Friday, 20 November 2015

New trend in academic publishing

This post is motivated by the launch of a new mathematics journal - Discrete Analysis as announced on Tim Gower's blog.

As some may already know, Tim has been a leading figure in the movement towards open access in academic publishing. His movement 'Cost of Knowledge' directed against Elsevier has attracted thousands of supporters.

As Tim mentions:
...it will be purely an arXiv overlay journal. That is, rather than publishing, or even electronically hosting, papers, it will consist of a list of links to arXiv preprints. Other than that, the journal will be entirely conventional: authors will submit links to arXiv preprints, and then the editors of the journal will find referees, using their quick opinions and more detailed reports in the usual way in order to decide which papers will be accepted...
Most of the papers published in Mathematics are usually uploaded on arXiv first and then later submitted to journals for review. In the case of Discrete Analysis, the journal will have a rigorous review of the submitted articles and then will host the links of all the articles it deems worthy of its stamp of approval. Thus people can focus on the two things that matter most - the mathematics it contains and the competency of the editorial board.

Tim goes on to say:
Part of the motivation for starting the journal is, of course, to challenge existing models of academic publishing and to contribute in a small way to creating an alternative and much cheaper system. However, I hope that in due course people will get used to this publication model, at which point the fact that Discrete Analysis is an arXiv overlay journal will no longer seem interesting or novel, and the main interest in the journal will be the mathematics it contains. 
I sincerely hope it becomes true one day.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Why relocate to India?

Ever since we announced our decision to move back to India to our family and friends, we've been asked this question on numerous occasions. Why do you want to leave the comforts of the West and relocate to India?

I guess, all the people who've moved to India have their own reasons - personal or professional - and the answer varies for everyone. However, in the past few weeks we've been asked this so many times that sometimes we question our own decision. Are we doing the right thing? Are we going to degrade our quality of life and are we denying a larger set of opportunities to our future generations by moving to India? I think it's always better to clear one's head and what better way to organise one's thought than to write them down. So here's my list of reasons of moving back to India:

  1. Old school academia:
    When I decided to pursue PhD, a big motivator was the lure to have a career in academia where one is free to work on problems that interest you. I still have that feeling and that is the reason I chose to join an IIT which offers considerable amount of freedom to professors. This is one factor on which IITs rank much higher than their western counterparts. Professors in the west have to continuously get research funds in order to just maintain a lab (sometimes even paying rent and electricity bills) and pay the students. Many are forced to work fast and publish fast or risk losing their job - sadly leading to the "publish or perish" phenomenon. Many universities now treat their students as consumers and student evaluations have become an important factor in deciding promotion of a faculty.
    India is faring much better in this regard. Costs of lab maintenance aren't too much as the institute gives lab space and scholarship to all PhD students. Tenure isn't a problem as the job is made permanent after a year. Student evaluations of courses do happen but they're mostly for professors to improve their teaching. They're not a criteria for promotion or salary increment.
    All these factors make the academia in India a much more lucrative profession from a professor's viewpoint. Since you don't have to worry about so many 'trivial' distractions, you can focus on your lecturing and your research and prioritise on your own.
  2. Familiarity and ease of living:It's obviously much more convenient to live at a place with which one is familiar. Consulting with a doctor, getting a good school/daycare for children, getting your car repaired, getting a plumber to work on a Sunday, getting domestic help and hiring people to do odd jobs -- these are things about which one doesn't think much while living in India. But things like these can be a big challenge depending on which country do you live in.
    My spouse and I would really love to be in a situation where we can employ people to cook, clean, and drive for us.
  3. Family:
    One important reason is of course, family. No matter how good the life is in the west, one does miss special occasions like wedding of a cousin, or festive celebrations during Diwali and Holi. It's also important to be close to parents when they're nearing the age of retirement and aren't always in a good health.
    Another important thing for me is that I want my children to grow up in an environment where they can be closer to their roots, understand and absorb the good aspects of the Indian value system. Very often it is seen that children of immigrants face an identity crisis all through their adolescent years which isn't a very pleasant situation.
  4. Patriotism:
    Last, but not the least, I love my country. I usually do not tell this to people as patriotism is an often misunderstood emotion. It is also not very pragmatic, to be honest. But there are some times in one's life when heart wins the battle with the head.
    I feel that if I'm in India, I can contribute to welfare of the country. I will be teaching students, most of whom will stay in India and do something good for the society and economy. My spouse can also work on their pet social project of improving women's education in the country.
  5. Dual-career situation:
    [EDIT: this was added at a later stage] I realised after some people mentioned it to me, how easy it is to solve the two-body problem in Indian academia as compared to the west.

