Monday, August 31, 2009

How not to ask for a pay hike: "We are the people behind the JEE!"

The Nature India column -- Pay commission will 'degrade' IIT faculty [free registration required] -- by Aditya Mittal, an associate professor in IIT-D's School of Biological Sciences, is so bad in so many ways that I don't know where to begin.

His beginning is a good place to begin, I guess:

... Many feel that the IITs are not great because of their faculty, but because of the system that chooses students for India's scientific Oxbridge — the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

But who is behind these JEEs? From setting the question paper to conducting the exam and compiling the results to admitting the best students through comprehensive counseling procedures, it is an out and out 'show' of the IIT faculty. In fact, it would be difficult to find a single faculty member in the IITs who hasn't ever been involved in a JEE.

This is a curious way to begin a pitch for a higher pay (or, special treatment). Mittal has successfully framed the IITs as JEE organizing machines which just happen to cost the government, oh, over a thousand crore rupees. Research and other such things seem secondary!

Here's the next "argument":

The government can never pay what an IIT faculty deserves. In fact, one can't expect the government to pay what an IIT faculty deserves. It is considered a privilege to teach and do research at the IITs. Not for the money but for the work ethos created and maintained by its faculty - present and past. People come to work at an IIT because of the dignity associated with the hallowed institution. And they work tirelessly at the IITs believing it is a place that nurtures the mantra of 'being the best at whatever you do, no matter what you do.' This is evident in the success of its alumni, as well as in the success of the faculty in competing with the most specialised research laboratories across the globe despite the time and resource crunch it is always faced with.

Notice his framing of *all* IIT faculty -- not "some" but an undifferentiated "the" -- as embodying excellence in not just organizing the JEE, but also in their "success ... in competing with the most specialized laboratories".

Further, how on earth can it be "considered a privilege to teach and do research at the IITs" when all you get is a time crunch and a resource crunch? Also, the privilege is so special that "... one can't expect the government to pay what an IIT faculty deserves." Got it? Me neither.

I wonder what the government will do after reading this piece: I hope it won't make the resource crunch bigger so IIT faculty can feel more privileged ...

Next comes this:

... the sixth pay commission's treatment to the IITs simply reflects a sorry state of affairs of the Indian system. It demonstrates the failure of a country to deal with excellence. The commission has brought pay-packets of entry level IIT faculty at par with (or below) bureaucratic positions. It has also clubbed them with groups of recruits in other systems who most often do not qualify to enter the IIT system as PhD students. This simply reflects the poor mindset of our society that is unable to give excellence its due.

The arrogance is appalling. It's one thing to claim that *all* your colleagues are excellent, but it takes a certain insensitivity to diss a whole lot of folks in universities ("recruits ... who most often do not qualify to enter the IIT system as PhD students").

His problem seems to be that the IIT assistant professors are in the same Pay Band with such "recruits". The fact that they earn considerably more doesn't matter; Mittal is upset that the great assistant professors at IIT-D share the same Pay Band as those "recruits" in "other systems."

What's this -- some new kind of untouchability?

But you know what the clincher is? This:

In giving its verdict, the Union Human Resource Development ministry has ignored the recommendations of the Goverdhan Mehta committee report which had recommended a hike in pay scale of apex technical educational institutions.

What's wrong with this? The difference between the Mehta committee and ministry recommendations are actually quite small: probably 2 or 3 percent. Except, of course, for the serious anomaly that prevents assistant professors from going to Pay Band 4 after three years.

The small difference doesn't mean IIT faculty should accept it without a fight. They are doing the right thing by pointing out the anomalies and seeking a remedy. If their pleas fall on deaf ears, they would also be right to go on strike.

But to take this small difference as a basis for an unreasoned, unreasonable (and arrogant) rant?

Two prodigies at IISc

The first, Tathagat Avatar Tulsi, has just graduated with a PhD in physics at the age of 21. With a thesis that's all of 33 pages, he is also reported to have applied for "the shortest PhD thesis" record in the Limca Book of Records.

The other, Mohammad Ali Aamir, has just joined IISc's integrated PhD program in physics at the age of 15.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Links ...

  1. Featured link: Drake Bennett in Boston Globe: Happiness -- A Buyer's Guide: Money can improve your life, but not in the ways you think. Here's the money quote [pardon me for the unintended pun]: “Just because money doesn’t buy happiness doesn’t mean money cannot buy happiness. People just might be using it wrong.” The quote is from Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

    See also: Jonah Lehrer's comments on this article.

  2. Eric Wargo: The New Genetics:

    The metaphor Champagne uses is a library. A library contains many books, but they don't do anything by themselves; in order to have an impact, to instruct and inspire, they have to be actually taken down from the shelves and read. The genome is the same way: Whatever information it contains, it has no effect on anything unless and until it gets transcribed (by messenger RNA) and translated into protein. "DNA, in order to be read, must be accessible; it must be unwrapped from the very condensed form in which it is stored in cells," she explained.

  3. Janet Stemwedel in Adventures in Ethics and Science: A [favorable] ruling [a harassment case] but no remedy: what to do when a university grievance process has failed you. Lots of useful suggestions in the comments section. What's interesting for me is the variety of laws and institutions in the US that one could turn to for help.

  4. Ethan Zuckerman at My Heart's In Accra: Cute Cate Theory of Digital Activism [and its perennial battle to overcome censorship].

  5. Joshua Hortshome in Scientific American: Does Language Shape What We Think? A new study looks at what happens when a language doesn't have words for numbers.

Are the IIT faculty right to go on strike?

IITs (in this post, they also "stand in" for IISc, IIMs, IISERs and other such government-funded institutions other than Central Universities) are public institutions that play by public sector rules. Within this paradigm, what kinds of arguments can the IIT faculty associations use to bolster their demand for a better deal than what the government has offered them?

While there is no universal moral law, I think they could appeal to a broad 'principle' that most people would agree with: similarly situated people in the old scheme have a right to expect that their situation in the new scheme will not be drastically different. Minor differences may be okay, but drastic differences are not; at least, not without a well-articulated justification.

