WEF, Institutions, Media and Credibility

Some time ago, I had run into some Internet coverage about some WEF (World Economic Forum) report about institutions and their credibility rankings. I no longer remember where I had seen it mentioned, but the fact that such an article had appeared, had somehow stayed in the mind.

Today, in order to locate the source, I googled using the strings “WEF”, “Credibility” and “Media”. The following are a few links I got as a result of these searches. In each case, I first give the source organization, then the title of the article they published, and finally, the URL. Please note, all cover essentially the same story.

  • Edelman, “2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER Reveals Global Implosion of Trust,” [^]
  • Quartz, “The results are in: Nobody trusts anyone anymore,” [^]
  • PostCard, “Must read! World Economic Forum releases survey on Indian media, the results are shameful!,” [^]
  • TrollIndianPolitics, “`INDIAN MEDIA 2ND MOST UNTRUSTED INSTITUTION’ Reports WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM,” [^]
  • Financial Express, “WEF Report: ‘India most trusted nation in terms of institutions’,” [^]
  • Financial Times, “Public trust in media at all time low, research shows,” [^]
  • WEF, “Why credibility is the future of journalism,” [^]

“Same hotel, two different prices…” … [Sorry, just couldn’t resist it!]

Oh, BTW, I gather that the report says that institutions in India are more credible as compared to those in Singapore.

Do click the links if you haven’t yet done so, already. [No, I don’t get paid for the clicks on the outgoing links.]


Still getting settled in the new job and the city. Some stuff still is to be moved. But guess it was time to slip in at least a short post. So there. Take care and bye for now.

 

 

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University Courses in Mechanical Engineering that I Could Teach

0. Hey fellowbloggers (or at least my blogreaders),

These are the times of recruitment for faculty positions in India. As you know, I, too, am trying (once again!).

In academia, my main interest is neither administration nor for that matter even teaching in the sense the word is often understood in India, but, mainly research, and also, course development (as is possible at autonomous institutes  (but Somaiya, headed by Prof. Shubha Pandit, who as a student was senior to me at COEP by just one year, didn’t even call me for an interview, or bother to reply my query emails.)).

1. A List of the Mechanical Engineering Courses that I Could Teach:

Here is a list of courses in Mechanical Engineering that I am confident I could teach, despite having had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees only in Metallurgy. The list is indicative, and not complete. I have tried to order the list in the decreasing order of my preference. Thus, the courses appearing near the top is what I am currently most interested in teaching, esp. at the master’s level. The level at which these courses get offered is also indicated in parentheses. The courses in italics are the courses I taught most recently.

  1. Computational Fluid Dynamics (BE/ME)
  2. Finite Element Method (TE/BE/ME)
  3. Fluid Mechanics (SE/TE)
  4. Heat Transfer (TE)
  5. Mechanical Vibrations (TE)
  6. Advanced Stress Analysis/Elasticity (ME)
  7. Fracture Mechanics (ME)
  8. Strength of Materials (SE)
  9. Thermodynamics (SE)

As you can see, they span over two sub-divisions currently routine in Indian universities: thermal, and design. But more troublesome to the Indian academia is the fact that I jumped from Metallurgy to Mechanical, and therefore, they insist, I must teach Materials Technology.

2. A Special Note on Why I Should Not Teach Materials Technology:

Despite my academic degrees, I am not at all interested in teaching Materials Science/Engineering/Technology at any level. There are a few reasons for that.

(i) My Own Personal Reason:

Teaching a course does build a sort of vortex of ideas or an “ideas-sink” in which your mind gets drawn, at least for the duration of one entire semester. But, at my age of 52 (soon 53), I don’t have enough time at hand in my life to still be led away from my core research interests: computational mechanics/engineering.

(ii) Empirically, and statistically, it’s also not very good for all the students :

I also honestly think that the existing professors/others do a better job teaching it, at least at the SE level. This, in fact has actually been the case.

When I taught Materials Technology last (to SE students), the “top” 10% of the class was happy to very happy, with some students on their own coming in and gushing an almost embarassing kind of praise on me. [Drop a line to me and I will give you some quotes, though for reasons of breach of trust and confidentiality, I will not divulge the names of the students themselves]. (The “top” students need not have been class toppers, but they did tend to cluster somewhere towards the top; certainly they were above class average.)

But the in the final University examination, more students failed my course than what has been the historical average at the college where I taught. Reason?

