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Alumni Speak
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Name:Arzi Adbi

The Supreme Court of India ruled that government employees had no “fundamental, legal, moral or equitable right” to strike work. The court is of the opinion that strikes “hold the state to ransom” and causes “heavy loss of man-days”. For just or unjust cause, the strikes can not be justified under present day circumstances, particularly when there is large scale unemployment and a large no. of well qualified people are eagerly waiting for employment.

Well, I agree that strikes do cause ‘inconvenience’; it results into chaos and total maladministration, the entire administration comes to a grinding halt. But, is the solution suggested by the Supreme Court really the most befitting one? The overall effect of Supreme Court is to ban strikes by more than three-fourths of India’s organized workforce. This would make India the only democracy in the world where the bulk of the workers are denied a fundamental right. Even the U.S. doesn’t have such a blanket ban.

Data and numbers are always there to show both the pros and cons of a subject. But, they do have a lot of potential to infuse objectivity and the stronger the analysis based on facts and figures is, the more are the chances of being more FACTUALLY correct and hence being more objective. ‘Debate’ after all is the hallmark of a democracy.

In the data concerning strikes, the total loss of man-days owing to strike is much less as compared to the loss of man-days owing to man-made accidents, unutilized capacities in the industrial units and lay-offs and lock-outs resorted to by the employers. The Supreme Court has not said that Lock-outs are illegal. Thus, if Lock-outs are not banned, then how the strikes by the working class could be banned?

If ‘inconvenience’ or ‘disruption’ be the sole criterion of the JUSTNESS or VALUE of an action, the HARTALS and SATYAGRAHAS of the freedom struggle would be branded undesirable and indeed they were by the colonial state. Yep! The times have changed today and quite often strikes are resorted to for trivial reasons and they are not justified. But, to counter these, the Supreme Court should devise a method.

I do agree with Rajeya bhaiya at this point, that there must be adequate checks and measures and strikes should be used only in the rarest of rare cases. But, at the same time, I do also agree with Soli Sorabjee, the Attorney general, who says “a court of law is concerned with legal and constitutional issues. The observation that employees have no MORAL or EQUITABLE right to strike is uncalled for and is beyond one’s comprehension.”

When conciliation fails, when the employer is not ready to negotiate, when he is hell bent on victimizing employees on petty matters, when he does not implement the Labour Laws and when the government is inactive, under such circumstances there should be every right for the working class to go on strike. Adequate checks and measures are welcomed but such a BLANKET BAN is uncalled for. Should we justify FASCISM because ‘the trains run on time’?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Name: Jaya

I sometimes wonder, what kind of world we are living in. The distinction between right and wrong is fading so fast. On one hand it could mean more freedom for individuals, on the other it could mean lots of confusion and chaos in the society. Generalities apart, Rajay Bhaiya has already pointed out the two sides of the coin. Is there a temporal dimension to the issue as well?

Considering the way things have evolved - strikes came up as a tool "against an insensitive and indifferent management" as Rajay Bhaiya has pointed out. Considering that it will certainly not be desirable to allow strikes. But has it happened that this face of strike has lost its lusture with time and today what remains is mostly the other face, again quoting him "whims and fancies of a handful holds the entire society for a ransom"? Possibly that's where the catch lies - things go in cycle. Employees evading work, employers getting strict to get genuine work out of employees, employers getting greedy to exploit employees, employees revolting for genuine reasons and gaining rights through institutions like unions, after that unions losing their importance because mostly genuine needs of employees are being satisfied, union leaders looking for power assertion techniques and hence going for strikes and other stuff leading to evasion of work, which may not have a genuine reason behind it and so on. May be the next round of cycle begins here - that's why this directive from Supreme Court (One will say Supreme Court is not an employer, is neutral etc., but judiciary is supposed to do the right thing and what is right is governed by the societal norms and the age we are living in. Court's judgment reflects the part of the cycle we are in.).

Thursday, May 06, 2004
discussion forum

Strikes are undesirable from the point of view of society because (a) these have the potential to seriously jeopardize normal functioning of a society and (b) an organization has a set of authority structure on which it works; strikes challenge this very structure and thus in the long run hurt everyone.

Strikes by government servants are worse as these people in a modern state form the backbone of a system supposedly responsible for smooth and efficient implementation of its policies- generally engaged in people oriented welfare activities and hence, their actions have tremendous impact on all strata of society.

