Friday, January 13, 2012

Merit and academia

Professor Balaram, in his editorial on Current Science, writes,

    The Indian academic system  differs dramatically from the  American  model  in  that,  with  very,  very  few exceptions,  tenure  is  not  an  issue.  Faculty  are  invariably recruited  to  ‘permanent  positions’.  Even  in cases  where the initial appointment is a contract of fixed term, renewals  are  practically  automatic. Academic  performance  is not  demanded  and  academic  freedom  often  degenerates into  a  licence  to  legitimise  non-performance....While  both  the  carrot  and  stick  are used equally effectively in the West to enhance academic performance,  neither  is  available  to  most  institutions  in India.  Administrations  must  follow  the  policy  of  benign neglect with respect to high performers, even while turning a blind eye to the significant dead wood accumulating in our institutions. 

I do not know whether the tenure system will be generally successful in India, except in a few niche institutions like NCBS. In other places, this may actually result in high performers being denied tenure to ensure that "non-performance" remains the standard. Prof. Balaram fails to mention why administrators must follow the policy of turning a blind eye to the dead wood and neglect the performers. I do not think that there is an inherent need for an administrator to follow this policy. A strong head of an institution can turn down appointments and promotions to undeserving faculty. This may, of course, result in making him/her unpopular.Actually, it is the majority of (science) administrators who choose to follow this policy to keep their "bosses" (ranging from politicians to academic scientists who decide major policies/recruitment of "high" posts) happy.


SM said...

This editorial is inspired by the comment of a Stanford Prof who recently visited India. At the outset, we should drop the idea of applying the criteria that Stanford uses to tenure its faculties to our universities and even our premier institutes, bar none. There is nothing wrong in admitting that our majority of higher-education centers are mediocre and our top-notch institutes are at best average. If we expect our faculties to be tenured only after they bring about 'significant changes to the understanding of the field of research', our institutes will turn into musical chair (as our finance minister recently said in reference to right to recall).

Therefore, if at all we should have tenure-track system (IMO, we should), then criteria to tenure has to be less ambitious than Stanford. It has to be based on performance in teaching, research output, research guidance, and general administration. Essentially the ones which are now used for determining promotion.

This aside, the editorial, as rightly pointed out by GM, is very tolerant to the deadwood perhaps in line with its source of inspiration (Prof Zare comments 'Sometimes we tenure people who after ward show less interest in research').

Perhaps an institution wise study of research output per year per student for each faculty during his/her Asst, Assoc, Prof period will shed some light that, if we have a general tendency to generate dead wood or if we bring in tenure system this will have influence even post-tenure and change the general research environment in the department.

Anonymous said...

With the lack of transparency and accountability, tenure system may actually lead to dismissal of good faculty, as pointed by GM.

Many faculty realize on day one that being deadwood or not as no consequence on their career path with the institution. Therefore, there is no incentive to perform.

For every faculty in IISc/IIT who works for 12 hours, there are 10 faculty who work less than an hour.


Anonymous said...

How I wish there arose a great nationwide discussion on this point. If the comment made by 'anonymous' about there being ten non-working faculty for every hard working faculty is symptomatic of is true of IITs and IISC, imagine the situation at lower levels. I am working in educational sector and I have some knowledge about the system that works against those who want to work. But I do not think administrators alone can be held responsible in this matter.

L said...

I am you get good motivated students to work under you?... to get some good work done?

Pratik Ray said...

I agree with Prof. Madras. Given how the show runs in India (again, with a few good exception), the tenure system can foster despotism and may (probably will) hurt the good faculty.

I think the Indian system needs to form its own model rather than ape the American model, although some of it could be adapted to suit the Indian situation. Let us take a few home truths into consideration. The rift in salaries between academics and industry is much higher in India than the west. Instead of complaining about this, let us utilize it to our benefit. The salaries offered by the institutes can be thought of as retainer salaries for teaching "X" courses per semester (with at least a satisfactory student feedback) - and its perfectly okay for these salaries to stay a bit on the lower side. However, let the faculty keep a small percentage of research funding as an additional salary component - this would be both, a reward for high performance, and a means for academia to be relatively more competitive with the industry.

