Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Directors of IITs speak

on various issues.

in a panel discussion on the state and future of IITs.

on the faculty crunch in IITs.

However, there is no mention that IITs receive around 100 applications (possibly more in science) for 2-3 positions and the faculty crunch is not due to lack of candidates but the lack of "quality" candidates, wherein the quality is defined by the respective IIT.


Ankur Kulkarni said...

I had made the following conjecture, which I think is only slightly untrue. If coaching classes for JEE/GATE /Engg/Medicine etc evolve themselves into or launch their own full-fledged institutions, then those institutions would be able to attract better faculty than IITs/AIIMS and other top govt institutions. The reason is that they have a culture of doing whatever it takes to get the best talent. The kind of urgency they show to get a top faculty - and especially those who have taught in some top coaching classes - and the way they are willing to back up their urgency with financial offers, far exceeds that of govt institutions.

Anonymous said...

Very true Mr. Kulkarni ....

Prof. Madras, I was wondering how an IIT faculty recruitment committee decides or judges a candidate's quality, I mean, out of 100 applicants who are all PhDs, is it so difficult to find even 3 'qualified' candidates ?

I am reminded of Feynman's anecdote, where he says that in his undergrad days, there was a society of so-called superior or smartest intellectual students, who would recruit the most talented students to join the society, and Feynman, when invited to join, refused. Bcoz he came to know that all that the society did the whole time was to discuss, ponder and decide who would be eligible to join the society !!

ACP said...

I agree fully with anonymous@10:51pm, October 19, 2011. Selections in IIXs are highly biased towards those candidates with degrees from IIX or abroad. Quality of your research output is secondary. First thing that is looked is whether or not you have a degree from IIX or abroad.

Anonymous said...


Govt. of India is not serious about anything.

Take the so-called "top" institute in India, IISc, and ask them if they collect faculty statistics connected to hiring, such as:

1. How many top faculty candidates in the world have been approached by YOU for recruitment in the last three years? Only the candidates that you contacted, not the ones that were contacted by you.

2. How many of these resulted in hiring?

3. If the candidates declined at any stage of the entire process to join IISc, what were the reasons?
a. salary
b. benefits
c. geographical location
d. two-body problem
e. other family issue
f. other (specify)

4. How many of the hired faculty candidates have left in the last three years?

5. For those who have left, was an "exit interview" conducted? If yes, what were the reasons for leaving:
a. salary (got higher offer elsewhere)
b. benefits (e.g poor quality of accommodation)
c. family reasons
d. infrastructural problems in IISc
e. Funding problems
f. Inability to get good students
g. other (specify)

You might be surprised if:
1. The data exists at all, that is,
someone even bothered to collect it.
2. If it exists, if any conclusions are drawn after analyzing it, and decisions are appropriately taken.

I agree with previous comments on this blog that the IIXs are doomed since the government is a system built on mediocrity, not excellence. This is true of any government, anywhere in the world.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the last line in 1. above should have read, "Only the candidates that you contacted, not the ones that contacted you."

Ankur Kulkarni said...

@Anon above: I don't agree that IIXs are doomed. I only think they will struggle to find faculty.

My conjecture is purely logical - IIXs would struggle to hire faculty compared with others who are more enterprising and flexible. I believe that increasingly this is all that will matter. The obvious counterpoint to this - is enterprise and salary/perks etc everything, and in particular, what about academic freedom? - will not hold, for the following reason: A given researcher has a certain array of activities that he would like to have the freedom to pursue. So long as his place work gives him the freedom to work within any of those activities, he is satisfied. A theoretical availability of any further freedom while good, is largely irrelevant to his satisfaction. So a researcher's problem of finding a position is really a problem of finding the right match that lets him freely pursue the range of activities he is interested in. The extent of academic freedom available in IIXs was important at a time when there were not too many options for researchers in India. Consequently a wide range of academics could find satisfaction in joining IIXs. With more options, there are better chances of finding the right match and value of unbounded academic freedom diminishes, relatively speaking.

Giri@iisc said...

No department in IIX will recruit more than 1-2 faculty per year. Let us say, there recruit 2 faculty per year and the lifetime of a faculty is 35 years (30 years to 65 years), the strength of the department will be 70. How many departments in IIX have 70 faculty?

Further, where is the infrastructure for the same? Many young faculty in IISc and new IISERs and other places have minimal lab space and have to struggle in the initial years.