Should strikes be banned? We must consider couple of issues before arriving at a conclusion.
i. Strike is a weapon of last resort, especially when engaged in distributive bargaining, for the unionized work force against an insensitive and indifferent management. You take it away and the bargaining ability itself is gone.
ii. Issue of enforceability of a piece of law: this may be one of the yardsticks to measure the justifiability of an action by judiciary/executive.

I am not advocating a chaotic regime where a group of people stops work at the drop of hat and whims and fancies of a handful holds the entire society for a ransom. I believe that it is possible to devise a framework that permits resorting to this ultimate weapon with certain preconditions and safeguards. There are precedents. In Banks, the system is such that wages are deducted automatically for the strike days and under no circumstances these are adjusted against, say, unutilized surplus leave. It affects employees’ pay bills almost immediately. Then unions have to give ultimatum well in advance. More of such deterrents can be imposed to make strikes less attractive as a tool to gain bargaining power.

Is S.C.’s judgment justifiable?
Well, dear Arzi, all its decisions are, by definition, just and equitable. No scope for any argument there. I, however, would like to conclude by quoting from an ancient Hindu law book:
“The injustice of the king is considered just as great when he inflicts corporal or capital punishment on a man who does not deserve it as when he sets free a man who deserves it; but it is justice when he exercises strong restraint.”
(Manu Smriti:9.249)

Tuesday, February 24, 2004
What is a Ph. D?
Name: Jaya

Found this one at http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.phd.html. I thought should help students learn and think about research career. Should be of use to many of the alumnus too.


Notes On The PhD Degree

Last week at the department colloquium coffee hour, several students engaged the faculty in a discussion about our Ph.D. program. It became clear that many of the students did not understand the basics; they were surprised at some of the questions and confused by some of the answers.

These notes provide basic information about the purpose of a Ph.D. program in an attempt to help students decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. degree.

The Basics

A Doctor of Philosophy degree, abbreviated Ph.D., is the highest academic degree anyone can earn. Because earning a Ph.D. requires extended study and intense intellectual effort, less than one percent of the population attains the degree. Society shows respect for a person who holds a Ph.D. by addressing them with the title "Doctor".

To earn a Ph.D., one must accomplish two things. First, one must master a specific subject completely. Second, one must extend the body of knowledge about that subject.

Mastering A Subject
To master a subject, a student searches the published literature to find and read everything that has been written about the subject. In scientific disciplines, a student begins by studying general reference works such as text books. Eventually, the student must also search scholarly journals, the publications that scientists use to exchange information and record reports of their scientific investigations.

Each university establishes general guidelines that a student must follow to earn a Ph.D. degree, and each college or department within a university sets specific standards by which it measures mastery of a subject. Usually, in preparing for Ph.D. work in a given field, a student must earn both a Bachelor's and Master's degree (or their equivalent) in that field or in a closely related field. To demonstrate complete mastery of the subject, a student may be required to complete additional graduate-level courses, maintain a high grade average, or take a battery of special examinations. In many institutions, students must do all three.

Because examinations given as part of a Ph.D. curriculum assess expert knowledge, they are created and evaluated by a committee of experts, each of whom holds a Ph.D. degree.

Extending Knowledge
The essence of a Ph.D., the aspect that distinguishes Ph.D. study from other academic work, can be summarized in a single word: research. To extend knowledge, one must explore, investigate, and contemplate. The scientific community uses the term "research" to capture the idea.

In scientific disciplines, research often implies experimentation, but research is more than mere experiments -- it means interpretation and deep understanding. For Computer Scientists, research means searching to uncover the principles that underlie digital computation and communication. A researcher must discover new techniques that aid in building or using computational mechanisms. Researchers look for new abstractions, new approaches, new algorithms, new principles, or new mechanisms.

To complete a Ph.D., each student must present results from their research to the faculty in a lengthy, formal document called a dissertation (more popularly referred to as a thesis). The student must then submit their dissertation to the faculty and defend their work an oral examination.

Relationship To Products
In some cases, the results of scientific research can be used to develop new products or improve those that exist. However, scientists do not use commercial success or potential commercial profits as a measure of their work; they conduct investigations to further human understanding and the body of knowledge humans have compiled. Often, the commercial benefits of scientific research are much greater in the long-term than in the short-term.

Research Activities
Computer Science research can include such diverse activities as designing and building new computer systems, proving mathematical theorems, writing computer software, measuring the performance of a computer system, using analytical tools to assess a design, or studying the errors programmers make as they build a large software system. Because a researcher chooses the activities appropriate to answer each question that arises in a research investigation, and because new questions arise as an investigation proceeds, research activities vary from project to project and over time in a single project. A researcher must be prepared to use a variety of approaches and tools.