I tend to explain well (even “average” students have told me that, not just the “top”), but in a “theoretical” subject like Materials Technology, what the below-average (and even average) students need is a sequence of those point-by-point model answers, whether explanation accompanies it or not. I try, but tend not to actually deliver very well, on that count.

Further, the average or below-average students also need a lot of “drilling in,” and I am not as good at it as other professors are, because as I focus mainly on supplying explanations: on fundamentals and how they connect together, and how they lead to something of importance in practice. In the process, I either tend to forget the drilling-in part, or the lecture-time simply gets over. All the three parts of (a) finishing the syllabus and, (b) also supplying explanations, and (c) also drilling in for the below-average students, is practically impossible for me. I can do (a) and (b) but not (c). Other professors probably do (a) and (c) and tend to ignore (b). But they are more successful as far as University exam results are concerned.

So, it’s an empirically established fact that I actually do poorly (or at least not as well) on the Materials Technology course at the SE level.

As to the student praise, they have also rushed in and gushed an almost embarassing sort of praise, also for the other courses I taught. But in spite of praising me, their performance on the final University exams was not affected much adversely. In fact, in all these other courses, they performed either slightly better or even noticeably better, than what had been the past historical average at the college. Why? Here is my reasoning.

The University examinations for these courses involve “sums” i.e. quantitative problems. If I still focus more on fundamentals and conceptual explanations in the class, and discuss only an outline of the problem attack strategy (and the reasons why) in the class, and then assign the full solution for home-work, the students do “get it.” They somehow go home, try some “sums,” and thereby manage to get both: a better conceptual knowledge, as well as the development of the examination-taking skills. At least, statistically speaking. And, at least as per my actual, empirical, observation.

In constrast, when it comes to Materials Technology, home-work assignments doesn’t work, because students simply copy from each other, or write some shortened versions of paragraphs from a locally published book, without ever pausing to think what they were writing. They, in essence, they take down a dictation from the local book. (Some had even had their brothers and sisters take down the dictation from the book, complete with a noticeably different hand-writing.) So, when it comes MT, my teaching + home-work is not an effective strategy. (Copying goes on also in other courses, but the fact that the problem on examination would be an unknown “sum” (at least one with different numerical values!) induces them to at least work through some of the assignment problems.)

But for Materials Technology, since the University examination emphasizes descriptions and not quantitative problems, or not even some “theoretical” but objective questions really probing deeper aspects, it requires a different kind of a drilling-in technique on the professor’s part. I am, as I said, not good on that count—and in fact, never was, ever in my life, even when I was a student myself. My lack of the “skill” shows in the results of my students.

This is an indication of the kind of reasons why I should make for a better professor for the listed courses rather than for the one course that seems to be a favorite one for the interview-committees: Materials Technology.

The interview committee members, if they read this blog, would now know how dumb a question it is to ask me why I don’t want to teach MT, and how much even dumber it would be for them to do resource planning or time-table scheduling assuming that I would handle MT. The empirical facts concerning the University examination indicate otherwise, despite my sincere and honest try at it (even if the matter was against my explicitly stated preference). And, if you now doubt my sincerity (as Indians are likely to do), go ask my students of MT—including those who failed in the final University examinations (or on my class tests). They themselves will tell you the real story. Then, if you wish, come back and share it with me. I remain open to that possibility—if you take some effort over and above that requiring to be a Doubting Tom.

3. Guiding Student Projects:

Apart from these, feel free to peruse some 7–8 ideas for student projects at the ME (Mech.) level that I have indicated in this blog recently. … Some of these (and other) ideas, suitably expanded, are good enough to guide at least one or two PhDs in Mechanical Engineering.

I also have quite a few other ideas that I have not even mentioned. For instance, I once wrote extended abstracts for a couple of papers, anticipating that an ME student would join me to work on these, and both these extended abstracts were accepted at a high quality international conference. The papers were based on an idea for an ME project that I haven’t mentioned on this blog. I had to withdraw the papers after acceptance, because I didn’t have an ME student to work with me. (You see, the papers were about CFD, and my friends in Mechanical engineering were busy avoiding polluting their branch with Metallurgy graduates, throwing as many obstacles in my path as humanly possible to them.)

Apart from it all, I could easily co-guide a few projects from the CS and Civil fields.

