Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Anonymous Comments and Secret Commentators

Interesting! Someone 'whom i apparently know' left an anonymous comment on this blog for me, with a challenge to 'find out who i am'. Thats really interesting ...

This has all the hallmark of a cat-and-mouse game. Very interesting.

Well, I DO KNOW WHO YOU ARE! I just hope that you are happy.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Top 10 Reasons for Doing a PhD

So, you think getting a PhD is going to be good for you? But are you sure you are not kidding yourself - i.e. are you suffering from Myths about a PhD? Check your ideas against our list to make sure if instead you should try something else in life -

1. You LOVE Research - finding new things that others will thank you for (even after you are dead). Of course, there have been people like Gauss who loved to find out the truth for themselves - and did not care much if others were made aware of it or not. But lets say these two types are same and so in this category. So if you are Research type - carefully choose your area of work and make sure nobody can force you to do what you dont want to do.

2. You LOVE Academics - I mean learning and teaching. Definitely, a PhD is becoming more and more important to gain an academic position. Academic types should try to publish their work at great conferences, journals, develop a network with other professors and at least a bit with industry. The ranking of the U where you get your degree, and the clout of your Promoter is very important.

3. You LOVE Industrial Research - a PhD is not absolutely necessary but not a bad idea either. Try not to do a too theoritical - blue sky - research otherwise you will be out-of-place when you go back to industry.

4. You LOVE to try something New - For instance, if you started your career in Civil Engineering and now feel that Bio-Technology is the new big thing. The PhD will take longer - naturally - but if you are going to a great place, willing to persevers, then its a great idea.

5. You LOVE the sound of 'Dr' - if this is all you want, please, please dont waste your time (about 4 years).

6. You LOVE to Make More Money - this is a tricky one, because perhaps doing an MBA will get you more money. Again, if you think 5 and 6 are linked, think again.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Learning from Leaders

Have you ever had the following experience? You come across someone really admirable and successful and wonder: how she/he came about to be there?

In the past, the only way to know that would have been to ask that person (or someone who knew him for long enough). Now, that is a far cry, specially if you are still a rising-star.

Now, why am I telling you all this? Because, I believe that today we have a great opportunity to learn from others' experience - thanks to the internet. Ever wonder how Lakshmi Mittal got to be so rich or how much Tiger Woods trains, just Google it.
Did they simply get lucky or was it also -toils and tears.

The point is - the point is, the point is - learn from others what made them succeed. Of course, the idea is not simply to copy them , but to pick up good qualities from them.

When you read about successful people, a lot of times it sounds all so cliche' - I used to think so too - but now I believe I know better. What is cliche' for you is natural to them - and that is what distinguishes Great from Not-So-Great.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Some Reviewers

Sometimes reviewers are simply impossible. My recent submission (on a really path-breaking concept that I developed) came back 'rejected'!

Sometime ago, I talked about 'rejection news spreading like wild-fire to all colleagues etc'. Well, that turns out to be really true. Everybody seems to know about it - somehow. Bad news takes the TGV while good news is transported on mule-back. The 'full review' is not back. So I will reserve my 'feedback to the reviewers' for later.

I am done with the Journalising. I managed to metamorphosize the Sonnet (6-page conference paper) to an Epic Poem (30 page Journal).
It is right now on Sup's desk. Ok, this part is really useful for PhD folks. 'Peter' you can skip this one (from now on, I will address all my readers who leave a reply/comment by pseudonyms)

Sermonizing -
The path to journalizing is long but rewarding. Much you will need to learn, that which you didn't during conferencing. Treat the journalizing effort as a direct contributor to your dissertation.

End of sermon. Will add more later, right now I have to get back to this 'quick paper' that I am writing. A 'quick' paper is to an 'easier conference' but helps keeping the engine going.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Better Brains for the PhD

During your PhD you need tons of grey matter - specially ones with effiicent interconnections. That is, you cant let your brains become a couch-potato. Therefore, please read 11 steps to a better brain.