A Few Questions To Ask
Many of you are trying to decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. degree. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself.

1. Do you want a research career?
Before enrolling in a Ph.D. program, you should carefully consider your long-term goals. Because earning a Ph.D. is training for research, you should ask yourself whether a research position is your long-term goal. If it is, a Ph.D. degree is the standard path to your chosen career (a few people have managed to obtain a research position without a Ph.D., but they are the exception, not the rule). If, however, you want a non-research career, a Ph.D. is definitely not for you.

2. Do you want an academic position?
A Ph.D. is the de facto "union card" for an academic position. Although it is possible to obtain an academic position without a Ph.D., the chances are low. Major universities (and most colleges) require each member of their faculty to hold a Ph.D. and to engage in research activities. Why? To insure that the faculty have sufficient expertise to teach advanced courses and to force faculty to remain current in their chosen field. The U.S. State Department diplomatic protocol ranks the title "professor" higher than the title "doctor". It does so in recognition of academic requirements: most professors hold a Ph.D., but not all people who hold a Ph.D. degree are professors.

3. Do you have what it takes?
It is difficult for an individual to assess their own capabilities. The following guidelines and questions may be of help.

In your college and graduate courses, were you closer to the top of your class or the bottom? How well did you do on the GRE or other standardized tests?

Are you prepared to tackle a project larger than any you have undertaken before? You must commit to multiple years of hard work. Are you willing to reduce or forego other activities?

Research discoveries often arise when one looks at old facts in a new way. Do you shine when solving problems? Do you like "brain teasers" and similar puzzles? Are you good at solving them? In school, did you find advanced mathematics enjoyable or difficult?

Intense curiosity:
Have you always been compelled to understand the world around you and to find out how things work? A natural curiosity makes research easier. Did you fulfill minimum requirements or explore further on your own?

Most students are unprepared for Ph.D. study. They find it unexpectedly different than course work. Suddenly thrust into a world in which no one knows the answers, students sometimes flounder. Can you adapt to new ways of thinking? Can you tolerate searching for answers even when no one knows the precise questions?

By the time a student finishes an undergraduate education, they have become accustomed to receiving grades for each course each semester. In a Ph.D. program, work is not divided neatly into separate courses, professors do not partition tasks into little assignments, and the student does not receive a grade for each small step. Are you self-motivated enough to keep working toward a goal without day-to-day encouragement?

If you choose to enroll in a Ph.D. program, you will compete with others at the top. More important, once you graduate, your peers will include some of the brightest people in the world. You will be measured and judged in comparison to them. Are you willing to compete at the Ph.D. level?

Compared to coursework, which is carefully planned by a teacher, Ph.D. study has less structure. You will have more freedom to set your own goals, determine your daily schedule, and follow interesting ideas. Are you prepared to accept the responsibility that accompanies the additional freedoms? Your success or failure in Ph.D. research depends on it.

A few warnings:
Students sometimes enroll in a Ph.D. program for the wrong reasons. After a while, such students find that the requirements overwhelm them. Before starting one should realize that a Ph.D. is not:

Prestigious in itself
Almost everyone who has obtained a Ph.D. is proud of their efforts and the result. However, you should understand that once you graduate, you will work among a group of scientists who each hold a Ph.D. degree. (One faculty member used to chide arrogant graduate students by saying, "I don't see why you think it's such a great accomplishment -- all my friends have a Ph.D!").

A guarantee of respect for all your opinions
Many students believe that once they earn a Ph.D. people will automatically respect all their opinions. You will learn, however, that few people assume a Ph.D. in one subject automatically makes you an authority on others. It is especially true in the science communicaty; respect must be earned.

A goal in itself
A Ph.D. degree prepares you for research. If all you want is a diploma to hang on the wall, there are much easier ways to obtain one. After you graduate, you will have occasion to compare your record of accomplishment to those of other scientists. You will realize that what counts is the research work accumulated after a scientist finishes their formal education.

A job guarantee
When an economy slows, everyone can suffer. In fact, some companies reduce research before they reduce production, making Ph.D.s especially vulnerable. Furthermore, once a person earns a Ph.D., many companies will not hire that person for a non-research position. As in most professions, continued employment depends on continued performance.

