Thursday, July 30, 2009

Welcome to Tatvi in this blog forum

Tatvi, an assistant professor of physical science in one of the elite institute joins today on this forum. Together we hope to create interesting discussion around academia and life in general. Welcome aboard Tatvi!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

summer break

These days its hard to write anything due to various summer related activities, so blogging is more sporadic. Once summer is over, I will be able to write more regularly. Here is a beautiful evening picture of a boat in the lake Michigan.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Feynmann and his Charisma

Every physics student at some point of time gets in love with Richard Feynman and his lecture series on Physics. Here is a good news for Feynman fans, Microsoft has launched the video series of messenger lectures series online with the new research website Project Tuva free for public to enjoy the beauty of physics being told beautifully. You will need to install Microsoft's new browser silverlight though in order to watch these videos. Go enjoy it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance is online

This is exciting news for magnetic resonance (NMR and EPR) community that Encyclopedia of Magnetic Resonance is available online. Encyclopedia has great introductory articles on almost all topics in the field of solid state NMR, liquid state NMR, MRI and EPR, and is a great resource for everyone in the field. here is the link.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Playgrounds for children

Whenever I go to India to visit my family in a sleepy cute town in central part of India, I miss a simple, safe and secure playground in the neighborhood where children can play. Playing and physical activity for children is very important, and it should not be ignored. As population have been exploded over the years, all the open places where children could play freely are gone and converted into buildings. The only park which city offers is often overcrowded and is not sufficient for the big population. This is something society can take care with or without the help of Government.

There can be small play places build in a small space something like in the yard of an apartment buildings, or any other free small space. Schools will not like it, but their play grounds also should be open for public since they receive financial aid from the government which is public money. This is just an idea but I hope our children can have access to more safe playgrounds within their vicinity where they can run and jump without being fear of getting into coming car, scooter or bicycle.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Random Musings

One of my old student (lets call him N here) wrote back to me after reading some of the posts. Its always interesting to hear back from old students and know them more. Now when they are more wise and mature, its interesting to talk with them while connecting old links. here are some of his random thoughts and my responses;

I think you must have seen Generations of young Mind getting Shaped, that were filled with Dreams and hope --- ( read BSc 1 st year) ... and going down the lane.....
You must have felt in , seen it , experienced, at times have felt helpless as well.
Some went ahead and touched the sky. I do not know how you have coped with it.

Dear N, this is the part and parcel of being a teacher. You see students coming and going, and there are all kinds of students in any given classroom, some very focused and some have hard time sitting there. Sometimes you get attached to them and pour your heart in their learning and sometime you just watch them from distance. Some students comes back again and again and tell what and how they are doing and some never return, but at the same rate there are always new students coming in. So life goes on...

I do not know how you coped with the Uninspiring Surroundings and people around and there were many.

This is a bigger challenge of working in state college in India where there is hefty politics and rigid bureaucracy. When I felt saturated with surrounding, I went out to explore new dimensions.

For me it was Unraveling of the Imperfect World and a Big Sense of Disappointment from what I expected it to be as part of GROWING UP. Suddenly the Cushy life of School and College was replaced by REALITIES that we live under.

I guess this strikes to most people when they go out of known boundaries of school and college and go to real world. In real world, you need different skills for survival then what you need to go through school and college. This phenomenon is very common. School creates a very safe and comfortable environment for growing up children, but it also isolate them from real life challenges. That's why when you are old and wise, you still look back and cherish the moments you lived in school. However beautiful that environment is, you need to get out of it at some point and face the real world and its challenges.

The most interesting thing in your blog was that I noted was that you made effort to
remember your Student's name and that was Really a shocked I must Admit, that
how even one of the Fearless used to Fear you out of Respect.
It was fun to see this.

Following this comment, I added one more point on my previous post Effective Teaching, that is Authority. yes, as a teacher I need to have balance, where students can come freely to me with their problems but at the same time I need to have authority in the class to avoid unnecessary disturbances inside my classroom which were common in our college during my time there.

It is always fun to hear back from people whom you knew decade ago as a student. Come back again N, with more comments and questions!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Writing: An Important Skill for Scietific Career

There was an interesting comment yesterday on the most popular page of this blog How to enter in science and engineering Ph. D. program in American university. This comment is worth a separate post, as it talks about an important skill needed for scientific career. The reader said:

Writing is intensely involved in all stages of masters and PhD studies starting with the application essay "Why PhD/MBA/MS". Then come assignments, papers, presentations and several other challenges for an effective communication.

Writing is an important skill for many profession, but when it comes to scientific research, it becomes vital. You need to communicate your science in an effective way at all stages of your career. Publications and presentations are integral part of this profession. Presenting your scientific results clearly and beautifully is a skill which comes with time and practice, so it is important for anyone who is planning to go for Ph. D. to start spending some time mastering this skill. Reading all forms of literature is first step towards writing.

A useful discussion on writing dissertation can be found here.

Indian education system still don't put enough emphasis on writing skill as part of the curriculum at any stage. This is a serious drawback in our system where all emphasis is placed on memorizing the known facts and reproducing it as precisely as possible without any variation. Writing at any stage needs serious thinking which should be encouraged at the school and college level.

