Monthly Archives: July 2010
By now students would be thinking what Students’ Council (SC) is doing after the election. We, at Students’ Council believe in a systematic approach of addressing the issues raised in our manifesto. We remember the promises that we made and we are committed to fulfill them. Fortunately, this time there is enough participation from the students, pre-elections as well as post-elections. Enough volunteers are available for all the committees that work along with SC. The structure of SC and its present members are listed below. Students are encouraged to direct their concerns to the respective co-ordinators. The important points in our manifesto viz., scholarship hike, GARP funding etc., will be discussed in detail and students will be updated immediately after the CoD meeting. We might seek some information from you, which we think will help us in putting forth a strong case for pertinent issues. Please co-operate and provide the necessary information. SC sincerely intends to serve the student community.
Given below is the list of committees along with the details of their co-ordinators.
Students’ Council has actively helped the IIScAA Bangalore Chapter towards their plan to start an entrepreneurship program that will benefit both the students and alumni of the institute. Understanding the needs of the students, programs that are already running at the institute and learning from successful entrepreneurs regarding support that they received from the institute were the objectives. In this context, an interaction session with the students was held on June 12th at ECE GJS Hall between 10:00 – 12:00AM. Mr. Anand Talwai (President), Mr. Vishnu Vardhan Makkapati (Treasurer) and Dr. Sanjay Chitnis (Secretary) of Bangalore Chapter participated in this event.
A good number of students turned up for the interaction session providing feedback for structuring the entrepreneurship program. The ECE Golden Jubilee Seminar Hall was almost packed and the participants comprised of students from both science and engineering streams. Efforts of Students’ Council towards helping organize the event were specially thanked.
[Courtesy: Students’ Council]
The Snake rescue volunteers in the campus claim IISc hosts around 12 species of snakes with most of them being non-venomous. The size of a venomous snake could be as small as 10-20 cms. The CES website on snakes suggests, “To avoid unnecessary encounters (with snakes), walk on lit paths at night and use closed shoes when walking in the wilder areas of campus”. All the information given in the poster is correct, except that there are few well lit roads in the campus.
The road leading from the Gymkhana cafe to the PD hostel is mostly dark at night with no street bulbs working. The walk from the Gymkhna to PD takes atleast four to five minutes. Pedestrians and cyclists find it difficult to commute to the hostel with the road full of pot holes. Of late, we have heard of snakes being spotted near PD hostel by both, the security and students. The issue of badly lit roads is not a problem of PD residents alone. The road leading from EE to Prakruti and the road between library and Physics leading to Nesara are often found to be dark with little street lighting. With the institute electricity expense crossing one crore rupees, cutting down the electricity consumption is required. But with an IISc work culture of students working late night in their labs, well lit roads are something that should not be compromised on. Let us hope that the institute administration takes up this issue very seriously.
Download July 2010 issue
I was almost shocked to hear somebody shouting in front of the Civil Department. Almost involuntary response of my eyes revealed that I was not alone. Other pedestrians and cyclists looked at the source of the shout. It was a faculty member. Another thumping loud noise clarified the reason behind the angry shout: a courier boy was driving his scooter on the crowded road with a speed well over 50 KMPH. The shout “Slow!” shocked him equally, he looked back and reduced the speed.
A few days prior to the above incident, I was passing by a group of faculty members near Organic Chemistry. Suddenly, one of them shouted, “Slow! Slow! Slow!”. This faculty member was soft in his tone compared to the above faculty member from SERC, but the effect was the same. The pizza delivery boy was startled, looked back and reduced the speed at least until the end of the road.
In both the above incidents, it was someone from outside who was driving fast. But I have witnessed vehicles with IISc stickers and having boards of Government of India driving fast on the road connecting ECE and the library. The junction beside the Students’ Council thus becomes a danger spot. The problem is exacerbated due to the presence of trees at the corners that hinder the road view. There are several pedestrians and cyclists crossing the junction especially during lunch hours. Interestingly, there is a speed-braker on the road between the Students’ Council and the Purchase Section where the road already has an upward slope and is actually mostly used by pedestrians and cyclists. To the extent my knowledge goes, a speed-braker should be meant for speedy vehicles. It is essential that a speed-braker be built on the main road for the vehicles coming from ECE side.