Therefore, on one hand, IITs like to complain they are short of faculty but they will not recruit all of the qualified candidates. By qualified, I do not mean just Ph.D but also have enough number of publications etc. Some candidates are rejected because there is no good "fit", departments do not want to recruit in that area, currently department is full etc.

IITs also never expanded their student strength for several years until they were forced by the government to increase it by 54% due to OBC reservation. Have the faculty strength gone up by even 54% in the last 20 years?

Anonymous said...

Relevant to this discussion, posts from the director of IIIT Delhi:

iitmsriram said...

Giridhar, IITM faculty head count when I joined (1994) was approximately 250. As of now, it is about 480 and some 15 recruits (from the last round when you served on our selection committee) have given joining dates in Nov and Dec. In the same time frame, the student enrollment has also approximately doubled.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Madras: when you say IISc/IISER has minimal lab space, why don't they build more? Or lease it nearby? Is money the issue?

There will always come a time when some infrastructure falls short of requirements - which is why any society has to constantly keep building new infrastructure.

I am reminded by something my postdoc guru told me -- in general research has fairly low priority for the society at large; therefore researchers have to constantly be in a survivalist mode and find workarounds to make sure research keeps going.

Anonymous said...

@Ankur above:

A short answer to your question is that IISc has extremely bad management, with no vision at all. IIX type institutions need a CEO/COO type person with adequate compensation. A registrar with "sarkari" pay will not be a visionary, looking for out-of-the-box solutions. They will be good at reading out of the rule book, not figuring out the future. Technically directors are like CEOs, but the less I say about this, the better it is. Let me just say that erudition and efficiency both begin with the letter "e", but aren't necessarily found in the same person.

Some IITs are well managed (such as IITK) because faculty takes an active interest in how things are run. In IISc, it is "beneath the dignity" of most professors to worry about the mundane "day to day" things. So, other than a select few, such as Giridhar, the rest do what they are best at doing: making long and boring lectures on how to solve the problem, without actually solving it.

You probably have guessed by now, where I work.

Anonymous said...

@October 21, 2011 1:52 PM

You work in India, correct?

Anonymous said...

Prof. Giridhar:

Before you criticize IITs, look at IISc itself. Your department had 14 faculty in 1994 and now it has 10 ! Number of Ph.D awarded have increased but there is no expansion of either space or faculty. Why? Money is not an issue but people are.

Overall faculty strength of IITs may have increased but this is due to new departments but not because existing departments have doubled their strength. IISc has started several new centers due to Balaram and this has resulted in an increased faculty strength overall but at the individual department level, there has been virtually no expansion.

Anonymous said...

If they recruit 10-15 a year, then you can have a maximum strength of 300 to 450 faculty assuming no one leaves. If IITs are serious of increasing the strength, then they should recruit more.

10-15 a year are recruited from roughly 500-750 applications. It is difficult to believe 20 can not be found 500 applications

Anonymous said...

The numbers given are wrong. The IITs (the older 7) are recruiting 30-40 faculty every year. Six of them are seeing a big bunch of retirements and so the numbers are not increasing as much as they should. The increase in retirement age to 65 postponed the "problem", but it is biting now.
At the same time, it is very true that there is resistance to increase faculty size and Heads are not sure that the Institute will give them more space that will be required.
Some places are very "heavy" on quality: unless the candidate has X pubs with an impact factor of Y .... so you end up with very few entrants.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Since we are talking of hiring young faculty - I think there is also a need to hire, at least on part-time basis, some visionary senior faculty. Most places that have become great research institutions have not done so organically or by accident. Behind it there is usually someone with decades of experience and an understanding of the knowledge landscape, the needs of the future, who has a vision for a field and a genuinely cares to see the institution/dept rise to a top place in the world. There would be many Indians abroad who are of such quality and would be happy to provide the vision to IIXs. After one or two generations, it becomes a self-sustaining parampara.

Also, I think the idea of having search committees to actively look for rising stars in a field, track them down at conferences and entice them is also something IIXs should adopt. For an rising young researcher there is nothing more enticing than having a senior accomplished researcher, especially someone whom he intellectually admires, seeking him out for a position.

Anonymous said...


TIFR, Mumbai does something like what you are saying above; they contact big shots in the field, and ask to suggest any good Indian post-docs suitable for TIFR.