Essentially, given the general outlook in India, instead of punishing the "deadwood", let us think in terms of rewarding the high achievers.

Anonymous said...

"With the lack of transparency and accountability, tenure system may actually lead to dismissal of good faculty, as pointed by GM.

Many faculty realize on day one that being deadwood or not as no consequence on their career path with the institution. Therefore, there is no incentive to perform.

For every faculty in IISc/IIT who works for 12 hours, there are 10 faculty who work less than an hour."

@SR very well put. there are also many faculty who are OUTSTANDING(ie seldom visit the institute unless they have to do a course or something), many more who are regularly on hiatus(which most of the times doesn't benefit the institute or the research work, but benefits the prof themselves).

in short science in india is doomed. i see a very gloomy picture for the future :(

Saswata said...

Let me share my recent experience which shows the nature of scientific bureaucracy in India.

Let me introduce myself. I got selected for the DST Ramanujan Fellowship in October 2011, and that prompted me to quit a postdoctoral position in the USA to join IIT Guwahati as an assistant professor in early November 2011.

Since joining IIT Guwahati, I have called DST office (specifically to Shri Kohli at 011-26590499 because he doesn't reply to emails written to almost every week but I am yet to get a clear picture of the fellowship. In particular, I have not even received the sanction order of the fellowship despite several requests. Finally, I was rudely told by Shri Kohli that such delays are normal "because DST is severely short of manpower" and therefore "I should not call them again in the next one month."

With my story, I hope everyone gets the state of scientific bureaucracy in India. And, this is regarding the implementation of a flagship program which is supposed to attract scientific talent to India from abroad. I can only guess what happens to the implementation of not-so-prestigious DST research grants.

P.S. I have given my institute a deadline of 31st January 2012 to implement this fellowship by coordinating with DST. If that doesn't happen, I would look forward to quit India again and take another position abroad. Thanks to DST!

gautam said...

I think the current system we have is good. We hire fresh PhDs and they are on contract for three years. Even after we make a faculty "regular" his probation period can be extended if he / she does not perform. Once we find that a faculty is "good" we make him "regular" (give her tenure). Once that is done, it is difficult to dismiss her, but then there are upgradations to Assoc. Prof, Prof, HAG Prof. Peer pressure ensures that most perform to the best of their abilities.
It is a system that is working well for us, and should work well for everyone. The only thing to point out is that an Institute's admin must be ready to bid goodbye to a person who does not perform during the period of contract / probation (according to a transparent and democratic system). If this is not done, then rot will set in.
Gautam Barua, Director, IIT Guwahati

Giri@iisc said...

Professor Gautam Barua:

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. However, I have seen quite a few cases wherein the person in contract had no publication at the end of 3-5 years but the institute did not want to take a decision of letting him/her go. Promotions do not bring much monetary benefits and denial of promotion to a person only makes him/her bitter for the rest of the life.


I think you are quite upset but I suggest you get used to this bureaucracy. Sanction letters can take anywhere between one to six months. Normally, they will be mailed before the end of the financial year (March). Just keep on writing multiple grants and the sanction letters will duly arrive.



Saswata said...

@Prof. Giri,

With all due respect to you, I don't agree with your suggestion that I should "get used to" the system.

I would rather like to see that the system becomes fast and transparent for everyone. In this age of fax, email, online money transfer, it's ridiculous to see that a DST project can take upto 6 months to get "sanctioned" after it has been "approved".

If me and you "get used to" the system as per your suggestion,the following problem will happen. The bureaucracy makes us wait for 6 months (hopefully) at this point, and I am sure they will get even slower over time and make us wait for 2 years in future. Please let me know how one can implement a "live" and "competitive" scientific project if the project money arrives at a day when a similar project has been implemented somewhere else.