[Minor and major differences will also depend on context: A difference of several hundreds of rupees may be okay in salary, but even a hundred rupee difference is not okay in Grade Pay, which is the status marker in the new regime; see No. 3, below].

If you accept this principle, it would appear that IIT faculty do indeed have a strong case on some of their demands. I can think of at least three:

  1. Who's affected? Assistant professors in IITs.

    Who are they being compared to? Readers in Central Universities.

    Where is the anomaly? In the new regime, while readers (in universities) and assistant professors (in IITs) are placed in Pay Band 3 at the beginning, their situations are radically different after three years of service. Readers move to a higher pay band -- Pay Band 4, automatically, without any evaluation -- where the salaries are much higher: 46,400 (Salary of 37,400 and AGP of 9,000). This benefit has been denied to assistant professors at IITs.

    Verdict: This is wrong. IIT faculty would be absolutely right in going to strike if this benefit is denied to them.

  2. Who's affected? Everyone in the IITs -- both academic and scientific staff.

    Who are they being compared to? Here, the comparison is with scientists (at all levels) in R&D organizations in the public sector.

    Where is the anomaly? The R&D labs belonging to DAE, DRDO and ISRO offer an extra allowance to their scientific staff. This benefit has been denied to the IIT faculty.

    [The idea behind this allowance, I believe, is to make careers in R&D attractive. However, I am not sure about the details of its implementation: I have seen different versions of this benefit: 20% of basic pay, a lump sum of about 6,000, etc. Also, I am not sure if this is a performance-based incentive or if it is given to all the scientific staff. ]

    IIT folks have made a specific demand for a scholastic pay of Rs. 15,000 per month [backed by dubious arguments). Across all levels.

    Verdict: I expect this demand to be accepted, but the scholastic pay may be less than Rs.15,000 per month; also, it could be a fraction of one's salary, instead of a fixed sum.

  3. Who's affected? Associate professors.

    Who are they being compared to? Professors in universities, whose salary scale in the old scheme was the same as that of associate professors in IITs.

    Where's the anomaly? The Academic Grade Pay is different. It's 10,000 for university professors, while it is 9,500 for the IIT associate professors

    Verdict: This anomaly must be removed. In the new regime, Academic Grade Pay is the "status indicator." People with the same status in the old scheme have every right to expect to have the same status in the new scheme.

    [A similar situation exists for full professors at the IITs; there, the comparison group will have to be some other categories of people -- for example, senior scientists in DRDO. The specific demand is for an AGP of 11,000 instead of 10,500 ]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Clueless reporter of the day

The 'honor' goes to Manu Sharma of NDTV for the report under this headline:

Professors earn Rs 50,000 at IIT, Rs 5 lakh at Harvard

A comparison between his/her salary and that of a two-bit reporter in a third rate news network in the US may help Manu Sharma in not getting suckered into accepting (and peddling) silly arguments for a pay hike for faculty members.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Links ...

  1. This New Yorker cartoon is cool!

  2. Timothy L. Wood in Inside Higher Ed: The Accidental Celebrity: "Timothy L. Wood didn't write an essay comparing Obama and Hitler. He shares his story about what happened online and in his life when some people thought he did."

  3. Business Standard: IIT faculty give HRD ministry till Sept 4 on pay dispute.

  4. Ravi Mundoli in Mint Blogs: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

  5. Where the Truth Lies -- Part II: Jaswant: Atal Wanted to Quit.

This is too juicy ...

David Rising in Associated Press: Germany: 100 professors suspected of Ph.D. bribes.

The headline says it all.

* * *

Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed.

In praise of the Karnataka model ...

... of entrance exam -- the CET. Specifically, the admirable transparency of its operations.

Consider this from Mythili Bhusnurmath's column in the Economic Times:

... [S]tudents are allowed to carry back with them the question paper and a copy of their answer sheet. How? The CET, like the AIEEE and the CBSE medical entrance examination and other state common tests, is a multiple choice examination with students required to mark their answers on OMR (optical magnetic recording) sheets. Each OMR answer sheet has a carbon paper underneath that reproduces the choices marked by the student.

Subsequently the CET authority puts up the correct answers on its website. Students can check their answers themselves and arrive at their marks tally. They can then check this with the official mark list and rank list and if there are any discrepancies, can take it up with the CET authorities. This is no idle boast. In the past the CET authorities have, on occasion, drawn up a fresh merit list based on an amended mark-list.

Prof. Balaram on PPP models

In this Business Standard interview:

People are only now talking about PPP model. IISc is the first example of PPP. It came up with an endowment from Jamshetji Tata and the government (then British and Mysore government). In case of this PPP, the philanthropist (Tata) was a philanthropist in the true sense. He wanted no control over the institution. This PPP model has not happened over the last 100 years. Now, PPP is nothing but almost business deals.

There's another section in which he talks about the government's contribution to IISc's budget:

What is the main source of your funding?
The government is the primary supporter of research and education. We get about Rs 200 crore from the government every year as maintenance and development grant. Besides, we generate about Rs 150 crore from various projects sponsored by government departments and institutions. However, despite being the prime source of our funding, the government does not get as much mileage as private funders.

What about contributions from the private sector?

At the moment, private funding is insignificant. Private funding does not account for more than 10 per cent of our research expenses. Individual faculty try to get projects on their own, but it does not benefit the institution enormously. Private funding today is not philanthropic. [...]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do it only if ...

Three versions.

1. Amit Varma in India Uncut: Blogging Tips from a Jaded Veteran:


This is my last piece of advice, and possibly the most important one. If you don’t enjoy yourself, your readers won’t enjoy reading your blog. Blogging won’t make you a millionaire, so you should only blog if you love doing it. If it’s fun for you, then all of the above advice might be redundant, for the act of writing a blog will be its own reward. So log on and have a blast!

2. William Pannapacker in Chronicle of Higher Eductaion: Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go [via Mircea] :

As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

  • You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
  • You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
  • You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
  • You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. [...]