Anonymous said...

it is strange that none of the departments in IIXs recruit more than 1 prof / year. they clearly have no vision of expansion or are they bound to increase their research output like has been mentioned in the previous comments.

regarding resources, experimental facilities can be shared among profs working in similar areas, but we all know what happens in iisc with the petty politics and ego clashes. also the Government of India/CSIR is also looking to expand experimental facilities so in case of a crunch experimental facilities can be expanded.

regarding computational facilities in IISc, the scenario nowadays is that computational facilities are availed either through SERC or via the servers in individual labs. since SERC isn't equipped to handle the total load of IISc, common clusters can be setup for individual departments rather than at SERC, but the scenario now is that clusters are setup in individual labs which is a highly inefficient way to distribute computational power and also there are delays many a time when a lab wants to buy a new cluster.

if the crunch is about 'SPACE' as in there are no 'ROOMS'/office space to house newly joined faculty i guess i concur with previous comments stating that the IIX will die a slow death :S

also a top engineering college like NUS has approx 60-70 profs per department whereas an IIX has around 15-25 profs per dept, and strangely as pointed out chemical engg dept @ iisc has 10 profs !!

iitmsriram said...

I dont believe the folks at NUS would like to be called an Engineering College. NUS is a University with a wide spread of departments including law and medicine. By many counts, it is 5-6 times the size of typical IIT, with enrollment of over 35000 and some 2500 faculty members. IITM has 16 departments and almost 500 faculty members, so the average per department is around 30 faculty members and the larger departments (CE, EE, ME) do have 50+ faculty members. NUS engineering does not have 60-70 faculty members per department, if we believe their web site or their annual report that is available at They have about 10,000 students and about 300 faculty members spread over 10 departments. One big difference compared to IIX is the 600 or so scientific / technical staff. Scientific productivity in terms of papers is comparable to IIX at about 500 papers per year but the patents and industry related tech development shows a huge difference. Anyway, why compare with NUS?

Giri@iisc said...

I am surprised to know that all the six IITs are recruiting 40 faculty per year each. Maybe the actual recruitment stats may help because recruitment happens only once a year usually.

My point was not so much that IITs are not expanding but the constant complain they have severe faculty shortage. If the success rate of an applicant is 2-3%, how can you call it a shortage? Maybe just like we like to have a selection process for students which selects the top 1% at the undergraduate and postgraduate level and yet call the students who have joined as poor. Maybe this requires introspection.

For more, one can read

Regarding chemical engineering in IISc, I never said that there is a shortage of applicants..

If one is to compare NUS and IISc, you should look at the ratio of Ph.D with the faculty. I think the ratio of Ph.D students to number of faculty is 4-5 in both the places. But I think the ratio of UG students to number of faculty in NUS is far higher than IITs in engineering


Anonymous said...

It is not clear to me that we have learnt lessons from the past 40 years or so from the IIT's or the CSIR labs that the government has funded. What worked and what did not ? How can we do it better ?

As a result we go on making the same mistakes, copying half heartedly the western education systems.

Hiring good faculties is an important part of institute building. But without a vision or administrative reforms we will be stuck at replicating the IIT Kanpur's but not the MITs or the Yales.

It is a pity that after nearly 60 years after independence we are yet to produce a second IISc like institution (in fame) or any institution that could be compared to the best in the West (even with lots of caveats).

Anonymous said...

Why compare with NUS ....

It is not clear to me why the govt would have to setup an IIT at Jodhpur or Mandi etc when they could have made a Kanpur or Kharagpur many times bigger to the scale of a NUS ? Surely these institutions have a lot of land to support a massive expansion ? Would the new faculty not have benefited (in terms of existing infrastructure and scientific expertise) from being located nearby to an existing institution ?
Anyway these IIT's are mentors to new IIT's - surely everyone has noticed the result of that ? A huge number of faculties appointed at these new IIT's are anyway Ph.D's from the mentors ? At least this way the government would have saved some money. And we could compare our institutions to the MIT's and the NUS's.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

One other thing that I have noticed - whenever some decision is to be taken about changes in hiring process etc, the inputs are always taken from faculty in IIXs, not of those who are not yet faculty at IIXs. In particular, low attrition rates in IIXs are used as a justification for the attractiveness of the IIX faculty job for new applicants.