In my opinion, the only solution lies in replacing these DST people with faster and professional personnels (with appropriate renumeration) who are committed to the cause of science in the country. Otherwise, people like me will soon leave the country once more. Sorry about that.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Saswata:

I do not want to argue with you. I just wanted you to be aware of the situation wherein sanction letters are usually issued at the end of financial half-years (September and March).

In certain Project advisory committees, proposals sent to them take more than a year to get approved and then six months more to get sanctioned. In certain cases like chemical engineering, it gets done in 3 months. It is very much dependent on the person in charge of the particular committee.

My point was not that the system is correct but that is how it operates. Your solution "replacing these DST people with faster and professional" is not possible because deadwood (whether it is professors or government officers) can not be fired.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Prof. Saswata

I understand how you would be feeling, and I'd have felt the same or worse, but the thing is that - if you try to change the system, the system will change you.

Prof. Barua,

I was wondering, if, a young and freshly hired faculty member, writes multiple proposals to DST etc. and gets his/her proposals approved but doesn't get money sanctioned for like 1-2 years (thanks to bureaucracy), then how he/she would be able to deliver in the 3 year probation period. Let's assume he/she is an experimental physicist or experimental mechanical engineer. Probably he/she will need to force himself/herself to do some theory/simulation using a computer to keep getting some 'rssults' to ensure he/she performs in the probation period.


gautam said...

First of all, things are not always so bad. But it does take a while. So, we give start-up grants from the institute which, hopefully will get the faculty member going. Further, in an institute like ours, it is not necessary for you to have a sponsored project to start your research work. We have common labs in each dept. and we also have a central instrumentation facility. These resources can be used by any faculty or his / her student. So NMRs, EMs, TEMs, etc. are all available for a new faculty to use.

Saswata said...

Dear Prof. Barua,

You are the director of the institute I work in and therefore I could have written the following comments privately but I would like the people of the country to know how the DST officials handle public money alloted for science. The idea of me writing this reply is that the researchers and administrators of Indian institutes will hopefully try to change the system which is certainly rotten. (Prof. Giri is pessimistic about this change, but let's be optimistic.)

In my specific case, Ramanujan fellowship includes a salary of 75K per month and I decided to come back from the USA after deciding that this salary is attractive enough for me to join an Indian institute. (Otherwise I wouldn't have come back.) Now, due to the money not getting sanctioned, I am getting much lesser salary which I am not happy with.

Secondly, you are talking about IIT Guwahati start-up grant which I believe (if I am correct) can be used mainly for purchasing equipments. In contrast, Ramanujan fellowship can be used for purchasing equipments, hiring manpower inviting and traveling to collaborators.

Now, since my work is theoretical in nature at present (I got the Ramanujan Fellowship by writing a proposal on developing energy-efficient algorithms), my need for fund now is to meet my collaborators (some in abroad) and hire manpower, neither of which is covered by the start-up grant. My plan was to spend the first two years of the fellowship on developing (and publishing of course, to get the tenure) the theory and then implement those published results during the last three years of the fellowship, once my job is secured. I hope you understand that I came back from the USA after making such a plan.

Now here follows what is happening to the plan. First and foremost, I am getting much lesser money than what I had expected and was promised by DST. Second, I can't plan to hire manpower and visit to collaborators due to non-availability of fund for those purposes. Third, this is a "live" research area till now and many researchers are working in similar topics. By the time I get to implement my plan, the area could as well become "dead". And finally, I feel insulted by the behavior of DST.

Thanks and regards,

Anonymous said...

Somebody said...

DST: Destruction of Science and Technology

Chris said...

Dear Saswata,

Thanks for sharing your concerns about DST in this forum. I feel bad that people like you (prestigious Ramanujan fellowship holders) are facing such a frustrating situation.

I just want to say that, there are many people like me that agree to most of your points and wish for betterment. As future academicians let us try to change things to the best extent possible by us! Let us move ahead positively!

Best wishes,

PS. I appreciate your boldness in voicing your concerns revealing your real identity!