3. Charles Bukowski at So You Want to Be a Writer? [via Rohit Chopra]. This is how the poem begins:

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

I really liked this appeal to one's public-spiritedness!

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Links ...

  1. Since we are in the middle of a major protest action in the IITs, here are two featured posts over at on how protests matter: Part 1 and Part 2. The comments on these posts are also quite illuminating.

  2. Now playing: Where the Truth Lies, scripted and directed by BJP "leaders" .

  3. Rainbow Scientist: The fight for the rank of the best Indian institution

  4. Cogito Ergo Sum: Research at NITs: Can we solve it?

  5. Guess what is in great demand in God's Own Country? Coconut Pluckers! There's even a design contest for a coconut plucking machine.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

IIT faculty go to war

The new pay structure has upset the IIT faculty so much that they are taking -- or considering -- serious protest action. Consider this PTI report from Chennai:

Aggrieved by differential pay scales and non-implementation of Sixth Central Pay Commission recommendations, the faculty of the IIT Madras will boycott classes indefinitely from tomorrow.

"We have decided to stop taking classes from tomorrow as our earlier protests of taking classes wearing black badges had not paid off," M Thenmozhi, President, IIT-M Faculty Association, told PTI here today.

From Kharagpur, The Scholars' Avenue has published a letter from the president of IIT-KGP Teachers Association (the first comment is pretty delicious, don't miss it! ;-):

The Faculty body of IIT Kharagpur, at their meeting on the 19th August, 2009, has decided to impress upon all the faculty-administrators to resign their posts. Rationale behind this decision is as follows:

MHRD has appointed Directors to run the IIT show. They need faculty support to run its affairs. 100% of the teachers of IITs are engaged in some or the other extra-teaching work. Only non-cooperation from Deputy Director, Deans, Heads of Departments, Chairmen, Professors-in -charge, Departmental in-charges resulting from their resignations can bring the Directors to the doorstep of MHRD. If the affairs go on as they are going without affecting the functioning of the institutes, then we stand no chance. Unless all the Directors express their inability to run the IITs under the prevailing circumstances, you can expect no reaction from the MHRD.

* * *

Update (9:00 am, 21 August): The faculty members at IIT-KGP are going on mass casual leave today. No classes.

This is the news from IIT-B:

IIT-B Faculty Forum president B Seth, too, sounded a warning on Thursday, saying the new salary structure was "absolutely unacceptable''. "Further course of action, like resignation from all administrative posts, will be decided in consultation with other IITs. That may impact the mentoring of new IITs and faculty participation in scientific honorary activities of various government bodies,'' Seth added.

Each IIT has planned protests on campus. IIT-Madras faculty held a protest meet on Thursday and IIT-Kharagpur and IIT-Roorkee teachers would not take lectures on Friday, IIT-B Faculty Federation secretary Soumyo Mukherji said.

The difference between what the government says ...

... and what it actually does. Charu Sudan Kasturi lays it all out for us:

What the government says:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, human resource development minister Kapil Sibal — and his predecessor Arjun Singh — have repeatedly termed faculty shortage the single biggest challenge in India’s ongoing higher education expansion.

What it has done:

The new regime — notified today by the human resource development ministry — not only snips increments recommended for teachers but also ignores perks proposed to fuel research at these institutes.

It ignores a special research grant and a health and insurance scheme prescribed by a central pay panel under former Indian Institute of Science director Goverdhan Mehta, and dilutes a proposed allowance for attending conferences. ...

The short shrift to incentives apart from salaries appears at variance with repeated claims by top government officials that they are concerned about the severe faculty shortage at India’s premier engineering and management schools.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Links ...

  1. The Institute, for many years now, is degenerating into a bureaucratic corporate company well past its sell-by date (think General Motors, Air India), focussed on attracting on huge cash infusions, rather than the liberal centre of learning it was meant to be.

    Can you guess which Institute Prithwiraj is talking about, and what might have been behind that assessment?

  2. Alison Gopnik: Your Baby is Smarter than You Think:

    In 2007 in my lab at Berkeley, Tamar Kushnir and I discovered that preschoolers can use probabilities to learn how things work and that this lets them imagine new possibilities. We put a yellow block and a blue block on a machine repeatedly. The blocks were likely but not certain to make the machine light up. The yellow block made the machine light up two out of three times; the blue block made it light up only two out of six times.

    Then we gave the children the blocks and asked them to light up the machine. These children, who couldn’t yet add or subtract, were more likely to put the high-probability yellow block, rather than the blue one, on the machine.

  3. Anahad O'Connor in NYTimes: Stress Can Make Allergies Worse:

  4. The Onion, America's Finest News Source: Film Adaptation Of 'The Brothers Karamazov' Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book

  5. Finally, on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Unintended consequences of reading Ayn Rand to a child at bed time.

Something interesting happened to me today's algorithms have "identified [this blog] as a potential spam blog." See this page for a helpful definition of what spam blogs are. Among many things, it says, "[Spam blogs] can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site."

Ouch!   Looks like all those "Links ..." posts have triggered some suspicion.

The mail from folks informed me that a 20-day grace period is all I'll get for requesting a review, and that nasty consequences -- such as vaporization of this blog -- will follow if I fail to send in that request before that deadline.

So, I rushed and filed the request.

Until this problem is sorted out (which may take a day or two), is imposing on me the ignominy of having to fill out a "word verification" box to prove that I am not some automated bot that's spewing out this very post that I'm writing right now.

* * *

This is not the first time for this humble blog to run into trouble; about a year ago, the Google gods thought it was an "attack site". I had to go through a few steps -- involving's webmaster tools -- to remedy that problem.

This is what IIX faculty were waiting for

It's the final version of how the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations are going to be applied to us. There was some tantalizing news some ten days ago that the Cabinet had given its approval to this document, but the document itself was never made public. Until today.

It's here.

Yesterday, a purported "abstract" of it was circulating among the IIT faculty. It upset the faculty of IIT-M enough for their faculty association to put out this press release.

