and  (a) serve on institutional committees (b) do not serve on institutional committees but serve on national committees (c) those who do not serve on any committees. Besides, there are a few faculty who do administrative work but no research and some who do neither research nor administrative work and, yet, constantly complain that they are busy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travail Travels

I was travelling to Delhi and back by Indian Airlines/Air India. Of course, all government employees have to travel only by IA/AI.

As normally done by me, I took the earliest flight out of Bangalore at 6:15 am and planned to return by the 8:15 pm flight from Delhi. IA, in its own wisdom, has cancelled its most popular flight in the evening at 8:15 pm and changed it to an AI coded flight. If you are wondering what the big deal is because AI and IA have been merged and both depart from a single terminal, read on.

After landing in Delhi and attending the meeting, during lunch at 2 pm, I get a “pleasant” phone call that my AI flight leaving Delhi at 8:15 pm has been cancelled and they have rebooked me by the flight leaving Delhi at 4:30 pm. Of course, they did not bother to even think whether any meetings (especially in the government sector) start before 11 am or end before 5 pm. I told them that I have no way of returning by the 4:30 flight and they should rebook me to some other flight on the next day or cancel the 8:15 pm booking. The person on the phone gave me a toll free number to call. When I called there, I was told that I had booked online on the IA website but was flying AI flight, so the PNR number of the ticket changes and they can not do anything about it. So, they gave me a toll free number of AI. When I called there, I was told that they do not know the PNR number for the ticket. After calling IA and AI back and forth, I finally get the two PNR numbers of my ticket, as noted by IA and AI.

But the fun does not end there. Armed with multiple PNR numbers, booking numbers and IC/AI coded flight numbers, I call the IA website office, which is NOT a toll free number, to cancel the booking for my return flight. They say that they will charge me cancellation fees because, according to them, the AI flight has not been cancelled. She even helpfully informs me that I can report by 6:15 pm and board the AI flight. Just to be sure, I call the AI office and find that the flight has indeed been cancelled but they have not informed IA and they have no online mechanism to do so. So, I call back the non-toll free number, tell them that the AI office has confirmed the flight is cancelled and they should go ahead and refund my ticket. However, the person refuses because, according to her, the flight is still on. But the person on the helpline helpfully tells me that I can charge the cancellation fee to the government because they can mail me a receipt for the cancellation. Apparently, they do not understand the irony that they are charging cancellation fees for a flight they cancelled and assume that everyone who travels by IA/AI are government employees. Maybe if they behave like this, it will soon become a reality.

Friday, November 12, 2010


There is a vehement reaction (both for and against) on the downgrading of cricket player Yuvraj Singh's contract. Cricketers like Irfan Pathan and RP Singh have lost their contracts with the cricket board. However, this is not the time for these players to relax or complain. Because if they do, they will be called to handle baggage by Air India.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three articles

Three articles in this issue of current science are interesting reads.

Old toddy in new bottles

More about irreverence

Scientometric comparison of Indian institutions with other international institutions: a iCX map representation

The first and third articles refer to my work. I wish I had thought of the iCX map representation of my data, but then I am happy that Gangan Prathap used my data to graphically represent what I wanted to convey.

Recently, I was happy to see an eminent author in the field of photocatalysis, mention my papers, say their group were inspired by this and then extend the work to a different level. You only wish you had thought of it, but then you are happy someone did !

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


to my friend and colleague, Ashutosh Sharma for winning the Infosys prize. Ashutosh has done amazing work in the field of interfaces and is considered an authority in the field. He is also one of the nicest persons you can meet and he has always been helpful and encouraging whenever I have met him.

His work is corroborated by scientometrics. He is the scientist with the highest h-index among engineers (34) and has the second highest number of citations in engineering (> 4000) in India.

In my opinion, he is richly deserving of the award and I can not think of anyone who deserves it more than him. Congratulations to him.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


ACS Chemical biology has been publishing a series of articles on h-index this year.

A satirical take. A nice article by Anirban on why the DBT policy in India is flawed. A detailed article by Seeberger on why trust is more important.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


to the Indian side winning the test series against Australia 2-0. Congrats are due to Vijay and Pujara for making the chase memorable. Pujara was sent ahead of Dravid because India wanted Dravid and Tendulkar to guide the chase when the ball will reverse swing after 40 overs. But they finished off the game before 40 overs !

Having been faithfully watched all the test matches in Bangalore, I have always been disappointed because India has never won in Bangalore after I returned to India in 1998. I had fly to Chennai to watch test matches where India would win. I watched all five days of this game. On the first two days of the game, I was in the A stand (Rs. 250), near long off. On the next two days of the same, I was in the N stand (Rs. 400), which is right on the top of the sight screen and my colleague, Praveen Ramamurthy and I went early to sit right behind the stumps on the third and fourth day. On the fourth day, after Tendulkar scored his double hundred, he was distracted by the white shirt I was wearing. Dhoni signaled to us and asked me to move slightly away. And, then Sachin got out after scoring ten more runs. Maybe he would have scored 250 if he did not make me move :-) I moved back to the original seat for the Australian innings. On the fifth day, I reached the stadium only after lunch and to see India cruise through !

My other colleague, Ramamurty, who is a great fan of Laxman, got me the tickets. Thanks, Ram. However, he did not come for the third day of the test match. He will surely regret it !

The analysts on the news channels that I am watching now somehow give the impression that we dominated the match throughout. The Mohali test was won only because of Laxman's outstanding innings; the Bangalore test was even-steven till this morning. One outstanding session on the fifth day in both the tests for India sealed the game and headlines like "India trash and dominate Australia" are unwarranted.

So are the surveys and articles on whether Dravid and Laxman should be dropped for the next matches against New Zealand. Dravid averages 45+ in the second innings in his career and Laxman averages 80+ in the second innings after March 2009. While they have immense talent, unless Vijay and Pujara demonstrate their mettle on bouncy pitches in South Africa and be consistent over a period, do not even compare them to Dravid or Laxman.

The best moments of the test match
  • SRT reaching 27, 50, 100, 150, 200 in the first innings and 50 in the second innings
  • Ponting getting out in the 70's in both the innings.
  • North's hundred. North seems to either gets dismissed below 10 or scores a hundred in every innings.
  • Vijay's maiden hundred in the first innings and the 306 run stand with SRT
  • Zaheer getting substantial reverse swing and Ojha's perseverance. Was not impressed with Sreesanth. Bhajji was good but not the person who bowled in 2001 in Chennai.
  • Pujara's outstanding fifty on debut. The last Indian who made a fifty in the fourth innings on debut: Gavaskar !
  • The lap of honor to the crowd and Dhoni calling the crowd as the 12th man.
  • My colleagues who gave me company !

