Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Irish Dance

Last month I saw children performance of Irish Dance in my daughter's school. It was beautiful. In Irish Dance upper part of the body is kept straight and all dance steps are done using only legs and beauty lies in synchronization of steps with the music. Below is the link of world famous "River-Dance" show.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Adjusting in New Culture: Going Out of India

It doesn't matter what is your background in India, but when you go out for the first time, the difference of culture from India to any other developed country is so strong that you will need openness and time to adjust in new country. Here are some random thoughts based on my experiences:

- Food is the biggest problem and weakness of all Indians, so learn to cook before you go out of India, specially if you are not married and going out alone. It is easy to get grocery and spices in almost all countries but cooked food is not easy specially on daily basis. I have specially seen boys struggling more because they are used to of services from mother, sisters or other family member. Without this skill it will be very hard to survive unless you find a room partner who loves to cook.

- Be yourself. Most of the other part of the world is non-vegetarian, but you don't have to eat meat if you don't want to. It is always possible to get simple vegetarian food like bread and salad everywhere and most of the restaurants carry at least one or two vegetarian dishes. You will need to learn to eat non-spicy food on occasion though.

- Be open. Many times Indians tend to stick to other Indians and don't try to understand the other culture they are living in. There are good things in all cultures and there are nice people everywhere. It will be much easy for you to adjust if you mix with other nationalities and local people as well. Most of the campuses in the world are multi-national and multi-racial, and it is easy to make friends.

- Be polite. This is specially important. In our culture specially in north India, it is not very common to say thank you all the time, but in developed world it is consider very impolite if you don't thank for every small good gesture of known and unknown person. "Sorry" and "Please" are two words hard to come by for Indians. It takes a while to start using all the pleasantries, but you will need to learn them sooner then later.

- Try to learn something about the country you are visiting. All countries and cultures are very different. They look same if you are looking from an Indian eye, but they are not. Germans are different than French and Russians are different than Americans. It is very common in India to say that any thing which is not Indian is western, but that is not the case. My Russian friend always complains that Russia is in the north of India and not in west and his culture is very different then American culture, but in most cases Indians are insensitive about this difference and bundle him with other nationalities.

- In many culture it is considered completely normal to drink in social setting.

- Many cultures give freedom to individual how and what they want to dress. Be respectful to your colleagues for their right on the choice of their dressing. This one is specially hard for many Indians and I have seen they make comments in their language. Probably your colleague will not understand your language but they will definitely understand your gesture.

- Be ready for the questions related to India's history and other social settings. It is a curiosity for many people and they will ask you many questions about India, its places and history, its cast and social structure, poverty, about slums after success of "slumdog millionaire" and so on. In most cases it is curiosity about your country, so don't feel offended. Try to give honest answer.

- If you are south Indian, please try to learn something about north India and vice verse. I have seen people giving misinformation about their own country because they have never visited or thought about other part of the country. Please remember that for other nationals, you are all Indians irrespective of your differences between north and south India.

- And finally, there are Indians everywhere, so don't worry. You will always find someone to help you to navigate the system.

I will add more things as it will come to mind, but for now I think this could be a simple guide for anyone who is considering going out of India for any purpose, whether for study or for work.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Attracting Talent: Lets Talk about Money

My post on attracting talent has generated a lot more interest than I expected, the reason is because Prof. Madras show interest in it. His comments on my observation that the salary of Assistant Professor in India is comparable to anywhere in the world, was taken much seriously. I know for many people the salary what IITs or any other faculty position in India offer is not good enough, so I am elaborating it here more what I think about it.

- Academia is not about earning money, nowhere, whether in India or in USA. Faculty salary in USA is much lower than what industry offers or what doctors or lawyers earns. It is one of the main reason American student don't prefer to go for Ph. D. program and all universities rely heavily on foreigners for their research programs. The salary of Assistant professor in R1 university (I am talking about top notch university) is $10-15K more higher then what you will earn as a primary school teacher and lower then what many colleges or smaller universities offer. If someone wants to earn more then that, one should not go to academia in the first place, Industry or IT sector in India is the place to go.