Anonymous said...


we need more people like you who can voice their concerns publicly, and expose the rusted structures that are plaguing indian science, without the fear of getting their career ladders cut.

what india badly needs is transparency in both recruiting and fund allocation, and the willingness to expand and grow in terms of scietific output(which would probably entail increased funding requirements).

Vimal Mishra said...

Dear Sarswata,

I understand your feelings and hope things would be much better in future. However, I think that many other face similar problems regardless if they have returned from US or not. Please do not expect the things based on the country from where you have returned. Your stay in US was only about 4 months, I know many others who have returned (or going to return like myself) after several years in U.S and they are happy (they may not have same problems but there is no place without challenges). The other point you made that after 6 months someone else may start the similar project is also somewhat that you might want to ponder. Research problems takes years to get solved so do not worry much about that part. I am sure you will find something more creative in mean time to keep yourself happy and engaged. Once again I have fully sympathy with your feelings.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Saswata

I was planning on applying for a faculty position in an IIX around this fall (Sept 2012). I am a research scholar in a decently reputed US university with a reasonably good profile. But after reading through the posts in this thread, I guess I am gonna give a second serious thought about it.

The worse thing is, you know what, the exposure of the true state of the people's attitude in DST (& similar orgs) is defeating the very purpose of their incentives like Ramanujam Fellowship etc. Now I am gonna forward the link of this thread to a few of my senior as well as junior colleagues here from india, who had been contemplating going back to India in the near future to join an IIX or similar institutes. And then they will forward to others. The very purpose of DST's initiatives (of attracting Indian talent from abroad) is defeated by DST itself ! How ironical is that !

I do understand that due to multiple issues, the money may not be sanctioned soon. But then, they should politely explain the reasons to Prof. Saswata instead of rudely replying to him.


techman said...

Dear Saswata and all,

I am facing a similar problem with DST. When I joined as AP in IIX, I was told about FAST scholarship of DST. DST advertises that FAST projects, if accepted, are sanctioned in 3 months or so. I wrote a proposal within 3 months of joining and submitted it to DST FAST in June 2010. While waiting for 3 months, I went on to make my collaborations with external agencies which could be helpful in testing of the outcome of the projects. But I did not hear anything from DST in next 3 months and then I started calling them. Finally in November, I was very rudely told that my project has been accepted and I should have contacted them long ago. So I asked them to send the letter to start the work for which the reply was that I would be getting it very soon. That happened in March 2011 (in the meantime I kept calling and kept getting same "very soon" answer and rudeness kept increasing). The March letter congratulated me and asked me to submit quotes of equipments within a month (otherwise project will be cancelled). I submitted the same in one week, and again I did not receive any acknowledgement from DST. Though I called and got a confirmation that they have received my documents and everything is in order and I will be getting my money "very soon". Since then it has been going on for last 10 months, I am getting the same answer. Now whenever I call, the person in charge (A great distinguished scientist of DST) gets very angry and complains that only I am bothering him while rest (there seems to be others in same fate) are fine with their status.

So after submitting a FAST proposal (which was accepted without any modification) I am waiting for last 1 and 1/2 year to get the money.

@Prof. Barua: Sir, things are that bad. And now tell how as an AP I am supposed to show you world class research in my contract period. If you ape the American system for evaluation of young faculty, please also make sure that your other systems are delivering in similar American efficiency.

@Saswat: Since coming back to India, I am just feeling frustration, so if you can go back, then do it now before it is too late ("getting used to of the system").

Anonymous said...

Is mulk ne har shaks ko jo kaam tha saunpa...har shaks ne us kaam ki maachis jala ke chhod di....

Anonymous said...

It appears DST is pretty awful administratively. Are other Indian funding agencies also as bad?

It is true that one has to be in system to improve the system. But things have gone too bad right at the top. Who will bell the cat? ANNA?


vimal said...

Please send these experiences (mostly bad) as a reply to Prof. Balram's recent article in the Current Science. I hope enough people read the Current Science journal in India and this may be an eye opener.