4. Co-Curricular Development of the Post-graduate Students and Junior Faculty Members:

I could also conduct special short-term courses for final year BE/ME students and/or junior faculty in random areas such as:

  • LaTeX and Beamer (including scalable graphics for manuscript submissions)
  • Python and Its Ecosystem
  • Open Source Packages in CAE
  • CFD with FVM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or using FiPy (but not OpenFOAM))
  • FEM. (No commercial packages, even if  available at the college, but with some custom-written simple programs written in Python, or SfePy, etc.)
  • OpenFOAM. (Only introductory, but certainly going a bit beyond the tutorials included in the official documentation, or IIT Bombay’s Spoken Tutorials.)
  • GIS using QGIS (Mostly based on Ujaval Gandhi’s tutorials, going just a bit here and there beyond it.)

5. Never Lose the Focus:

But just in case we lose the focus: Please go through the list of the routine courses in Mechanical Engineering proper that I can teach, as mentioned at the beginning of the post. That’s what really counts for the interview process.

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A Song I Like:

Not to be noted for this post [unless I change my mind later]

(Western Classical)
Composer: Franz Liszt
Work: Liebestraum No. 3

[I could not find on the ‘net the rendering that I first heard and still like the most (and as usual, have lost the cassette for it by now). It was quite modern-sounding (it even had drums!), but without ever getting loud, gaudy, or ever overshadowing the original subtlety. Sorry, but I didn’t as much appreciate most of the renderings now thrown up on priority in a Google search on Liszt. (The rendering I heard must have been from ’70s or ’80s, because I had bought the cassette in India, in the late ’80s.)

… The post is technically over, complete with this section on the songs I like too, but I still can’t resist the temptation to share this bit. It’s a quote concerning Liszt which I found being quoted as a part of a doctoral study in music at the Indian University [^]:

“…When Liszt was teaching his famous master classes in Weimar at the end of his life, one day a student brought to him his famous Liebestraüm No. 3. After he played, Liszt was very mad because while performing the cadenza written in small notes (found on the second last page of the piece), the student had played exactly what was written on the printed page. `But you are a pianist now, you have to make your own cadenzas!,’ Liszt spontaneously exclaimed after he played.”

]

[Minor editing after publication, as usual, is still possible.]

[E&OE]

 

 

A second comment about appointments to academic posts

I won’t take chances. This was a comment I just made this morning at Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi’s blog, here [^]. Comments at his blog are moderated. And, I don’t know if he will allow it in. (There could perhaps even be some valid reasons for this comment not to be run there.) So, I have decided to go right ahead and note my comment here, too. (On second thoughts, as I have often said earlier on this blog, I anyway think that I should be bringing here many other comments I have made over a period of time at many other blogs, too.)

Here is the comment I have just made at Sanghi’s blog:

* * * * *   * * * * *  * * * * *

Quote:

Dear Dheeraj,

You write interestingly, even engagingly. Well, at least, you write—as in contrast to mostly just excerpting from Internet links!

I don’t mean to fully defend the practice that has been adopted. I just wish to note down out a few points that seem to be contrary to the flow of your argument, a few points that passed through my mind.

When you recruit a lower-level employee, a PhD student, or a professor, you do follow the meticulous process you mentioned; it involves lengthy interviews, too. Why might someone not follow a similarly long interview while recruiting IIT directors?

I think that some at least plausible answer may be hidden right in that question.

For the starters, when it comes to the candidates for the director’s post, as against the other posts you mentioned, simply because all the candidates have already been subjected to a meticulous process, throughout their prior career, typically spanning over decades.

They have been observed and evaluated at the senior and responsible positions for at least a decade or more by multiple, disparate, parties. … Any comments they make at professional conferences, any viewpoints they offer at the industry-institute interactions, the quality of the documents they write for obtaining funding, etc. Also, the blogs they write [ 😉 ]. And, they have been continuously evaluated by various parties: h-Index (certainly), student evaluations (if these are taken seriously at IITs)—and, certainly, via the annual reviews from their seniors, which includes mandatory remarks from the viewpoint of their potential as leaders. The CRs (annual confidential reports), made over a decade+ times (through various political dispensations, under many different HoDs and Deans and Directors) do have some purpose, you know—i.e., if these are taken seriously at IITs!

They also have been short-listed by the formal selection committees. Presumably, the committee’s role does not end only with providing an unordered list of names. Presumably, the short-listing committee takes its job seriously.

IITs are not private institutes. The top decision makers here, by explicit organization structure, are the concerned ministry/ministries. Whether you like it or not, they do have their regular input channels, too—channels other than the selection committees. In India, in case you have happened to overlook it, we have more than 10 central agencies for internal intelligence gathering. When the body called the Planning Commission got dismantled, another one stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Another point: At the director’s level, IITs also typically do not go for rank outsiders. Most, if not all, of what I say would remain valid even if the candidate is an outsider.

