Wednesday, August 24, 2011


After the trashing of the Indian cricket team by England in the test matches, there is a lot of discussions on the forums for the cause of this debacle. However, there are several more comments that claim that the Indian cricket team is the world champion. But this is in an ODI format and one can not compare formats. Superiority in one format may not translate to superiority in an another format.

Similarly, when talking to young faculty in IITs/IISc recruited from USA, it strikes me that success in US universities as Ph.D students and post doctorates may not necessarily translate to success as a faculty in the Indian system. Success in academic research can be defined in two distinct ways: (a) publishing in standard journals consistently (b) getting promotions, awards and fellowships. These two are not necessarily linked and the ascent to each path of success is different.


vergere6 said...

That's interesting. I think (b) can work as a very general measure of success across research and "professional work", but (a) is very specific to research. Also, at the risk of being thought of as quibbling, for research in Computer Science, I would amend (a) to include conferences :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Madras: Though I do believe that a high performing PhD student in US has a more chance of performing well as an independent researcher later in his career anywhere on earth than a low performing one or a non US trained one (just because the rigour and series of acid tests a US trained one goes through, statistically)I would like to know what finer points you would like to see for predicting future success.

Secondly I am disappointed that such an accomplished academician like you consider (a) and (b) as success without mentioning original idea, breakthrough research as such.

Anonymous said...

I joined IISc after being a tenure track faculty in US for three years. My observations are as follows
1. the funding scenario in India is remarkable with a very high success rate. In USA, I got close to 800 K funding but for that I had to write possibly four times the proposals I wrote here in IISc.Rejection rate for good proposals are so high there.

2. However the flip side is though it is easy to get money in India, the procurement of equipments is almost a nightmare process. Everything starting from purchase committee meeting to final shipment of the equipments takes a lot of time and lots of delays are expected. This hinders research particularly for experimentalists.

3. On the top of these the key hurdle is most of the companies who sells equipments (like Laser, Camera etc) are foriegn and they deal with us through India based local Middlemen. This leads to a complete disarray of technical support if something is needed urgently at any point of time. If the equipment suffers even mild problems in most cases the competency to repair it in India does not exist and shipping it abroad is the only option. This adds to the woes and delays. The middle men type local guys are only interested in their 10-15 % commission and seldom take any interest in actually setting up a good customer and technical support base in India.
This I never faced in USA.

4. In addition, for any small equipments (say Rs. 50 K+)if it is not local made then the foreign bill process is very time consuming. In USA, I could use my P-card to do an overnight shipping of parts i require urgently (like lens, filters, flow meters, regulators, stages). That concept is missing so far in IIXs.

With many centers coming up in IISc in one case i told some of the foreign vendors to setup their small centers in India as they now get plenty of business from India and hence support should be provided. It remains to be seen how that pans out.
Regarding less cumbersome purchase process and smooth rlease of PO or LC etc, some steps may need to be taken at administration levels. Using P-card or corporate card for small purchases say under 2 lacs should be permitted even if it is a foreign transaction. However the key is to have hubs of the foreign manufacturers in India till we can produce those equipments ourselves.

Lastly it is a not a question of housing or salary it is the question that how smoothly one's research can flow without these hurdles none of which are dependent on faculties as such. I guess if a US returned faculty full of enthusiasm encounters these delays then he/she can get demoralised which can hurt his productivity in the long run.

Can Prof. Giri put his suggestions on how one can efficiently manage through all these. I have benefitted from the suggestions of some senior guys in my dept.

Anonymous said...

In India, promotions in educational institutes are a big joke. If you know people with upper hand in the institute/department, or if you can keep flattering the Dean or someone like that, you can easily get it done ! And for awards, Saif Ali Khan for Padma award last year ! .... That speaks of the meaninglessness, futility, pathetic nature of award-recognition in India. Where you can bribe people to get driver's license, where the members of Bharat Ratna committee nominate themselves for the award, where promotion happens at one phone call from an MP or MLA, it is very wrong to compare 'success' with someone in the USA.

Anonymous said...

To anon at 9:40 AM:
You are too pessimistic, watch this

"There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits"

Karl Marx, Das Kapital

Giri@iisc said...