In case you did not, let me higlight the main points. To maintain an agile mind you must - have a nice breakfast, eat plenty of beans, yogurt, eggs, milk, fruits and FISH; take a quiet 1 hour walk each day; sleep 8 hours; think positively; and keep distractions (tv,internet and xbox) away during work.

Journalizing - contd.

Last time I didn't explain what is MWS Syndrome. It's simply an acronym for 'My Work Sucks'! Many PhD students (and researchers) are all too apologetic about their work. Because they know their own work so well, they will be able to point out to you hundreds of shortcomings in the work. The other side of the coin - as always - is that some researchers with bloated ego may hold their own crap in the highest esteem.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Journalizing - MWS Syndrome

'Journalizing' - in PhD jargon - is the process by which the PhD-Student, under duress, converts the 6-10 pages of accepted (published) conference paper into a 20-30 pages 'full' journal version.

I have been trying to write 'my' journal paper for so long now. Actually, it has been only a month. But given the pains and tribulations, it seems more like a century.

I wish I had such a "compelling story to tell" that the whole journal-paper just emerged from some crack in the space-time fabric. Alas, I am not so fortunate. The problem with writing a journal-paper is that it has to be a well-rounded story. I managed to get through the IEEE Conference (a big one) without, honestly, understanding the whole funda very much. But now during the process of 'journalizing' things have cleared up much more.

From now on, I have decided, I will never EVER write for a conference. The right approach is to frame the whole story, write it as a technical report (i.e. unsubmitted journal paper) and only as a side issue extract the conference part out of it. This way, the whole 'journalizing' pain can be eliminated.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Where have all the PhDs gone?

This is very strange, but true. I find few PhD students' blogs. Why? Are they too busy with their research? No time to communicate? Or, nothing to say? Just type 'PhD blog' in google and you get only a few relevant hits. Now, type 'MBA blogs' and you will be flooded. Truly, bewildering.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Principles of Effective Research

Currently, I am reading this excellent treatise on research: Principles of Effective Research,by Physicist Michael Nielsen. May be you should too...

..finished reading it (twice).. Its a definite read, if you plan to get your bearing right on research. Thank you, Dr. Nielsen.

So much for Scholarly Pursuits

Over the weekend, I watched this lovely movie WIT. It is based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Margaret-Edson.

It is the story of Prof. Dr. Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson), an erudite of the highest order. She is accomplished, poised and extremely intelligent (read as witty). You could say – something we could all aspire to be. She even recites John Donne when going through the CAT-Scan.

Unfortunately, Prof. Bearing is diagnosed with ovarian cancer with no chance of surviving except, probably, if she goes through ‘full dosage’ of chemotherapy. The doctor, another accomplished professor with numerous publications for whom Dr. Bearing is an important new guinea-pig, asks her in a taunting tone, “…this needs a tough person, are you tough?”. Dr. Bearing thinks she was, is, will always be…

As the effects of full-dosage sets in, Vivian realizes that
perhaps she is not what she always thought herself to be. She is, in reality, a patient in pain who does not need John Donne’s “and then death, thou shall die”, but Runaway Bunny’s tale of coming back to mama.

It’s a strong message for those of us out there, wrecking our lives over scholarly pursuits. It is only a small part of the larger scheme of things.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith

Returned the Sith have. Captured the Galaxy from the Jedi they did.

So much for Yoda and his sentence-reversing spin(BBC). He should rather say, "Pathetic compared to the Sith I was. Kicked on my ass I should be."

Kudos to George Lucas. I watched the movie and felt the Sith fervor in me. It was a relief to see the stranglehold of the Jedis on the Republic all but disappear. The Emperor, with his grand messianic mission of Galaxial Restructuring, at last reigned supreme.