The cumulative input from multiple sources thus is already there. It is distilled, and available, just in case not already factored in, by the time the short-list is made. And, then, there are internal reviews.

The final interview, thus, is more or less just a formality. Shocking? Why should it be, to you?

Dheeraj, since you are a senior IIT professor, I must ask you: If similarly detailed and well-processed inputs were available personally to you, for all the candidates applying for a post-doc position you had in your group, would you ever bother talking with each of them for 30+ minutes? … Please concretize the situation; it is unlike what actually happens when you select your post-docs. When you select your post-docs, you mostly don’t know about all of them. … Suppose if you or your IITK/other IITs colleagues that you trust, themselves had personally seen all your post-doc candidates right from their fifth standard (if not the first standard), and suppose you had maintained your own reports about them, including from the viewpoint of their potential as post-doc researchers, and if you had had the opportunity to go through everything about every one of them, how much time would you want to allocate for merely chatting with them?

And, doesn’t this happen in the USA anyway—and I mention this point, because I know that at IITs, esp. at IITK, a top-10 US PhD is routinely valued better than a PhD that COEP graduated after a failure at a PhD program in a 50+ USA school. Thus, mentioning the US practice should be perfectly acceptable.

Would a colleague of yours in the USA—one who values your word—even bother to talk with someone you strongly recommend, i.e., with a personal touch of yours? Do they? actually? even for just five minutes? Especially if they themselves know someone trustworthy other than you, who personally knows the post-doc applicant? Do you find their practice offensive? Did you find it offensive when Manindra Agarwal’s students received offers for post-docs etc., even before submitting their PhD theses at IITK? Did you begin blogging something about the fact that there was no 30 minute interview, not even 5 minute interview for them? Do you hasten to wear your skeptical glasses if an IUCAA PhD student gets a post-doc offer at Princeton or CalTech even before submitting his thesis?

At this point, you should be a bit bemused, perhaps even a bit agitated, but you would still not be convinced. There is a bit of valid reason for it, too. I can understand and sympathize with your viewpoint.

You see, I myself have undergone a similar kind of a process—the kind that you criticize. When I applied for a professor’s position at COEP, what actually happened was that, apart from submitting my application (manually making sure that it was duly entered into the inwards register), I then dropped by a few professor’s cabins in the department, and then, also the Director’s cabin. I broached the metallurgy-to-mechanical branch-jumping issue with him, and sought his opinion about it. To cut a long story short, he bluntly told me that he has had no objection on that count (it was he who had given me an opportunity to teach an FEM course before my PhD thesis was defended), but that, as a director, what the department thinks, he said, was more important to him. And, while the department had thought differently earlier, when my PhD guide was still in it (or had just left it), now the department had begun “thinking” some “different” way.

I was duly short-listed, called for the interview, and it became evident to me within the first 1–2 minutes the nature of what to expect. (Doesn’t it, if you are past your 40?… In my case, I could tell right when I was in my 20s.) The interview did last for about 30 minutes—I stretched it, because I wanted to tell them in sufficient detail—while all along, they were just wanting to hurry it up and wrap up it all. … To cut a long story short, in the end, they selected someone whose thesis had been examined by a low-ranked NIT’s low-ranked professor, whereas every one in COEP knew that my guide had, on my informal remarks, dared contacting people from top 5 univs in the USA for examination of my thesis (including Frank Wilczek). That none of them bothered to examine it is a different story. The end result was that after almost 1.5 years, my thesis was finally picked up for examination by two senior professors from one of the five old IITs—both of whom had been HoDs and Deans, and one later on was a Director of a central lab. Now regardless of this difference, COEP showed me the door. As expected and made clear right during the interview process. (“Are you now casting aspersions that we don’t know what is good for this institute?” etc. When I say I had stretched them to 30 minutes, I mean it. After taking the decision, they did not take care to inform me of the outcome. I saw the director. He managed to sympathize with me. Though he didn’t say a thing, I knew that he knew that I knew that I should have known that I would not get selected.

Just a COEP professor’s post and an IIT director’s post, there is a difference, you say?

Well, Dheeraj, you then speak more like a typical IAS officer or a second-rate corporate MBA, than like a professor. If a director directly impacts some 500 faculty members over his entire term(s), a professor impacts some 500 students every year. And the impactees in the second case are both far more sensitive and powerless. And, with far longer period of their future at the stake.