A practical way to impress your family or friends
Your mother may be proud and excited when you enroll in a Ph.D. program. After all, she imagines that she will soon be able to brag about her child, "the doctor." However, a desire to impress others is insufficient motivation for the effort required.

Something you can "try" to find out how smart you are
Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way. Unless you make a total commitment, you will fail. You will need to work long hours, face many disappointments, stretch your mental capabilities, and learn to find order among apparently chaotic facts. Unless you have adopted the long-range goal of becoming a researcher, the day-to-day demands will wear you down. Standards will seem unnecessary high; rigor will seem unwarranted. If you only consider it a test, you will eventually walk away.

The only research topic you will ever pursue
Many students make the mistake of viewing their Ph.D. topic as a research area for life. They assume each researcher only works in one area, always pursues the same topic within that area, and always uses the same tools and approaches. Experienced researchers know that new questions arise constantly, and that old questions can become less interesting as time passes or new facts are discovered. The best people change topics and areas. It keeps them fresh and stimulates thinking. Plan to move on; prepare for change.

Easier than entering the work force
You will find that the path to successful completion of a Ph.D. becomes much steeper after you begin. The faculty impose constraints on your study, and do not permit unproductive students to remain in the program.
Better than the alternatives

For many students, a Ph.D. can be a curse. They must choose between being at the top among people who hold a Masters degree or being a mediocre researcher. The faculty sometimes advise students that they must choose between being "captain of the B team" or a "benchwarmer" on the A team. Everyone must decide what they want, and which profession will stimulate them most. But students should be realistic about their capabilities. If you really cannot determine where you stand, ask faculty members.

A way to make more money
While we haven't heard any statistics for the past couple of years, graduate students used to estimate the "payoff" using the starting salaries of Ph.D. and M.S. positions, the average time required to obtain a Ph.D., the value of stock options, and current return on investments. For a period of at least five years that we know, the payoff was clearly negative. Suffice it to say that one must choose research because one loves it; a Ph.D. is not the optimum road to wealth.

The good news:
Despite all our warnings, we are proud that we earned Ph.D. degrees and proud of our research accomplishments. If you have the capability and interest, a research career can bring rewards unequaled in any other profession. You will meet and work with some of the brightest people on the planet. You will reach for ideas beyond your grasp, and in so doing extend your intellectual capabilities. You will solve problems that have not been solved before. You will explore concepts that have not been explored. You will uncover principles that change the way people use computers.

The joy of research:
A colleague summed up the way many researchers feel about their profession. When asked why he spent so many hours in the lab, he noted that the alternatives were to go home, where he would do the same things that millions of others were doing, or to work in his lab, where he could discover things that no other human had ever discovered. The smile on his face told the story: for him, working on research was sheer joy.
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Understanding Humans!
Name: Jaya

I can not forget the biology teacher at my school, who, once, had embarrassed me like anything by criticizing my interest in literature - "Hindi padhne se kuchh nahin hota hai, thoda Science padh lo to career banega" (Studying Hindi won't do. Study Science if you want to make a good career for yourself). One of those exceptional instances, where today, I do not regret having not heeded the advice of elders!

Not to belittle the importance of Science and related disciplines, but I often wonder: Are we not trying to make a God out of Science, which is not an ok thing to do. It is almost a fashion amongst students to consider Social Sciences and Literature to be a burden, which must be gotten rid of, at the earliest. But think over it once. Who comes first - human beings or Science? What good Science will be of if it does not serve humans, if it does not make the life of humans better? How can then understanding humans be of any lesser importance than understanding v=u+at? And where else does this understanding lie if not in history, literature and other social sciences? Its high time we came out of this trap which labels these subjects as "meant for not-so-intelligent" students!

Leave the philosophy apart. From purely a perspective of career, the world is increasingly welcoming those who have the capacity to envision the bigger picture - the traits of such persons are laid down in terms of communication skills, understanding of cultures, cultural differences and changes, empathy etc. etc.

Today, I am at a stage where I have to get prepared to face the world out there; I do not know what it is like or how am I going to fare there but one thing I am sure of that the tools I have with me have really not much to do with Newton's laws of Motion or Theory of Relativity. These have much more to do with Premchand and Tolstoy! Again, I am not trying to undermine the space of science and effort that goes on in excelling in it but understanding of human beings is much, much tougher than understanding principles of sciences. May be we need to start to early in life, so that we do not lag behind and feel helpless when time comes to utilize that training.

