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Posts Tagged ‘research institutes’

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.

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.

Academies eat Brinjal pie!

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Found a nice article by Pushpa M. Bhargava, the former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology on bt-brinjal (eggplant), more specifically the report of the science academies, which I had mentioned earlier. (Scroll down to below the first article by Shanthu Shantharam, who represents the pro-GM crop industries.) Bhargava discusses the scientific demerits of the report much better than I have, and it is a must read for anyone interested in this debate.

I also discovered another interesting fact, that Bhargava had resigned his membership of all the three science academies in 1994, because he considered them, among other things, “intellectually sterile” and “instruments of personal gratification”. What he did not mention was that these days, IITs and various institutes pay an additional Rs.25000 per month to any faculty who is a member of two academies. Since one can become a member only by being nominated and then elected, the academies have also become `instruments’ of corruption in a more conventional sense. The members can `help’ the appropriate people to get about a 25% increase in salary.

I knew that Richard Feynman became so exasperated [at the National Academy of Sciences] that he resigned his membership, saying that he saw no point in belonging to an organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in. I did not expect anyone to have said anything similar in the Indian environment. My respect for Puhspa Bhargava just went up a notch or two.

Crash doctorate?

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The MHRD wants the IISERs to let students finish a PhD in six and a half years after finishing high school. Apparently it will lure the `best brains’ back to research. Perhaps they should first concentrate on luring brains, of any quality, back to MHRD.

Chinese competition

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Apparently the Dept. of Science and Technology has sent out a question to all the research institutes under it — how can India be more competitive with China and Japan in science and technology. Apparently this was a question asked in the parliament.

To many, a big part of the answer is obvious, dedicate more resources to school and college education, open more universities, and do not concentrate finances in research institutes. But the research institutes will not say this.

A smaller part of the solution is to support Indian science journals.

Spending without a research grant

June 6, 2010 Leave a comment

We all get to hear stories about how research grants are spent or wasted. Recently I came to know about another channel of flow. Every research institute buys instruments from research grants, but also outside research grants. This comes from the institute’s `research budget’, which is usually finagled out of the total budget by the Director. This usually means that there is no money for other things,  whether it is a students’ hostel, or library subscription.

In some places, or perhaps some cases, the allocation of money to buy instruments (or computers) from the institute’s budget follows a procedure similar to a grant application in which a detailed budget has to be made by the principal investigator (PI) and the research proposal has to be defended in front of a committee. Usually this committee is not as strict as the grant committees of the national agencies, but still, there has to be a defence.

A few days ago, I saw some figures for one of the smaller research institutes in the city. In the last five years, this institute has spent about Rs. 100,000,000, mostly in foreign exchange, to buy instruments on its own. Yes, that is 10 crores. On average 2 crores a year. This is without taking into account the instruments bought from sponsored grants, but that figure is not comparable. In other words, granting agencies did not agree to give similar grants to this institute for buying instruments. And I was told that in many cases, these instruments were paid for by the centre because the granting agencies refused to.

The annual maintenance of all these instruments is more than a crore. The support expenses, due to power, air conditioning, and consumables, is probably of the same order. Which is less than what it would cost to promote all the scientists there to the highest pay grade. But that procedure requires application, CV, letters of recommendation, and an interview committee. Why should similar amounts of money be spent without any checks?

Someone suggested that it is because cut money is involved in the purchases. I do not wish to believe him, but I do not have a satisfactory answer either.

Science and Hindi

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

There is a parliamentary committee which looks after the promotion of the national language. Every now and then it visits some central government office (or a national institution like ours) and issues dicta about how much Hindi should be used in daily work and how much Hindi all employees must learn.

Today I heard a funny outcome of this. Every departmental head at our institute must issue at least five notices a month in Hindi, without an accompanying English translation. This includes the scientific departments as well. So in order to be a scientist, it is not enough to know the science or to be able to do research in it, but one has to learn a language different from one’s own, and different from the one used in research.

No wonder progress in science is so slow in India.

Update: The requirement of five notices seems to have been reduced to three.