If there were to be betting rackets for IIT Directors’ positions, the going rates would almost consistently get the selections right, regardless of change of political dispensations, and without the benefit of even a one minute interview. Why is a five minute interview so difficult to get by top ranked IIT professors, cognitively speaking.

And if you still say that the five minutes interviews still are not acceptable because the process can result in wrong/bad selections, well, you only join me, my argument—you cast doubts on the short-listing and the real reviewing processes, on the grounds that some people who could easily become second-rate directors, too, had got short-listed by the selection committee. Exactly similar to what happened to many other candidates in the COEP process. Not just short-listing, but the internal reviews before the interviews even began.

But then, who blogs about a non-JPBTI anyway—let alone for him? Who defends him? Answer: None—if his PhD guide is dead.

These are some of the things that passed by my mind, while thinking about this directors’ selection issue. I don’t pretend to know or understand the full situation. But I do know that what I said is, in many important ways, relevant.

Best,

–Ajit
[E&OE]

Unquote

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A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “aayaa hai mujhe phir yaad wo zaalim…”
Singer: Mukesh
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[E&OE]

 

 

A comment about appointments to academic posts

I had made one comment in response to a post and a couple of replies, at the nanopolitan blog, here [^]. Since the comment was long, I had saved it. To my surprise, for some reasons not known to me, it was gone the next day.

If they were to run my comment, it would have appeared immediately after the comment by one “Sushant Rai” (on 4:36 PM, March 23, 2015).

In the next section I copy-paste my comment (which, as I said, assumes the context of the previous discussion) exactly as it originally appeared (including mistakes/typos, and the emphases in italics or bold):

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Quote:

No, Ankur, there is a basic difference between an academic institution and a corporate house. … You would know about it, but just in case you don’t, check out Dijkstra’s article on academia, here: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD11xx/EWD1175.html

Now, a bit about the similarity. Mistry is the first non-Tata to head the house of Tatas. The party to hold the purse-strings does make the key difference. Whether it’s the majority or the critical shareholders, or, the controlling politicians and/or bureaucrats.

If TIFR were to be a private company (e.g. a coaching classes company), then what you say would have been applicable. It emphatically is not.

Government interference in economy is always bad; the public sector science and academia is no exception. The academia would survive (cf Dijkstra) even on public money, but don’t count on keeping quality. The broader context itself is wrong.

If you ask me: If anything, be thankful to your luck/stars/etc. that you all at IIXs etc. still get to exercise at least as much freedom as you do. The broad systemic nature doesn’t actually allow it. … Some memories of some decent traditions of the yesteryears’ private universities abroad, and some memories of some decent simulation thereof here, is the reason why you still get as much decent a treatment as you do. Visit a “private” engineering college and ask around.

As to a director’s post, I do think that these, too, should be publicly advertised. And, the names of all the people involved in the decision-making process should also be publicly declared as well. One shouldn’t have to file an RTI application for that.

After all, the government/public sector also is far more easily susceptible to the old boys network sort of a thing, as compared to the corporate sector. (There already have been articles in the media about how even some retired judges have landed plush jobs immediately after their retirement, and how courting for favours (!) might have gone before their retirement from career 1.0.)

As a long-time sufferer at the hands of those who have peopled the premier institutes in the Indian education system (“What? Metallurgy? Why did you come here? Don’t you know this is the Mechanical department?” and “What, only GATE? No JEE? You are worse than a dog then!” (Ok, this second bit is a bit of an exaggeration)), I do like it when it does receive a dose of its own medicine once in a while.

And I am sure, Sandip (Trivedi) won’t go jobless in the meanwhile—he cleared the JEE, did PhD under Preskill, and co-authored with Frank Wilzcek. He will get to continue at the scenic Colaba campus in the meanwhile, too. That’s the bottom-line. (Or at least the one I draw.)

Best,

–Ajit
[E&OE]

Unquote
[The time of my comment, soon after posting it, was shown at the nanopolitan blog as “5:58 PM, March 23, 2015”]

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Oh, BTW, I of course welcome the recent Supreme Court judgment scrapping the section 66A of the IT act.

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A Song I Like:
[How I wish the recording technique were better here!]
(KannaDa) “naguvaa nayanaa madhuraa maunaa”
Music: Ilaiyaraaja
Singers: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and S. Janaki
Lyrics: R. N. Jayagopal

[E&OE]