As Rocky Balboa once said "The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows"; we're fully aware of what lies ahead. Here is a list of some challenges that we think are waiting for us:
  1. Shift from a developed to a developing country:
    This is going to be hard. After having lived here for so long, I can't deny that we're very much used to the material comforts. We're also taking a significant reduction in our salary to move to India - and therefore many things (electronics, vacations, good alcohol, good meat) are going to be dearer.
  2. Family and orthodoxy: 
    It's often said that family is something that you can't live with and you can't live without.
    It probably suffices to say that our families do not have particularly progressive views when it comes to liberalism and feminism. Some of them still believe that husband must earn, do manly things, and shouldn't enter the kitchen; wife must cook, wear saree and perform fasts during festivals, and should prioritise family over work. There are going to be some conflicts in the first few months, probably even a year or more.
  3. Facilities at work place:
    A large number of good students go abroad for their PhD. Doing experiments is a very expensive and time-consuming affair as it is difficult to procure enough funds to set up a complete lab. People not being punctual in general and slow movement of the bureaucratic machinery due to apathy and/or corruption can be very frustrating at times.
But I think the challenges, though big, can be easily overcome and do not measure up to the advantages. And of course, what good is a life without any challenges? :)

Anyway, these are my current thoughts just before moving. I'll post again after a few months of moving to compare how are the things progressing.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Citations and Impact Factors

Recently, I was engaged in a debate with a few colleagues about the importance of citation metrics. Is the Journal Impact Factor (IF) really an important factor to consider while choosing a journal to publish one's paper? Is a scientist with higher citations or a higher h-index really doing better quality research in comparison to his/her colleagues? A lot of people, when asked, usually say that citations are an imperfect way of measuring scientific output; but at the same time they look at the very same metric when taking decisions relating to promotions and employment.

In some fields which are not yet fully affected by the seduction of IF, people look at other factors such as quality of the editorial board, reach and popularity of the journal, and cost of the journal before taking the decision to publish there.

A recent article in the journal Nature methods has some nice comments:
.. the IF of journals in which a scientist publishes should not be the criterion on which his or her scientific contributions are judged, for instance when making hiring or funding decisions..
IF varies by field, is affected by editorial policies - publishing a lot or reviews can have a positive effect, for example - and reflects citation practices good and ill.
The IF also does not report on other aspects of impact - whether a method is commercialised, for instance, or whether it has other societal effects.
and finally concludes by saying that
It is a truism, which nonetheless bears repeating, that no metric should be wielded without judgment. This depends, in turn, on knowing what the metric reports and what its assumptions and biases are. Just as for any other method. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Avoidable mistakes by IIT staff during faculty hiring process

Communication with many IITs, including a range of several people during my job application process was an interesting experience. Although most people work sincerely, the lack of professionalism and the lack of proper training is very evident when one interacts with them. I think a big reason for this is the fact that nearly all the administrative positions are occupied by professors (sometimes reluctantly) and the regular employees are no better than ordinary sarkari babus when it comes to management and handling technology.

I'm listing only some problems that come to my mind which are very small and can be easily removed with effort of just a few hours. Small things like this can sometimes make or break an important deal. As someone said - You can spoil a royal multi-course meal just by adding extra salt.

