Thursday, November 3, 2016

What I learnt in five years as a faculty in IIT

Asking questions is the biggest primemover in the evolution of society and civilization

1)      Reading papers should be a habit, a mental workout. Religiously reading on paper per day. Biting into papers should become the most pleasurable activity. Read once it for all! Write and bite! Take notes like a UG student : that is your core competence. Read paper after paper after paper. It will reinforce your own paper.

2)      Your work should fill a gap in existing literature. It is very important to highlight the points of novelty in the paper. Layout the objective in the very beginning of the paper. Conclude a paper very strongly, and highlight the importance of your work. Do scholarly work and write papers of archival value.

3)      Comparative studies are an absolute must. No research can survive in isolation. Comparison with others results is THE foremost requirement. Absolutely nothing can stand ground without that. Generate decisive results, at par with recent research trends. Put forth your work in the proper perspective of the current research and literature.

4)      Start a paper with the big picture, zoom in, do the analysis, show results with comparative studies, then zoom out and show how your results and conclusions fit into the big picture.

5)      A paper needs to be marketed : pinpoint its USP and  sell one point in your work which others have missed out. Highlight very strongly what is special and unique about your work. Put forth your originality point almost like an advertisement. Suggest a reviewer who writes in your target journal, and/or is in the editorial board.

6)      Aggressively search for (>10) relevant papers and dissect time fully, word-by-word. The ONLY way to do a good work and get it published is to first do a thorough exhaustive literature review. Pick a few aligned papers and find out what is missing. Do not overload yourself with all literature. Do not waste time in papers distantly or remotely connected with your work. Fix one or two anchor papers for your work : publish in that journal or the journal in which that author publishes usually. Be very choosy about your literature collection. If there is any paper that you have not read in the last one year, junk it off.

7)      Do not get overwhelmed by papers : pick one of your interest are published in the last five years, it will itself help you in tracing back the relevant background papers. Always stand on the shoulders of giants. The authors who published the papers are not superhumans : if they have brains, you have  too! Do not be scared of the paper as if it is a masterpiece or something! Chill! Read like a magazine article in the first glance. Then attack it head on! Read with a pen and notebook, taking important notes. Have a laptop handy, searching for all background papers and unknowns but relevant topics (whichever you do not know about). Brutally and openly punch hole(s) in some recent aligned papers, and make your own statement through research. Study and scrutinize literature, and do attacking comparative studies. Dig into literature and make an impactful write-up to set the stage for your finding to be displayed.

8)      Do not do things which other have not done but can do, given the time. Do things which others have not yet thought of doing. Do not do simple application of theories, case studies, exercises! Leave them for tutorials, homeworks, term papers. Do what others are repeatedly failing at. Are you filling a missing link? The proposed technique should be improving the approaches presented in published literature.

9)      Be very direct and straightforward in writing. Implicit communication is mostly misinterpreted as lack of depth. Do not expect the reader to get your point without you actually spelling it out deep and hard. Be direct, be honest. But do not let out all your research secrets.  If a paper is returned by the Editor : read the responses of the editors very carefully. Increase the depth and focus of the paper. Never make it broad, make it deep. Trim out all extra. Do not spread your paper wide like a blanket : strike it deep like a sword. Make ONE point very deeply. Do not show loads and loads of results which others can easily generate with your theory. Keep the paper within 15 pages. Do not write a whole thesis or the editor/reviewer/reader will get exhausted. Depth beats breadth. Quality outlasts quantity. Concentrate your forces : be very strong and to the point. Gaining knowledge should become your spiritual activity.

10)  Kill the reviewers’ questions one by one. Answer each of them pin-pointedly and confidently, with all background and supporting information/plots. Add more references if necessary.

11)  The quickest way to get a paper published is as follows : pick up one anchor paper, re-solve the problem statement, bring in a minor physical/mathematical modification, do comparative study with that paper, and submit! Many people do this to increase their number of publications quickly. If you start you own topic from the scratch, it will be difficult (not impossible) to break into the ongoing trend of research. In the beginning of your career, you need to choose a topic based on the current research trends. Once you are established, you can bring in more originality and non-conventionality in your publications.
12)  Never have too many things on your plate. Do not spread your energies thin. Focus! Focus! Focus! Go one at a time. Pick up one work, do from start to finish, then move to then next (after a well-deserved rest break).

13)  Never spend a minute more than allotted in undergraduate teaching. Be very particular about your professional timing. Teaching should be on autopilot, after the first few years as a faculty. Do not meet undergraduates unless they can do research of publishing standard. Do not waste time teaching and supervising. Be unapologetic about not diverting your energies to non-research activities.
Stay true to your work. Be honest to your profession. You cannot lie to yourself. Do everything in academics with full honesty and sincerity. Press on and stick-to it. Persevere and success will come automatically. Every day, give yourself a reason to feel proud of at the end of the day. To get ahead in any field, reading and updating your knowledge is a must. Read and know what you are doing. Seek excellence and success will follow automatically. Perfection resides in quality. Intensity gives eminence. Start from the basics : everything will grow from there. Stay true to your IIT-JEE knowledge. Do not multi-task. It degrades your neurons! Forget the hype of work-life balance! Build your portfolio. Publications are your credentials.
Every human being must challenge oneself consistently, push the envelope, try bigger and better things, do increasingly difficult jobs, hone one’s talents and skills, be persistent, and see the end of their plans. Fructification is a must. One should feel like an achiever to be happy. Every person should feel : main kuch dhang ka kar rahi hoon”. Everyone should feel worthwhile. All this comes from individual efforts motivated by internal willpower, and not any external source. Howmuchsoever anyone advises someone, the latter is going to be happy only after a self-motivated accomplishment. The individual wants their own core competence propelled into action by their own willpower. It is very important for the individual to decide what they want to do in life. Life is too precious to be lived ad-hoc, somehow. Make life worth living, not merely existing. Have goals, dreams, plans. If you want something you have never had before, you have to do something that you have never done before. New results cannot come without changing present efforts. So head out for the unknown. Challenge your brain. Push yourself to do bigger and better things. Do what you are scared of : action cures fear. Face your fears head-on, as if it does not exist : and it will really cease to exist.
Recover from mediocrity and race towards great heights. Do not let your efforts go waste. Every research you have done : publish it!

Research requires self-consciousness. It requires withdrawal from the society. It requires critical thinking. It requires the ability to question things. It requires one to stop taking things for granted and verify the truth oneself. A researcher cannot do something because he has been told to do so. S/he must do something because s/he has decided to do it after necessary deliberation.

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