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Barua,

The DST processing even after proposal approval is quite pathetic to say the least. there is no real reason why funds transfer can take so much time. In a way that puts a researcher well behind his schedule. Institute startup does not go a long way especially if you are an experimentalist. Maybe people like yourself can advise the Government to shape up DST so that people can remain competitive in research. I had been a faculty member in USA and can say that for agencies like NSF the time from proposal submission to project funding receipt is atleast 6-8 months short compared to DST. In addition to this delay please add the delays involved in purchasing any major equipment (quotations+technical committee formation+PO issue+Order ack+LC issue+shipment+customs clearance). Together it is atleast 1.5 years slower than USA. So in a nutshell not only the DSt has to shape up but also the purchase/accounts etc of the individual IIXs. In state universities this cumulative delay can be easily 2+ years. These are bad symptoms and not good for research. On the top if any instrument goes bad, repair of simple things are nightmares in their own right.
Maybe all directors of IIxs can fix this problem or atleast decrease all these delays. In spite of this people like Giridhar publish and do well. But if things are made a little simpler maybe there will be more giridhars. As Prof. Balaram puts in his editorial, there is lots of money in India for doing research but whether we are capable of absorbing that much money with a poor support staff setup is the big question.

A Professor in IISc

gautam said...

Folks, there is no need to over react. Threatening to "return" to the US if something or the other is not done is clearly a childish reaction. Giving a deadline of January 31 to the Director (by Saswat) to ensure that DST releases his fellowship is even more childish. Actually Saswat had applied to ISI Kolkata and got the green signal to get the Ramanujam Fellowship from DST. We made him a better offer than ISI and he got convinced to switch and we wrote all the required letters to allow this change to happen to DST. The delay at the DST side could be because this requires an "out of process" intervention.
Saswat, you want to hire manpower through the start-up grant? We will allow you to as we have done in other cases earlier of which you may not be aware.
DST will come through I am sure. In fact DST is one of the best govt funding agencies. They are under-staffed as the volume of work has increased (with a huge increase in research finding) and the increase in manpower at DST has not kept up. Please be positive and let us all spend more time on productive pursuits such as doing research with whatever we have.

Digbijoy Nath said...

Prof. Barua

Your comment is highly encouraging and optimistic in this rather pessimism-invoking discussions/thread. As a prospective faculty applicant to IIX in the next 1.5 to 2 yrs, I really feel very relieved and positive with your last post.


Anonymous said...

Well said Prof. Barua!

I joined IISc a few years ago and there have been many times that I have had the desire to quit. I spent a loooong time (10+ years)in the US before coming back home. Every time I think of going back, something good happens in our system, that makes me rethink my decision.

The trick about succeeding in academia in India is to have patience, and in our initial years, we don't have much of that. Eventually, things fall into place.

Saswat: Don't get stressed out, learn to take a break. Things will eventually work out.

And please don't threaten your poor director with leaving. They are pretty much in the same boat as us, and they are trying really hard to make a difference. So, help them, they need all the help they can get.

About DST, I respectfully disagree with Prof. Barua. I have good information that in one of the back rooms, they have installed a machine to turn our research proposals into toilet paper. I leave the rest to your imagination.


Saswata said...

Dear Prof. Barua,

Thank you for showing high optimism about DST. However, I disagree that switching the host institute for the fellowship could be the reason for the delay by DST. It's clearly mentioned on the DST website that "the Ramanujan Fellows could work in any of the scientific institutions and universities in the country". Moreover, we finished this switching process in November 2011 itself. Thereafter, I always hear from DST that the fellowship would be sanctioned "soon"!

Regarding the start-up grant, I would talk with the concerned person at IIT Guwahati. My initial impression was that I wouldn't get it at all because I would get a similar research grant (same amount, i.e., 5 Lakhs per annum) with the Ramanujan fellowship. In fact, I was verbally told by the Dean R&D of IIT Guwahati that I wouldn't get both grants. Therefore, I decided to wait for the Ramanujan research grant as it's supposedly less restrictive than the IIT Guwahati start-up grant.