As far as I know, except at the subway, there is no mention of a speed limit in campus. Even if a speed limit is mentioned, there is nobody to enforce it. Having special personnel for the purpose may not be practically feasible. In such a situation, it is we — the residents of IISc — who should help in enforcing the speed limits. I appreciate the faculty members who shouted at the people fond of accelerators. We all should follow. Next time we see someone speeding up, let’s tell him/her, “Slow! Slow! Slow!”.
I have also occasionally witnessed minors driving vehicles in campus. Perhaps due to less traffic and relatively safer roads, the campus is allowed to be used by their parents for driving. However, it is not only illegal but dangerous. I think it is upto the parents of these minors, who must be the teaching or non-teaching staff of the institute, to prevent such campus misuse and law breaking. The security personnel of the institute may also be provided rights to challenge the minor drivers.
Have you seen people walking across the subway? Like several people in the world, some of us like shortcuts. In queue at Prakruthi or Tea Board, we look for our acquaintances to avoid waiting in the queue. The same cutting short concept is applied by a few of us at the subway. Walking down the stairs, then the footpath, and then again up the stairs is too much for busy researchers like us! We should realize that the width of the subway on each side is just enough for a four-wheeler. It is no heroism to walk down the road and jump to the footpath as soon as a vehicle arrives. Further, a two-wheeler, in trying to save you may meet the divider. It is in our hands to ensure not only ours, but also, to some extent, others’ safety.
Another problem is of the horns. A few roads in campus are marked with the signs of No Horn — a few signs hiding behind trees. I do not expect auto drivers to follow the rules. However, I do expect it from IIScians — may that be students, faculty or non-teaching staff. It is very encouraging to see several car drivers (I assume them to be mostly faculty members) patiently waiting for almost ten seconds before the pedestrians give way. I whole-heartedly appreciate these drivers.
This brings us to the pedestrians. We have enough students in IISc who are so much engrossed in “research thoughts” that they fail to look back for vehicles while crossing the road. There is also no dearth of IIScians who walk in a line and cover the width of the road without bothering about vehicles. There are some who, on being notified by the fellow pedestrian, would give you space with a gesture of doing a favor to you, as if they are the descendants of Wodeyars and own the land. One of my colleagues once said, “Roads are for pedestrians”. I disagree. I consider regular roads to be for everybody. And if my vehicle startles some pedestrian crossing the road and he/she looks at me angrily, my response would be, “If you don’t care for your life, why should I?”.
Rupesh Nasre (CSA)
All the cleaning works in the hostel are done by the contract workers. These hostel ‘ammas’ deem it absolutely essential to clean the hostel ground (the cement quadrangle, mind you, not just the tiled floor) – scrape, scratch every speck of mud and empty the water tank and leave the hostel water-less. They pack their bags and leave at 4pm. I’m the one who faces a dry toilet when I come back to hostel at night. They even keep rubbing the steps, hoping to make them shine perhaps (I wonder if they are competing to make Rohini win the ‘cleanest hostel’ award). If you protest, they claim there’s water and so they are doing it. If you protest vehemently, they say you must speak to the supervisor. So you go hunting for the supervisor, who’d be twirling her thumbs in some corner of the hostel. She agrees to halt it and asks you to write a letter, stating why you stopped them from doing their ‘duty’.
This was just one day. I haven’t stopped them after that. How do you convince them you only want a decently clean hostel and not a sparkling clean one, at the cost of already scarce water?
I sight no cobweb on my door and the paint is fresh. Yet cleaning my room door from the outside has suddenly become vital for their survival – it’s among their list of ‘duties’. When I hear a maid scraping outside my door at 8 or 9 in the morning – door knob and latch rattling, feet shuffling – removing imaginary dirt, I must tune myself to become deaf. I must ignore the urge to open the door and ask her to go clean some other door and leave me in peace. I wonder if the new contract workers’ workload has been increased to make the worker’s or student’s life more miserable.