Possibly our education system has flaws in the way it deals with these subjects, but flaws are pretty much there with science subjects as well. If that does not take away our enthusiasm for sciences, why otherwise for social sciences and literature?

Name:kushagra kumar
Seems like we all have gone too busy to utter a few words. One can even feel the silence while opening this blog. where are all the bolggers ??
Anyway, as far as the discussion about the education system was going on, it reminds me of one she'r (verse) :
" Khada hoon ab bhi main roti ke chaar harf liye,
Sawal ye hai, kitaabon ne kya diya mujhko..,
Dhuaan bana ke hawaon mein uda diya mujhko.."
(I m still catching the four letter of the word "roti", the question is what have these books taught me)
Any system of education will have it's loopholes, be it the school system or the any other system. Anyone who has read the story "Shiksha" by Agyey, will definitely agree that knowledge is something that can't be taught; it's the learner's wilingness to know that teaches him or guides him, not the teacher. Any teacher or mentor can just assume that he/she is providing a conducive environment for his/her pupil.
That's it for now...Wake up buddies...Write Something...I m getting too disappointed..OR should we change the subject of discussion n jump to something more technical or maybe controversial..Waiting for your response...

Thursday, February 05, 2004
Name:Rajay Sinha
Dear Jaya,
y'day i visited the website and also checked this page.your introductory write up dt. 23.01.04 was awesome. so cohesive, simple and reasoned. you have not left much to be added by others.

about the prevalent system of education i still remember Sir quoting Chekov(hope i spelled it correctly).cant recall exactly but Chekov (& Sir) wished for a system minus schools--my own understanding is that by school they implied the rigidities associated (as in xyz School of ,say, Art). evaluation system actually makes those rigidities
apparent by over-emphasizing the value of a certain type of skill-set in consonance with those rigidities.

rational and clear thinking constitute another skill-set.i hope you will work hard to develop it further and keep on sharing your views.

Friday, January 30, 2004
JAM Survey
Name: Ravi

This posting is in continuation of our attempt to make our students aware of options other than JEE. In Purnea, there are instances when people have dropped years after years for JEE and have ended up by getting something which doesn't suit their potential. We have just started with JAM and this is what i arrived at after doing a survey of 3-4 hrs. with Msc. students of IITK. Following is the message which i composed for sir.


Today i intervierwed a few Msc. students individually, and asked them questions of our interest like, the level of difficulty of JAM and carrier oppertunity after M.sc.. All of them, without any exception, told that the JAM paper is easy and if one does his B.SC. seriously, there is no need to give exclusive time for this exam. But, i think the gud thing with them was that they all have studied in a college where classes are held regularly and degree is completed in three years. In our case, the minimum time which is reqd. to finish graduation is four to five years, leave alone the matter of whether classes are held ot not. Moreover, ppl generally drops 1-2 years for JEE which makes it to 5-7 years. Wat i want to suggest is that we shud encourage ppl to do graduation from IGNOU immediately after intermediate. I've also done one year of B.Sc. from IGNOU, and i can tell u that it is never going to disturb those who wants to continue his/her JEE preperation, at least for first one and haf years. This means that a student can take two more attempts of JEE without wasting his time. But for JAM, one will need to study seriously in the final year. As suggested, final year of study wud suffice and most of the questions in the test has the same level of difficulty as that of the university exam paper. There is no such coaching material kind of thing, so everything will depend on wat one learns from his/her B.SC..

I don't kno wat is the pattern of exam this time, in the previous years after the entrance test they used to take a haf an hour to one hour interview; but, since this is the first time when all the IITs will take M.Sc. students thru JAM, the pattern mite have changed. Anyway, as they told, the interview is as easy to clear as the written test. Maths students can take admission in Stats and vice versa.

Schol (scholorship in US university) sceinario is far better than wat i had expected. Last year, all of the 21 students in chemistry, around 80% in physics, and around 70% mathematics and statistics got schol. The number is less for mathematics and statistics student only bcos they opted for job, which is easy for them in comparision to physics or chemisty students. From job point of view, there is not much scope for physics and chemistry students during campus placement, but one can easily persue higher studies in these streams. They also gave examples of people who didn't want to go abroad and have done Ph.D. from the institutions like IIT, IISc, TIFR, or even IIM (i too cudn't blive this, but this is true).

I am telling u wat i learnt by talking to individuals of all the departments viz. phy, chem, maths and stats. Plz. let me kno wat else can be explored.

Ravi (Mamu).

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