The Telegraph carried a story this morning; the Indian Express also carried a report, but I'm not able to locate it online.

* * *

Update: Giridhar has a post on this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Annoying habits of college professors

Jesse Bering has an article in Scientific American: Annoying Habits of College Professors (circa 1935 to 1937). It's about a study by one Joe Moore published in -- wait till you hear this one -- the The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. I wonder which section carried Moore's papers.

A quick excerpt:

Among the habits judged by students as being “very annoying,” some of the most frequently listed were rambling, “riding” students, pausing too long, and using pet expressions. I’m not sure how these particular pet expressions would go over in today’s college classroom, but in Moore’s study, some of the more bothersome ones apparently included “Ain’t that right, pal?;” “In the final analysis;” “Interestingly enough;” “Like an old mule” (I can only guess what this was referring to.); “If you please, gentlemen;” “Yes suh! Yes suh!” and perhaps my personal favorite, “That’s the meat of the cocoanut.”

Some professors went so far as to scratch their head, clear their throat, act too formal, rub their chin, frown, use slang, gesticulate or pause too long. A few even had the indecency to wear their clothes unpressed and smile too much. [...]

Monday, August 17, 2009

In praise of online classes

Jonathan Kaplan (President, Walden University) in Inside Higher Ed: The Medium Is Not The Message:

We know that online learning requires devout attention on the part of both the professor and the student -- and a collaboration between the two -- in a different way from that of a face-to-face classroom. These critical aspects of online education are worth particular mention:

  • Greater student engagement: In an online classroom, there is no back row and nowhere for students to hide. Every student participates in class.

  • Increased faculty attention: In most online classes, the faculty’s role is focused on mentoring students and fostering discussion. Interestingly, many faculty members choose to teach online because they want more student interaction.

  • Constant access: The Internet is open 24/7, so students can share ideas and “sit in class” whenever they have time or when an idea strikes -- whether it be the dead of night or during lunch. Online learning occurs on the student’s time, making it more accessible, convenient, and attainable.

* * *

Rob Weir has some advice on online teaching: Take a Walk on the Wired Side. He also has a more balanced and practical take on online courses by discussing the positives as well as the negatives; more importantly, he has some great links at the end.

* * *

See also:

  1. What's Wrong With Online Courses?

  2. Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance: Will The Internet Replace Universities?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Links ...

  1. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Distributive Justice.

  2. Marc Beja at the The Wired Campus: Researchers Say Facebook Can Fuel Jealousy and Increase Time on Facebook [via The Situationist].

  3. Zuska has the right perspective on recent research findings on gender gap in how close the employees' perceptions about their work are to those of their bosses.

  4. Ajay at Cogito Ergo Sum: Is NIT-K really a top engineering school?

  5. PhD Comics on Post hoc vs. Post-doc fallacies.

  6. Finally, on this Independence Day, I think I can safely depend on Kuffir's version of what freedom really means.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Links ...

  1. Lani Guinier and Susan Sturm in Forbes: America's Best Colleges: Merit By The Numbers [via The Situationist Blog].

    The preoccupation with backwards-looking statistical criteria also severs the tie between admissions and mission. The testing regime deflects the college's responsibility away from, for example, producing a diverse and dynamic learning environment that actually builds capacity among the students to become the leaders, thinkers and entrepreneurs of the next generation. Reputation based on numerical ranking assumes greater importance than reputation based on the development of innovative ideas and publicly spirited graduates. The primary function of admission becomes status and prestige enhancement for the institution itself and for those who enroll.

  2. Jyoti Punwani in The Hoot: Caste Matters (covering something that I noted a few days ago):

    The Times’ recent report isn’t unusual; the paper has been consistently running down the performance of reserved category IIT aspirants and students. Journalists can end up perpetuating stereotypes that stigmatize an entire community.

  3. Sharon Begley in Newsweek: Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around?

    These have not been easy days for evolutionary psychology. For years the loudest critics have been social scientists, feminists and liberals offended by the argument that humans are preprogrammed to rape, to kill unfaithful girlfriends and the like. (This was a reprise of the bitter sociobiology debates of the 1970s and 1980s. When Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed that there exists a biologically based human nature, and that it included such traits as militarism and male domination of women, left-wing activists—including eminent biologists in his own department—assailed it as an attempt "to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race, or sex" analogous to the scientific justification for Nazi eugenics.) [...]

    That is changing. Evo psych took its first big hit in 2005, when NIU's Buller exposed flaw after fatal flaw in key studies underlying its claims, as he laid out in his book Adapting Minds. Anthropological studies such as Hill's on the Ache, shooting down the programmed-to-rape idea, have been accumulating. And brain scientists have pointed out that there is no evidence our gray matter is organized the way evo psych claims, with hundreds of specialized, preprogrammed modules. Neuroscientist Roger Bingham of the University of California, San Diego, who describes himself as a once devout "member of the Church of Evolutionary Psychology" (in 1996 he created and hosted a multimillion-dollar PBS series praising the field), has come out foursquare against it, accusing some of its adherents of an "evangelical" fervor. Says evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci of Stony Brook University, "Evolutionary stories of human behavior make for a good narrative, but not good science."

Links: Women professors at UT-Austin, Management theory

  1. Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed: Recruiting Women As Full Professors:

    The University of Texas at Austin this week announced the results of faculty hiring for the coming academic year, showing notable gains for women. And in the College of Liberal Arts, the results show that -- in addition to making institutions welcoming for young female scholars -- a top research university can change the dynamic at the senior level, too. The college hired six women as full professors -- when the greatest number ever hired previously had been three and the norm in most years has been one or none.

  2. Andrew O'Connell in the HBR Blog: Why Business Theories Are A Waste Of Time -- a review of Matthew Stewart's book The Management Myth: Why the "Experts" Keep Getting it Wrong:

    ... [H]ow about the Five Forces of Cooking? They are: Quality of ingredients, attractiveness of presentation, the threat of overcooking, the threat of undercooking, and rivalry among recipes. [...]