Monday, October 11, 2010


to Sachin Tendulkar for a wonderful innings today and to Vijay for a patient good innings. I was sitting behind the sight screen all day watching Sachin play and the whole crowd was enchanted. An Australian newspaper said,

At 37, he played like the kid who wished it wouldn't get dark. When Tendulkar made his Test debut, his teammate Cheteshwar Pujara was one. Now 22, Pujara, who has never known his national side without Tendulkar, waited and watched in the pavilion, itching to make his first walk onto a Test pitch, yet remaining as entranced as the rest.

Cricinfo had this to say,

Only a man blessed with immense powers of endurance could sustain a 20-year Test career and Sachin Tendulkar displayed exactly that quality on a day of Indian dominance in Bangalore. ..... 
The only man who didn't seem tired at stumps was Tendulkar. That's the benefit of 20 years of practice.
On his last tour of Australia, he was given rapturous ovations by an adoring public each time he went in or out. But the Australians might not have seen the last of him. Fifty Test hundreds is but a formality. Hundred international hundreds are there for the taking. But Tendulkar endures not in the pursuit of milestones, but because he can't fall out of love with cricket. And that's why, above anything else, he remains the most loved cricketer. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Publications - growth

Abi, in response to my paper in Current science, writes

It's easy to get depressed after reading articles ...that provide a snapshot of the state of science (or, academia in general) in India. But snapshots do not tell us anything at all about the tremendous changes that we have been seeing and experiencing in India in the past decade or so. To get a good sense of the direction and pace of these changes, what we need are studies that track India's progress over the last several decades.
Therefore, I wrote such a paper recently, which will be published shortly. A snapshot from this paper.
Figure 1a shows that the total number of publications from India, China and USA over the period of 1960 to 2010. USA had a sharp increase in the number of publications in the early 1970s, while China shows a sharp increase in 2002. In 1996, India, China and USA published around 20, 27 and 320 thousand papers, respectively. By 2002, India and USA published around 26 and 320 thousand papers, respectively, indicating that the growth of publications were not significant in this time period. However, by 2002, China had increased its number of publications to 57 thousand, twice what it had published in 1996. However, the real remarkable growth is in the period from 2002 to 2009. In 2009, India, China, USA published 58, 280 and 414 thousand papers, respectively i.e., compared to 1996, India had increased by a factor 3, China had increased by a factor of 20, while USA increased by 30%.
One can look at the share of publications (i.e., number of publications published by the country divided by the total number of publications in the world). USA showed a marked drop in share of world papers from 40 to 29 percent between 1981 and 2008 while India has remained nearly constant with a world share of 3.0% in 1981 and 3.3 percent in 2008. As expected, China has shown exceptional growth in global share over the 1981-2008 period while Australia, Brazil and South Korea also increased their share of publications. 
Figures 2a to 2f show the total number of publications from India, China and USA in major science journals from 1980 to 2010. The increase of number of papers in these top journals mirrors that the increase in the overall number of publications. An increase in the overall number of papers leads to an increase of papers both in the top journals and the bottom journals. Thus, the number of citations per paper has remained nearly constant (Fig 3) over the years for India, China and USA. This clearly indicates that an increase in the number of papers does not necessarily lead to loss of quality. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nobel predictions

for chemistry are here. Some names missing from this list but predicted by are ISI web of science are Japan's Susumu Kitagawa and American Omar Yaghi for porous metal-organic frameworks. These are not my predictions, I will give my predictions tomorrow :-)
Spectrosocopy & Application of Lasers, Zare/Moerner/+, 6-1
Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/Jensen, 7-1
Transition-Metal-Catalyzed Cross-Couplings, 
Suzuki/Heck/Sonogashira/Tsuji/+/–, 9-1
Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 9-1The Field (everything not listed), 10-1Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 15-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 15-1Instrumentation/Techniques in Genomics, Venter/+, 19-1Biological Membrane Vesicles, Rothman/Schekman/+, 19-1
Molecular Studies of Gene Recognition, 
Ptashne, 19-1Combinatorial Chemistry/DOS, Schreiber/+, 74-1Solar Cells, Gr├Ątzel/+, 74-1Pigments of Life, Battersby/+, 99-1
Development of the Birth Control Pill, Djerassi, 99-1Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1Development of Chemical Biology, Schultz/Schreiber/+, 99-1Self-Assembly, Whitesides/Nuzzo/Stang/–, 99-1Molecular Modeling and Assorted Applications, Karplus/Houk/Schleyer/Miller/+/–, 99-1Small Regulatory RNA, Ambros/Baulcombe/Ruvkun, 149-1
Eukaryotic RNA Polymerases, Roeder, 149-1Mechanical Bonds and Applications, Sauvage/Stoddart/+, 149-1Bio- & Organo-catalysis, List/Lerner/Barbas, 149-1Organic Synthesis, Evans/Danishefsky/Nicolaou/Ley/Trost/Stork/Wender/Kishi/+/–, 199-1Mechanistic Enzymology, Walsh, 199-1
Fluorocarbons, DuPont/Curran/–, 199-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Langer/+/– 199-1
Understanding of Organic Stereochemistry, Mislow, 199-1Tissue Engineering, Langer/+, 199-1Contributions to Bioorganic Chemistry, Breslow/Eschenmoser/+, 199-1Nanotechnology, Lieber/Whitesides/Alivisatos/Mirkin/Seeman/+/–, 199-1Dendrimers, Frechet/Tomalia/+, 399-1
Astrochemistry, Oka, 399-1Zeolites, Flanigan, 399-1Molecular Recognition, Dervan/+, 399-1Molecular Machines, Stoddart/Tour/+/–, 399-1

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


to the unsung hero of Indian Cricket, VVS Laxman for taking India to victory in Mohali. Playing with a very very sore back, the very very special man played a brilliant knock to win the test match for India. Even though he has done it numerous times, and his Kolkata knock being ranked by Wisden as the best knock by an Indian, he is India's Atlas but still an unsung hero.