This is logically flawed. For hiring we are concerned about the conditional probability of a applicant joining an IIX given that he has not joined. But by surveying only IIX faculty, you measure the conditional probability of continuing in the position, given that the faculty has joined. There is no obvious relation between the two. And it is not true that if the latter is high, the former will be high.

Anonymous said...

@iitm sriram

apologies for the vocabulary mistake. however, i think most iix profs are better at pinpointing grammatical/vocabulary mistakes than solving real problems :D

Giri@iisc said...

October 24, 2011 3:05 AM:

Irrespective of whether IIX profs are better at pointing vocabulary mistakes or not, iitm sriram has shown the stats of NUS vs. IIT in terms of Ph.D and papers, faculty etc.

Also, he has solved real problems and has been patient in answering numerous questions of prospective and current faculty.

It might be interesting for you to know he is among the very few who respond on the blog after identifying himself. Some of my colleagues also write on this blog but they prefer to be anonymous. So, please do not criticize someone who is helpful and is doing a thankless job.



vergere6 said...

@Anonymous October 24, 2011 3:05 AM

What exactly do you think a real problem is?

Anonymous said...

Well the real problem is our mindset. We are blindly stuffed with this theory "small is beautiful" and also "quantity and quality will always bear an inverse relation". So clearly we are afraid of expansion and can not even mentally conceive that something large can still maintain quality.

iitmsriram said...

Giridhar, I am not sure which job you are referring to as thankless - posting on this blog or my current position! :-) However, I plan to continue both. And, if "real problems" are those which one publishes papers about, it has been some years since I worked on one. But I believe there are other real problems too ...

vergere6 said...

@Anonymous October 24, 2011 11:16 PM

So IIT professors should solve "our mindset" because that's a real problem? I'm confused now.

Giri@iisc said...

iitm sriram,

I meant posting on the blog as thankless.

Real problems are whether travel by non-air india is allowed, LTC rules, etc. Young faculty worry more about this and need answers.


Anonymous said...

@October 24, 2011 11:16 PM

totally agree with you. we indians have it ingrained in our heads that 'quality' and 'quantity' bear an inverse relation or if quantity is increased quality dips, and we also are constantly afraid to expand our markets, talents and production houses.

sorry for basically copying and pasting whatever you said :D

- the guy who makes vacabulary errors :(

Anonymous said...

sorry, it should have been vocabulary errors :(

- the guy who just made another vocabulary error :)

Desi Babu said...

The guy who makes vocabulary errors:

You say potato, and I say poteto..
You say tomato, and I say tometo..

In the end, we are all looking for some really good "Aloo Chaat"..with tamatars..


Anonymous said...

@ vergere6,

"our" spans right from the faculty to the students. The very idea of loss of quality with quantity is inculcated by none other than the faculty, especially the adviser. And then the student blindly follows it. Ironically, the same adviser who asks the student not to believe anybody's theory and encourages to argue for every single observation never bothers to see that his students is blindly following his theory without applying his own mind. But probably it is convenient both adviser as well as the student; adviser to survive in a state of denial and student to get his degree :)

Anonymous said...

@October 26, 2011 12:33 AM

it is not just the problem with quantity. even if IITs/IISc boost their faculty/student strength it may still not be sufficient. what they should ideally be doing is facilitating/boosting research work in their respective zones. for ex: IISc,IITM must be 'guiding' the so called 'local colleges' of south india to improve on their research work and produce more output. what we instead witness is a 'caste system' where the profs from IIX openly ridicule the so called 'local colleges'(as is openly evident through this blog itself) oblivious to the fact that even these local colleges could have some talented profs/lecturers. PhD is after all just a degree and even a guy without a PhD may have potential to do research if guided/trained properly.

IIXs are basically money eating government organisations that give little back to the indian society but do their best to satisfy the egos of those inside it.

Anonymous said...

@Desi Babu


-the guy who makes vocabulary errors and believes that even if cutting edge research isn't carried out in india, it is still the best place in the world to get some aloo chaat

gautam said...

