Being a faculty: duties

I already posted this in the forums, but was not sure where exactly to put this. So I am having this blog entry as well.


Throughout the entire course so far we have gone through various aspects of academic world. Faculties are the engines of academia. They help academics progress, survive and adapt. Usually when we think of the term faculty we think of only teachers, educators , professors, lecturers etc. However there are people directly attached to the university or academic institution but indirectly attached to the process of teaching also referred to as faculty.

Le t us evaluate the roles and duties of the faculty in the context of teaching. To me , the main purpose of education is to discover and understand one’s own self. Above everything, the money and the job, education has separate necessity of its own: it is the food of our mind. It therefore becomes important that this simple yet powerful  philosophy should be kept in mind while imparting education. Thus faculty has to be aware of his/her role in imparting or transferring the knowledge to the student. It is also important to share the neutral perspective on a subject rather than a prejudiced one in from t of the students and then help them analyze the pros and the cons and let them decide on their own.

It is important during the course of teaching to develop a friendly yet respectable position with the students. While  the friendships let students open the doors and windows of their minds, the respect acts a strong guiding influence steering them through the right path.

The duties do not end inside the classroom. It is important for a faculty to be a critic of the outside world.  Also a faculty should always in some way give back to the society, contribute some way towards its welfare of the.

One of the most important duties is the pursuit of knowledge in terms of research.  A faculty should always be actively involved in research and communicating the findings.

The proper guidance and mentoring is a must for development of a student into an independent scholar. Mentoring from a faculty is thus an important quality. One should keep in mind that mentoring and teaching are not the same thing. While teaching a teacher points out specific details and thus shows the student a zoomed in view, mentoring is about making them aware of the bigger picture, how individual pieces fit together, understanding the perspective. So , in effect, a mentor shows the zoomed out picture.

A faculty should help industry and Government whenever the opportunity presents and also be on the lookout  of  financial support  from them. This will help to improve the infrastructure of the academic institution. They sometime may have to represent the university to provide an opinion on a social issue. It is important in this context not to present a prejudiced opinion and rather accurate represent the stance of the university on that particular issue.

Being a faculty, thus one needs to keep these points in mind,

A course-a journey! PFP 2012

The semester is almost over. For most of us it has been a struggle as always and for some lucky few it has been a cruise! I was thinking about this semester, the PFP course and all the marvelous experiences I had in the classroom and this chronicle article caught my eye:

Several things ran through my mind as I went through it:

  • The most beautiful part of the article was the comparison of a course with a journey. It is time to turn in our “being a faculty” article for the course and under this context the article provided a wonderful perspective on this. The author compares the faculty as the instructor who highlights and “coaxes” students to some sights to explore.
  • In the end only certain peak experience will remain in our mind and when we look back in retrospect, these peaks will help form an opinion about how good the course was. If we think of our PFP course from that perspective, there are plenty of large peaks on happy memory associated which I am sure will remain in my heart forever. PFP 2012 is a wonderful journey for me which sadly is about to end 🙁
  • Finally the most heartening fact for lazy people like me is that  quoting the author, “And even this late in the semester, there’s still time left to make that lasting impression.”  This gives me extra push towards this late in the semester

Happy exams to everyone and best of luck! 🙂


Entrepreneurship in higher education

I always wanted to write about it. I don’t remember anyone talking about this aspect in the blogs.(pardon me if I missed) We all look for jobs when we graduate from our universities. Specially in higher education, after finishing Masters and PHD we look for jobs in industry or faculty position in some universities or may be research scientist in a prestigious lab or even a post-doc. Al this is fine, but do we ever think of having our own company? having our own ideas patented, offering new products to the society? Do we ever think in those lines?

I think a lot of us do but only a very very very very few entertain such thoughts because it is a high risk high return endeavor. We love to have financial security which comes with a fixed job. Entrepreneurship however requires risk taking, improvising, understanding the business side and having vision and foresight. I came to know recently that VT offers a lot of free services which student can use like attorneys etc.Students interested in setting up a start-up company can use these services to come up with writing proposals and grants. They can also help to file a patent. The language in a patent is kind of tricky. So it is useful to use their help. There are lots of other things required for successfully setting up a start-up company. For international students, the financial aspect is also complicated due to their visa status (20 hours per week and that’s it).

What do you think about this?


Circumlocution: our tools of the trade these days?

I recently read an interesting article in the Chronicle about the use of circumlocutory language and phrases to mesmerize common people  in academia and industry. It is very amusing to note that some people like to use complex words to describe their work designation or even their research to common people.