Laxman has often been the most disposable member of the Indian team. It seems he has been playing for his place in the side throughout his career. Still he has played so many of these saviour knocks for India that he thrives on these situations now. Possibly he longs for them. At least he wishes he could bat the same way in normal circumstances as he does in crisis. Cricketers spend entire careers wishing to bat in crisis as they do in normal situations. That's the world of Laxman

Dhoni, Sachin and Sehwag endorse 21, 14, 7 brands, respectively, earning hundreds of crores. How many brands does VVS endorse? None.In the post awards ceremony, the camera pans to Laxman's smile when Ravi Shastri announces the man of the match: Zaheer Khan. That's the character of the unassuming man, who later apologizes to Ojha for yelling at him in the penultimate over and credits Ishant Sharma for the partnership and plays down his role in the win.

Why don't nice and unassuming people get duly credited? In science, I have seen a few scientists who have everything: good publications, large number of citations, patents, teach well and be not recognized. I am told this is because they do not have "quality of mind" (whatever this means). I do not know what it is equivalent in cricket. Maybe being flashy !

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another ranking list

by a group in Australia based on data from Scopus. IISc's rankings:

Overall: 468
Sciences: 273
Engineering: 148

IIT-Kanpur is ranked higher than IISc in this ranking.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Opinions and comments and their moderation

I repeat myself largely from my previous post last year.

  • All opinions expressed in the blog posts are mine and mine alone. They do not represent my employer, IISc or that of the government of India.
  • For those who want to leave comments as anonymous, please leave a name, any nickname or even initials. Do not expect my response to your comment if there is no name or initials.
  • Comments on my blogs are not moderated. That is because even I though I may not agree with what you say, I believe in your right in saying so. This brings me to the main point: I am not responsible for the comments on the blog. They are expressed by readers and I neither endorse nor disagree with any of the comments, unless I explicitly state so in a subsequent post. 
  • This blog post is the result of many anonymous comments that are completely off-topic and abuse some of my colleagues. These are quite offensive and I would have deleted them but usually these comments will multiply if I delete them. Therefore, my kind request is to refrain making (or responding) to these comments. Please do not respond to flames !
Please do not send me personal emails (unless it affects you directly) stating that you do not agree with some of the comments in the blog. Neither do I but I usually do not moderate comments. After all, I expect most of the blog readers to be educated and will respect each other.

Further, I am traveling from September 16 to September 30 with only intermittent access to internet. 

Monday, September 20, 2010


to my colleagues,Dr Kaushal Verma and Prof. N. Ravishankar for winning the Swarnajayanthi award of DST. Ravishankar and I have collaborated on many research papers and continue to have joint students and projects. I am very delighted to know that he has won the award this year. Congratulations again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stray dogs

In the campus, which is quiet and pollution free, the stray dogs pose a major problem. The children have been chased by packs of dogs in the recent past. I walk from my home to the department and back. Normally, my working hours in the department is restricted to 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. However, yesterday, as I walking to my home at around 9 pm, a dog continuously followed me and nearly came to bite me. However, I had a bunch of research papers that I was carrying. I threw the bunch of papers at it and it ran away. While this is indeed a good use for my research papers, I think the administration should take steps to curb this menace. The problem is that the person who is in charge of this is retiring next year and does not seem to bother ! However, the main problem is that there is no easy solution. The BBMP is unwilling to pick up dogs, the NGOs only neuter them and bring them back, there are too many gates and places through which the dogs can enter. So, while everyone agrees that there is a problem, there exists no easy solution.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Education and empowerment

Kapil Sibal, the HRD minister, spoke at IISc yesterday on the occasion of Sir Vithal N Chandavarkar Memorial Lecture. He spoke on empowerment through education. He talked about the enrollment ratios. The growth enrollment ratio, defined as the number of students who attend university to the number of students who attend school, is presently 12.4 per cent of 220 million and this should touch 30 per cent. Many developed countries have around 50 per cent. Similarly, the higher graduate enrollment ratio, defined as the number of students who do doctorate to the number of students who are graduates, is currently only 1% in India, as opposed to 10% in developed countries. He did not make the latter point in his talk.

He spoke on the connection of education to GDP, lack of more than a million elementary school teachers, the foreign university bill and various other reforms including the education finance corporation indicating that priority lending rate should be given to investors in education. He also mentioned that the education sector would witness investments to the tune of billions of dollars in the next two decades and become the fastest growing sector in the country. My colleague, Abi, asked him about the role of philanthropists in education and he mentioned that a few philanthropists indeed can make a huge difference in the education sector and gave the example of Azim Premji of Wipro.

Overall, it was a good talk and his two quotes "We believe education is as, if not more, important than infrastructure." "The government wants to be far removed from the processes of education but not from the objectives of education."  stood out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

M.E./M.Tech Admissions

IITs have a problem in filling up the seats reserved for SC/ST/OBC students. IISc seems to have a different problem. 591 seats were offered for M.E/M.Tech admission for 2010. Only 322 students joined. Some departments, in particular, showed a sharp decrease of students joined to students offered. In the general category, the number of students offered admission in aerospace, chemical, civil and materials engineering was 22, 17, 33, and 25, respectively. The numbers who joined were 6,3,5, and 11. Thus, some departments showed only 16% acceptance rate...I think it is a matter of concern, though many apparently do not think so.

Priority Inbox

Earlier this week, Gmail introduced priority inbox. I used to use the multiple inbox feature of gmail labs to organize my email into five main categories by the judicious use of labels: emails sent by editors, emails that require actions like reviews/reports, emails sent by director and other important administrators, emails sent by students/collaborators and all other emails. But I felt that the multiple inbox looked clumsy, though it did a wonderful job. The priority inbox looks much better though I do wonder why it’s limited to four sections. I would have been happy with five though I can combine my first three categories into two categories. I wish one or two sections in priority inbox could be configured as one of the multiple inboxes. I like the approach of priority inbox better, but still would like to add one or two sections tailored to my needs.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Match fixing