Let me get back to the original topic: faculty shortage. A newspaper report is never what the Directors or others interviewed actually said. Please remember this. The newspaper starts with a hypothesis (there is faculty shortage). Then it collects evidence to support the hypothesis and asks leading questions on a mobile when you are doing something important). If the answers are long winded and complicated, they repeat their "main" question and then you say "yes". They record your whole conversation. Then they print that evidence which fits their hypothesis.
For example, in this particular case, I had told the reporter that the shortage is not really a problem as far as teaching is concerned, but the problem is in research. Without a 10:1 student to faculty ratio how can we have enough PhD students? How can we then do "world class" research? But since research was not part of their "hypothesis", the comment was ignored. Then there are misquotes due to the limited ability of the newspaper's correspondent to understand sentences longer than 5 words or so. I am quoted as saying that there is a shortage in Chemistry. I said just the opposite. I think I used too many words in my sentences. Why do we bother to reply and respond to the these correspondents? Because it is a quick way to get your and your institute's name into the print media. Marketing for free. The more students and faculty aspirants see IITG in print, the more likely they are to consider joining IITG (students: we are targeting prospective PhD students; the B.Techs come for free, and the M.Tech scene is in turmoil). Seriously though, I do have opinions on these matters i would like to ensure that "our" voices are heard, however distorted the final version may be.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Dear Prof Barua,

I really appreciate that someone of your stature cares to participate on this blog.

Perhaps your answer to the following question may help applicants of all kinds: It is now well-known that IITs want to make a fundamental shift from their UG-centric focus of the early years to that which is research/PG-oriented and have a goal of being recognised as "world-class" research institutions. Could you list the corresponding fundamental changes that IITs (and IIT-G in particular) have made in their systems, structures, processes etc to ensure that this transition to a world-class research institution is successfully achieved in some finite amount of time? I guess substantial increase in PG intake is one such change. Are there others?
Also, for a relatively young IIT such as yours, is a particular model (possibly derived from some world-class institution or one that IITG has devised) that you are following for this purpose?

gautam said...

F... the stature part! Hum sab do din ke sultan hai.
To answer your question, the process of placing emphasis on research started many years ago. One could say that the process has accelerated in the 21st century. The intake of PhD students has increased quite significantly in the last few years. As a result, the number of PhDs coming out of IITs has also increased quite a bit. Unfortunately, I do not have numbers to quote for other IITs. IITG numbers may not be representative as we are a relatively new Institute. But here are the numbers (year, number of PhD students, number of PhD degrees awarded): 2008-09, 407, 37; 2009-10 575, 48; 2010-11, 710, 60; 2011-12, 816 (another 50 expected in January 2012), - (faculty - 295 currently) ;
PG students are 45% of the total number of students at IITG. This is going to increase to 55% in the next five years (older IITs already have this ratio).
"World Class" cannot be planned. It depends on the faculty and their achievements. What we are doing at the admin level is simply encouraging an increase in the number of PhD students (we are allowing B.Techs to directly join the PhD programme; we are allowing M.Techs to convert to PhD after one year; we are allowing our own B.Techs to opt to join the PhD programme at the end of their third year: they then dont do a B.Tech project, but start on their PhD problem in their 4th year itself; we have a dual degree (M.Tech plus PhD) programme in CSE for students who have not done a B.Tech in CSE)).
Gautam Barua IITG

Anonymous said...

Prof Barua said "I am quoted as saying that there is a shortage in Chemistry. I said just the opposite."

And, I being an aspirant Asst Prof in Chemistry shot off my application to IITG! Could have waited a day!!

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Prof. Barua:

Thanks very much for your kind clarifications.

I am wondering whether any targets are in place for the number of Ph.D's students. Currently, IISc graduates 0.6 Ph.D per faculty per year. From your numbers it looks like 800 students are on roll, which means around 150 will graduate per year soon and that would be around 0.5 Ph.D per faculty per year. Do you have any targets for the XII plan?

As a new institute and one that is not situated in a metro, IIT-G has done exceedingly well.

Thanks again.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

0.6 student per faculty per year? Oh my God, I was planning to defend this year, now, my adviser will ask me to undergo an amputation. He will ask 40% of me to defend next year. And everyone told me that doing a PhD would be fun?!

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Dear Prof Barua,

I think keeping high PhD student intake is a sure shot way to ensure that research output stays high.

One thing I do wonder about (from a personal standpoint and also as a detached academic curiosity) is whether the past will be repeat itself: the classical system in IITs was such that it induced moderately low quality and quantity in research. Without change in some important property of the system, is it reasonable to hope that it would induce a different result, namely that of high research quality and quantity?