Situation 1 (This happened at multiple IITs):  I received an email with an invitation to attend the interview/seminar on so-and-so date. But the secretary in charge of sending the email was a bit lazy and didn't want to send this email separately to everyone. So they sent a generic email starting with "Dear Sir" to all the candidates at once. 
First of all, they completely disregarded the fact that some of the applicants were female. Secondly, they were careless enough to send email while keeping everyone in CC. No concept whatsoever of data protection and privacy. I'm amazed that no one teaches them the trivial idea of using BCC while sending mass emails.

Situation 2: Managing a large group of faculty applicants on the 2-3 days of interview. Many of those candidates were visiting the institute for the first time. It's a common practice across the world that faculty candidates talk and discuss with the existing faculty, go out for lunch/dinner, and in general a healthy interaction is developed. This did happen when I paid individual visit for a seminar. But on the day of the interview, people just seemed to have a bizarre attitude and stayed completely aloof. 
Ideally I would expect that in addition to the interview, a schedule is made up for all the candidates to meet with the current faculty and/or a tour of the campus and various facilities. Is it so hard to understand that most people who will be given an offer are very likely to have offers from multiple places and it is the institute's responsibility to make this place look attractive?

Situation 3 (This was an issue almost everywhere): Punctuality. Yes, I know that things in India almost never start on schedule, but this is one thing that makes me furious every single time. At all places, my seminar started 10-15 minutes late because some 'important senior professors' didn't come on time. At one place, even the selection committee interview was delayed because the all-important director was half an hour late. And instead of giving a proper interview schedule to everyone, they called everyone at 9 AM and asked to sit in the waiting room while people were being interviewed one after the other.


P.S.: I didn't write this article just to complain. I sincerely hope that once I'm in the system, I can work on improving at least one, if not many, of these things.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Getting a real job

Being within one's comfort zone may be a bad thing, but it is indeed comfortable. Having been a student all my life until now, it seems that I don't want to stop being one. I have really enjoyed my PhD and postdoc duration since I was able to completely focus on research problems without having to worry about many other things.
Now very soon I will transition to being an actual academic with all the actual responsibilities. My current state of mind looks a bit like that of the kid in this cartoon strip.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The 'two body problem' - and how we dealt with it

Countless articles have been written about the famous "two body problem". Here's my perspective and how I encountered this in the Indian context.

For those who are not familiar with this phrase, a two body problem is the situation when the two spouses are well qualified and due to the specialised nature of their jobs find it difficult to get suitable employment at the same geographic location. I personally hate this phrase due to the negative connotation and would rather like to call it a "dual career situation".

In most American and European universities, one is not supposed to talk about one's spouse at the time of job interviews. Either both of you apply independently and luckily get jobs at the same time; or one of the spouses lands a job and then persuades for employment of the other in the post-offer negotiations. In many cases, one of the spouses has to make-do with a relatively inferior job just in order to be at the same physical location. This phenomena has been discussed ad-infinitum and many times associated with the issues of gender inequality (link, another link).

However,
like most cases, situation in India is quite different - in this particular instance, pleasantly so. During PhD and postdoc and while dreaming of becoming a professor and returning to India, this problem of dual career was the single most scary thought my spouse and I used to have. We had spent some years in different countries for the sake of career and had taken a firm resolve to accept permanent positions only when we get good and acceptable positions in the same institute. There aren't very many articles available online that discuss this problem in Indian context, barring small mentions here and there.

After conversations with some people - old professors in my undergraduate institution, friends who are currently in IITs and generally lurking in the comment section of Prof. Madras' blog - we came to the conclusion that the best way to tackle this problem in India is head-on. People are quite straightforward and most people (specially those in the newer IITs) are open to hiring of couples. Even during casual conversations people can easily ask your marital status and then offer free advice on how to make applications. During the casual visits to the IITs in the pre-application phase, we decided to go on the same days and give talk in our respective departments parallely (I was told it is a positive thing that we're not in the same field). It was also useful in gauging the mood of people and their attitude towards couples.