At the end of the day, it turned out to be the age-old story of 'Good over Evil'. You see, the Jedi council never did much except negotiate and deliberate. It was clear to all (including Anakin) that the red-tape was simply too much. For example,
Master Yoda -> Master Windu -> Qui Gon Jin -> Obi Wan Kenobi -> ... -> Anakin. Now, who would want to be so low down in the food-chain. It took 15 minutes of prime movie time (Attack of the Clones) for the council to decide that Anakin should accompany Amidala to Naboo. Gross inefficiency. Couldn't they just see the sparks flying.

Well, Senator Palpatine finally becomes the Emperor - he really wanted it bad. Episode IV, V & VI - where his good judgement is re-questioned - are things of the past (1980s) now. Done, made. Lucas is not going to redo them again.

So, we might as well say - "Long Live the Emperor. May the FORCE be with him" - just falling in line with the Regime of the day ;)

Be serious. Need the FORCE to complete your PhD, you will hmmm...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Reviewing Paper

Currently, I am reviewing two papers for a conference, can't tell you which one - reviewer confidentiality :-), which has an acceptance rate of only 20%.
This means, statistically speaking, I should reject both the papers. Now, if all reviewers (each given two papers) thought and did exactly like me, the conference would have to be cancelled. Ya, right! You forget something called the 'program committee' . They are good at throwing dice.

Jokes apart, reviewing a paper - specially if you are not in a grudging mood (reject wholesale) - is a difficult job. Real good papers cause no problems - strong accept. Same for the pathetic ones - very strong reject. But, what to do about those with 'incremental improvement over state-of-the-art, under certain assumptions'. The problem is that most (both papers on my desk) fall under that category.

Let's say 10% of the papers are extremely good. Another 30% extremely poor. So, out of 10 submissions, 1 is strong accept, 3 are straight reject. We still have to choose one out of the remaining six. These 60% cause a headache. You see, you cant be just too harsh on the paper you got - to the joy of those you didn't.

Anyways, for the reader, assuming you are a first year PhD, starting to oil your publishing engine, here are a some quick feedback on increasing your chances. First, choose examples which CLEARLY explain your contribution. Too simple, the reviewer thinks you are dumb. Too difficult, he just skips it (to come back later to...). If the research-content is poor (half-baked) don't waste time (topping the cake) polishing the paper with diagrams and 'Shakespearean English'. You might as well spend that time improving the quality of your research. The polishing is not a 'in lieu of', but is a must over and above the good research. One of the papers I am reviewing has 50 references. They occupy 1.5 pages out of the total 6 pages. Wow! What a homage to previous art.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

New Funda

In the 'New Funda' series, we present new perspectives on a wide variety of subjects. Some of these may come across as incredulous, but we challenge you to refute them.

New Fund 1: Mother Nature has provided windows to some parallel universes. In an 'infinite parallel universes' scenario, there are infinite copies of us, some of who are living exactly the same life as us. When looking into a mirror, or water in a pond, we see our parallel universe counter-parts. Being mirror image of ourselves, what we see in those windows are rather prosaic, in fact, nothing more than what we see around us. But that's not the problem of mother nature, is it?

Tell me what is wrong with this argument, with out bringing in 'newtonian explanation about reflection of light from a polished surface'.

Some interesting comments from readers, which surfaced over the weekend -
Anonymous said...
if there are infinite copies of each one of us..why do we always see the copy that matches us. Taking into account the law of probability, when i look into the mirror, i should see myself as rich, handsome and successful ( at least occassionally). :)
PhD says...
you are right, the universe that we inhabit would have been so much more interesting if we could see the 'alternate lives', see how our counterparts are having so much more fun than us. We would not need Hollywood anymore.
Anonymous said...
If the earth is round and of constant size, why do economist insist that glabalization is shrinking the globe and flattening it. Please reply without reference to terminal velocity, gravitation pull, e=mc2, f=ma, or any other high school physics that you remember. Any reference to globalization, outsoucing, capital markets and any other 'buzz word' that you have come across is also prohibited!
PhD says...
I take it that economist have a more abstract view of the globe, unlike the physicists.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Conference Paper, Technical Reports and Journals

If you are just starting your PhD, please read on carefully and get this into your head once and for all.

