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.