Harsha Bhogle discusses on the recent cricket match fixing controversy.
Why do I play this game?
If the answer is that you want to excel at the one thing that you are good at, that you want to find the limits of your ability, that you relish the challenge of a competition, that you get goose pimples putting on your country’s colours and walking out to the expectations of your countrymen, you will pursue those goals and take whatever reward you get. Invariably it will be handsome.
If the answer is that you want to earn a good living as quickly as you can, that you want to bask in the comforts of the material pleasures that your talent delivers to you, you will take whatever financial inducement comes your way. Inevitably it will be tainted, inevitably the dessert will be laced.
It is our choices that tell us who we are.
Ganguly, as always, puts it forthrightly,
In our playing days, we could hardly believe such a thing. During my captaincy, betting issue used to figure in the discussions with Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble and me. But nobody could dare approach us. May be they (the bookies) judge players by their characters before making the move.
Can/Will anything be done?  Prem Panicker writes wonderfully
Nothing further was ever done. Change venue, rinse, repeat, and there you have the story of India’s dysfunctional cricket administration. Seriously — what fools are we, that we expect honesty and integrity to flourish in this soil?
It has often been said that we are good at only playing games.. not in sports. If you dream of India as a Utopian society, free of crime, injustice and evil, we can achieve this by turning our weaknesses into strengths.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Subsequent to my post on Shanghai Rankings, a commenter enquired, "Is the low ranking of Indian institutes due to lack of Nobel Prize winners, Science/Nature papers etc? Would the ranking be significantly higher if one considers only citations or papers?" Some of my colleagues asked whether it is possible to rank Indian institutions by considering only citations and/or papers. Well, there is the essential science indicators (ESI) ranking by the ISI web of knowledge. Please note that the rankings are based purely on the publications and the citations obtained. This is for a 10 year window and this is updated every quarter. Here is the ranking of IISc in different fields:

Chemistry - 136
Physics -311
Mat. Sci. -73
Biology and biochem: -387
Eng. -175
Geosci - 404
Comp. Sci - 128
All fields: 457

ESI also ranks scientists and the top 1% of scientists find place in this list. How many scientists from IISc figure in this list? Well, it is as follows:

Chemistry - 8
Biology - 1
Physics - 1
Geosciences - 1
Engineering - 3
Material Science - 2

A typical response that these do not mean anything and citations and publications do not count for much. Only in India is a scientist who does not publish (and therefore does not get cited) called scholarly. In any case, the data is presented and please make your own interpretations.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Receiving gmail as sms

If you are like me who is unwilling to buy a GPRS phone (though IISc will pay for it) or spend money to check email, then you can get email alerts from gmail to your phone as SMS. One service that I have used for a long time is You can register your mobile at and forward your gmail to

In June 2010, Microsoft hotmail opened up free SMS services for its email services. Though I have had a hotmail account for a long time, I switched to gmail in Sep 2004 because I love the conversation view of gmail. Therefore,  I now forward my gmail (with filters) to hotmail and I can get sms of important emails. What are the filters that I set? Only emails from editors, my students, "good" colleagues and important administrators. Please look here for extensive details on how to set up the forwarding and filters.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shanghai Rankings

The rankings:

IISc - Overall - 301-400
Engineering - 76-100
Chemistry - 76-100
Physics/Maths/Biology/Computer Science/Business - not ranked

IIT- Kharagpur - Overall - 401-500
Engineering - 76-100
Chemistry/Physics/Maths/Biology/Computer Science/Business - not ranked

No other Indian institution figures in the rankings. According to Wikipedia, the ranking compared 1200 higher education institutions worldwide according to a formula that took into account alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10 percent), staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20 percent), highly-cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories (20 percent), articles published in Nature and Science (20 percent), the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index (20 percent) and the per capita academic performance (on the indicators above) of an institution (10 percent).


Another post with an argument for keeping the JEE in its present form. The article says, 

An issue that no one seems to care a hoot about is the imminent merger of engineering and medical tests, the AIEEE and the AIPMT. Such a combined examination will be cruelly indifferent to the plight of all those who prepare for both the disciplines in a bid to keep their options alive.
Why? The combination of AIEEE and AIPMT will merge two examinations and keep four papers (Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology). A student interested in both medicine and engineering can write all four; while students interested either in medicine or engineering can write three of the four. I do not understand what is cruelly indifferent to this plight. The article goes on to say a number of corrective measures to the mistakes in JEE this year.
Error 3: The Instructions on “Question Paper Format and Marking Scheme” for section IV in the Hindi version of Paper 2 was wrongly printed. Each question in this section was shown to carry 3 marks instead of 8.
Corrective Measure: Each question of section IV of Paper 2 will be evaluated for 8 marks.
This is the typical response from an administrator but not that of a student or faculty. A student may not attempted the question because it carries only 3 marks and would have attempted it if he/she had known that it had carried 8 marks. Often it is a question of time and mark management because no one scores 100/100 in these papers.

For example, in JEE or GATE, for multiple choice questions, we have one answer and four choices to choose from. It is not uncommon that sometimes that all the four choices are wrong. The corrective measure taken by the administrator is one of the following: (a) that all students who have attempted the question are given full marks or (b) all students irrespective of whether they have attempted the question are given full marks (c) no one is given marks and the question is not evaluated. 

All this seems to be fair. But it is not. A student, who is proficient in the subject of the question, may spend enormous time (say five min) trying to solve it again and again and keep finding that the right answer is not in one of those choices. Another student may not even attempt this question. Because the differential marks between a rank of 100 and 500 in GATE is so low, all this will count. 


Two interesting posts by L. One is on the thesis on the slangs used in IIT-Madras. The other post says, "The Leela and other 5 star hotels do not have provision for / do not allow patrons to come in on a bicycle. Actually, coming in a car would perhaps be the least environment-friendly part of staying/eating at a 5 star hotel. So why crib about not being allowed to come on a bicycle?" Well, they do not allow autos also to come in. Some time back, I was asked to attend a conference in Bangalore in a five star hotel. Because the hotel was very near IISc and that I do not own a car, I just took an auto from IISc. I was surprised when the security guard refused to allow the auto inside the premises saying it was beneath their status for a customer to come in an auto. I usually find that conferences on finding solutions to world hunger are held in five star hotels.

Friday, August 20, 2010


While welcoming the new students who joined IISc two weeks back, the associate director mentioned ""When we studied here, it used be biting-cold in August. We had steel cots with no bedsheet and lots of bed bugs. Imagine sleeping on it! The bed bugs have vanished, but the steel cots are still there." He also said that students put on weight in the first two months of stay here because of the good food in the messes but lose that weight when they are in the fourth year (or n+1th year) of graduate studies. Prof. Balaram mentioned how the 100th batch is special and went on to say that 101st batch will be even more special because it will be first batch that has undergraduates entering IISc.

The website for the undergraduate program is here. The official details can be found on the website. The website is modeled such that the left side links are stationary while the content in the right side links will be dynamic and change as the program develops. For example, recently the poster was designed, printed and mailed to 16,000 schools across the country. These posters (both the English and Hindi versions) are now downloadable from the website. The website does not look nice in Chrome but looks fine in other famous browsers. Some might find the "flowery" language in the introduction to be cliched but the faculty who wrote that means well. Much of it was actually written for a press release but much of it was removed before it was released to the press.