- I think it is not fair to compare salary of Assistant professor in India with salary of Assistant Professor in USA. Salary of Assistant professor in India should be compared with other professional in India, and here I think it is very much comparable, at least what I have seen in north India. Assistant professor salary is equivalent to what civil judge, deputy collector or any other class II officer will earn, what lawyers or doctors will earn in the beginning to middle of their career and I don't see any reason why we should earn more. It is public money and higher education in India serves very small population in India. I believe salary and working condition of primary school teachers should be made better to attract talent there. Neglecting early education could be very costly for future.

Having said that, I am not against faculty earning handsome package in India, but my point is that for many people that is not the main reason for not returning to India. They perfectly know that their salary will be lower. There are other factors also come in play. People want or don't want to return to India for variety of other reasons as well. Let me try to compile these reasons taking examples of people I know;

- Some people loves scientific research and its competitiveness, and USA definitely offers better atmosphere for that. One fellow didn't take offer of IISc and prefer to stay in USA. He thought that he can use his love for science research and talent better in USA than in India. I know for sure his salary for his expensive town is much lower what a school teacher will earn there. But he knows once he is successful, he can earn much more.

- Some people simply convert their dollar earning to Rupees and will never return no matter what.

- For some people it is the bureaucracy everywhere in Indian higher education system which is a major concern and reason for not returning.

- For some people it is local and regional politics in the universities and institutes which is bothering factor.

- For some people growing children is a big concern and they are more comfortable in Indian society and want to return.

- Other people whom I know want to return because they want to be close to their family and relatives.

- For some people it is the life style or culture or food. They are simply more comfortable inside India and will return if provided adequate opportunity.

And many of these people from last 3 category will go back if Indian higher education takes it seriously and pushes it aggressively. India has to take initiative if it wants better academic/scientific future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jaipur Zoo

It was fascinating to see so many deers in Jaipur zoo. More information on Indian deers can be found here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Attracting Talent for State Universities in India

Whenever there is a discussion about shortage of faculty or attracting talent back to India, it is always about IITs and IISc. There is hardly any talk about state universities where this shortage and the need for a bright faculty who has international exposure, is even more acute.

Many time people quote that the salaries in India are not comparable to international level, and that is the main reason Indians who are pursuing higher education abroad don't come back to India. In my opinion this is completely not true. I have worked as an Assistant professor in India and can tell that the salary of an assistant professor in any state college or university is very much comparable (sometime even better) with international standard if adjusted against the cost of living.

One of my friend who had to choose between a position in IISc and a position in a second tier US university, chose to stay in US as he felt that he can use his talent better in USA even though the life will be much easier at IISc. On the other hand, many of my Indian friends who are doing Ph. D. or post-doc abroad in different fields express their wish to go back to India and many of them will be quite happy to find position closer to their home town, not only in IIts or IISc. They don't go back because often they lack adequate information on application procedure, and salary and promotion structure of Indian system.

If the overall recruiting system for all universities will be modified keeping this mind, I guess it will be a big boon for Higher education system in India. You can ask that there is already a shortage of people in elite institutes so who will go to state universities, but in my opinion everything should be targeted altogether. When we are talking about Indian higher education system, we should not isolate state and central universities from elite universities. This is short sighted approach which will lead to deterioration of already crippled science education system in India.

If we manage to bring more people from developed countries to our universities, what it will do is quite clear; I am just listing few points here:

- First of all it will bring fresh talent in our universities which are crippled with local people deep into the local politics.

- New generation of science/engineering/medical students needs new generation of high tech courses which can hardly be taught by faculty who never had exposure to these fields and who are not current in their knowledge of even their own field.