Finally to read a beautiful piece of writing which I read yesterday, go to this link.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Effective Teaching

I was reading a wonderful post by PalMD about hope in hopeless situations. It narrates stories to explain that how effective communication is important for a doctor when telling a patient about their health conditions. Although I am not a doctor and never had life and death situation in my work place, but the rule applies in teaching profession as well. You can easily motivate or demotivate a student from the way you talk. He comments

To be an effective physician, you must also be an actor of sorts; not in the sense of pretense, but in the way you pay attention to everything your words and body do, and how your audience reacts.

and I was thinking about the similarity with teaching. Many times after a very satisfying classroom experience, I used to feel like an actor who preformed well. I have been told multiple times that I am a good teacher, and I always felt that I was good in creating mood in class and setting up stage, making initial steps even before starting to teach anything. Once students are interested and motivated, it is much easier to teach them complex subject and teaching becomes a lot more fun. Here are some simple rules I used to follow while teaching, for anyone who is planning for a teaching career either in school, college or university;

- Prepare thoroughly. There is no short cut to this. Students respect to the teacher who has good grasp of their subject. Also, if you are well prepared, it is much easier to pay attention to student's reaction in the class and solve their problems in understanding the course material.

- Whether it is board teaching or power point presentation, your pace of teaching should be matched with majority of the class level.

- Effective communication is a two way process. Students should be able to approach to you with their questions without any hesitation.

- Know your students. As a teacher, you don't need to know all students personally but it helps if you know their first name and about their interest level in the subject you are teaching. I used to spent first few weeks trying to remember names of students, and it was very helpful throughout the course. It makes personal connection and instead of teaching mob, you starts teaching individuals. I have seen dramatic rise in awareness in students once they knew that I know them. It was also much easier to talk with them during the class if I noticed that someone is actually looking puzzled or distracted.

- Be comfortable and face your students all the time. Most ineffective teachers are those who face board or presentation screen all the time without making eye contact to students and without paying attention to reactions of students. Many times students don't say anything, but it is much easier to guess from their faces if they are following you or not.

- Authority. Yes, you should have full authority in your class. It should reflect from your body language and voice.

- and finally you really have to enjoy the fact that with your efforts you are bringing joy of a subject to your students. If you don't enjoy it, students sense it very fast and everything is lost.

Teaching is fun if you take joy in leaning of your students.

Reforms in Higher education in India: Yashpal Committee Report

I have been reading with interest Yashpal Committee report (link) on reform of higher education system in India. It is very broad and does a wonderful job of identifying gray areas in Indian higher education system. It also suggests ways to improve the system. Since I have been through state college and state university as a student and as a teacher, I am little skeptical about the final outcome of the suggestions. As with any initiative, implementing of any idea remains a problem in India. But lets keep it aside and try to highlight few key points of the report. It says

We are also convinced that Indian higher education as a whole cannot go far without our paying equal attention to the State universities. They are also Indian universities and a large fraction our students will continue to come from them. Many of them are as good as our Central institutions and should be given a chance to fly. We should think seriously about the manner in which the motivation and resources are enhanced all over the country.

State universities and colleges are the most neglected places in Indian higher education systems. We can only hope that they will be given their due place in the system.

Undergraduate education in India is mostly done through affiliated colleges which report strongly discourages. It suggest two ways to improve the situation, first, to initiate undergraduate education in university itself, second, to encourage colleges to become full fledged university. I would like to see one more suggestion in the report or as an implementation, to encourage all college and state university faculty to visit IITs and IISc during summer for enhancing their skill in teaching and research and if possible to go abroad for some period. Without such exposure state colleges and university faculties don't have role model of what they can achieve within the system. There should be merit based scholarships which promotes such measures and give chance for people from small place to see how an institute should be for scholarly output.

it further highlights the problem of bureaucratic administration in Indian higher education system in India;

Finally, we would share with you the prevalent feeling in the universities that there is too much inspection, interference and delay in their dealings with State and Central Governments. I am sure universities and colleges should themselves share some blame in this regard, but we need to move away from this blame game. We have to devise somewhat different, more efficient, funding management system. We have made some recommendations in this regard. We would recommend that universities should become self-regulating partners in managing the overall education system. Continuous monitoring and inspection cause delays and lead to corruption. Some suggestions in this regard have also been made.”

If you are part of IIT or IISc, you probably don't have idea about bureaucratic control a faculty has to go through in state university and colleges in India. Excessive control hinders any real progress in the system. Any bright and enthusiastic person either will get frustrated and give up, or leave if possible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reading Suggestions for 4-5 year old Children

Here are some reading suggestions for 4-5 year old which are fun:

The Cat in the Hat
Do Like a Duck Does
Green Egg and Ham
Kami and the Yaks
Animal Nursery tales
Stories from Panchtantra (The version I have is in very poor English, nevertheless these stories are interesting concepts for a 5 year old)
Can You Tell me How to Get to Sesame Street?
The Seven Chinese Sisters
Fish is Fish
Hoover's Bride
One Grain of Rice
365 Penguins
Make Way for Ducklings
Blueberries for Sal
Millions of Cats
The Ugly Duckling
Puss in Boot
The Enormous Turnip
The Classic Treasury of Aesop's Fables
The Llama who had no pajama (added on 15th Oct) - we recently got this one and it has collection of funny poems

Enjoy, if you have a 5 year old in your home.