August 24, 2011 9:18 AM:

The success rate of proposals in USA is around 5-10%. In India, it is around 20-25% in majority of the disciplines. However, because IISc and IITs seem to be far ahead than the others, nearly 90% of the proposals of IISc get funded. This does not meet that "the funding scenario in India is remarkable with a very high success rate."

If we have to compare, we have to compare the success rate of proposals written by MIT faculty in USA with that of the proposals written by IISc faculty in India.

"the procurement of equipments is almost a nightmare process."
"is the question that how smoothly one's research can flow without these hurdles"

Yes, I completely agree with you. Actually, the key to success (of the former kind) in India seems to be perseverance and endless enthusiasm in doing things that you should not be doing like going after the purchase and finance section clerical staff to process your order

Best regards,


Giri@iisc said...

August 24, 2011 9:17 AM

"without mentioning original idea, breakthrough research as such."

I would presume that breakthrough research would also be published in high profile journals. Therefore, it comes under the category of publications and citations.

Further, to quote Hirsch from the h-index PNAS paper,
"It is interesting that Nobel prize winners have substantial h indices
(84% had an h of at least 30), indicating that Nobel prizes do not
originate in one stroke of luck but in a body of scientific work."

Secondly, I do not think there is a great difference in the training of a Ph.D student in USA vis-a-vis that of the student in IISc. However, a student trained in IISc may deal with absence of "expected" things better. For example, our department has been mostly deprived of electricity for the past four days. In the USA, you do not plan experiments or doing anything in absence of electricity. In IISc, you become good in planning for things and doing them assuming many things that are taken for granted will not work.

Finally, I am not an accomplished academician !



Anonymous said...

For MIT fac. success rate is definitely much below 90 %. One reason could be in India after the IIxs there is a big fall in the quality of the other institutes whereas in USA, the difference is not this drastic and severe competition is expected.
In NSF this success rate is pretty even for many universities.

Paresh Mathur said...


You are not serious right? Do you actually endorse the department not having electricity? Does IISc follow the Karate Kid type training process? That would be really cool. Seriously :)

@Anon at aug 24, 9:18PM

Someone should grab this opportunity. From what you are saying I can gather that this is a market where serious money can be made and additionally in the repairs.

Giri@iisc said...

I am not endorsing the situation where there is no electricity but I am saying that one should not get frustrated.

If one sends a travel bill to the finance section and you check after 15 days and it has not been processed, one can either (a) become frustrated and complain about the system or (b) be happy that they have not lost the bills. If you follow the latter attitude, you will do well :-)

Best regards,


Devesh Tiwari said...

Who is Sehwag of academia? Someone who is supposed to do well in USA, fails there but surprisingly does well in India.

Sehwag: Someone who natural strength is suited more for ODIs, but ends up merely at par (avg ~35) in ODIs, and performs exceptionally well in Tests (avg ~55) reasons for which are not scientifically well-understood yet.

You may laugh at it but I very often draw co-relations between cricket players and academic researchers, and they turn out to be very inspirational.

milieu said...

Prof. Giri

If one sends a travel bill to the finance section and you check after 15 days and it has not been processed, one can either (a) become frustrated and complain about the system or (b) be happy that they have not lost the bills. If you follow the latter attitude, you will do well :-)

I am a recent US returnee to Industrial research, and facing the same problems mentioned above. However, my take is slightly different. I think many of these problems are due to a lack of organization. And their neglect may not be as benign because this problem is only going to get worse! The world is getting even more complex, and existing paradigms (such as for an academician, publication in established journals etc) are being seriously challenged.

My approach is not to take it lightly but go after it aggressively. I might add that I am not the only one, as I have seen a few brave souls do it around me. And I have found that in many cases, a simple showing of logic can helps...ofcourse it is at the cost of your blood pressure and mental health :)

Anonymous said...

It works very different in an industrial organization vis-a-vis an academic institution, which is government.

If the finance section loses the bills (and it has happened to me two times this year), there is no point in getting irritated because the person in charge and the case worker do not care for it at all.

Anonymous said...

At IITM we just drop the Travel bill in the internal mail and forget about it. A week or so later, a card pops up in your mail box asking you to pick the cheque.