- Students from state universities will benefit most if there are more people who can guide them about career aspects beyond that local city.

we can go on and on, but how to do it?

- Right now there is a lack of adequate central system for advertising of the academic positions all over India online and clear mechanism for appointments. There should be central website where all institutes should advertise open position obligatorily. The website structure can be similar to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Also the criteria for selection should be stated clearly.

- We need to have teleconferencing systems in all universities so that the candidates who are living abroad can appear for the interview online. The overall system can be like IISc/IIts where the initial offer is for visiting position if the candidate is not present personally for interview and once the candidate is there, s/he gets permanent faculty position offer.

- Most of our state universities lack decent infrastructure/funding and support system to do any kind of experimental research. This fact is not unknown, but many times students who did not have Ph. D. experience of smaller places have no idea about it, so it should be stated clearly in the advertisement what are the facilities available in the department and what are the expectations from faculty.

If we consider these facts and act, we can hope that our students will get best education which they deserve and our higher education system will flourish.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Interesting Read: The Cult of Genius

Its an old article, but I just came across it and found interesting so sharing it here:


It talks about immediate connection between the smartness and success of a person in physics. It further quotes an article of New York Magazine based on a study by Carol Dweck on correlation of IQ and immediate success of children in exams.

The article is focused on how to effectively handle praise for smart kids. The upshot (verified by a number of clever experiments), is that when you praise a kid for being smart in general, rather than for specific accomplishments or efforts, you risk paralyzing the kid with a fear of not looking smart, to the point where they will tend to shun challenges.

It further says:

While Dweck is working primarily with preK-12 students, everything covered in the article rings true for what I’ve seen at the higher levels (both for myself, my colleagues, and students). Those of us who are fortunate enough to sail through high school often crumple when the stuff we’re allegedly good at finally becomes hard. Whether you “make it” as a physicist after that has a lot to do with how you respond at that moment. Do you take it as a sign that you’re not cut out for the game? Do you feel like a failure, and stop enjoying physics as a whole? Do you buck up and forge ahead? (Like a neutrino, you’ll probably wind up oscillating among the three mixed states for a while, before collapsing into one of them.)

Yes, you have to be clever, but if you have good taste in problems, an ability to forge intellectual connections, an eye for untapped opportunities, drive, and yes, a willingness to work hard, you can have major impacts on the field.

Although it talks about physics, but I think is generally true for success in any profession. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Science and Religion

Last month I saw this piece in Nature's correspondence section (Nature, vol 459, Pg 321) in response to another Nature article "we can not live by scepticism alone"

My observations as a research scientist of more than 30 years’ standing suggest that most scientists in India conspicuously evoke the mysterious powers of gods and goddesses to help them achieve success in professional matters, such as publishing papers or gaining recognition. This is probably because factors outside their control come into play: religious endeavors offer comfort as well as being seen as a prerequisite for success.

My first reaction was just a surprise, but lets try to analyze this;

If this is the way of one individual, there is nothing to discuss. I am pretty sure everyone who is religious, finds comfort in it, and it is individual's choice how to deal with immediate and future challenges of life and work. But if this is the behavior of scientific society, then there is a problem. That means scientist in India are still not the part of one big enterprise, called science and are not comfortable playing the game. We need to improve! this discussion at the blog of DM explains it better.

Monday, June 15, 2009

American Higher Education System for Science and Engineering Fields

Lets take a look more closely at the American Higher Education system as it stands today. For better or worse, this is the model all other countries look at, to improve their performance in science and engineering research output. American academic culture is very different then European and other models I have seen in my life (I have worked in Israel, Germany, and in IISc, India before coming to USA) and One needs time to adjust in the academic culture of America. I hope some idea about it probably will be more helpful for the people who are planning to go for post-doc or Ph. D. programs in USA and make them prepare better for academic life in America.