    Like a business framework, the fictitious forces of cooking might be highly useful to certain chefs -- students in particular, Stewart says with mock seriousness. Just as MBA candidates pore over Porter's Five Forces, student chefs might study the cooking framework to master whatever secrets they imagine to be hidden within. If there were such things as academic chefs, they would inevitably be moved to dispute certain aspects of the cooking-forces framework and propose their own amendments, as do so many business school professors in reaction to existing conceptual frameworks.

    But, of course, most chefs would "immediately sense that the whole endeavor is an atrocious waste of time. A framework, they will point out, has never fried an egg."

  3. While on Matthew Stewart, his article in The Atlantic -- The Management Myth -- is a classic take-down of "management theory". I did link to it when it appeared in 2006, and it's worth another link now -- especially because the old one doesn't work!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Links ...

  1. Jonah Lehrer in Boston Globe: The Truth About Grit:

    Woody Allen once remarked that “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” [Angela] Duckworth points out that it’s not enough to just show up; one must show up again and again and again. Sometimes it isn’t easy or fun to keep showing up. Success, however, requires nothing less. That’s why it takes grit.

    Much of the article revolves around the study of grit in Angela Duckworth's group; on her website, you can participate in the GRIT study.

  2. Gary Laderman in Inside Higher Ed: The Death Guy:

    For the last decade or so I have taught a death and dying course at Emory University. When I first offered the course there were 8 or so students; last year when I taught it, 60 students enrolled. As a teacher it is supremely gratifying to know when you’ve truly nailed a class, and this class is a blast for me and for the students ... [who[ also teach me a thing or two each year.

    It works every year and yet for some misguided reason I thought it would be good to try something new for a change, and so I decided to teach religion and sexuality next term. I imagined it would be an easy shift from the one topic to the other. Now that I’m preparing the class, I’m already longing for the death lectures, site visits (Emory Hospital morgue; local funeral home; Oakland Cemetery; you get the picture), and lugubrious images. Ironically, I’m not too sure how to spice up the sex class.

  3. Perri Klass in NYTimes: Stealing in Childhood Does Not a Criminal Make:

    ... [P]arents of most young children can be confident that stealing is a pretty routine behavior. “It might be unusual for a child to go through childhood without ever stealing anything, though the parent may not know,” Dr. Stein said. [...]

    So when we found the cache of stolen cash, I did ask my pediatrician, who told me, kindly, that this was strictly routine. Take it seriously, he said, talk about consequences, extract an apology, but don’t act as if you think it means your child is a criminal.

  4. Jamil Salmi in What Makes A University Great?

    The bottom line here is not that low and middle-income countries should abandon dreams to set up their own world-class universities. Instead, they ought to understand that there are trade-offs involved, and that they need not hurry. Most of the world's elite institutions began as small teaching colleges that over time, with financial stability and thoughtful leadership, grew into the envied institutions they are now.

  5. This cartoon by Barry Deutsch on libertarian freedom is pretty fantastic.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

30 nanoseconds of fame: Mint story on "A decade of the Blog"

Apparently, this year marks the completion of a decade since the first blog appeared. Mint's four-part series uses this factoid as a hook to take a detailed look at the Indian blogdom.

The series is by Ayeshea Perera and Krish Raghav, and the first part is out today. I am one of the people quoted in the story. I think I'm entitled to an extra 15 nanoseconds of fame this time because I appear in a story that also features The Compulsive Confessor ...

* * *

Okay. Let me just park my sound-bites here.

Here I am bitching about bemoaning the dearth of academics -- espeically social scientists -- among Indian bloggers:

In the US blogosphere, you would find a lot of academics with solid expertise—the economic and law blogs there are fantastic—the commentary they are able to drum up after an important Supreme Court judgement, for example, is phenomenal,. [...] That is yet to catch up here. We have some good law blogs, but there is really no economics-oriented blog worth its salt here—run by an academic economist who can make some comment on the RBI policy or the finance ministry.”

And here's another where I hold forth on the growing diversity in India's blogdom:

“There is quite a bit of diversity now —simply because a lot more people have entered blogging,” says Abhinandan. “The diversity is reflected in what is being blogged about—for example politics—very leftist to very libertarian. A lot of blogs that talk about Dalit issues and so on—these voices were not that prominent in the early days.”

* * *

The first part of the series is here. I'll add the links to the remaining three parts when they show up on the web.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Prathap and Gupta's paper on the research output from India's engineering institutions

Seema Singh's post at Mint Blogs had this eye-catching title: IISc is India's Top Ranking Engineering/Technology Institute, so naturally I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

The source of this excitement is the paper (pdf), Ranking of Indian engineering and technological institutes for their research performance during 1999–2008, in the latest issue of Current Science by Gangan Prathap (Director, NISCAIR) and B.M. Gupta (NISTADS).

Prathap and Gupta use two different metrics to rank institutions: (a) total number of publications during 1999-2008and (b) a new metric called the p-index, defined as (C2 P)1/3 where C is the number of citations received by the papers during a three-year window immediately after their publication.

Here are the top 10 by p-index:

Rank Institution P p-index
1 IISc, Bangalore 12951 50.17
2 IIT Kanpur 6234 39.27
3 IIT Bombay 7228 36.73
4 IIT Kharagpur 7370 35.37
5 IIT Delhi 6520 32.51
6 Jadavpur University 4807 30.30
7 IIT Madras 5715 29.09
8 IIT Roorkee 3471 25.93
9 Anna University 3687 24.54
10 IIT Guwahati 1596 19.36

I'm not really hot on the ranking part of this exercise; also, I know almost nothing about the p-index (other than the formula), or about why it's better than any other metric for assessing the quality of institutions. So I won't comment on those bits.

But I do want to comment on the validity of comparisons across very many different institutions without taking into account their type, size, age, funding levels, etc:

  1. IISc is an oddball in that list. It's not a predominantly engineering/tech institution. In fact, its science departments are known to have a much stronger publication record than the engineering departments (Giridhar may be able to give some hard numbers to support this point).