At least the contract workers work; the permanent employees bask in sunshine. When I ask, I’m told that the hostel office has told them to ‘just come and sit in the hostel and do nothing’. So you see them bathing, eating, chatting; and they get twice the stipend that a final year PhD student does.
Another mounting irritation is things that go missing. What do the maids do with the mugs in the toilets after cleaning them? Take it home? I suppose, since I use the toilets, it’s my solemn duty to go chasing after the maids, asking her, in my broken Kannada, where the mugs are. After every bout of cleaning, I must threaten to complain to the hostel office and then the mugs will be kept back in place. Fortunately, my friend and I take turns at this so I have someone to share the burden.
The maids (especially the permanent workers) have a habit of conveniently bathing in the hostel. The time they take to finish the job is many fold that of an average student. On days when there’s water in only one bathroom, if you find an ‘amma’ inside it, you feel like breaking the door. To cap this, they wash their clothes in gallons of water and the amma’s daughter and grand-daughter also bathe here.
My tolerance valve burst when one day I found my bucket missing. I went looking for an ‘amma’ and asked her if she knew what had happened to it (there are no secrets between them). She said some amma had taken it. I said I wanted to bathe and wanted it back. She called out some name and that person answered from inside the bathroom saying she’ll give it soon. I went livid – the gall of the woman! Does she have no better job here than bathe? And is this why the institute employs her? Like a brawling fisherwoman, I fumed and ranted at her, demanding my bucket back. After a few minutes of losing my temper, energy, time, she put out a hand and let my bucket out. This time I did complain to the supervisor.
I suppose I must adopt the ‘chalta hai’ attitude and move on. Who cares how much water is wasted? If there’s no water, just complain to hostel office and fret and fume when nothing happens. Why let the maids’ new unnecessary duties and misbehaviour bother you? You’ll get used to it. After all, they say, even sitting on nails can become a habit.
Smrithi Murthy (MRDG), with inputs from Monisha Bhattacharya (CES)
FIFA 2010, here I come
popcorn, chai & expectations more than some.
Glued to the screen here I stay
Watching teams 32 battle on field & have their say.
Big draws, small plays, highest goal of 7!
Slovakia is the ‘God of War’,
while Japan crushed Goliath tall!
European champs shown the door,
even as South Americans score.
Underdogs give surprises galore,
2 Asian countries give a resounding roar!
The final showdown is eagerly awaited;
Defend, Strike and Score….
Trust me, you will be left asking for more!
Madhurima Das (Mgmt)
At 2330 hours, I left my lab, unsure of my destination. It had been a long, hard and fruitless day. The kind of day that makes you wish tomorrow will be different.
Weary and hungry, I went to the one place I could get rid of both. Tea-Board. At this late hour, there is not much of a queue. So I could get my order pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind standing in a queue. What I mind is when the person in front of me makes his decision while standing at the counter. I mean, what was he/she doing all this while. Guessing what the person in front of him/her will order?
I collected my order in a huff and started walking towards an inconspicuous table in the corner. As I walked I sensed that I was being watched. I get this weird, uncomfortable feeling when I realise that I am being followed in the ophthalmic sense. I could see him from the corner of my eyes. Since he did not seem like someone I know, I did not strain my peripheral vision too much and went ahead and settled down at the table.
I looked up and suddenly saw him occupy the space in front of me. Apparently the “following” was not limited to being purely ophthalmic. I wouldn’t have been so surprised by his arrival under normal circumstances. But at this late hour, when a total stranger gets up from the place he was occupying, skips numerous other empty tables and sits in front of me at my inconspicuous table, I begin to wonder why. I took a closer look. My peripheral vision was right. I had never seen him before.
It was dark and he was darker. But I could make out prominent features. I definitely did not know him. He was not repulsive or anything, but there was nothing particularly attractive about him. He kept looking at me. I looked back down after an appropriate amount of time. He kept looking at me for an inappropriate amount of time.