It turned out to be a good idea as we clearly rejected one IIT on the basis of the prejudice of faculty there. The attitude at N1 was very positive and one of our heads of department discussed our joint-case with the director who also gave a positive feedback. We applied at N1 soon after returning back from India around the same time. It so happened that the selection committees for our departments were scheduled only a few weeks apart from each other and we received our offers around the same time.


My observations during this whole process are:

  • Most places in India encourage couples to apply as long as they're not of the same field. They usually cite the fear of partiality during department meetings and possible unethical credits in case of research collaborations if they're in the same department. I don't know how true this fear actually is.
  • There is no concept of a joint application. The applications process, the selection committee etc. are all conducted independently for each candidate. (There may be some inherent bias in the director's mind if he/she wants to hire both candidates - but it is never apparent)
  • People can and will ask personal questions - this is fairly common in Indian culture. In most cases they're not trying to intrude but trying to understand your situation and thinking of solutions to ease your hiring process.
  • If one spouse is a superstar and the other one is sub-standard for IITs, most IITs will make only one offer to the deserving spouse. I was shown many evidences towards this.
  • During all these interactions, I did meet some "Science politicians" whose sole aim is to use a newbie's situation to further their own motive. Learn how to spot them and stay away.


Hopefully this experience is helpful to some other couples out there.
Cheers!


[N1 is an IIT I talked about in this post.]

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

On basic research

Most people will agree that fundamental research is very important. Engineers studying fluid flow wouldn't be able to do much without the theorems that talk about solutions of Navier-Stokes PDEs; Micro and Nano-scale computer chips cannot be made without basic research in Material Science; Structural and Mechanical engineers use many concepts from Continuum Mechanics which in turn is largely dependent on Differential Geometry and PDEs. The list is long and probably endless.

I'm an engineer by training, but my research area is quite far away from immediate applications. I focus on a rather theoretical topic and for this reason I have spent significant portion of my career in the Mathematics department of a university. I enjoy my work and normally receive a good feedback when I present in conferences or submit articles to journals.

The problem, however, comes when one is a jobseeker. Apparently there are not many people in India who work close to the theoretical topics that I do. I have given presentations in the engineering departments of many IITs and invariably I've got similar responses.
I usually present the nice/beautiful/interesting mathematical part along with a set of possible applications in engineering for my research. Based on their questions, the audience always seems interested in the applications and how can this be implemented in their labs. In fact, most of the HODs have asked me about whether I would like to set up my own lab and start doing experiments. When I responded in negative, one of them actually even coerced me that I should say 'yes' if this question is asked during the selection committee meeting later.

I think I need to do a better job of explaining why the basic research in itself is interesting. Or perhaps, there is some bias in engineering departments towards things that move and sell?
Here's a video from Numberphile that articulates the arguments in favour of basic research in a much nicer way.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The New-New IITs

The present central government announced several new IITs and IIMs after coming to power about a year ago. If the recently released IIT-JEE brochure is to be believed, four of the new IITs will start their operations from the coming semester in July/Aug 2015. These are:
IIT Chhattisgarh at Raipur
IIT Goa at Ponda
IIT Palghat
IIT Tirupati

However, I'm unable to find any website for these "new-new" IITs. The decision to start them without any director, faculty, infrastructure, land allocation seems to be a bit bizarre (only IIT Tirupati seems to have been given land); bit of a deja-vu from 7 years back when the then HRD ministry gave orders to start IITs in a similar way. Some of those newly started IITs are still struggling due to these systemic problems and the Indian government has once again refused to learn from the past.

On a personal note, I'm particularly excited about the IIT coming up at Goa. I love that place for its natural beauty, clean air, and relatively free way of life. If IIT Goa gets a good director and a good start, I will be very happy to move there.

EDIT: According to a recent news article in TOI, it seems IIT Goa does not start its operations until next year. A sad development.

Screenshot of the JEE brochure

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

On Skype interviews

A large number of faculty candidates in the IITs are people who are presently based abroad. It is usually difficult to fly back every time one wants to give a research seminar or a job interview and hence the concept of Skype seminar started.