For more detail information on the American academia in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), please refer to a well written book "Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing For Career In Science And Engineering" by Richard M. Reis. This book is a must read for anyone who is thinking of academic career in USA. As a complimentary book, one can also read "A Ph. D. Is Not Enough" by Peter J. Feibelman. Together they give good enough picture of American academia in STEM.

The classification of higher education institutes in USA is done on the basis of their priority on teaching or research. The institutes are classified in four categories (For more detailed information, please visit the site "http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/index.asp" ):

1. Research Universities (also called R1 Universities): These are the top ranking universities with major focus on the research. Although they offer bachelors programs in many disciplines, but Research and publications are their main priorities and teaching takes a back seat in these institutes. Since the priorities of these institutes is research, and also the source of their funding, they encourage fierce competition for the research funding and publications. The top tier research institutes in USA run on corporate model. In many cases, faculty has to earn part of their salary through federal funding. Typically students and post-doc work long hours and weekends as well. The period for promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate professor is 6 years which they recognized as the granting of tenure. The requirements for getting tenure in these institutes is typically 5-10 publications and funding from external source. Once the tenure is granted, the faculty becomes permanent in the university.

2. Doctoral Universities: These institutes offers bachelors programs and doctoral programs in many disciplines and the focus is combination of teaching and research. Life is more easy at these institutes and one can combine teaching and research nicely. The money (salary, funding etc etc) is smaller at these places as compare to R1 universities.

3. Master's College and Universities: Mostly undergraduate colleges with masters programs in few disciplines: completely focused on teaching. Faculty is focused on teaching with some research expectations during the summer. Research funding in these institutes is mostly of educational nature to promote science education in the students.

4. Liberal Arts college: Mostly undergraduate colleges. Also completely focused on teaching. research and teaching expectations are same like Master's colleges and universities. Life is at easy pace in these institutes as well.

What is good in this model is that the expectations and consequences are clear for each type of institutes and one can choose which institutes suits one's need better and accordingly try to work out the solution. I have seen people choosing to go to college teaching after getting Ph. D. from top ranking R1 university with excellent publications because they don't like the pace of life and competition in the top tier university. At the same time there are people who after spending time in college teaching involves in research and finally ends up at research university because they want more challenges. It may not be easy to go from teaching based institutes to research based institutes, but is entirely possible if one is determined. This freedom to move from one place to another, as one matures and as interests and priorities of life changes, is the best package of American academia and life.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Early Education: different approaches and goals

Until my daughter started her nursery school, I was fully involved only in problems of scientific research and the problems of higher education whether in India or abroad, and never thought about early childhood education. I was educated in a governmental Hindi medium school in north India and was completely satisfied with the outcome, so why to bother? But ever since my daughter started her nursery school at the age of 3, I also started learning about early education and different approaches to the early developmental goals. I do not necessarily like every aspects of American education system and have my own complains about it, but nevertheless it is an interesting learning experience for me.

When first time I heard about Reggio Emilia approach in her school during a parent-teacher seminar, I had no idea what it is. but now I am little bit more educated, so will try to explain different approaches towards early developmental stages and their goals, and lets see where it goes from here:

Reggio Emilia Approach: There are few principles behind this approach, such as

* Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;

* children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing;

* children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore and

* children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.
All I can say, that my daughter is ever enthusiastic about her school experience and learn a lot things not in direct ways but by exploring through art and nature.

Piaget Based Apprach: In his classic paper of 1973, Piaget describes few goals of early education such as:

Long term objectives of the curriculum are the facilitation of moral and social growth, and intellectual development leading to formal operational functioning. Education is seen as a process that encourages creative and critical thinking. Short-term objectives are listed in categories of socio-emotional and cognitive development. The model is based on the traditional child development curriculum, with three major differences: (1) thinking is emphasized rather than factual knowledge or sensory learning; (2) the principles of teaching are modified to encourage an active environment, self-initiation of activity, problem-solving directly from physical objects, and the freedom to be "wrong" so that correct answers can be self-discovered; and (3) the role of the teacher is to create the environment where these learning activities will naturally take place.