There were quite a few things I immediately did not like about him. Firstly, I don’t like it when someone takes a place opposite me without asking me if someone is sitting there. What if that place is reserved for someone? What if I am waiting for someone else to join me? Could he not have at least asked if the place is occupied? I cannot blame him too much for this. In fact, I don’t think anybody asks me if the place is reserved before occupying a chair in front of me at my table. Perhaps they realise that someone like me couldn’t be dining with someone else. My appearance must be sufficient guarantee that no one was, is or will be joining me at my table in the near future. I really don’t think people should be judged by appearances and first impressions and panache and stuff like that. I hope you get the drift.
Second thing I did not like about him is the way he sat down in front of me. There was an air of arrogance in his body language. I may not be able to read the fine print. But the writing on his body language was clear. He sat down as if he owned the place and I was the one intruding on his privacy.
The third and the most annoying thing about him was the fact that he was still staring at me. I don’t like it when strangers stare at me. Not that I never give them reasons to do so. Sometimes, I do commit antics that deserve stares. But, currently I was not in one of those antic moods. Nor had I done anything to attract this visual examination.
The sudden intrusion, the devil may care body language and the incessant staring, generated a natural dislike in me towards him. I tried to ignore it, looked down and moved my hand towards the sandwich in front of me. I noticed a slight craning of his neck towards me. I looked up. He did not care to crane his neck back. He was looking at my plate. He turned his gaze back towards me when he realised I had looked up. He craned his neck back, lifted his head higher and looked at me as if to question what I was so interested in. His blunt manner and the authoritative, challenging look irritated me. Not to be outdone, I put my elbows on the table, created a fist with one hand, clenched it with the other and leaned forward as if marking my territory on the table. I could see a glint which I assumed were his teeth that he was beginning to display as if mocking me and my aggressive stance.
Males have their own ways of asserting their dominance to other males. I never understood it completely. For example, I never know, when to lean forward and be aggressive and when to lean back and act as if I don’t care. I wondered if I had over reacted. The continuing glint from his teeth began convincing me that I had not over reacted. I wondered if I would be more intimidating if I stood up to my full vertical dimensions. Or should I lean back and smile. Why should I smile? I should just lean back and frown? What about cracking my knuckles? Yes! I should crack my knuckles! I have seen guys do it in the movies lots of times. Bouncers, Gangsters, Henchmen, they all do it when they want to threaten someone. I don’t see how an ability to crack knuckles is a measure of ability to inflict physical damage but it seems to do the trick. So I decided to crack my knuckles. The leaning forward with elbows on the table position I had assumed in the previous paragraph was conducive for knuckle cracking. Only problem was, my knuckles were not conducive. In the heat of this cold war, I had forgotten that I am not a serial knuckle cracker. Few silent, unsuccessful tries and I gave up, not wanting to lose any (more) imaginary ground in this battle for supremacy.
I reiterated to myself, ability to crack knuckles has no correlation to ability to inflict physical damage. I took a closer look at his physical attributes. He seems a healthy, muscular male specimen fully capable of holding his own in any contact sport. There was a smug look on his face after my knuckle cracking antic. Oh how I would love to give him a closer look at my knuckles.
I began calculating the possible outcomes. I think its unsafe to strike the first blow without thinking whether I am capable of bearing the retaliation. What were the parameters involved? I had not seen him move much but from his built I guessed I cannot count on speed being on my side. Stamina? I recollected the time I had felt breathless by just rushing to the registration desk of the SnT run in an attempt to get there on time. I could not go and register myself. Not in that huffing and puffing state I was in. Strength? I cannot even crack my knuckles!! How does that even matter? What if he is actually stronger? But he is a bit smaller than me. Am I big enough? Does size matter?
Unable to find any clear answers, I turned my attention to the thing that was possibly the root of it all. I looked at the two sandwiches on my plate. All this contemplation had made me more hungry. The longer I looked at the sandwich, the more impatient I became. I decided it is not safe to strike the first blow. Regardless of the outcome of the battle, I will definitely suffer damage. I may not be sure if I have speed, strength, stamina on my side, but if I let him make first contact, I may at least have some rightful conduct on my side. Let me just pretend like I don’t care.