I am sorry if my reaction appears childish, but in my opinion it shouldn't take more than "3 days" to get a fellowship/grant sanctioned after it has been approved. DST could have faxed/emailed the sanction letter (followed by hard-copy later just for formality), and transfered the money online which could have taken upto 3 days to get cleared by the bank. If this is a childish expectation, I would say that a child could have indeed achieved this simple task quicker than what the matured officers in DST have been doing over the last 2 months.

Anyway, I think there is a mismatch between the expectation levels of different generations in our country.
Older people take many things for granted (e.g., money can only be transfered by cheque/draft, letter can only be sent by post, etc.), whereas younger people like me can always suggest much better alternatives.

Finally, thank you very much again for your positive reply.


Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Barua,

Since the problem that Saswata has faced may be common, have you/IITG considered hiring a specialist(s) for dealing with the government? People who know their way around through the bureaucratic corridors and get work done? And also possibly some staff/secretaries who can do the donkey work of following up on applications to the government on behalf of your faculty so that faculty can use their brains for doing greater things?

The problem that Saswata has faced is nontrivial and something that he should not be expected to be an know how to tackle. I think you should also be facilitating him and other young faculty administratively along with the morale-boost that you are already providing.

Giri@iisc said...

DST is one of the best funding agencies around. Most of my research has been done by DST funding. Funding by other agencies eg. DBT takes much longer.

In DST, as I mentioned, the approval and sanction takes anywhere between 3 and 18 months, depending on the PAC, DST person handling it etc. For example, PACs of chemical engineering, electrical engineering, some branches of chemistry etc are extremely fast. The DST person ensures that the sanction letter reaches you quickly. In others, it is not so fast but still faster than many other government agencies.

Would you like to see that the system becomes fast and efficient? Sure, all of us would. Is IIT/IISc among the best places to do research in India? Yes, it is. Are they as fast and efficient? No. Are they improving? Yes.

Please note that within the last twenty years, the quantum of funding to IITs/IISc has gone up by more than 20 times. The amount of money handled by DST has also gone up by nearly 20 times. The clerical staff employed in these institutions have actually gone down. In the last twenty years, the number of clerical staff employed in IISc has reduced by a third.

Solutions proposed have to be practical and implementable in the current system. Till then, as mentioned by “Anon@January 15, 2012 8:47 PM” “whether we are capable of absorbing that much money with a poor support staff setup is the big question.”


Anonymous said...

The EE PAC of DST is really fast. I think it is the best PAC. The guy (Mr. Reddy) who runs the show is young and very hardworking. Surprised to see such a motivated young fellow in Govt environment. I am thankful to him for my success in research at IISc.
However I have heard horror stories about other PACs.
What we need couples of more guys like him in the system.

Anonymous said...


About DST, I respectfully disagree with Prof. Barua. I have good information that in one of the back rooms, they have installed a machine to turn our research proposals into toilet paper. I leave the rest to your imagination.


You know what they say about great ideas right? If your idea belongs to the toilet, the cosmos will take care of the inevitable...

DST is merely being environment friendly. So, submit better proposals, and they won't end up in the toilet!

Giri@iisc said...

Actually, Reddy and Tayal, were handling chemical engineering PAC and they were very fast and efficient. Because of this, they were asked to take care of EE PACs also.

Similarly, now, another person, Brikhaspathy, handles all the four PACs of the chemistry. He is now given more PACs.

They reply to all emails, send sanction/approval letters by email, send money transfers online etc.

This is also a problem in government sectors. People who are deemed efficient are given more and more work.


Anonymous said...

