Single-Point Agendas, Henceforth… + Invited Talks

0. Single-Point Agendas, Henceforth…

Recently, I happened to browse quite a few personal blogs. (Mostly, I was taking links off Churumuri and Nanopolitan and Atanu Dey’s blogs—including the blogs of the people posting comments at these blogs.) The two things I noticed were the following: (i) whereas most blogs carry categories and labels, my blog here doesn’t, and, (ii) when writing their own content (as in contrast to providing links), most blogs carry only one topic per post whereas I happen to throw all kinds of topics together in a single post.

As to the first (providing categories and labels to my posts here): It will take quite some time to go back and add categories and labels to all my previous posts. And unless I do that, any categories and labels that I add for the new posts will not give a “balanced” kind of picture of what all topics have been covered here thus far. But I don’t have as much time at hand right now… So, for the lack of time, I have no choice but to continue posting without categories and labels.

However, for the second part, I think I am going to have only single-topic posts henceforth… (I am not yet sure, hence the phrase “I think..”) … And, BTW, this note itself does not count as a topic in its own right.

1. Invited Talks

When it comes to higher education in India, Dr. Jayant Narlikar has been advocating involving working scientists in teaching university courses.

Separately, a lot of people have been commenting on the differences in the practices that are followed in higher education in India vs. those abroad, notably, in the US.

With the upcoming entry of foreign universities in India, all such matters are going to be under discussion for some time in the immediate future.

For the time being, I would like to make just a couple of observations here.

(1) Most US universities maintain, right on their official servers, elaborate personal Web pages/sites of not only their faculty members but also of their PhD students—sometimes, also their MS (and even their undergraduate) students.

In contrast, in India, outside of a few select institutions like IITs and IISc (and few others like TIFR, IMSc, JNCASR, IUCAA, etc.) not even university professors themselves maintain personal Web pages/sites. And here I mean the professors employed in the university departments—not those from the affiliated colleges.

When Web services are as cheap as Rs. 1000/year or even free, what stops these professors from maintaining Web pages? Or is there a fear of getting caught at work here?

(2) If you browse the Web pages/CVs of PhD students abroad, you will notice that many of them come to boast of numerous Invited Talks delivered right before their graduation. These invited talks are counted separate from (i.e. in addition to) their conference presentations. In contrast, in India, even Assistant/Associate Professors employed at IITs might find it hard to get invited—only the top handful professors would be.

In India, an Invited Talk mainly serves as a status symbol, not as a means for having a good scientific interaction—a serious kind of fun! The culture of informal interactions in the form of seminars, workshops, invited talks is almost non-existent in India. Science is a matter of duty here, not of personal interest or ambition.

It seems easy enough for people here (in India) to explicitly note, if not outright complain, that they don’t understand someone else’s research—e.g., mine. However, strangely enough, this observation does not translate into a very simple action: Invite that guy over for a couple of invited talk (or a half-day seminar) on his topic.

The usual scapegoat: Lack of Funds, is not the real issue here, apathy is. That, or even worse human motivations.

I mean, I just can’t understand what stopped these folks from PRL or TIFR (or Narlikar’s own IUCAA) from asking a PhD student (say, from a nearby institution; say, from COEP’s Mechanical Department during 2004–2007; say, me) to go over their place and deliver a lecture or two on a topic from his research work which they claim they don’t understand? What stops (or stopped) them from doing something as simple as that?

And, what kind of a budget do you think is involved here? Not even Rs. 5000/- ($ 100/-) it it’s between Delhi and Bombay (or between Bangalore and Pune); or Rs. 1000/- ($20/-) if it’s between Bombay and Pune; or Rs. 200/- ($4/-) if it’s within the Pune city itself. All these institutions avail of enough funds from UGC (the same body that funds research on astrology), DST, DoD, and all other bodies—typically, they have lakhs or even millions of Rupees earmarked for their visitor programs. And, even more funds would be available upon asking. (For instance, in case you didn’t know, under a scheme that DST runs, any MTech guy can easily avail of one million Rupees for any reasonable project work, even if he is not employed with a public-sector organization—all that they ask is that he has to be be an Indian citizen with enough qualifications and experience, and that he should arrange for supervision from some public sector laboratory or so, for monitoring purposes. And I directly or indirectly know of people who have availed of funding under this scheme, with funds being sanctioned within a year or so.)

I am not advocating public sector R & D. Not at all. All that I am saying is: Obviously, funding is not at all an obstacle when it comes to invite a PhD student at an institution like TIFR or IIT Bombay or IUCAA etc.

Yet, these same stupids—those who cannot conceive or bear with the thought of inviting a mere PhD student over—hardly spare any opportunity to criticize politicians or bureaucrats, (or anyone else who falls outside of their small, narrow clique of scientists). Stupids! [And I delete a whole train of worse words here—not because this is supposed to be a kid-sister-friendly blog, but because one realizes that these sort of assholes are not even worth spitting at—that’s why!!]

That is the sort of culture you have of doing science, of higher education, in India, as of today! And, here, I was talking of only the science and engineering departments here, not humanities, where it’s obvious that the matters can only be worse!!

Hopefully, when foreign universities arrive, something as inexpensive (and as simple) as this aspect—inviting PhD students and junior researchers for talks on their research—would undergo a change!

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A Few Songs I Like

Note: You must have noticed that I hardly list Western music here, in the section “Songs I Like”. The reason is personal. It so happens that for the most part of my early life, I hardly, if ever, had listened to any Western musical sounds at all—not even pop or rock English songs. I grew up in rural areas of Maharashtra, many different towns, and in none of the towns would anyone ever play any kind of Western music. When we relocated to Nasik during my 10th standard, I was overjoyed because, finally, I could call a “city” my hometown. My working criterion for a city (as against towns), back then, was that it had to have traffic signals. Nasik city had just come to have one traffic signal, at the CBS square, back then. So, it was a city. … To cut a long story short, I developed “tastes” for both beer and English songs almost simultaneously, once I went to COEP. (Beer came first.) Yet, for reasons I don’t quite understand, though I do like quite a few English songs/Western tracks, I still find myself hesitating a bit when it comes to calling them as the songs I like. I mean, I like these English songs, sometimes even in a deep way, but even that liking seems to belong to a somewhat different category. I appreciate it, even deeply, but in a different mode as it were. … Anyway, just note for the time being that there is a little difference here between those Marathi and Hindi songs I like on the one hand and the Western/English tracks/songs I like on the other… (And since this note has grown big enough to qualify to be a post, I will post it as a separate post in its own right, later on!!)

Ok. Here we go with a few songs I like, this time round, from Western/English side…

1. to 3. Most of the tracks of the movie “Flashdance,” though, of course, among them, it is the instrumental theme track which is the most favorite of mine, followed by certain others [to be looked up and filled in later on, say, within a day or two]. Update on March 28, 2010: Say, these songs (in no particular order): “What a feelin…” and “Manhunt.”

BTW, the order of listing songs isn’t at all significant in this blog even otherwise.