It is likely that most of the students admitted will be through KVPY, JEE, AIEEE etc. Thus, in most cases, they will qualify to get scholarship from DST through KVPY or through the INSPIRE program. IISc will not provide scholarship from its funds but the students can get the scholarships from DST and study in IISc. The 4-year program (originally suggested by the three science academies) is in the first in the country from a premier institute and it is likely that it will be considered equivalent to the five year M.Sc or the four year B.E/B.Tech program. Therefore, students will be eligible to write GATE/CSIR-JRF etc. Please note the word "likely" in the above paragraph because all this is yet to be approved by DST/MHRD etc.

Many alumni have asked me why only materials and environmental science are offered and not in mechanical and electrical engineering. There are two primary reasons: there is no dire need to start undergraduate in engineering when IITs are doing an excellent job and the unwillingness of many engineering faculty to start such a program in the department.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


On Independence day, as you stand in front of the Tata statue in IISc, one is thankful for what IISc has provided - academic freedom.

There is a lot of discussion of tenure and how many non-faculty (and some faculty) view it. In USA, there are very few "deadwood" professors in major research universities. This is because there is a fairly rigorous review system even for tenured professors. The salary of an active high flying professor could be nearly twice or even fourfold that a less active professor. This is in addition to the summer salary, where a faculty would make nearly 20-30% more by bringing in funding. Therefore, while tenure in an US university assures a lifetime job, constant evaluation makes sure that there are significant differences between professors. When I was a graduate student, I used to see many professors (all tenured) on Sundays, holidays (even on independence day :-) because they loved what they did for research. For them, tenure meant that they need not submit a list of publications with the h-index to get their contract renewed. Tenure in such places are also essential because one can work on long-term problems.

In India, one does not have such problems. There is job security right from day one and there are no salary differentials at any level or between levels. This gives you the ultimate academic freedom.

Friday, August 13, 2010


There is an interesting article on passwords and how insecure many passwords are. Faculty usually have to remember several passwords. For example, one has multiple email accounts, an username and password for each journal that they review or submit papers. For example, I have user accounts for at least 60 such journals for which I regularly review or submit papers. It is rather impossible to remember passwords for all these sites and, though one might use the same passwords, it is not very secure. For example, I used to use passphrases (of 35 characters or so) for the primary email account and bank accounts, while I used very simple passwords for forums, where you comment once in a while.

Now, I have completely moved to an online password manager. I am aware of atleast two very good online password managers namely Roboform and Lastpass. They will autologin and fill forms for you after you login to this extension. Luckily both of these password managers have extensions in Chrome.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chemical Engineering Journals

The growth of four general chemical engineering journals based on Scopus database. Conclusion: all are same now.

Supersaturation, melting, cooling

Retrograde melting is the process of a solid substance turning to liquid as its temperature decreases. The supersaturated wafer precipitated out its metals in liquid form as it cooled. Why is this important? Well, the melting process can be used to remove impurities in silicon-based semiconductors such as solar cells. Read all about it in the advanced materials. Similarly, you can also freeze water by heating it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sacrosanct JEE

I am often told by my colleagues how well the standards of B.Tech in IITs are maintained because of only one single thing, the JEE, which is non-corrupt and sacrosanct. However, RTIs have brought a spate of inconsistencies in the administration of JEE as well as admission to IITs. The latest is the quota system in IIT Kharagpur.

Documents accessed by HT using the RTI Act show the country’s oldest IIT — started in 1951 — blocked 25 per cent of its seats in popular five-year integrated science courses (up to M.Sc level) for handpicked nominees, even as students from the rest of India had to clear the IIT-JEE for admission.

IIT wards merely needed 60 per cent marks in their Class XII Board examination and should have appeared in the IIT-JEE to be eligible for the quota seats, doled out at the institute director’s discretion.

Between 2003 and 2005, those who got in through this illegal quota didn’t even need to appear for the entrance exam.

There is an interesting story about a state chief minister, who gave all the government contracts to his sons. When questioned, he said whoever gets it will be somebody’s son, so why not his own? Apparently, it is not restricted to only politicians and IIT Kharagpur faculty (at least some of them) used it. I will not be surprised if these wards who were admitted without qualifying in JEE went on to secure good grades in their degree and passed out with even medals. Then, it clearly shows that not only the admission system but the system of evaluation is also not sacrosanct.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ph.Ds in India

In a poorly written article titled, "IIT-B becoming an assembly line of PhDs?" the author says

Even as India grapples with how to increase the number of researchers, IIT-Bombay recorded a slight drop in the number of PhDs this year. The Powai institute had contributed the highest number of 200 PhDs to India last year. This time the number was 179. 
Contributed to India? Ph.Ds graduating from IIT Bombay are not donated to India. Even otherwise, many of these Ph.D's go abroad for postdoctoral studies. Further, anyone working on statistics knows that one has to look at 3 or 5 year averages rather than compare it year after year. Further, there are many IITs that now graduate around 160 to 180 doctorates per year.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Space crunch

There is a severe space crunch in the hostel this year. An idea was proposed by the Dean, Admission Committee and the Students’ Council to ask existing students to volunteer to share their single-bed rooms with the freshers and, in turn, not pay the hostel fees for the semester. This was not a success and less than 1-2% volunteered. However, the student council and its volunteers did a wonderful job in receiving new students.

How did we land up with this situation? Well, the OBC quota was implemented and the number of seats had to increase by 54%. Thus the number of M.E/M.Tech seats had to increase by 54% over a staggered period of three years. Though this was implemented immediately, the money for the construction of new hostels was sanctioned much later and the construction started only last year and the new 900 room hostel will be completed only in Aug 2011. Further, due to pressure from various sources and measures like not requiring GATE for admission to Ph.D, the number of Ph.D's admitted in engineering has nearly doubled in the last two years. The increase in number of M.E/M.Tech seats was 27% this year. Thus, this year (like last year), nearly 800 students were admitted while only 650 rooms were available. However, every student has been provided accommodation on campus. Alternative arrangements were made and students were accommodated in old guest houses and even the ex-director's bungalow (which is vacant now) [This does not mean that this accommodation is poorer than the hostels]. Hopefully, it will be resolved in the next few months as senior Ph.D students graduate and the students move back to the hostel. This situation is not unique only in IISc but also in IIT-B and other places.