    So, a direct comparison between IISc and IITs may not be appropriate, unless one does one of the two things: (a) consider only the engineering departments at IISc, or (b) consider only those publications tagged with "engineering" in the Scopus database. Pratap and Gupta may have done (b), but their paper doesn't say so explicitly.

  2. IISc is an oddball from another viewpoint: it's a post-graduate institution. Almost all the others have strong UG programs, with a correspondingly large teaching load on the faculty. Again, a direct comparison is just not right.

  3. From the formula for the p-index, it appears to favour larger institutions with greater faculty strengths. Thus, IIITs (which are pretty small) compare poorly against larger institutions like IITs. I wonder how a normalized p-index data would alter that list.

  4. While Prathap and Gupta have done a great job in collecting the quantitative data, I don't know what to make of (value-laden) statements like these:

    Although the NITs have been around for a long time (earlier known as RECs), and have been upgraded to deemed university and institutes of national importance status, their research performance is still dismal. In fact, many Indian engineering and technological universities and private institutes are doing comparatively better in terms of performance. ... In addition, the research performance of the IIITs and NITs is disappointing when compared to that of the technological universities and some select engineering colleges. [bold emphasis added]

    But the NITs got the INI status just a few years ago! Until then, they were similar to (at best) the university engineering colleges such as the Guindy Engineering College, Anna University or the Bengal Engineering College (which is now called BESU).

  5. It is inappropriate to compare directly the research performance of an IIT with that, say, of an NIT. This is because NITs (and other engineering colleges) receive much less funding and have much poorer infrastructure.

    In addition (and I think this is even more important than funding), the faculty strength at the NITs (and other engineering colleges) is far smaller than that at the IITs. In this post from 4 years ago, I discussed why faculty strength, by itself, is an important factor. Bottomline: If you are running an UG program and if you don't have at least 20 faculty members, you must be deluded to expect significant research output.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Us vs. Them at Chicago Business School, circa 1960

I found this interesting bit of "sociology of the academic world" in Paul Krugman's review of The Myth of the Rational Market -- A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street by Justin Fox:

One of the great things about Fox’s writing is that he brings to it a real understanding of the sociology of the academic world. Above all, he gets the way in which one’s career, reputation, even sense of self-worth can end up being defined by a particular intellectual approach, so that supporters of the approach start to resemble fervent political activists — or members of a cult. In the case of finance theory, it happened especially fast: by the early 1960s Miller began a class at the University of Chicago’s business school by drawing a line down the middle of the blackboard. On one side he wrote M&M, for “Modigliani-Miller” — that is, the new, mathematicized, CAPM approach to finance. On the other he wrote T — for “Them,” meaning the old, informal approach.


  1. Vikas Gupta: 13 interesting political wall posters from JNU campus [season 2009, monsoon semester].

  2. Ben Zimmer in NYTimes: How Fail Went From Verb to Interjection.

    Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into nounhood, in fixed expressions like without fail and no-fail. That all started to change in certain online subcultures about six years ago. In July 2003, a contributor to noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-’90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

  3. Charu Sudan Kasturi in The Telegraph: Coaching aid for minorities:

    India plans to launch free residential coaching schools to help students from minority communities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women crack examinations to enter civil services and other government jobs. The human resource development ministry has finalised plans to start a chain of the coaching schools and is preparing to unveil the programme as one of its 100-day achievements, top government officials have said.

  4. Let's close it out with Suvrat Kher's nice catch from Jon Stewart's Daily Show: Human's Closest Relative: Chimps Or Orangs? [Video].

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The "One Word" for graduates today

If it was 'plastics' in the 1960s, what is it today? Steve Lohr of NYTimes collects a lot of evidence for an unlikely candidate:


Ms. Grimes is an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand — and even cool.

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”

The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.

Yet data is merely the raw material of knowledge. “We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business. “But the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.”

College education and job guarantees

Here's Dean Dad's take on the lawsuit filed by a new graduate against her alma mater for "its alleged failure to get her a job":

At the most basic level, colleges are not employment offices. While they often have Career Services offices to help people find jobs, 'help' is the key word. Absent some really serious fraud, there are no guarantees.

Here's the best part of his post:

But the idea of suing the school is worse than merely missing the point. If it were just that, I'd expect it to be summarily dismissed and we'd all move on. My concern is that as an employer, if I found something like that attached to an applicant's name, that candidate would be thrown out of consideration post-haste. I don't need the headache of an overentitled, litigious applicant when I've got plenty of other good applicants who would actually be happy to have the job. A lawsuit like that renders you radioactive.

Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not – again, I don't know if Monroe College overstepped somewhere in this particular case. But as a rational employer, do I really want to take that chance? As a manager, I'm acutely aware that a small fraction of employees consume a vastly disproportionate amount of my time, complaining about everything under the sun. As Robert Sutton noted in The No Asshole Rule, these people drag down entire organizations, even when they're otherwise individually productive. Given a reasonable alternative, I'll take the alternative every single time. This student, whose name I'm not repeating as a courtesy to youth, is branding herself with a scarlet letter. Not a good idea.

Quote of the Day

... I know the Senate. It takes two weeks to pass a bill to flush the toilet.
-- Sen. Harry Reid quoted in Wessel's new book In Fed We Trust

I found the quote in this mini review at Economics of Contempt; link via Mark Thoma.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My age makes me notice stuff like this ...

Making Eyeglasses That Let Wearers Change Focus on the Fly, a profile of the work of Stephen Kurtin by NYTimes's John Markoff:

Dr. Kurtin, 64, has spent almost 20 years of his career on a quest to create a better pair of spectacles for people who suffer from presbyopia — the condition that affects almost everyone over the age of 40 as they progressively lose the ability to focus on close objects.

After many false turns and dead ends, he has succeeded in creating glasses with a mechanically adjustable focus. He says they are better than other glasses and some forms of Lasik surgery. And they make an intriguing fashion statement: a bit of Harry Potter with a dash of “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Quote of the Day

Now it seems that a fact isn’t worth reporting unless someone is prepared to deny it.
-- Paul Krugman

Monday, August 03, 2009

Links ...

