Tuesday, 15 November 2011

I just visited the website of IITD. The page says"research at IIT Delhi" and the picture is captioned "revisiting protein folding".
It is a great change in the vision of the institution. 30 or 40 years back, IITs and IITians believed that science is for the second grade people and biology was not even mentioned as a science. Sure, they had Physics and Chemistry Departments, " you know...we have to have those things..."
Money allotment was probably a lot less than for any of the engg. departments....I do not know the figures, but science departments felt impoverished. In the eyes of the BTech students, of course they were better than the Humanities, but only just. One student proved to one of the Chemistry profs that he could get the required GPA without ever entering the chem lab and was planning to do so. The newly introduced 5 yr MS in Chem/Phys were viewed by the BTech students just like they view the 5 yr MA at IITM now.... with disdain.
From the website, I see the profile of the faculty today, the research being done now, and obviously, money is not as bad as it used to be and perhaps the science departments are no longer the second class citizens of the Instt.`
May be the Humanities & Social Sciences Departments will also mature in the next decade and the IITs can become full fledged universities.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

asking questions.

In one of my previous posts, Sivaramakrishnan commented that students hesitate to answer in class due to fear of making a fool of themselves. This is absolutely true and has been so. It is somehow in our social setup that we do not speak out. Those of us who are older have been brought up to not speak unless spoken to. We never got the self confidence to speak up.
This lack of confidence also leads to some poor decision making in life.
However, there is another factor that exists when I ask students question in class. I tell them that I never ask them something that they do not know. But still the belief persists that for every question, there is some profound answer involving wave functions or some other complicated stuff. I tell them that the simple answer is often the right answer, and that I never ask about complicated stuff in class, but they never believe me. The hesitant answers I get are always complicated rigmarole. It is a rare occasion that I get the right answer. (One student once told me"Ma'm you look so happy when someone gives the right answer" I must say I really feel happy--it makes my day)
An alumnus came to meet us a couple of days back. He has a PhD from Johns Hopkins and is post-doc-ing at Berkeley. Another alumnus from the same batch, was a post doc at Harvard and has now moved on, another classmate has started his own company. There were another few in that batch who have PhD s from our local university and are now teaching at teh university.
Another alumna called me to ask if any of our students would like to work for her on her DBT projects. These are all students who passed out more than 10 years ago.
So how do some batches do well while in other batches, they all end up either as salesmen or call centre employees, feeling proud to have got a job that pays well.
One thing is the change in times...nowadays we get fewer students who have interest in learning anything. They have gone through more years of the "corporate" schooling where "IIT coaching" starts in the 7th class where previously it started in the 11th class.
I see more and more evidence of the harm these "corporate" schools do to whole generations of children.

Friday, 4 November 2011

collaboration

With the population reaching some sort of a mark, rather like the waters reaching a danger mark in a dam, people's power seems to be on the rise. Now this is good if it works well, but it could easily go the other way-- like when mobs beat people up without knowing why.
But whatever be the aim, when people collaborate, they achieve more.
This is very difficult to internalise.
I am sure I would not share in many situations.
But if I look at it objectively, I can see that the future is in collaboration- whether science (from Abi's post) or in overthrowing corrupt governments. But this sharing is very very tough and the phenomenon is now in its infancy.
Is it a paradox of human nature that when there is more of us to divide resources between, we are seeing more collaborative movements, or is it a sign of maturing civilisation that sees the benefits of sharing? Or is it just exigency that brings people together temporarily?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

My lab class today-
"If you titrate acetic acid with NaOH, and apply the Henderson Hasselbalch equation, you can find the dissociation constant of the acid."
Pointing at the board--" Looking at the HH equation, we see that when the conc of the salt equals that of the acid, the pH is equal to pK. Now when will the concentration of the acid equal that of the salt?"
............silence................
"Ok, since the acid reacts to give the salt, when will this salt equal the remaining acid?"
again silence................
With exasperation"If I eat a cake, when will what I have eaten equal what I still have left?"
again silence for a minute..... then one person with great hesitation... "is it half?"
With relief"Yes! So now tell me about the acid"
Silence.............
Almost tearing my hair "Imagine the NaOH is eating up the acid-- when will the eaten up acid equal the leftover acid?"
"Halfway"
"Thank God"
This is not 7th class ..it is BSc 3rd year.......20-21 year olds.