Archive for August, 2012

Some relevant thoughts

August 25, 2012

Ram Guha in his latest piece in The Telegraph:

As André Béteille writes in his new book, Democracy and its Institutions, in India today: “…the chronic mistrust between government and opposition impairs the foundation of democracy. Mistrust and suspicion on one side is met with concealment and evasion on the other. The very purpose of shaping the opposition into a responsible and legitimate political institution is frustrated.”

As evidenced with depressing regularity in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — as well as in television studios — India’s two major political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, detest one another. Accusations of corruption and lack of patriotism are thrown around all the time. Laws proposed by the government are rarely discussed with any depth in Parliament, the Opposition seeking rather to shout down the proposal or render it infructuous by a walk-out.

In this manner, the national interest is regularly subordinated to partisan point-scoring. This partisanship adversely affects the making of sensible economic and foreign policies, and, perhaps even more, attempts at restoring peace between regions and communities.

Take a look!

Knowing just enough can be dangerous

August 25, 2012

Is Doug’s thought when it comes to choosing referees for your paper!

Parallel computing: a good resource

August 24, 2012

After CUDA, now I am getting interested in plain old parallel computing (mpi and stuff like that) as well as in openCL (thanks to a collaborator, Prof. Phanikumar). So, I found this webpage, especially, this piece to be very helpful.

Coding and communication: two must-have skills

August 21, 2012

A nice post that emphasizes the need to develop good coding and communication skills:

It boils down to two pieces of advice that I convey to my own students:

First, they must be able to program well. This applies broadly to many EE/CS disciplines where the primary end-product is software, and even to many hardware-related disciplines where the design and testing process is done entirely in software (of course, in the latter case, additional hardware-related skills may be required). In particular, it’s not enough to be good at algorithm design at the level of psuedocode. Besides what they have learned in introductory programming classes, and the ability to program in environments geared for scientific experiments (such as MATLAB), they should be familiar with state-of-the-art  programming languages, tools, and practices. It is very useful for them to do significant hands-on software projects and industry internships during their Ph.D to gain significant experience in this direction.

As Vivek Haldar puts it:

You must be a great coder. That is a minimum prerequisite. During one interview, I asked a candidate (a recent PhD graduate) to give me some pseudo-code for the solution he had just described, and he went “oh well, if you must make me code…” That pretty much made me go “no hire.” What did you think the job involved?

Where does this advice leave students with a more mathematical bent, those who are primarily interested in proving theorems, whose dissertations don’t require the building and testing of any software artifact beyond some MATLAB code? Not much worse off. Complementing their strong theoretical abilities with practical coding skills will not harm them, even if they do plan to pursue a research career.

Second,they must be able to communicate well in diverse settings. They must learn to communicate their ideas effectively, not only in a deep and rigorous manner as they must when writing for and giving talks to a technical audience of researchers and faculty in their own field, but also in an accessible and engaging manner to a broader audience. In industry, they will need to be articulate in contributing ideas in informal brainstorming sessions and meetings with their colleagues, as well as in formal presentations and reports, when they need to convince managers and clients of the merits of their proposals and solutions. In an industry setting, unlike in academia, they will need to be able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. Towards this end, while doing a Ph.D., they should practice giving talks to people outside their immediate field, and writing for a broader audience.

This second piece of advice also works well for Ph.D. students who don’t go on to industry positions. Even at academic interviews one is often talking to smart people who are not in one’s own area of expertise. And whether it is writing grant proposals or talking to students, being able to communicate coherently and persuasively with diverse audiences is an essential career skill for academics as well.

Good advice and equally valid for those in computational areas. Hat tip to Abi for sharing the post on Google+.

A nice (albeit short) read

August 18, 2012

Quantum of tweed; thanks to ArunN for the recommendation.

Scholars and Enterpreneurs

August 18, 2012

When you get a PhD, are you also trained to head a lab? Zen Faulkes has some thoughts:

The first thing that happened was I botched my negotiation. Being god’s fool, I somehow managed to avoid disaster, but I could have been very badly burned if there hadn’t been some honourable people around.

I’d been a teaching assistant as a graduate student, so I wasn’t completely lost there. But there is a big difference between being a teaching assistant and running your own class from stem to stern.