Montessori based early education: Montessori method is also child centric and try to adopt child's developmental level with the education through creative environment.

Interesting point is that none of these methods are academic centric and does not focus on academic skills at the early developmental stages.

I have no statistics with me to tell which approach is better and also, it is still too early to comment about outcome of my daughter's education. In India and also in many other countries around the world, early nursery education is very academic centric and I am uncomfortable sometimes that her education is not academic centric and try to compensate in home with reading, writing and mathematical teaching. Overall, I hope this combination will bring a happy, confident and self-assured person ready to take on the world and its challenges

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Are we promoting rote learning in Indian education system?

I know we have the problem of mass education and there is probably no better way to deal with a big amount of population, but still...

This is the question for today: Are we promoting rote learning over the scholarly one in Indian education system?

With all the marks based examination system, entrance exams which decide the fate of the student, and parents who get paranoid with their child's marks even at the age of 5, are we promoting rot learning? Are we encouraging memorizing over real learning? Are we missing other important survival skills for a child during the early developmental stage and only focused on his/her capacity of memorizing the facts? Are we missing the stage during schooling where we can teach our children how to solve a problem instead of how to memorize the solution of a problem? What are the consequences?

Is there a better way to select students for a professional programs such as B Tech, MBA, MBBS, BE, and so on... ?

In any of the professions such as doctor, engineer or manager, once you are there, your memory will serve you not better then any other skill which is needed to be a successful professional. The combination of other qualities such as innovation, thinking, intuitiveness, energy, hard-work, dedication to the profession, confidence and decision-making skill will make you a successful professional. any thoughts? I welcome all of your opinions on this matter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bird Box

Clay models of birds made by 5 years old children with the help, support and guidance of teachers in my daughter's nursery school. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How to enter in Science and Engineering Ph. D. program in an American University - Part II

Yesterday I tried to compile general admission process for a Science and Engineering Ph. D. program in an American University. However there were few points missing and a couple of explanations needed about the American university system as compared to the Indian university system.

  • In addition to your GPA, GRE score and statement, there may be 2-3 letters of recommendations from your professors/teachers needed with your application package. American higher education system in this way is very different than the Indian higher education system. They take recommendation letters seriously at all level (including for the real employment). It it would be India, you can work hard for an exam, get maximum marks in your entrance exams (NET, GATE etc) and can be happy that you will be admitted at the best institute according to your score, but most of the American Institutes believes that single day performance can not judge you and your ability to pursue a tough and competitive professional program. This is true for any other professional programs (law, business or medical) as well. High IQ or high score is an important factor which tells that you have intelligence to carry on a professional program, but they still want to know more about you, and your general approach towards learning and your pursuance and persistence. This way admission is very subjective in an American University as compared to the Indian system, but it seems that overall outcome is better, as ultimately those students who have hard-working, problem-solving approach and persistence have more chances of success than a high scorer one.
  • American Ph. D. program is in general 5+ years, with committee exams at 1 & 1/2 years, 3 years, 5 years and final defense. In some cases it may take more then 5 years to actually graduate. Students are assigned to a Ph. D. committee comprising of 3-5 faculty members of the same or different department depending upon the research projects. This committee evaluates progress of the student during the committee exams and suggests ways to improve if there is a problem. In most cases, Ph. D. and defense committee is local and publications is a way to show that student's research is progressing ok. This is different then European Ph. D. where Ph. D. is considered an extension of masters program and is only for 3 years. In Europe, it is good if student have a publication, but not necessary for qualifying of Ph. D. exams.
I will add more things as it will come to me, and I am also asking my academic friends from very different backgrounds to tell their side of the story; how they pursue their own academic career and lets see whether all these stories and my general guideline can serve as a purpose of providing wider pictures to the students who wants to pursue a degree in academia abroad.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to enter in Science and Engineering Ph. D. program in an American University

Another question came from a M.Sc. student during my last India trip in a college seminar. The student wanted to know, how to get into science Ph. D. program in an American University. Here in this post, I am trying to compile information for M. Sc./M. Tech. students about the graduate admission system as it works for the most American universities. This information is approximate and situation can vary from a program to program, but it will still serve the purpose of general guide.