Having made my decision to adopt the ostrich approach, I decided to dig into the sandwich. As I picked up the sandwich and brought it close, I expected the gentle flavours to neutralise the bad taste this unwelcome companion had brought. Just as I was about to bite in, I saw him twitch. I looked up suddenly, my body tense and overflowing with mental adrenaline. He seemed taken aback by my sudden movement. As I took a closer look, I saw the gentle curiosity in those eyes that I had not noticed so far. I could visualise him salivating behind those glinting teeth of his. He continued staring with the same intensity. Only this time, I felt like it was more a look of fascination and longing rather than malice.
I placed my sandwich back on my plate and closed my half open mouth. I cut the sandwich in half and offered one half to him. The astonishment in his eyes, if any, lasted only a fraction of a second. He ate with the same intensity with which he stared. The second sandwich was divided and treated in the same way. Before I knew it, both sandwiches were gone. The only remnants were the crumbs on my plate. He did not care to leave many crumbs. I was too amused to hold any grudges.
As I got up to leave and started walking, his eyes followed me. I looked back. For the first time, he lowered his gaze. He got up and started walking away in the other direction. There was nothing in his manner to show me any gratitude. Except for the wagging of his twisted tail.
Arjun Shetty (NIS)
[The featured blog this month is a post by Prof. Abinandanan (Department of Materials Engineering) in response to an interesting Economic Times op-ed by Jaideep Srivastava (University of Minnesota) and Pankaj Jalote (IIT-D) that appeared some time back, in which the authors suggest that we adopt a technique that China has used to increase its Ph. D. output significantly.
Quoting from that article, “China has embarked on a bold strategy to address [the problem of low numbers of PhDs], with the help of the US in an unexpected way. The programme is simple and brilliant. PhD students in Chinese universities are given fellowships to spend 12 to 24 months in some US professor’s laboratory, when they are ready to start their dissertation research.
During this period, the candidate defines his research problem, does most of the research work, and then comes back to complete his PhD in the parent university in China. An attendant benefit is the collaboration created between the US and Chinese faculty, which can lead to more international exposure for the latter, something which is also high on the priority list of the Chinese administration. It is estimated that approximately 4,000 Chinese students will be the beneficiaries of this programme in the 2007-08 academic year.”]
Prof. Abinandanan, on the subject
Let me come right out and say I don’t like it. When we bemoan the (generally) poor state of R&D in India, we ought to be examine the bottlenecks within our system and make every effort to remove them. An option that uses an external source of help can at best be a a crutch; in my view, Srivastava and Jalote elevate this crutch and give it a privileged treatment! The US researchers are placed on a pedestal, and the opportunity to work in their labs is being cited as the ‘feature’ that will attract bright PhD aspirants to our universities. It demeans the expertise of Indian academics by making them, at best, second class partners in the PhD students’ development. (Even if this is not what Srivastava and Jalote meant, I certainly don’t see how the collaborative arrangement proposed by them can be thought of as one between equals). This is just not on.
[Aside 1: There are also other problems with their proposal: it’s too small, and it’s quite expensive. The numbers they cite for China (4000) and Pakistan (400) clearly are too small to make a big difference. Even their proposed numbers for India — about 1000 every year in science and engineering — for India represent less than 20 percent of the current PhD output! Thus, even with their program in place, India will still have to deal with the problems that plague the remaining research enterprise.]
[Aside 2: Does India really need to increase its PhD numbers? If all we want are more PhDs, we can get them — including foreigners, and desi PhDs who are working elsewhere — by paying the right price. If we believe this report, this price may not even be too high! Also, do we know what our current PhDs do after their graduation? For example, do we have a thriving market for PhDs in India, and if so, how big is it? Our R&D labs are notorious for selecting bachelors graduates for filling the bulk of their staffing needs. Finally, how many of our PhDs go abroad, never to return?]
[For the rest of this post, we will assume that there really is a strong need to increase India’s PhD output. Read on …]
Coming back to the proposal by Srivastava and Jalote, does India really need this external help for increasing its PhD output? In engineering, the number of PhDs is admittedly small (about 800 per year). Across all our engineering institutions, there ought to be at least 5000 faculty members who could, in principle, be graduating 2000 PhDs every year without asking for any special favours! If I may put it using industrial terminology, there is ample “spare capacity” that we can press into operation, if only an adequate supply of “raw material” were available. The raw material that is in short supply is the bright young research talent with a solid academic training at the undergraduate level.