Fundamentally, the way campuses are constructed and maintained have to be changed. Currently, the administration spends a huge amount of time maintaining the hostels and houses on campus. The current HRAs are fixed by the government and it is not possible for students to stay outside comfortably. One way is to pay high house rent allowance to both students and faculty so that they will stay outside. On the other hand, students who get scholarships from CSIR, DBT etc get around Rs. 4000 as HRA, which IISc will reimburse if they stay outside. If some students move out, the situation will considerably ease.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Search for meaning

Pavan Soni in his blog writes (I like the following paragraph; does not mean that I agree/disagree with the other issues mentioned in his blog),

Now the point I want to drive home is the amount of peace that faculties and students here at IISc have with themselves and with the work they do. A mere walk at the campus will take you to 'good old days'. Bicycles around you, professors walking in their slippers (often talking to themselves), and virgin, lush, green forest with quite a few species of animals. It's a jungle of different kind.
I appeal, just for once, to students to visit the campus of IISc, interact with students and faculties (if you are lucky) and gauge their worth.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Faculty recruitment

I get a few emails a week from prospective faculty to IISc/IIT asking why they were not selected while people with inferior records were selected. I can not answer them because I have no expertise to judge. Further, several factors go into the decision and it might be difficult to say what was favored and what was not favored.

Check the profile of the current faculty in the department and see whether there is a fit. Many engineering departments in IISc may prefer to recruit only people who work on theory or modeling (though they may claim otherwise). In IISc, except for the materials department, nearly 75% of engineering faculty work only on theoretical or modeling/simulation. While there is no prejudice, it becomes easier to judge the quality of a prospective faculty who works on similar lines.

Other factors that go into the selection are the recommendation letters, academic background etc and it is difficult for me to compare and justify any decision. Therefore, I will refer all such emails to this post.

BSNL combo plans

This is in response to several emails asking me how to get reimbursed for broadband when the bills are higher than Rs. 250. This will be the post that I will link to.

IISc (and most probably, IITs) reimburse your telephone and broadband bills, up to a certain maximum. These limits are Rs. 750 for telephone and Rs. 250 for broadband. Telephone can include both landline and mobile charges. For Rs. 250 for broadband, BSNL allows only 1 GB of download and no free night time downloading. To avoid this, one can choose a combo plan from the many combo plans that are offered by BSNL.

For example, one can choose BBG FN Combo 600, which gives you 350 free calls on your landline and 2.5 GB download in your broadband and you also get free download during the nights (2 am to 8 am). Choose the plan carefully, because some plans limit your download speeds to 256 Kbps. For optimum use, choose plans that allow speeds up to 1 or 2 Mbps.

Air travel exemption

I receive lot of emails that ask me about the air travel exemption from traveling in Air India/Indian Airlines. This will be the post that I will link to.

Write this letter, send it by email as well as regular mail/fax. If you do not hear from Mr. Chhikkara,then call him and he will do the needful. He is very helpful and prompt in response. However, if there are comfortable flights in Air India from your place to the destination and back, permission will be not granted. For example, if you want to fly private airlines for Bangalore to Delhi and back, it will be not allowed. Air India flies five times every day from Bangalore to Delhi and back and there might be no good reason that private airlines should be chosen.

A sample letter.

Joint Secretary,
Ministry of Civil Aviation,
Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan,
Safdarjung airport
New Delhi -110003
Phone: 011-24610372/011-24610364
Fax: 011-24640213

Dear Mr. Chhikkara,

Sub: Air travel approval by private airlines for travel for official duty

I am writing this letter to you in connection with the circular issued by 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.

At the outset, let me thank you for your prompt response in granting me permission to travel by private airlines previously.

I have to fly from Bangalore to Hyderabad on 24th March 2010 and back on the same day to attend an official meeting at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad. The meeting starts at 10 am and is scheduled to end at 5:30 pm.

There is a direct flight from Bangalore to Hyderabad, which reaches Hyderabad at 9 am and I will be able to reach the meeting venue by 10:30 am, which is okay. However, the return flight from Hyderabad to Bangalore is scheduled to depart at 17:05, which implies that I have to leave the meeting venue by 3:00 pm. This is not possible because important decisions have to be made in the afternoon and the meeting is likely to end only by 5:30 pm.

Therefore, I kindly request you give me permission to return by a private airlines at 21:00. Thus my travel plan is as follows.

1. Depart from Bangalore to Hyderabad by Indian Airilines at 8:00
2. Depart from Hyderabad to Bangalore by Kingfisher Airlines at 21:00 on 24th March 2010.

Thanking you in advance and awaiting your favorable response.

Friday, June 25, 2010

(old) Pinned post for prospective faculty to IITs/IISc

This is a pinned post (i.e., this post will always appear at the top of this blog though newer posts appear below it) for prospective faculty to IITs/IISc. Please post all your questions and comments here and please read this site before you post your queries.

This has crossed 200 comments and a new pinned post has been created.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


It has been a long week of conducting interviews to select research students. During the last weekend, nearly 200 candidates were interviewed in two days by 4 to 5 committees in the nanoscience center. Throughout the last week, nearly 90 candidates were interviewed in the chemical engineering department. In the department, we have a two stage interview. A screening committee, of which I am a member, interviews the candidate for 15-20 minutes on mathematics and general chemical engineering principles. We select roughly 25% of the candidates and send them to another committee, which interviews them for around a hour per candidate. The selection rate of this committee is roughly 50%. This translates to a ratio of 1:8, which is also the average in the institute.

However, these interviews always leave me pondering with a question. Suppose you interview a candidate who has scored very high (> 90%) in X and XII standard, has a very high AIEEE score, went on to join a good NIT, topped in most of the semesters there, got a GATE rank within the all India rank 10 and the performance of the candidate in the interview is very poor. Would you select him/her? This year (as in past years), we did not select two candidates who fit the above background. Despite a very sub-par performance in the screening interview, we selected them to go to the final interview but they did not make it to the final shortlist. The question is how well would they have performed in courses and research, if they were selected based purely on academic record without any interview.

My view is that we should always select candidates for the master's degree with a consistent academic record irrespective of the performance in the interview. Because there is no strict restriction on the number of seats available, a candidate who does not have a great academic record but performs very well in the interview can also be selected. But that is just my view and opinion and it is something for me to think about as I travel out of Bangalore on Saturday.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Library Budgets

I have written extensively on library budgets before. My alma mater, Univ California, has once again shown the way to deal with commercial publishers. After successfully dealing with Elsevier, they have now taken on Nature group of publishers. In the chronicle article titled Univ of California tries just saying no to rising journal costs, the letter issued by the Univ of California says,

The letter said that faculty would also organize "a systemwide boycott" of Nature's journals if the publisher does not relent. The voluntary boycott would "strongly encourage" researchers not to contribute papers to those journals or review manuscripts for them. It would urge them to resign from Nature's editorial boards and to encourage similar "sympathy actions" among colleagues outside the University of California system.