I am really impressed and motivated by the comments made by Prof. Barua. I am reading the interview of Dr. CNR Rao and according to him to succeed as a scientist in India, one needs "Stamina, tenacity, doggedness, perseverance, and little intelligence"
Giving up is very easy but working hard to make sure that you change the system and improve it for everyone is difficult. If you have taken a leap of faith and joined IIX, then you should also have faith in the institute.
-- IITG Alumnus (and ex GB Sir's student)

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the mentioned problems in Indian bureaucratic systems (and actually have dealt with them personally) and that there is a significant need for improvement, but here I agree with Prof. Barua that threatening to quit or returning to USA is a childish act. Things don't go as fast in US as well. Sure, once the grant is approved in USA, money can come fast, but before that you need to spend number of rounds writing grants and getting rejected before you have a sanctioned grant and your project can be dead anyway (if you are new and it is a hot area, there sure should be big shots trying to get similar grants). If the researcher's life is dependent on one idea, sooner or later he/she will be deadwood anyway, irrespective of the system. I am sure Saswata had done his homework before deciding to return to India.

I am writing this from USA as a new asstt prof. where I got my second grant just rejected and can not start my project because of lack of money and I am sure it will be a success once I have a chance to start...

Anonymous said...


Do you know the proposal selection ratio in the US ? You write hundreds and be lucky to get even one... even NAE fellows and distinguished professors in service for 30+ years have routinely got their proposals rejected very often (I know personally)... by the time your proposal is accepted, your colleague in India, although with a snail-slow system, would have got his very first proposal accepted and money sanctioned. You stayed in the US academic system only for a few months... if you come back here to the USA, you will at least take another 10 years before you get a faculty position in a top 50 ranked school in your area. I am serious.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

@anon above:

The point is not that things take time in US too. The point is that many of the good things about the Indian system - such as academic freedom and abundant funding - are not there by design. They are quirks of the system. IITs offer acadmic freedom not because that is known or has been shown to be a system that delives better performance, but because they didn't really care about research for too long. Likwise getting grants is easier not because of a commitment to research, but because there isn't as much competition. The things that are present by design - such as therules, regulations and bureaucracy - are actually counterproductive, as Saswata's case shows. These are signs of a failed or stupid approach to system design. And such a system is bound to begin counter-performing when the quirks are no more dominant.

@Prof Madras when you say that things are improving, are there examples of structural system level changes that have been made?

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Madras,

Thank you for your post about DST working.

But is it so difficult to hire staff for DST and IISc to do administrative work?


Prof. TA

Saswata said...

@Anon 16th Jan 11:13 pm
@Anon 17th Jan 1:29 am

I don't mind going through a highly competitive grant approval process in India as well. Please think why it's less competitive in India. That's because many people like you have left the country to avoid Indian bureaucracy and other problems. If you are finding it so difficult to get research grants approved in the USA, then why are you not coming back to India and get the same proposal accepted here? After all, you had written the grant proposal to implement a research project and if you are serious about the project, you should try to implement it anywhere in the world. Of course, if you had written the proposal because everyone else had been writing something or the other, then the above argument doesn't hold.

Let's not take solace in the fact that there are XYZ problems in the USA and therefore its okay to have X'Y'Z' problems in India. I am sure that an improved bureaucracy combined with the easy availability of funding (plus academic freedom, closeness to family etc.) will attract more people to India. Currently, the bureaucracy is acting as a repulsive force whereas the other issues are attracting people who could have tried to settle abroad.

In my case, the repulsive force is acting strong now but the attractive forces will hopefully overtake it at some point of time. However, if DST bureaucracy manages to increase it's repulsive force, I (and many other Indian scientists like you) would have to leave the country ignoring the attractive forces.

I sincerely hope that DST is improving as Prof. Giri has mentioned. It may be that the person I dealt with (Shri Kohli) is not effective, whereas many others in DST are. If that is the case, I made the mistake that a blind person (a new faculty in India with no experience of dealing with DST, plus no institute support for the same) would do to judge the shape of an elephant by touching its tail!


Giri@iisc said...

"But is it so difficult to hire staff for DST and IISc to do administrative work? "

The last recruitment for B/C/D positions was around 20 years back in IISc. Government has now closed all D positions and it is completely outsourced.

Hiring B/C staff is also a big problem with reservations and union problems. The salaries can not match with private sector so good people are not available. Further, there is no guarantee that they will work after joining. Promotions for these staff are based on seniority and there is no incentive to work at all.