You are expected to write - successfully - for conferences and journals. Also, there is this thing called 'Technical Report'.

But lets face it. If at the end of your PhD, all you have in your arsenal is a bunch of 'Technical Reports', the jury is going to have a field-day executing you, if your sup. hasnt already done so.

Technical reports are very nice. You write whatever you think and draw diagrams whenever you feel like. If you are the type who hates writing, or rather has that 'writer's block' whenever you type -- Technical Reports are a great starting point to hone your skills and get the engine going.

"Write comprehensive technical reports" say my PhD mentors KC, EGD, General and Mowgli (i.e. friends finishing or having finished their PhD), " and you will have a great time writing your dissertation".

The million dollar question is - "In which sequence should i go ?
Is it:
(a) Technical Report (b) Conference (c) Journal
OR
(a) Conference (b) Technical Report (c) Journal

You see, the problem is that many of us need a motivation to write. Rather, most of us need an excuse not to. If you dont have a deadline, when do you start? Not to mention about finishing. As a result we 'procrastinate' (hope i got the spelling right). In the past, I have just rushed to conferences and let the technical-report be a to-do-later thing. This has let to numerous problems.

Therefore, no matter how odd it seems, always write technical report. But PLEASE do not stop at that. I have to start on a journal right now, so gotta go back to work ...and its a problem since I don't have a technical report this time. Maybe now you should read this one - Armando Paper Writing

Friday, April 01, 2005

PhD or an MBA

Let me start by saying that both are excellent choices that will enhance your self-esteem, career prospects, analytical skills, and, last but not the least, your salary.

PhD students are usually on a scholarship. Somebody with a M.S. degree could get, say, 84K annually. On the other hand, if she signs up for a PhD she could maximum hope for 20K a year. Of course, this ‘small sacrifice’ is made in the interest of future-gains. After all, PhD is research, and research means sacrificing revenues of today for a brighter tomorrow. The MBA, on the other hand, is mostly self-financed. But, just like the PhD-Girl, the MBA-Boy is doing it to learn more and earn more.

Are you at a crossroad, thinking whether you ought to get a PhD or an MBA?
Experience tells me that you are a rare bird. Consider yourself most gifted. Most people are cutout for atmost one. PhDs are observe-and-analyze, while MBAs are observe-and-talk. Society needs both. Well, society needs a lot more – observers, practitioners, presenters, consumers, onlookers and commentors (like, your’s truly).

Also, nobody can stop you from doing both a PhD and an MBA. By the same token, you can choose to do neither of them, and still do extremely well in your professional life. As I see it, a successful professional life centers on some basic tenets – a curious mind, a positive attitude, the courage to challenge and change the status quo and an ability to convince others to trust you and believe in you.
more later ... (paper deadline approaching...)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Publising Woes

PhD students dread the following mail –

Dear Author,

We are sorry to inform you that your paper could not be selected for publication at this conference, this year. This does not reflect on the quality of your work. We had several good papers and we could only accept a few of them. We hope to see you at the conference. …

Regards,
Conference-Chair.

The recipient, with immediate effect, goes on a one-week international mourning. The research-flag is brought to half-mast. Fellow PhD students, to whom the news somehow spreads like wildfire, serially come into your office to express their deepest sympathies. Some try to liven you up with, “ come on, it’s not your fault. Go for the next conference…” However, the only thing going on in your head is “why, why …”

There could be one or more of the following problems with your paper.

First, the problem was not well motivated. Did the reviewer even understand what is it that you are trying to solve? There are two types of reviewers. One, who puts her “level of expertise” as “medium”. Actually, she means she knows nothing about your topic, but is ashamed of admitting it so. Second is one with “level of expertise: high”. Here, we are dealing with the seasoned professor, who can cut through your argument. She does not need to be motivated to read on. The “medium expertise” expert usually cuts the paper with the “not well motivated” argument. Actually, she has a point. She owns up that she is no expert. If you are unable to make her understand what the problem is, why do you think she will care about the solution. She is simply making everyone’s life easier – by creating some momentary hell for you.