I was wondering, am I guilty of the same thing? and what is the psychology of these people behind doing that? Well, the use of esoteric words in scientific community is very common. It seems as if scientists feel that the concepts and facts they learned after years of tireless pursuit should not be presented in a simplified way to the common people. As  if they think: why that person will be able to understand so quickly what took me years to understand? Or may be they think: If I present a simplified common-man’s-language description of my research they might not think highly of my research or they may not consider me as a smart guy!

I do not know exactly what transpires such behavior. However,  Often listening to the lectures of “Khan Academy” in youtube ( where they use common man’s language ) I get the feeling that, O, so that was it!, and that teacher in my school made it look like so difficult! He could have simply said this!

What do you think?




How simple should we make things?

There are lot of different concepts on how to best explain something to someone who are not even remotely familiar to that. Different educators have experimented different pedagogical techniques over the years. There is a popular belief that it is best to tell your audience  what you are going to talk about, then talk about that and finally tell them what you just talked about. This seems to help register the contents of the lecture. During the last few classes in our PFP course we were going over how to effectively and  efficiently communicating science to a broader audience. So I was wondering about this and a different train of thoughts came to my mind.

When we talk about communicating science to a broader audience, the question is how different is that role from an educator who wants to transfer knowledge to the student through his/her lecture?

I think, the teacher student scenario is a bit different from a science communicator-broad audience scenario. While it is always helpful to reduce the jargon and use common easily perceived examples to explain something in both scenarios, presenting a too simplistic picture to the student is something I don’t like. This might be OK for a broader audience. They are, at least not all of them, entirely eager in pursuit of the true scientific truth. The idea there is more to get a sense of association of the scientific work in the society: how it fits in. This help them decide its relevance and importance and whether or not to support it. For a student however, half-truth or simplistic versions of complex concepts are dangerous. When we are so engrossed in speaking common man’s language, the science may get lost in translation. It is important for an educator to present an as simple view of the truth as possible, as he knows it,  to the student, but still pointing out the challenges and difficulties that make it interesting! The student should be given the opportunity to judge and appreciate  the complexity of a concept. I don’t know if this is a personal thought and I am sure others have different opinion. So what do you think?

O, by the way, happy thanksgiving to everyone!



Survey about different interesting topics on research on multiple scales.

ScaleUp is a new student organization at Virginia Tech formed by graduate and advanced undergraduate students interested in scientific research that transcends multiple scales. More specifically, we focus on a broad range of research topics with a common and increasingly popular theme: understanding how information gleaned from a small scale can be used to understand behavior of a system at a larger scale. For instance, nanoscale material properties have a substantial bearing on bulk material behavior, and correlating the two is a heavily pursued research topic. Similarly, a pair of chromosomes determines the size, shape and form of an organism throughout its development. Most of our members are actively involved in research projects that feature this emerging theme, making the organization a vibrant platform for both technical and philosophical exchanges.

Currently, the group has four specific interests:
1. Organize a seminar series to host speakers from both academia and the industry. The planned sessions will cover both cutting edge academic research as well as its transformative influence on the industry.

2. Organize short technical workshops covering the latest technical skills which are often unavailable in conventional coursework.

3. Expand our membership rolls to participants beyond the Virginia Tech campus.

4. Set up and maintain a public online discussion forum.


A survey has been set up to gather opinion on different important topics in  scaling issues related to different disciplines  which can be focused and explored more in the group in form of seminar series and workshops.

Please participate in the survey and express your opinion.

PHD and academics: a degree to create another degree?

Recently I read an article on the whining PHD students. The central issue was whether the universities are producing PHDs at rate higher than the demand. Today, if we look at the current trend, a major chunk of PHDs actually get jobs in R&D sectors in industry or other research labs. Another not so insignificant portion joins academia and pursue teaching career. Only a small percent shows entrepreneurial skills and setup their own companies.

The demand in the industry fluctuates based on the global economic situation. However, in academia the situation is different. According to an article in Nature, the number of science doctorate students grew by 40% each year from 1998 to 2008. The not so increasing demand in the industry for positions in research labs makes it a convenient option for graduating doctorates to join academia and teach. They in turn produces more doctorates. This has a nature of exponential growth of PHD students. More PHD students does not necessarily imply higher  quality research and has its adverse effect on limited scintific grants and funds. So this becomes an open question whether the number of PHD students graduating the PHD intake each year should be regulated by the schools keeping in mind the industry scenario.