I encourage readers not only read the article but also the comments that follow that article. The Nature group of journals responded to this and the UC system was quick to counter their arguments.  I found the latter letter to be extremely well written and persuasive.  Of course, very very few scientists in India publish in journals like Nature or even review for them, forget serving on their editorial boards, and thus boycott would not work against Nature. However, the same policies could be followed in Indian universities for other journals published by commercial publishers. 

The librarians may note the cost paid by Univ of California for the Nature journals. It is worthwhile to note that all the IITs put together (all 15 of them) and IISc will have less full time equivalent researchers (FTEs) than a single UC school, yet we pay several times more.  It is an atrocity that we pay commercial publishers for access to journals in case of some new IITs, which have less than 10 faculty. I hope, one day before I retire from academics, that librarians in our country will take interest and try to reduce the library budgets by negotiating in consortiums.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

System and outliers

Harsha Bhogle writes about three reasons for the failure of India's campaign in the Twenty20 world cup,

Not one of these three shortcomings was unknown, and it would be easy to blame the system and the coaches for it. Teachers don't write exams, students do, and eventually they must figure it out themselves, and so we must return to attitude. There is no point blaming the pitches and the bowlers in domestic cricket for the inability to play short-pitched bowling. Gavaskar emerged from the same school, as did Tendulkar, Dravid and even Laxman. Abhinav Bindra and Saina Nehwal are products of such a system. Azharuddin emerged as one of the world's finest fielders. Greatness lies in rising beyond the system. It isn't the system, therefore, but work ethic that lies at the heart of success. I'm not saying India's cricketers don't possess it, it's just that they don't display it often enough.

I admire Harsha for a lot of things, including his deep knowledge of cricket and administration. However, I have to differ from him on this. There is a significant difference in the system where Sachin, Dravid, Kumble or Laxman came from and the current system. At that time, there was hardly any money in the domestic circuit. Today, a cricketer makes much more money from IPL, ODIs etc before they play a single test. This also reduces the time for practice and improving the talent.

Kumble, in Hindustan Times, writes

The pressure during the IPL is very different, as you are performing for your franchises. It's quite intense. Perhaps, the players felt more in their comfort zone when they went back into an Indian set-up and it cost them. It sounds odd but it makes sense. ...Their positive mindset was the difference between them and India, as evidenced by what Dhoni said after the loss to the West Indies. 'We'll play Lanka and go home'. India seemed already resigned to the fact that they were out and that was unacceptable.

The pressure for playing for franchises is higher than playing for India may be shameful and unacceptable but that seems to be the fact. Because the franchises pay more and makes one more accountable, players seem to put more pressure on themselves than when they play at the international level. The difference on the pressure seem to be as stark as a person who works in a startup company vis-a-vis a person who works in the government sector.

What this means is that the system is not geared to produce good players and we seem to depend on outliers to take us through and win events. Thus, it seems that players like Dravid and Kumble are outliers in the system. There are more than 1 billion people in India, 21 million in Australia and, yet Australia have a better win-loss record against every other country in all forms of the game. This does not happen by accident. Their system is consistently producing classy players, players who are "freaky" and can win matches from any situation. If the bowlers have an off-day and the top order fails (like yesterday's game against Pakistan), two players bail you out and the other team are shocked into submission and defeat.

The academic system in India is not different. We seem to be happy with producing outliers (like a CNR) and have no system in place to consistently produce the best talent or convert the talent you see in startup companies to work for government research institutions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


to Viswanathan Anand for winning the world championship. It was a good game 12, when he defeated Veselin Topalov in 56 moves. Topalov's declaration before the series that he would neither offer nor accept a draw clearly had a liberating effect that resulted in an entertaining world championship final. If the game 12 was drawn, it would have been 6-6, tie breaks would be in place and the rapid format would have helped Anand. However, I am happy that Anand closed it early by winning game 12.

Due to the volcanic ash resulting in flight delays, Anand was tired in the first game, which he lost by making a blunder in move 23. He should have definitely won game 9. Surprisingly, he ran short of time and had to play move 40 in two minutes. He should have exchanged two rooks for the queen but he played Rh8+. Topalov replied with Kd7, which was followed by Anand's Rh7+. I think he should have played Re4 instead of Rh8. 

In game 12, people are calling move 38 by Topalov i.e., Qf1 as a blunder but I feel that 31. exf5 by Topalov was a blunder. Anand immediately replied with Qxe4 and he had nearly won. The game continued till move 56 but this sealed it.

Anand thus became the first ever player to win the title 3 times, after his victories in 2005 and 2009. Congratulations again !

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventurism and Irreverence

Abi writes about Mashelkar's article on irreverence. So does Balaram, who writes,

Success  will  undoubtedly need more than irreverence. It will need professionalism, a  clear  understanding  of  the  virtues  of  collaboration  and cooperation and an honest and rational system of measuring  and  assessing  performance.  It  will  also  require  commitment,  enthusiasm   and   resilience.  
The key, in my opinion, is the lack of an honest and rational system of measuring and assessing performance. In addition, it is the lack of a critical mass of scientists and researchers, as discussed later.

A recent article in Current Science discussed on scientometrics, cricket and Wisden. The author criticizes the administration for the lack of leadership qualities, spells the name one of the greatest batsmen of our times, V.V. S. Laxman, wrongly several times in the article and concludes that the bane of Indian science lies in the use of scientometrics and the lack of leadership.

Cricket is the not the correct sport to be compared with science. The number of people who play cricket in India is much higher than the number of people who play cricket, say, in New Zealand. Thus, if India performs better than New Zealand in cricket, then one is not surprised. Maybe we should compare tennis with science. Except for an occasional star or two at the world level, and with no singles winner at any Grand Slam event, it is similar to Indian science. The lack of winners have not led to people not playing tennis and if there is an occasional Grand slam winner, he/she will be an outlier and not the norm. To produce Grand slam winners (or  Noble prize winners) consistently, requires effort, investment and commitment not just irreverence or leadership.