While it applies to faculty as well, faculty can get recognition (awards, fellowships etc.) if they work well. There are also other incentives like going abroad, 3 month vacation, consultancy etc. For staff, there is nothing.

As Balaram points out, the administrator lacks both the stick and carrot.

While I am not saying these problems are the only cause of bureaucracy and nothing can be done, you should understand the difficult circumstances faced by directors like Prof. Balaram/ Barua.



vishu said...

Dear Profs. Giridhar and Barua, Given that govt. does not have any scheme to provide incentives to staff, it feasible that this can be done at the IIX level? In fact, they don't even have to be anything like increasing salaries, etc. They could just be about providing a memento, one time gift/cash, etc to staff who are dedicated and hard working.

Giri@iisc said...

Dear Vishu,

The faculty association of IISc tried to give a memento to 2-3 staff, judged to be the best by the faculty. This happened in 2002.

I do not want to write in a public forum regarding the outrage and the problems this created. Enquire with your friends :-)


Saswata said...

Just to update the readers of this blog, the sanction order for Ramanujan fellowship has arrived today by an "urgent" "speed-post" letter posted three days back. Therefore, I stop participating in this discussion here with the hope that DST will keep on improving in future :-)

Anonymous said...

Just to update the readers of this blog, the sanction order for Ramanujan fellowship has arrived today by an "urgent" "speed-post" letter posted three days back.

Congrats! Now, get back to work, and cancel your air ticket to the US.

The only flying now you will do, will be on Air India. Then hang-gliders, when AI goes out of business...

gautam said...

Noooooo! We allow flying by non air india if you have to wait for more than 5 hours for a connection or stay overnight. I know this will not impress metrowallahs, but here is a situation where being in a non metro place allows us to travel by all airlines!
I told you DST will come through! In fact DST Secy told me today ( i happened to meet him in a meeting; was not lobbying him due to pressure from this blog :-) ) that some delay was there as the establishment of a SERB (check out on Internet what this animal is)was keeping folks in DST busy! Things work! Takes time, but delivers!

Anonymous said...

"...establishment of a SERB (check out on Internet what this animal is).."

Prof. Barua,

I know that you are a fan of Hindi shayari, so, here are a few lines dedicated to SERB after my internet research on this animal -

Humne din aur raat ki kamartod mehnat,
Aur unhone hume ek (black)board pakda diya?

L said...

"But is it so difficult to hire staff for DST and IISc....The last recruitment for B/C/D positions was around 20 years back in IISc"
Is it against rules for a group of profs to get together and outsource the clerical/follow-up process, paying for the service through a pool of money from their grants?

iitmsriram said...

@L asks "Is it against rules for a group of profs to get together and outsource the clerical/follow-up process". The labour laws have not been updated since the 70's. It is illegal to outsource work that is of a continuing nature. In fact, much of the outsourced work is of this nature and that makes much of outsourcing illegal. To give a specific example, creating a new web site is a one shot affair, so it would be legal to outsource that as a contract. But maintaining the site, which would be typically outsourced to the same entity, would be continuing activity and cannot be legally outsourced. The employees who are tasked with the maintenance can complain to the Labour Commissioner and legally force conversion into permanent work force. The kind of support @L advocates would be of continuing nature and would be difficult to outsource legally.

Anonymous said...

Here's an anecdote towards the discussion on outsourcing...At least in one old IIT the departmental webservers are maintained by system admin people who work on contract. Some of these people perform abysmally due to lack of good training or prior experience. By the time they learn something, they move on to the next higher paying job and the whole cycle starts again. So relying on contract staff for support services may not always work (at least for IT-related things).

vishu said...

@January 22, 2012 3:41 PM

I agree with you. On the other hand, if IT related staff are hired permanently, they don't learn beyond what they knew at the stage of hiring. They will be promoted, irrespective of they upgrade their knowledge or not! This means, they become redundant in a matter of years.