I personally hate giving a talk on Skype, but find it equally convenient to have an interview / regular chat via video conferencing.

An interview works like a usual Skype chat. Some people sit around a table with a mic in between while your video is projected on the screen. A talk, however, is atrocious to say the least. The way I delivered my talks were via screen-sharing. I shared my screen with the audience and had my slides on full-screen. Then I went through the slides very slowly, speaking very slowly, explaining everything through the motion of mouse pointer.
The biggest drawback was that neither I could see the audience, nor the audience were able to see me during the entire 35-40 minutes. I thought that this created a huge communication gulf and was no better than watching a lecture on YouTube. In some IITs, I was asked some really good questions after the talk which gave an impression that not everything was lost and people did understand at least something :)

Some observations of the process:

  1. Skype based interviews are much relaxing as compared to the physical ones. You can sit on your favourite chair, wearing your favourite shorts (with a decent shirt/top/tie), stick some useful quotes on your monitor (such as keep smiling, speak slowly).
  2. Speak very slowly. Most IITs have a slow internet connection even in today's age and occasionally the voice can be muffled. In fact, at some places the people even asked me to turn off my video to save bandwidth :)
    (Oh IITs, how can you be premier institutes of technology while having pathetic internet speeds?)
  3. Learn to use your computer effectively. Some software (such as Okular on Linux) allow you to use your mouse as a pen in presentation mode. I use it a lot while giving presentation when I'm not allowed to use my face and hand gestures.
Having said all this, I would always advice to spend some money and fly back to give a physical seminar whenever possible. Face to face communication is a way more effective technique in getting the job one strives for.

Friday, 17 April 2015

New directors at three IITs

The three new IITs at Ropar, Patna and Bhuwaneshwar finally get a director each. Economic Times' story here.
The ministry appointed Pushpak Bhattacharya, a computer science professor of IIT Bombay, as the new director of IIT Patna. Sarit Kumar Das, professor of mechanical engineering at IIT Madras, will be the director of IIT Ropar and RV Rajakumar, an electronics professor from IIT Kharagpur, the new director of IIT Bhuwaneshwar. 
The appointments were shrouded in controversy last month, when Kakodkar, chairman of IIT Bombay and member of selection panel, quit ahead of the crucial meeting of the search-cum-selection committee on March 22 to interview candidates.
The appointment has been long overdue and has been hampering the functioning of these IITs due to the current directors working on an ad-hoc basis with stripped down powers.

See also the interesting story at Telegraph on how to pick IIT directors.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Patience, my young Padawan, or maybe not!

OK, so the lame Star Wars reference aside; patience seems to be the key thing you need to have in order to maintain the sanity during the long process of faculty application in IITs. It is not uncommon for the departments to receive applications and then forget about them for several months (even years in some cases).

I applied to a few IITs some time back and only two of them (both new) were kind enough to acknowledge the receipt of my application. Out of these two, one of them sent an email after a month or so to proceed with the process on Skype. However, following the advice of 'patience', I thought waiting for the response from others would be the right thing to do. But since IITs are quite infamous for not informing the rejected candidates about the fate of their applications, and I hadn't heard from some places even after 2 months of application, I decided to drop a polite email to the respective HODs. Among all the emails, one old IIT immediately replied saying that my application is good and they would like to have a Skype seminar. (What on earth were they doing with my dossier before my email arrived??) Other IITs didn't even bother to reply to this additional email.

This kind of behaviour leaves prospective applicants in a high state of confusion. What is wrong with keeping the candidate in loop about what's happening with their application? If the departmental committee has reviewed the application and has rejected it, an email response to the candidate is the minimum courtesy one can offer. Maintaining a consistent behaviour, updating all the relevant information on websites, proper communication - they are hallmarks of a professional working environment and are extremely desirable in our "institutes of national importance".

To give credit where it is due:
IIT Guwahati seems to have a very professional recruitment process and openly displays the dates when the last selection committee met and when the next one is expected. IIT Madras is probably another one keeps on updating the candidate about the status of their application through the online portal.