But running my own lab has been… a mixed bag. It took longer for me to get my footing than I expected, and to have projects in the wings ready for students to pick them up. Judging by my success rate, I still have a lot to learn about “grantsmanship.” And I still don’t feel my management / supervisory style is all that it could be.

The big one, though, is bookkeeping and budgeting. I didn’t have to worry about tracking money in any significant way as a grad student or post-doc. Spending money at an institution is not like spending your own money. You have layers of people and paperwork that stand between you and purchases. You have obscure “enterprise finance” systems that seem designed to drive a person to substance abuse. I’ve learned that I despise trying to keep track of grant money.

John Hawks through whom I got the link to this post has his own thoughts too:

Running independent research requires entrepreneurship. A Ph.D. formally is training in scholarship. A great scholar may be a poor entrepreneur, and few Ph.D. programs require training that would instill values of entrepreneurship. Essential skills include professional networking, balancing risk by diversification, repeatedly and widely asking for funding, accurately judging the motivations of people who share information, and publicizing and promoting one’s own ideas. Some students get excellent informal training in these skills, but many miss them entirely.

Looking at the Indian scenario, I find the following:

  • There is almost no negotiation in terms of pay and benefits; that is all (almost) fixed. However, there could be better negotiation in terms of seed grants in certain institutions. But, seed grants can also be negotiated after joining the Institute.
  • There used to be almost no training in terms of teaching, especially, if you graduated from places with no undergraduate programmes. However, in IITs, I do see that we do train our TAs for some amount of teaching.
  • The scenario about grantmanship is the same as is elsewhere. As a student, you hardly worried about money — except when you went for conferences abroad, or applied for JRF/SRF. But even then, it is not the same as trying to get grant money. Here, the help of mentors becomes essential.
  • We did have some experience with day-to-day running of the lab and the processes involved such as raising an indent, settling bills etc. So, the paperwork and dealing with people is something that PhD students do get an experience of.

Not bad, on the whole, I suppose!

A thought for Thursday morning

August 16, 2012

Money and fame can be impediments to innovation!

Von Freeman always considered his relative obscurity — which lasted nearly until the final years of his career, when the world started to recognize his genius — a blessing. It enabled him to forge an extremely unusual but instantly recognizable sound, to pursue off-center musical ideas that were not likely to be welcomed in the commercial marketplace.

“They said I played out of tune, played a lot of wrong notes, a lot of weird ideas,” Freeman told the Tribune in 1992. “But it didn’t matter, because I didn’t have to worry about the money — I wasn’t making (hardly) any. I didn’t have to worry about fame — I didn’t have any. I was free.”

Freeman used that freedom from commercial pressures to pursue a music that was as unorthodox as it was intellectually demanding, as idiosyncratic as it was deeply autobiographical. In this sense, he represented the quintessential jazz musician, forging a musical voice that was unique to him, an art that was influential but ultimately inimitable.

From here; link via Fabiorojas.

Student as a customer

August 13, 2012

William W Keep at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

First, the student-as-customer model fits poorly. Certainly some educational experiences are better than others, and information about quality differences needs to be readily available. However, anyone who has listened to students and parents demand results not earned or special privileges at special prices knows the customer model has flaws. Of course that does not prevent some institutions from using customer satisfaction to determine the price of a dorm room. I remember the well-heeled student who told me that the university could gain revenue by “selling” preferred parking places to those willing to pay.

Second, discussions among faculty and administrators about multiple revenue streams, costs per student, program efficiency, budget accountability, and the like can be difficult. As an institution, academe has much more experience resisting change than embracing it.

Third, even as some people resist change, there is an increasing awareness that the future will be different. We will not go backward. Budgets present real constraints, public support will not return to previous levels, domestic and international competition to offer new educational options will continue, as will calls for increased accountability.

What we need is to learn the discipline of business without the short-term orientation.

Take a look!

Hat tip: To Prof. Ballal for the email pointer.

On peer review

August 12, 2012

Rex at Savage Minds defends peer reviews on the grounds that it helps one cultivate the five virtues, namely,

mindfulness, honesty, tact, precision, and respect.

The piece explains how, if practiced in the right spirit, peer review can help cultivate each of these virtues. A good read.

A good read

August 10, 2012

After a long time, I read a good novel thanks to Jenny; here is the summing up from the Guardian piece that Jenny refers to:

The Deadman’s Pedal is morally sensitive, exquisitely written and emotionally mature.

Have fun!