The high PhD intake would result in high research quantity. But my suspicion is that the emergent behaviour would be that of large-scale perfunctory research, where a large number of routine or shallow PhDs are produced.

I feel that there has to be an administrative move which would serve to encourage faculty and students to challenge themselves and possibly aim to become superstars in their fields. I wonder why IITs are hesitating from making a move in this direction - say 1 lakh for the student if he/she gets the best paper award in any of the major conferences in the field. Or the institute can have companies sponsor awards for solving some specific open problem the companies are interested in.

All IITians have a natural competitiveness/ego which can make rise them to the next level when they are posed with the appropriate challenge. By not tapping into this, we are missing something.

I wonder what your thoughts are?


Anonymous said...

@October 27, 2011 9:59 PM

haha. on a serious note i think iit/iisc must at least enroll 1 student/prof/year or in other words if the avg completion time is 4 years then each prof must ideally be guiding around 4 PhD students at a time. but we know that atleast in iisc the time of completion is 5-6 years for a phd on an average :(

gautam said...

The current goal is to reach 0.6 PhD graduates per year per faculty. We are still far from that, but as you say, we should reach 0.5 based on the number of students we have by the end of the twelfth plan. The Kakodkar Committee Report on IITs sets a goal of 1 PhD per faculty by 2020 (I am not sure if it is 2020 ).
Yes, quality is always a concern. To ensure quality, we must be attract good quality students and we must ensure that the evaluation process is strict. All PhD theses are sent to external examiners (one from India and one from outside in case of IITG). A panel of examiners is prepared by the students' doctoral committee. The Dean Academic advises the Director of whether a person examined theses earlier, whether there are potential conflicts of interest (say, co-author with the supervisor in a publication)and the Director chooses names from the panel. A right to ask for more names exists.
Finally, we have to keep a watch on the publications, patents, products that come out of PhD research.
Finally, finally, we have to ensure that space, equipment, consumables, and other facilities are made available on time.
Anything else?

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Barua,

I don't mean to belabour the point - but I really think that high research quality is not merely a matter of strict evaluation. Evaluation is strict in top US universities too, but that only prevents poor research, it doesn't encourage outstanding research. Outstanding research seems to be driven by some motivation to rise to the top - either financial or just intellectual competitiveness - in addition to curiosity, of course. Especially young faculty who are doing some outstanding all want to become MS Dhoni's of their areas. Active encouragement of this kind of stardom is what I think we are missing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ankur,

Your point on financial/promotional incentives based on performance is well taken!

That is why I asked many times on this forum what happened to the "performance related incentive scheme" (PRIS) for IIXs, which is already operational for many govt. organizations. Since no one replied, I am assuming that nothing has happened yet. A search on the internet shows that some steps were taken in this direction.

Perhaps Prof. Barua can shed some light on PRIS. I really appreciate the way he takes time out for all of our queries in spite of his busy schedule as an IIT director.


Ankur Kulkarni said...

I don't mean something like PRIS which is based on purely enumerative criteria. That sort of a system can be easily gamed. Further since there is no review, the credibility is low.

I mean awards for achievements which will be considered as high quality by some impartial process in which globally competitive standards are applied and would bring glory to the institute. But it should also not be like lifetime achievement awards which are so asymptotic and nonspecific, that they cannot serve as a target. Therefore awards in top conferences/journals are excellent metrics on a short-term. In the medium term, for faculty, it could even be something as radical as an offer from a top 10 university. The faculty doesn't need to move or threaten to move. It is only decent certification of the quality of the faculty's work and his mind.

Vimal Mishra said...

@ Ankur

I would say it should be based on the quality and number of publications. This can be evaluated using the impact factor as well as citations. For instance, if someone publishes in science or nature should be acknowledged. As I understand publishing in science and nature is not that easy/common so if someone publishes in other highly ranked journals with better citations/h-index can be considered as productive in research. The other criteria can be based on the lab size/number of students. I know it takes lot of efforts to build a decent size lab with motivated Ph.D. students. The amount of funding in the given number of years can also be considered as this will help to develop infrastructure. Overall, the best thing that can be evaluated is the leadership (global) in the given field. I disagree that someone needs to prove that he can get position in the top 10 universities as this will not help anyone (institute/faculty) eventually.

Digbijoy Nath said...