(My apologies if this post looks more like a rant. Like every young person, I sometimes dream of changing and revolutionising the entire system once I'm inside :-) )

Friday, 10 April 2015

Visit to IITs - I

During my last visit to India several months ago, I visited some IITs. I recount my experiences in this post, just to give the reader an idea that what can be expected of such visits.

At this point I had not applied to any IIT, but had mentioned about my intention to do so in future. Let's call the old IIT as O1 and the two new IITs as N1 and N2 (following Kaneenika Sinha's terminology). I know some professors in O1, and knew one assistant professor each in N1 and N2. I directly asked my contacts that I wanted to visit and they gladly arranged for a seminar in the respective departments. N1 is an amazing new IIT doing very well while N2 has been in news for some wrong reasons and not doing so nicely. The same was easily evident to me after the visit.


First visit at N1:

I spent one complete day at N1 during my visit. My talk was scheduled in the morning at 9 AM - which I later realised wasn't a good time. Not many faculty could attend since they were busy taking classes. (Hat tip to prospective applicants: make sure that your talk is arranged at a convenient time). However, three young APs (assistant professors) of my sub-discipline in that department were there and asked some nice questions. I was later able to meet many other faculty during the day including the dean. HOD was on leave that day so couldn't meet him.

Some common questions that I was asked: What kind of courses can you teach? Are you going to continue working in the same research area as that you presented in your seminar? How will you diversify to more areas in future? What kind of research facilities will you need?

Overall, I got a very good impression of N1. All the people I met were cordial, knowledgeable and quite energetic. The best part was that most of the faculty are young, hence full of willingness to work on new ideas. They are soon moving to their new campus and my host was nice enough to drive me to the new place to give a glimpse of the buildings coming up there. They are actively looking for someone with my research background, so I got a lot of positive vibes from them. I was strongly encouraged to apply.

However, one thing that stood out was the level of hierarchy in the institute. All the young APs were addressing senior faculty as "Sir" or "Prof. XYZ". I could see a sudden change in their tone and body language when senior people were around. This is probably an Indian thing though.


Second visit at N2:

I reached N2 the night before my seminar was scheduled. They provided me accommodation in their amazing guest house (which was ironically the only thing that I really liked in that institute). My host their is a new assistant professor. He and a couple other people in the department are doing great research work, but overall I found the institute in shambles.

I met with the HOD and several other faculty and nearly everyone was openly critical of their director. The head even told me that they really like my CV and would like to immediately offer me a contractual position (to be later made permanent by the selection committee) but the director has put all academic appointments on hold. This was quite evident when I went to meet the director with him. He was quite polite while talking to me (probably because I was a guest) but the language he used with other faculty was unacceptable, to say the least.

The seminar was scheduled in a lecture theatre which was, funnily enough, being used for a class at that time my talk was supposed to happen. The poor souls there quickly ran around and found a seminar room that was luckily available. After scrambling around for 20 minutes, my seminar finally started. I found the faculty to be quite cordial and they asked good intelligent questions during the talk.

It seems that N2 has all the right things except the director. As his tenure is about to end very soon, I am hopeful that the situation there will improve pretty quickly.


Third visit at O1:

O1 is a place I was already familiar with and know several people there. It's a reputed place with a strong department of my field. I spent two complete days there with my talk scheduled at the end of the second day. Soon after my arrival, my host quickly called everyone on mobile and chalked out a schedule of meeting all the relevant people for the next two days. This way I could meet all the people and personally interest and invite them to my seminar. Most of the faculty here are doing great research and were very welcoming in their approach.

The differences between an established and a new IIT were quite visible after coming here. The faculty were quite independent and 'disconnected' - if that's the right word to use - from each other. The closeness and warmth I witnessed at N1 was missing but at the same time I could see much more professionalism and organisation. I did witness some politics and it was evident that some faculty members have formed groups that doesn't like the members of the opposite group very much.

