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Archive for May, 2011

UGC Faculty recharge programme: much ado about nothing

May 28, 2011 35 comments

I was going to title this post `What were they thinking?’ but then decided against that because I could use that title so often that it should really be a category or a tag.

The UGC has come out with a programme called the Faculty Recharge Programme, which was advertised in national newspapers yesterday, and has appeared on a dedicated website here. They plan to appoint assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and `Engineering and Earth Sciences’. The new appointees are expected to be at the forefront of research, and be willing to teach six hours a week — presumably at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The expressed hope is that this will raise the level of scientific research at the universities with the side effect of attracting students to a career of research.

In order to attract `talent, the new appointees are promised salary at par with the central universities no matter where they are. But they can be posted at any university in the country, although they do say that the location of the new faculty will be through `harmonization of their own preference, response of the host Institution and availability of infrastructure’.

On the face of it, this sounds like the seed of a new IES — Indian Educational Service, which was originally instituted during British rule (J.C. Bose, P.C.Ray and P.C.Mahalanobis had been members), but is this really going to attract people?

What I find disturbing is the sentence Initial appointments at each level shall be for a period of 5 years, extendible through peer evaluation by successive 5-year terms. This is understandable for Assistant Professors, who are at the beginning of their careers, but Associate Professors and Professors are going to be people who are required to have done a reasonable amount of research and publish regularly, so these people already hold jobs at research institutions or at teaching institutions with some freedom to do research. But those jobs are permanent jobs, not five year positions. And they are also likely to be of an age where stability is important. They are likely to have families, who are settled down, or settling down, working, going to school, wherever they are. So why will they up everything and (very likely) go to a different part of the country, in a job which,   following a peer review, […] may be terminated, extended or elevated to the next higher level. Associate professors have a chance of being `elevated’ to the next higher level, but professors do not have even that. So why would anyone sensible, anyone who is doing some research and some teaching, be interested in a Professor’s position?

Any of the research laboratories pay allowances etc at the same rates as the central universities, and at the levels corresponding to associate professor and professor, pretty much the same salary. People already at universities, even if they are not central universities, get the same salaries, possibly with some lower allowances. But universities give their faculty time to do research, and the stability of a permanent job. There is no real incentive for any of these people to move to a five-year position, which is very likely in a different part of the country.

Then the only people who will apply for these positions are those in colleges where they are unable to do good research, or people in post-doc positions. While there are admittedly some people in colleges who could do better research at universities than what they are doing now, such people are not many in number. And even then, would they opt for the instability of a five-year position, unless they are at the very beginning of their career?

If they really want good people to join, they should remove the 5 year stipulation, at least from the higher positions. Otherwise this service will be filled with only those who cannot get a permanent university/research institute position.

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IITs not world class — but just how good are they?

May 24, 2011 Leave a comment

`IIT faculty are not world class’  said Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment. Ramesh, himself an IIT graduate, also mentioned the IIMs together with the IITs, and his  lament was about the quality of research done at these places. He believes that the IITs do not do good quality research, and thus does not attract the best people.

I decided to take a quick look at the research record of the IITs, as measured by the Web of Science (subscription required). The way I did it was to search for Kharagpur in the Address box, then refine it by Institutional Affiliation to the IIT, and break the search in two parts, one for 1986-2000 and the other for 2001-2011.

I was slightly surprised by the results — about 4500 papers for the first lot, and 9500 papers for the second lot. So the number of papers has doubled. The citation count was about 24k? for the first lot and 37k? for the second lot. And the h-index for each lot is about 60. This was somewhat higher than I was expecting, but perhaps not that high, given that IIT Kharagpur has about 470 members of faculty — so 9500 in 10 years is about 2 per faculty per year, an acceptable number. But I am not sure how to interpret the number of citations or the h-index. I would have expected somewhat lower figures for a `bad’ research institute of this size and age, so perhaps it’s not that bad. But how good is it?

Perhaps I’ll do the same search for the other `old’ IITs and try to find some meaning in the figures.

With all the caveats about indices, of course.

New way of doing physics

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

There is a new way of doing physics. It involves doing no calculations and making no predictions. At least not in the way of what generations of physicists have been taught as calculations or predictions. It involves intermixing various phrases from physics and philosophy of science, and reaching the inevitable conclusion that while numerous predictions can be made in principle, not one specific prediction can be made at this time.

To be fair, this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the `foundations of quantum mechanics’ people have been writing such papers every now and then. On the other hand, string theory and supersymmetry have been making predictions from the very beginning, but not one of the specific predictions has been observed, leading to the observable scale of these predictions being pushed to higher and higher energies. Now with the LHC producing voluminous data showing that there is nothing at low energies except the Standard Model (and maybe not even that, if the Higgs fails to show up), more and more people form the `currently unobservable predictions’ camp are moving into the `unspecific predictions’ camp.

The latest paper of this sorry genre is discussed here and here.

Paint the town green

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The people have spoken. Congratulations Mamata Banerjee and her motley crew of the (All India) Trinamool Congress. The Left Front was in power for 34 years, more than a generation, always with an overwhelming majority.

Many feel disconcerted that the AITC, and in particular Mamata Banerjee, does not have a discernible political philosophy. I would say that in this election the people have rejected political philosophy as a basis for governance. But it is not difficult to argue that even the Indian National Congress has no political philosophy. Only the Left, and the ultra-right BJP, swear by political philosophies. And in general they keep getting rejected by the Indian public.

One might say that the rejection of political philosophy as a basis for governance is in fact an international phenomenon, seen both in the failure of fascist or right-wing dictatorships as well as of communist dictatorships to survive a proper election.

Supreme Court loses its cool

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t know what others think of this story, but I find it very strange to find a Supreme Court bench literally yelling at someone. Judges are not supposed to lose their cool! People have faith in the law because it is expected to act rationally and unemotionally. If the highest court of the land starts showing its rage on just about anything and starts speaking in hyperbole, the common public will stop taking it seriously. Judges are not schoolteachers bringing a class to order, they are unbiased arbitrators of disputes. Supreme court judges even more so, and they need to remain visibly unbiased and rational  even when the supreme court itself is a party to the dispute. Otherwise things may reach the point where their opinion would be like that of anybody else and would be treated like that of anyone else. Some might say that has already happened.

Can the law reach the rich?

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

How many people want to bet that Kanimozhi will not get bail in the 2G scam case? And how many think she should?

Update: She didn’t get bail, was arrested and sent to jail.

Osama and the Indian army

May 7, 2011 Leave a comment

After a U.S. SEALS team raided a compound in Abbottabad, right across the street from the prime military training academy of Pakistan, and right in front of the noses of several serving and retired generals of the Pakistan army, and killed Osama bin Laden, Indian army chief V.K.Singh gave a statement to the press saying that the Indian army has the ability to carry out a similar operation. As expected, this led to instant condemnation from the Pakistan government.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but is V.K.Singh completely off his rocker? Or a complete idiot? A far more important question about the relative abilities of the Indian, Pakistani and the U.S. army is whether India would have been able to prevent or stop a similar U.S. operation on Indian soil.

Perhaps we should draw the obvious conclusion from the fact that the army chief did not bring up that question at all.