[Aside 3: Money is certainly a very, very important factor. We know that India’s support for university research has been abysmally low; we really have been running our university research on the cheap. Unless funding levels increase, asking for more PhDs is futile. It does not require great deal of smarts to realize that if you want to double the PhD output, you should be willing to double the funding for academic R&D. Given the decades-long neglect of our universities, we may actually need to more than double the funding for academic research during the initial years]. Fortunately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced huge increases in education funding over the next five years, so money for higher education may no longer be such a major constraint.]
Thus, the key question is: what are the ways in which we can ensure an ample supply of the right raw material to run India’s PhD enterprise?
The supply of students with a good undergraduate training. Out of some half a million engineering graduates, less than 25 percent are deemed by NASSCOM as employable. Let us use employability as a proxy for quality of undergraduate education. Then, if we can improve our undergraduate institutions to double this employability figure to 50 percent, our pool of PhD aspirants would also double. Clearly, this requires rethinking and reforming our undergraduate programs and institutions. I have written about it before, so let me move on.
Enhanced supply need not translate into enhanced PhD enrollment. We live in an era when our bright stars have tons of options to choose from. This implies that that we ought to find ways to make doctoral studies in Indian academic institutions attractive. This, in turn, demands that we address financial and non-financial needs of our PhD students. Here are some ideas to start with:
- World-class academic infrastructure: well-equipped labs, excellent internet bandwidth, great academic library that works 24×7, uninterrupted power and water supply, etc.
- An increased stipend: currently, it’s around Rs.12,000, and it should be higher. [How much higher? Is the starting salary in a public sector company a good benchmark?]
- Good on-campus accommodation. They should preferably be studio apartments for everyone (it should definitely be better than hostel accommodation), and one-bedroom apartments for married students. Nobody should be made to wait in a queue for on campus accommodation (which happens routinely in many of our institutions for married couples).
- Academic autonomy: they should be able to work with advisors of their choice (with the advisors’ consent, of course). In case they run into trouble with their current advisors, they should be able to switch to someone else without much trouble.
- Financial autonomy: An annual grant of, say, Rs. 20,000, placed at the disposal of each student.
- A comprehensive health coverage for the students and their spouses and children.
- A reformed administration that treats PhD students with respect. Currently, our students undergo a lot of procedural indignities, which must be removed. Payment of stipend, for example, must be automatic unless there’s a good reason to withhold it.
- Generous travel grants, that allow a student to participate in conferences within India at least once every year and in international conferences abroad at least once during the PhD tenure. [Right now, students scrounge around for travel grants from multiple agencies.]
- A well-maintained non-academic infrastructure, including facilities for games, sports, yoga, dance, aerobics, a swimming pool, a well-stocked, non-technical and multilingual library, and good places for socializing (eateries, coffee houses, …).
- A graduate student hall (with a refrigerator, a microwave, and a TV) in each department: PhD students do spend long hours — even after dark — in the Department, and they need some non-lab space to chill out.
* * *
What else do you think Indian institutions need to do if they are to become attractive destinations for a great number of bright young PhD aspirants? Feel free to pitch in with your ideas.
Prof. Abinandanan (Faculty, MATERIALS)
Over a hundred IIScians maintain blogs — many students, a few faculty; many regularly, a few infrequently. The writings range over numerous topics, from kitchen to IISc life and from cricket to Indian politics. While a few of them are linked via blogroll creating blog-cliques, most are scattered across the blogosphere. The idea of community blogging is to bring together these spreadout thoughts and create a notion of writing together.
IISc Planet works on feeds provided by individual blogs. It also has its own feed. Thus, using a single feed, one can subscribe to all the IISc bloggers. However, it would be a mistake to call it simply as a feed-aggregation. IISc Planet helps build a community. It encourages bloggers to write. And it showcases the diversity we IIScians have.
Rupesh Nasre (CSA)