Second, the solution was not novel. The feedback usually is, “the paper provides a (partially correct) solution with an incremental improvement”. The reviewer is simply saying that she was not impressed. Well, it depends on -- how hard to impress is she? If the paper came out of her own factory, perhaps she would show some more compassion. Anyways, this part of your paper is a true reflection of the depth of your thought-process. Also, are you able to present it succinctly? It’s a fine line. If the explanation is so simple that the reviewer says, “is that it!”, then you are in trouble. On the other hand, “this is beyond me”, will put the pressure on the reviewer to either invest time and understand, or behave like the proverbial “expertise: medium” reviewer.

The remaining part is the related-work. This is one area where you can actually do a good job. My friend, NightLife (for anonymity), who is a prolific paper reader, tells me that even for papers that were rejected he got plaudits from the reviewers. Not surprising!

Friday, February 25, 2005

Books I am reading...

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci – Seven Steps to Genius Everyday, by Michael J. Gelb.

Mr. Gelb is an off-shoot of Tony-Buzan, who contends that an average person uses only 1% of his brain-power and that the remaining 99% remains waiting to be un-locked.

Gelb believes that Da-Vinci unlocked that 99% of the hidden brain-power, or some good percentage of it. Well, how are we to know? From Da-Vinci’s phenomenal output we can say that he was definitely brilliant. But I am pushed to think – What if Da-Vinci had such a fantastic brain-connection that his 1% was equal to an average-Joe’s full 100%. But let us give Mr. Gelb the benefit of the doubt, at least till I have finished the book completely.

Right now, I have read only the first chapter. My initial opinion is that it is a good-read. Instead of switching channels between BBC-CNN-National Geographic, this is definitely a better use of time. I hope by the end of the book I can leash-out at least an additional 1% of my brain-power. You see, that way I will be twice as smart as I am now. By Amdahl’s Law, beyond the 50%, pushing yourself merely to unlock a further 5-10% will increase your smartness only marginally. For example, from 50% to 100%, though a huge leap, you would only double your brilliance.

Now, coming back to the book, the first chapter drills-in the fact that Da-Vinci was an accomplished man. We don’t really need any convincing, but no probs. The point Mr. Gelb is trying to make, probably, is that Da-Vinci was able to do so much precisely because he ‘saw things differently’.

I liked the probing questions Gelb asks, “Try to recall a moment last year when you were really really HAPPY?” Stop reading and think about it …

Did that thought make you smile. See, suddenly you are in a different mood.
More when I get to read further…

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Publishing, publishing and publishing....

No matter what others tell you, the single most important 'goal' in a PhD student's life is getting your work published in top conferences and journals. To get published in a 'top conference', you would need close to 'top class work'. Therefore you will naturally push yourself to do above-average work. What is a top conference ? - you may be asking yourself.

Well, I opine three factors -

1. acceptance ratio - around 20-25% means good, less than 10% means you are brilliant, sorry i am Genius. But may be your supervisor had a brilliant idea and also made you rewrite the text of 5000 words 500 times. The ide however is to be able to pusblish with least amount of 'support' from the sup. More on this thing called 'sup-effect' later. Meanwhile (i mean after you finish reading what i have to say), may be you should read (http://www.cs.rutgers.edu/~muthu/ccmfun.pdf).

2. How big is the conference, how many good-researchers in your field will be there.
Will they really be there, or the proceedings will just flash their names in the TPC (Technical Prorgamme Committe).

3. The keynote speech - I think keynotes open up our minds more than any paper-presentation, because let's face it - most presenters are slide-readers. Last year, I heard a talk from Richard Newton (UCBerkeley) that was simply fantastic. He was so enthusiastic, he single-handedly filled the room with energy.