1. American undergraduate programs are 4 years. Students can go to Ph. D. program or any other professional program (law, business or medical school) after finishing their undergraduate program. The students who wants to enter science or engineering Ph. D. program has to go through a common entrance test called GRE.

2. Indians also need to pass English language Proficiency Test (TOEFL) in order to get admission in any American university. It doesn't matter that you were educated in a English medium school and college, you still need to go through it.

3. In most cases, you need to write a personal research statement usually 1-2 page long with your application. This statement describes your scientific background, your research interest and any research experience if you have, and statement that why you are interested in that particular department of the university, and how it matches with your career and scientific goals.

4. Admission for Science and Engineering Ph. D. programs relies on 3 factors, your GPA (Grade Point Average) in the undergraduate program. GPA is equivalent to the percentage obtained in examination in the Indian system. Since American undergraduate programs are 4 years, in many cases, your 3 years B. Sc. degree might be insufficient and one year of M. Sc. will be sufficient. This can vary from university to university and their admission official. Also, you might need to take some extra courses depending upon the need of the program.

5. Each department of the university receives applications independently. So you will need to go to the web pages of departments in the university web site and see the application procedure to apply there. Since admission is dependent on the research program, departments are generally flexible in their requirement, that means a physics background person can apply to physics, medical physics or biophysics graduate programs. There is usually an admission fee associated with each application, and this can be costly affair in terms of Rupees, so make sure you really qualify for the program and is ready for it before going through all the hassles.

6. In order to assess the application, the admission committee (typically 3-5 faculty members of the department)considers all the factors in your application, GPA, GRE score and your research statement. It is better if you go through the web pages of the faculties in the department and see what kind of research they are doing, so you can write something about how this kind of research matches with your background and interest. Be specific, its very competitive world out there, and committee don't want to take chance if they are not sure that you are 100% sure on what you want for your future.

7. In many cases, American students who wants to go to Ph. D. program usually spend summer months in a lab to gain some research experience and also to see if they will like to go for graduate program. having some research experience is an added advantage in your application. To gain such experience in India, it is better to go to IITs, IISc, TIFR which are research intensive institutes etc (it can also be done at your university with some faculty) for few months. I know people who first went to IISc as a RA in a lab, since they were paid there for their work, they prepared and cleared all the requirement and then went abroad to do Ph. D.

8. American universities are ranked every year for their graduate programs acoording to the subjects. The rankings can be found here (U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings of graduate programs). These rankings are approximate and should be taken only as a purpose of guide. But it does serve the purpose of telling that the competition for top ranking programs will be extremely tough.

9. Here is a tricky information about finances. When you get admission in an American university for a Ph. D. program, you need to pay tuition fee per semester and also you will need money for living (in dollars). In most cases, graduate students work as a TA (Teacher Assistants) in the department, which means that they assist in teaching undergraduate courses and labs, and they get paid for that work, so you will end up getting some monthly salary which is sufficient to cover these costs. In some cases, students are paid as a Research Assistants (RA), so they don't need to be TA.

10. Science and Engineering program from a top ranked university can be very rigourous and tough. In the beginning there will be many things going on simultaneously, 1. you will need to work as a TA in order to get paid, 2. you will need to attend and pass certain courses (known as cumulative) needed for a particular program and this may take 2 years, 3. you will need to do research with your supervisor, and in many cases supervisors can be very demanding. That means you may end up working almost all your waking hours in order to get through everything in first couple of years.

Hope this information is useful. Good Luck!!!