  1. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan in Open Magazine: Where are they now?

    Every year one teenager tops the IIT-JEE, probably the toughest entrance exam in the world. Overnight he becomes some kind of a celebrity. There have been only about fifty such toppers in the history of IIT. We went in search of some of them to.

  2. Gabriele Lepori (Copenhagen Business School) in SSRN: Dark Omens in the Sky: Do Superstitious Beliefs Affect Investment Decisions? Here's the abstract:

    Psychological research documents that individuals are more likely to resort to superstitious practices when operating in environments dominated by uncertainty, high stakes, and perceived lack of control over the outcomes. Based on these findings, we suggest that the stock market represents an ideal breeding ground for superstition and then test whether superstition-induced behavior affects investment decisions. Our empirical analysis focuses on some beliefs associated with eclipses, phenomena that are typically interpreted as bad omens by the superstitious both in Asian and Western societies, and we employ a dataset containing 362 such events over the period 1928-2008. Using four broad indices of the U.S. stock market, we uncover strong evidence in support of our superstition hypothesis in four distinct ways. First, the occurrence of negative superstitious events (i.e. eclipses) is associated with below-average stock returns, which is consistent with a diminished buying pressure coming from the superstitious. Second, the size of the superstition effect is estimated to increase in times of high market uncertainty and when eclipses draw wide media coverage and public attention. Third, the negative performance of the market during the superstitious event is followed by a reversal effect of similar magnitude (10 basis points per day) on the subsequent trading days. Fourth, eclipses are accompanied by a trading volume decline. When we extend our analysis to a sample of Asian countries, we find analogous results. The patterns we document are inconsistent with the Efficient Market Theory, as eclipses are perfectly predictable events.

  3. Mary Jane Hurst in Inside Higher Ed: Mentor Yourself:

    Unfortunately, many individuals do not have access to personal mentoring. Therefore, in the interest of helping people help themselves, I offer the following five core strategies for developing a more satisfying and successful academic career. You can be your own mentor.

    Strategy #1. Get a Life: Conceptualize Your Career in the Context of Your Whole Life

    First and foremost, this strategy entails accepting responsibility for one’s life choices and for the consequences of those choices. The cumulative effects of our large and small decisions have brought us to whatever point at which we find ourselves. Each person has made choices to pursue or not pursue particular graduate studies, to accept or not to accept employment in a particular location, to live or not to live as a single person, to have or not to have children. Certainly there are circumstances beyond our control, but, even then, we have choices in our attitude and choices in how we respond.

    Consider that again: we have choices. This is not a restrictive truth but a liberating one. No one forces us without our own consent to pursue a specific research topic, to teach at a certain university or at any university, to live in a particular location, or to continue in any course of action. If we have gotten off track, we can take steps to get ourselves back on track. If we wish to make changes, we can consider the consequences, assess the likely risks and benefits, and then move forward.

  4. Scott A. Harris in McSweeney's: Status Updates Since My Mother Became My Facebook Friend. Here's a sample:

    Scott is in no way involved, currently nor in the past, with a married woman, regardless of what anyone is saying.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Media reactions to JEE-09 disclosures

After yesterday's disclosure of data by the IITs, I found two newspaper reports on the results of JEE-09. Predictably, both played up the reservation angle (just as I did), but in radically different ways.

First up, here's Charu Sudan Kasturi's report in The Telegraph:

OBCs bust quality myth

Two of every three OBC students selected to the IITs this year would have made it without any quotas, 2009 entrance test details reveal, debunking fears that this year’s quota hike would lead to a drop in student quality.

At least 1,300 of the 1,930 Other Backward Class students admitted to the IITs through the Joint Entrance Examination secured marks that would have guaranteed them seats even without the quotas, details released today show.

In chemistry, the OBC topper notched 126 — four more than the general category (and overall) top ranker.

Next up, we have Hemali Chhapia's report in The Economic Times:

IIT cut-off falls to 18% for SC/ST students

A minimum of 35% is essential to be promoted to a higher class under almost every Indian school board or university. But you don't need that much to make it to some of the finest technological institutes in the country.

On Saturday, when the Indian Institutes of Technology released report cards of students who joined these engineering schools this year, it transpired that the entry bar for the reserved category students had dropped to a mere 18% (89/480).

The IITs were forced to make various concessions to fill SC/ST seats this year. Entry levels were lowered to half of what the last general category student who got through to the IITs scored. So, as the last general category student admitted to the IITs bagged an overall score of 178 (out of 480), the cut-off for an SC/ST student was brought down to 89 (half of 178). Till last year, the cut-off for SC/ST students used to be 60% of the score of the last general category student.

Even if she wants to highlight the fact that 18 percent is what the SC/ST students needed to get into the IITs, she chooses the wrong number -- 35 percent that one needs in Board Exams -- for comparison. The relevant number should have been the subject-wise averages in this year's JEE itself: 7%, 4% and 7% (in math, physics and chemistry, respectively).

In fact, one of the striking features of JEE is the very low averages -- percentages in single digits. Remember, this is an exam that students self-select into. Remember also that this is an exam for which they prepare hard and pay good money for coaching.

Given these facts, the single-digit averages are atrociously, horribly, low.

I'm sure Hemali Chhapia knows of no board or university exam with such low averages. And yet, she compares 35% in them against 18% in JEE -- a fiercely competitive exam.

Is Hemali Chhapia really this clueless? Is she being intentionally misleading? Or has she simply internalized her newspaper group's attitudes?

Links: Media edition

  1. Brian Stelter in The NY Times: Voices From Above Silence a Cable TV Feud : Fox and G.E. Reach Deal to End O'Reilly-Olbermann Feud:

    At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

    Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

    Glenn Greenwald lays out the journalistic significance of this "truce":

    So here we have yet another example -- perhaps the most glaring yet -- of the corporations that own our largest media outlets controlling and censoring the content of their news organizations based on the unrelated interests of the parent corporation. ...

    Hat tip to Dilip for both the links.