I had an interesting meeting with the head of the department. He found my research to be interesting but was more interested in the courses that I could teach in the department. When I mentioned that my research is largely theoretical, I received an unsolicited advice of trying to do some experiments and set up a lab as that leads to more funding! I was also told that teaching is the most important aspect and "research is an extra-curricular activity in IIT". Needless to say, this last statement was a bit confusing but I decided not to think too much about it.

The seminar I gave here was the best attended one among all three places. There were about 60-70 people with professors from several different departments. People found the work to be interesting and the senior faculty (who were probably part of the faculty search committee) made sure to understand what was my specific contribution to the nicely woven story I was presenting.


--------------

To summarise my experience, I found that both old and new IITs have some desirable and some undesirable features. Depending on the things you value, it's not necessary that old IITs are better (as is commonly assumed by many people).
Another interesting observation I made is that in India, a lot of things happen on phone rather than email. It seems that anyone can call anyone on mobile phone at any time of the working day. It is so common that now many people do not take emails very seriously and wouldn't respond to regular queries unless you call and talk to them.
N1 and O1 graciously reimbursed my travel (airfare, train and taxi) and accommodation. N2 provided accommodation but reimbursed travel only to the nearest big city.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The formal procedure

Let's say that you want to apply for a faculty position in an IIT. Here are the formal steps that one ought to go through when making application for an entry level Assistant Professor. They are more or less similar across all institutes with some slight variability.
P.S: These are the normal official guidelines that I have understood by reading through the websites of several IITs, talking to my friends who work there, and from my own applications.

First, your background:
  1. An ideal applicant should have an excellent academic record throughout undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
  2. It is expected that you've published your research work in good venues. The number and quality of publications is a subjective matter and there are no official guidelines. The selection committee will ask for reprints of your publications (and probably read through them) and then take a decision.
  3. You should have a PhD or about to finish one.
  4. To get a 'regular' Assistant professor's position, you must have three years of postdoctoral experience. If you do not have this experience, you are given a contractual position until your three year experience criterion is met. Your position will later be converted to a 'regular' one subject to internal reviews and probably another round of interviews.

The application procedure:
  1. Complete and submit the application form (usually online, in some IITs you send it by post) along with the required documents.
  2. Once an application is submitted, it goes through an internal screening by the concerned department.
  3. The department then expects you to visit them for a day or two. During this visit you meet most of the faculty of your sub-discipline and give a research seminar. It's one of the most important steps, both for you as well as for the department. They will try to judge whether you are a suitable fit for them and you should also try to ascertain whether or not you would like to work at that place.
  4. After your visit, the department makes a recommendation at the institute level (usually to the Dean and the Director).
  5. Recommendation letters may be asked from your referees either before step 2 or step 4 depending on the policies of the institute.
  6. When there are enough candidates, a selection committee is formed that comprises of Dean, HOD, Director and several scientists/professors from other institutes. They will interview the candidate and based on the recommendations from the concerned department, they will take the final decision.
Please note that steps 1,2,3 are not necessarily chronological. In many cases, candidates just visit their department first and then apply later. Step 3 or 6 can also be undertaken on Skype - although they will ask you to visit the institute at least once.
There can be a time gap of several months between each of these steps. The entire process can take between 3-12 months. It really depends on when does the institute wants to organise a selection committee meeting. In some IITs it happens once a year, while in some IITs it may happen twice.


These are the official steps and how things are supposed to work most of the time. However, as in many cases, theory and practice are not always the same. I will write more about that in a later post.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Overview and Background

Reason for this blog:

I'm a postdoc in a STEM field working in the west. I'm an Indian and am soon moving to India as a faculty in one of the Indian Institutes of Technology. I received an undergraduate degree from one of the IITs before I left India for my PhD.

Through this blog, I hope to document some of my experiences while I search for a job in India. I will try to write posts in a way that helps future faculty candidates in better understanding the system. Occassionally I will also write about academia and science in general.

A lot of my knowledge about the systems here are based on my own personal experiences as well as through discussions on other blogs. Specifically, let me mention Life in IISc, Nanopolitan, Dheeraj Sanghi, Kaneenika Sinha.