The number of scientists in India is much smaller than the number of scientists in China or USA. So is the GDP alloted for research. Thus, the output of researchers will be proportionately smaller. For example, India produces 650 engineering Ph.Ds per year; the number of Indians getting engineering Ph.D's from USA alone is higher than this. To determine how India is performing compared to the world, one has to provide normalize this activity with size. Such an article has been recently written by Dr. Gangan Prathap, who concludes by saying the following,
For  India  to  reach this  league,  not  only  must  it  increase  its investment  by  30–50  times but  its  number of R and D workers by 30–80 times. 

Unless this is done along with an  honest and rational system of measuring and assessing performance coupled with an "assured" decent job for an average scientist, India's S&T will never become a leader.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Airlines, cost and travel.

All government employees (IIT/IISc faculty, for example) have to travel by Indian Airlines (Air India) and, if flights are not available, one can travel by private airlines after taking appropriate permission. In a notification dated September 7, 2009, the government announced that one has to travel by economy class only by Air India irrespective of the entitlement. As of April 1, 2010, this has been relaxed and thus one can travel by executive class, if one is entitled. A full professor is entitled to travel by executive class.

The cost of the executive class fare is four times that of the refundable economy class fare. For example, the "normal" refundable fare available for Bangalore to Delhi is Rs. 7000 while the executive class fare is around Rs. 28000. However, many travel by "full fare" economy class ticket, which costs around Rs. 23000 because there are no cancellation charges and, after all, it is one government agency transferring money to another government agency.

So, how good do the airlines fare in terms of number of passengers that transport with the number of aircraft that they have? Have a look at the table below. Currently, their air fares are higher than almost all other airlines. Considering that Air India transports very few passengers because of the fares, especially considering the huge number of aircraft in their possession, doesn't it make sense that they reduce the airfares and make it more competitive?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Board exams and JEE

The IIT directors have proposed this radical idea based on using board marks for shortlisting to admission to IITs.

Entrance exams were made necessary because of several reasons, (a) corruption in the board (or university) exams (b) lack of any need to real talent to secure above 90% in board (or university) exams in some states and (c) wide variation between the marks of the state (or university) board.

Thus, JEE (and later GATE) was introduced. The first reason can possibly not be serious because these candidates will hopefully be weeded out of the system during the course work in IIT. However, this is not the solution to arrive at a corruption free board exam. The second reason is more serious because the student only mugs up the material and does not really understand anything. This is true in many universities offering B.E/B.Tech and if one solves the last 10-20 years question papers, that is sufficient to get a good score. Thus, entrance exams were supposed to test the ability of the candidate. Unfortunately, due to the predominance of coaching institutes, it is no longer possible. The last reason i.e., of the wide variation in the marks of the boards is possibly more difficult to solve. Students from different state boards perform in a very diverse way in these exams and the statistics show the performance of the students from different state boards are vastly different. Hence a proper normalization will be a tough task. A simple percentile representation from different state boards might look democratic but will not be accurate.

I do agree with some importance given to board exams (maybe as a filter) and then having only one exam for all institutes in India.  Board exams should be used only as a filter and the marks should not be counted for admission for the reasons outlined above. However, due to the reasons outlined above, I am not sure whether any radical changes to overcome the "coaching classes" syndrome is a good idea because coaching will now adapt itself to "tuition classes" for board exams.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Journal prices and libraries

In the article titled, P.T. Barnum's list, the author says,
I am sure that  telemarketers and tv evangelists are willing to pay big  money for  lists  of  gullible people.  I am going to give you a similar  list  for  free, a list of libraries that apparently are either almost entirely  inattentive to cost or  have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. 
In India, most of the big scientific libraries in India form the list. In the article titled,Libraries, Journals and Publishers, Prof. Balaram discusses in detail the problems plaguing our libraries.

In the USA and other developed countries, the increasing subscription rates resulted in many libraries conducting usage studies and eliminating journals that may not have been eliminated in the past. However, the libraries in India have rarely conducted such studies and by embracing the big deal, the Indian libraries have got into a mess that is difficult to get out, especially when the librarians of the most influential libraries are unwilling (and uninterested) to do so. To illustrate this issue, look at the article published in nature.

To understand the academic publishing market, it is useful to examine the competitive characteristics of the two markets in which publishers compete: for readers and for authors. Within the class of Reader Pays publishing, journals fall into roughly two institutional types: those owned and controlled by 'non-profit' professional societies, including some university presses, and those owned and controlled by profit-motivated commercial publishers. As the table indicates, libraries typically must pay 4 to 6 times as much per page for journals owned by commercial publishers as for journals owned by non-profit societies. These differences in price do not reflect differences in the quality of the journals. In fact the commercial journals are on average less cited than the non-profits and the average cost per citation of commercial journals ranges from 5 to 15 times as high as that of their non-profit counterparts. How can such dramatic differences persist? If one automobile manufacturer charged 6 times as much as its competitors for a car of lower quality, almost nobody would buy its product. Those who want only one car would buy the better, cheaper car. Those who want two cars would buy two of the cheaper ones rather than one cheap one and one expensive, inferior one. Journal articles differ in that they are not substitutes for each other in the same way as cars are. Rather, they are complements. Scientists are not satisfied with seeing only the top articles in their field. They want access to articles of the second and third rank as well. Thus for a library, a second copy of a top academic journal is not a good substitute for a journal of the second rank. Because of this lack of substitutability, commercial publishers of established second-rank journals have substantial monopoly power and are able to sell their product at prices that are much higher than their average costs and several times higher than the price of higher quality, non-profit journals.

How does one overcome the problem? If you are a scientist, try reading through the links provided in this website and understand the risks of supporting an inflated library budget. Currently, the library budgets of India to commercial publishers runs into nearly 30 million dollars. To put this in further perspective, the journal budget of IISc in 2009 was 11.5 crores, of which 10 crores was paid to commercial publishers. However, of the 1400 papers published by faculty of IISc and 30,000 references cited by the authors of these papers, only 39% of these were to journals published by commercial publishers.

PS: Thanks to Madhan muthu, the librarian at NIT Rourkela and one of the few people who understands the issues, for the links.

Fundamental flaws with Indian education

Raju Narisetti, managing editor, The Washington Post, began his professional career by selling cheese and butter for a dairy cooperative but soon realised that his calling lay elsewhere: in journalism. He says

The focus on year-end exams, the static nature of testing based on rarely updated textbooks, the unwillingness to formally recognise and reward intra-year two-way conversation in a course between students and teachers, the fixed set of subject pairs you can take rather than being able to build your coursework, teachers who aren't measured by their ability to attract students to willingly attend classes, teacher education that is ancient in its focus on curriculum development and teaching methods -- the list is endless and yet something that can be fixed because it isn't rocket science.