  2. Michael Massing in NYRB: The News About The Internet:

    ... Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

IITs and the reservation policy: A quick look at the JEE-2009 results

Like they did last year, the IITs have released some (but only some!) data on this year's JEE rank-holders. Specifically, we now have data on the aggregate scores at specified ranks for five separate categories: Common Merit List (CML), Other Backward Classes (OBC), Scheduled Castss(SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Physically Disabled (PD). The quick analysis in this post considers only the first four categories: CML, OBC, SC and ST.

Here are some observations (which are in line with those for JEE-2008):

  1. This year's procedure for assigning ranks is similar to that used last year: in the first stage, students with very low marks -- those scoring less than the subject-wise cut-off marks in any of the three subjects: math, physics and chemistry -- are removed from consideration, and in the second stage, the top N (this year, N = 8295 in the common list; about 1700 more appear in the OBC and other such lists) of the rest are ranked according to the aggregate score. There is, however, one difference between 2008 and 2009; this difference is in the cut-off marks used for first stage: Last year, the cut-off eliminated the bottom 20 percentile in each subject, while this year, it eliminated those with lower than the subject average.

  2. This year's subject-wise cut-offs were 11, 8 and 11 (out of 160) in math, physics and chemistry, respectively. I checked, but couldn't find, the actual number of students who survived the first filter.

  3. The aggregate scores of the first 500 ranks span a range of 122 (424 to 302), and those for the next 500 span just 24 (302 to 278). The remaining 7290 ranks span a range of just 100 marks!

  4. At the 1000th rank, a difference of 1 mark (out of 480) could set a student back by 30 ranks. At ranks 5000+, each mark is worth as many as 125 ranks!

  5. The cut-off marks -- both at the subject level and at the aggregate level -- are lower for reserved category students. For OBC, this relaxation is 10 percent, and for SC, ST and PD, it is 50 percent.

    Thus, the aggregate score of the last OBC candidate is at 161 compared to 178 for the last candidate in the common list; similarly, it's 89 for SC,ST and PD categories.

  6. All the lists put together, 10,035 students were eligible to stake a claim for a seat in one of the institutions participating in JEE.

  7. Let's look at some of the information graphically. Here's the first plot, which just presents the raw data on rank within a category against the aggregate marks.

    Figure 1

  8. Figure 1 is not very useful because of our system of reservation in which the top 10 percent of the SC students, for example, study -- or, at least, have the opportunity to study -- in the same class as the top 10 percent in each of the other categories. Thus, a more useful way of looking at the data is to use scaled plots, where the rank within a category is divided by the last rank (the highest rank number) in that category: thus for the candidates in the OBC category, the modified y-axis now represents the OBC rank divided by the last OBC rank (1930); thus all the four curves end at 1.0.

  9. Here's that figure, with the scaled rank (within category) plotted against the aggregate score.

    Figure 2

  10. This plot, while better than Figure 1, still has some problems. For example, the curves for SC and ST appear close together in this figure, but in reality there's a big gap in the rates at which SC and ST candidates get ranked in JEE. The figure hides the crucial fact that while the OBC, SC and ST quotas are not completely filled, there is significant difference in the "degree of incompleteness" among the three categories.

    This becomes clearer when we look at the actual number of candidates who make it to the OBC, SC and ST lists: 1930, 967 and 208, respectively. Clearly, they are below their full-quota figures of 2700, 1500 and 750 (for this calculation, I have conservatively assumed the total number of rank-holders to be 10,000; with full quota, this number would be more than 10,035). In other words, only 72%, 65% and 28% of the seats reserved for OBC, SC and ST candidates may get filled this year.

  11. Let's re-do the figure using these numbers (full-quota) for scaling the ranks. The result is in Figure 3. Since the ranks within each category are now scaled using a larger number, the curves do not go all the way to 1.0 at the left-top.

    Figure 3

  12. While Figures 2 and 3 look roughly the same for CML and OBC, a difference does emerge for SC and ST categories; and it shows, graphically, the extent to which ST students lag behind SC students.

    What is striking is how the left-most ends of all the curves appear roughly parallel to one another. This allows us to put a figure on how much the reserved category candidates need to "catch" up. At comparable category-wise percentiles, the aggregate marks of OBC, SC and ST candidates trail those in CML by 25, 120 and 150 marks. Since the maximum aggregate score is 480, these numbers translate to a group disadvantage of about 5%, 25% and 30%, respectively.

    [I readily admit that Figure 3 could be improved with better estimates for the total number of candidates in the full-quota scenario; but the results (especially the estimates of the differences between CML and the reserved categories) are unlikely to be affected much.]

As I said, these observations are broadly in line with what we found in JEE-2008. In particular, the OBC scores are just about 5 % below those of the common pool; thus, someone at the n-th percentile in the OBC list wouldn't suffer a serious disadvantage with respect to a classmate who's at the same n-th percentile in the common list.

Unfortunately (and as I noted last year), this is not the case for SC and ST students; if they go for the "top" IIT-branch combination that they are eligible for, they are likely to find themselves competing with folks whose JEE scores are far higher than theirs. Our quick analysis tells us that they are better off choosing "lower" branches than they are eligible for.

From what I know (or hear from my friends in IITs), these broad conclusions are generally borne out in real life. OBC students, on average, do just about as well as the rest of the class; on the other hand, SC and ST students, on average, do somewhat worse than the class average.

* * *

Update: Out of 1930 students who make it to the OBC list, about 1400 would have made it to the common list without needing a relaxed cut-off. In other words, 14% of the available seats would have gone to the OBC students anyway; this figure was the same last year too. Thus, a relaxation of 10% in the cut-off marks (both at the subject level and in the aggregate) gets OBCs only an additional 500 seats (or, 5% additional seats).

And here's the thing: the IITs will probably keep this relaxation in cut-off marks at 10%. If the ratio (10% relaxation to 5% additional OBC seats) holds, this would imply that OBCs' share of IIT seats will settle at about 19-20%, and that this share can go up only if the OBCs get into the common pool in greater numbers.