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.