Dear Prof. Barua

Your comments are very informative and true. And the steps taken by IIT-Ghy to boost research output (PhD students, etc.) as you have outlined here, are seriously praise-worthy and encouraging. Thanks for letting us know. I always wondered if the major focus of IITs is to enhance research productivity of our country or to prepare smart undergrads (considering the extreme high pride associated with getting admitted into IITs for B. Tech). Now I am more clarified from your post that the former is more important.

I have a few questions regarding the overall scenario of research & IITs. And all these questions stormed me this evening all the more, when I was having a long discussion about these issues with a guy who has joined our (my advisor's !) group as a post-doc, a couple of weeks back. He defended his PhD thesis very recently at TIFR, Mumbai after completing his M. Tech in IIT Kharagpur. He offered me some 1st-hand info, and acquainted me with the scenario associated with PhD students in India, having spent his last seven years in IIT/TIFR as research scholar.
(contd. next post)

Digbijoy Nath said...

In India, mostly, financial stability is what people look for. A secured job, at an early age, is what most people, be our parents' generation or this generation, desire. Many students, or in fact, majority of students who constitute the cream of our country's talent & who study (mostly & of course) in the top ranked institutes of our country - be in engineering or basic sciences (but mostly engineering as we all know) - do not hail from rich or upper middle class families. They mostly hail from middle or lower middle class family. If I belong to, say, a family where my dad is a school teacher and my mom is a house-wife and I have an elder sister, and say I got admitted to IIT, Ghy or any IIT for that matter, in Electrical Engineering, then at the end of my B. Tech, I am offered i) a job in NVidia with a pay of Rs. 10 lacs per annum (which is very, very typical and common) and ii) a PhD position in the same IIT @ Rs. 18k per month (where I have to pay fees !), then, will my somewhat natural inclination towards pursuing research, be able to nullify the charm and temptation of Rs. 10 lacs offered to me by NVidia ? Of course not ! .. I have an elder sister to be married off, and my parents are anticipating when I can give them some relief with financial stability.

I represent a typical engineering student of India in this scenario. Now, if we have say, 10,000 B. Tech students in one batch in the top ranked engineering institutes of the country, what is the probability that a student will reject a lucrative offer of an MNC to pursue an at least 5-yr long PhD with Rs. 18k per month ?

The cream of our country, is thus, lost. The urge to do research, as per my understanding, has to be extra-ordinarily strong, and the passion for discovering things new has to be too powerful to overcome all (mostly financial) odds. I am not sure if making more stringent conditions on admission into PhD etc,. is going to help at all in such a situation.

From personal experience here, in my batch of like 200 students in Electrical & Electronics Engineering (2004-2008 batch) at BITS, Pilani, I came across some students whose levels of intelligence, smartness and raw talent in approaching/solving problems of any kind were extra-ordinarily stupefying. I, 1st rank holder in the state of Assam in 12th board exams in 2004, was reduced to a mediocre student in the crowd at BITS, Pilani, and I used to enviously wonder how some students could be so divinely gifted in their insights, talents and intelligence. Among those 200 student in Electronics, to my knowledge (and I am true I believe), only I am pursuing a PhD !!!!! (there are/were many M.S. students of course !!)..the extremely talented students, either joined very high paying jobs in India, or came to USA, did their masters, and are now working here in the USA with six-figure salaries.

I guess I could put my questions in the way I wished to. Sorry for the super long post !


gautam said...

PRIS seems to be stuck. The PRIS (I) (individual) version at IITs has not moved as the IITs are not able to agree on a uniform set of criteria! PRIS (O) (organisation) is stuck at the Ministry of Finance. With many new Directors on board, hopefully there will be some movement.
Digbijoy - I agree that increasing fellowship amounts will improve matters. Many IITs are attempting to increase the amount PhD scholars get by "top up"s. There is a limit to this though. But on the basic fellowship we are constrained by what CSIR and DST decide and they are influenced by the market forces in Sciences rather than in engineering. Having said that, I must admit, increasing fellowships is a costly affair and unless Govt funds are available, we cannot do much. There is tremendous pressure to reduce non-plan expenditure. With the Govt's deficits rising, this pressure will increase. There are proposals to raise fees by huge amounts (which we oppose).
Ankur: I dont think giving prizes for good publications or some such financial benefit is a good way to encourage good research. Let us not monetise this too. Yes, we must lead, encourage, enthuse, recognise.
Gautam Barua

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Barua: I agree. It doesn't necessarily have to be monetized. It should only serve its purpose of enthusing and challenging people to achieve some high profile research targets in the short run.

Thanks again for participating in this discussion.

Anonymous said...

> the classical system in IITs was such that it
> induced moderately low quality and quantity in
> research.

I certainly wouldn't put it that way. I grew up at IITB and have continued to observe it from a distance. At this institution, there are plenty of academics who steadily produce high-quality research papers (around 2-3/year). The volume may not be comparable to academics at top US Univs, but I think this is primarily due to lack of quality graduate student intake. I would still term these IITB academics as world-class because at the end of the day it is quality that matters. I am sure similar statements can be made for other IITs. Of course, there is plenty of research deadwood at IITs. But this is true of most academic institutions across the world.

> All IITians have a natural competitiveness/ego
> which can make rise them to the next level when
> they are posed with the appropriate challenge. By
> not tapping into this, we are missing something.

I agree that this is true of most undergrads from the IITs, especially when there is a grade/bonus to be awarded at the end of the day. But research is a different ball-game altogether and I don''t think an IITian's natutral competitiveness/ego makes any difference whatsoever. To be successful in research, one needs to be self-driven even when there are no tangible rewards or brownie points to be won. I am making this statement on the basis of my own experience, first as an IIT undergrad and later as an advisor to a dozen or so graduate students from various IITs.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

I think we are saying the same thing. Haven't you seen your students show astounding growth spurts, sometimes even you are almost impatient with their progress? These guys then begin sprinting with their research without any push from the advisor. I think their competitiveness is what makes them achieve this. My observation has been that there often comes a tipping point during a PhD from where the student can do something world class or do something ordinary and perfunctory. My suggestion was that we need to tap into the competitive spirit by pushing more students to do world class research and thereby raise the overall quality of research. But in India, I think this would require dangling of carrots of some kind. In the US this doesn't seem necessary because there is already a hierarchy of glory dictated by the search for faculty positions in institutions of prestige. In India we can create that sort of glory with some high value rewards (need not be monetary; could be something like president's medals etc).

Digbijoy Nath said...

Thank you Prof. Barua, for your feedback & comments. I have to agree with you that policies of government (DST etc) will determine PhD students' stipend and funding. The IIT administration is unfortunately, unable do much about it.

But I stand by my earlier observation that, any student in India of any intelligence level, in general (exceptions do exist), if asked to choose between a high paying job after Bachelors/Masters degree and a PhD career, will opt for the former.

Anonymous said...

"But I stand by my earlier observation that, any student in India of any intelligence level, in general (exceptions do exist), if asked to choose between a high paying job after Bachelors/Masters degree and a PhD career, will opt for the former."

completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, atleast from whatever ive seen. those who really wanna make money will simply do an MBA. those who want to work in a tech company may do a masters/phd and then work in a tech company. those who want to become profs will do phd/post doc and try to get a faculty position.

except the first case, money isn't really that much of a pusher nowadays because options B and C (joining a tech company(even after phd) or joining academia) also are relatively high paying.

Anonymous said...

"But I stand by my earlier observation that, any student in India of any intelligence level, in general (exceptions do exist), if asked to choose between a high paying job after Bachelors/Masters degree and a PhD career, will opt for the former."

completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this. those who simply want to make money will do an mba(again mba's are also overhyped). those who want to work in a tech company may do a masters/phd and join the tech company. those who want to work in academia will do a phd/post doc and try for a faculty position.

money isn't really that much of a pusher atleast in cases B and C, because nowadays those who opt for a tech position after a phd or those who opt for a faculty position are paid well enough

Digbijoy Nath said...

@ Anon

That was my opinion, and not necessarily a fact. We are entitled to our own opinions, and as such you are free to have your opinion. I based my opinion on many people I have personally come across, from all over India.

Anonymous said...

I am not opposed to research per se. There is greater bang for the buck in other areas.

As a society you might get more designing and making products from semiconductors than doing research on semiconductor physics.

For all the recent successes India is still short on capital, job creation for its population.

Anonymous said...

@November 3, 2011 2:55 AM

that is true, but india isn't necessarily designing or making products either. the best examples in this case are japan and south korea who are able to design new products.

we have become a outsourcing hub that's all, neither are we designing products nor are we doing fundamental research.