Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

CS & IT Academia: Research vs. Teaching

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CS & IT Academia: Research vs. Teaching

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Note: This post is from a mail exchange related to the post+comments, CS & IT Academia: Serious Systemic Problems?

Friend  wrote:

I agree that teaching should be an important goal by itself, for academia.

I think you want only those people in teaching positions who actually know something first-hand. But that doesn't have to mean research. It could mean broad industry experience (you are an example here). I think the same bias we talked about earlier applies here, too. People who work in industry are considered to be less than researchers, so why would you want to dilute the department by letting them in? Hence you have the IITs saying that you need to have a PhD to be a prof, and you have to keep doing research. In fact, the IIT-Bombay CS dept promises profs that they have only one class to teach per semester so that they can concentrate on their research.

I (Eklavya Sai) responded:
Well, I just want at least some of the university CS & IT teachers to pursue excellence in design & coding and be rewarded for it even if they do no research.

Research will be the HOLY GRAIL of academicians including CS & IT academicians. But it should not be ONLY Research with NO DESIGN and little or NO coding.

About industry experience guys getting into academia - I think UGC/AICTE rules do allow for it provided the guy has a master's degree in that line (CS or IT). But perhaps at a lesser position than a 'researcher'. Not great, but at least they allow them to be teachers. My case is a real exception :-). B.Sc. (Phy.) [M.Sc. drop-out] teaching in a CS dept. as a regular university teacher?? No way. And I can understand that. The only exception allowed in such cases by AICTE/UGC rules is if the guy is an "eminent" person. So, I guess AICTE/UGC will not mind if some Indian university hires Bill Gates as a Professor, though they may crib if Mark Zuckerberg is hired even as an Assistant Professor - as they may not have heard of him :-).

I can be considered only as a "Visiting Faculty", which is exactly my status now. Suits me perfectly as I just am interested in Free Seva where I share my knowledge with students and am utterly disinterested in a regular 'academic' career.

IIT Profs. focusing on Research is somehow expected by policy makers, I think. I mean they expect IITs to figure in some top list of universities worldwide and I think these lists are driven primarily by research profile of the university. Must be quite a dilemma for an IIT CS Prof. - focus on country's technology problems using existing ideas or improvements on them OR do 'original' research that will be acclaimed internationally?

Friend wrote:

So, when universities say that profs should do or should have done research, I think the goal really is to weed out people who don't have any kind of original contribution or knowledge or experience and who just read aloud from the textbook. I think the goal is good, but it has been reinterpreted to mean research, which is bad. It's perhaps obvious when you think about it that the same bias that drives profs to concentrate on publishing papers also makes sure only those people get in the door to begin with.

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: I have heard academicians being referred to as 'he has published 400 papers', which is supposed to mean that he is a great academic.

Friend wrote in response: That's actually scary.

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: And this career growth measure naturally is a MASSIVE influence on the academic community. I mean, they are also human and would want more money and status.

Friend wrote in response: Agreed. And penalizing people financially for choosing to go into academia rather than industry is bad, if teaching is a primary goal of profs. If they are just publishing papers, fine, I don't really care whether they are paid less or more, but if they are teaching, and if our country has a bad shortage of talent that's holding back economic growth, then you shouldn't penalize people trying to fix this.

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: A further, perhaps, very radical view is that some academic teachers should be given the option to be only teachers and not researchers.

Friend wrote in response: Agreed. I can imagine a university that lets people in with proven industry accomplishments, does not require them to have a PhD, and lets them focus 100% on teaching. Those people already have learnt a lot, and so are in a good position to teach others.

Eklavya Sai responded:

I am not primarily referring to industry guys here. I think a lot of teachers who are students turned teachers without any industry experience may actually enjoy imparting knowledge gained to students as a teacher. Teaching a subject forces you to learn it really well if you want to earn the respect of students, and almost any teacher worth his salt would want that. BUT the pressure to produce research publications directly eats into the time the teacher needs to master knowledge of design & programming. So most CS & IT teachers just manage with bare minimum knowledge of design and programming - anyway as they become senior they move out of Lab. courses and so they can be completely oblivious of design and programming from then on. I think that's the mindset - due to the research publication pressure.

Of course, there may be quite a few exceptions to what I have sketched above. But I think that is the norm for most CS & IT teachers. As Prof. Stroustrup mentions in his article some CS Profs. proudly say that "they don't code" - I guess they feel coding is meant for lower lifeforms :-).

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: Sometimes I feel it is almost like a religious monk's quest for 'purity' - pure intellectual quest of a particular knowledge area untainted by application of that knowledge area to society. 

Friend wrote in response:

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: I don't think I agree with your generalization that academia focuses on things that are original but ignores whether it is useful.

Friend wrote in response: I was oversimplifying. I didn't really mean that utility is 100% ignored, just that the goals are skewed. Isn't it true that academia rewards original ideas more than putting together existing ideas in a slightly different way or making subtle tweaks to something that already exists? But what if the best potential for improvement comes from an idea that already exists? You don't want to close your ideas to that and have an a priori assumption that you need a new idea.

After all, the whole point of ideas is that you can use them in umpteen situations. So statistically you're better off seeing if an existing idea can address whatever problem you're looking at, than go hunting for a new idea.

Eklavya Sai responded:
I have had very limited exposure to CS research paper publications. But, at least in the area of Web Services Security, I saw that some research papers did build on extending existing ideas in different ways. I think mature researchers probably value extending old ideas or perhaps even applying existing ideas to new problem areas. But overall my perception is that academic researchers tend to find new ideas more attractive that extending old ideas. Don't know whether industrial researchers look at it the same way.

From a technologist/software engineering perspective, application of well established ideas/approaches to problems demanding solutions is perfectly fine and can be quite challenging depending on the problem. New ideas delivering better solutions are also welcome. But what is important is the quality of the solution and the satisfaction it gives to the users and not whether the ideas/approaches used are old or new. That, I think, is a really key difference between a technologist's view and an 'academic' researcher's view.

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: academic research does have a vital role in society.

Friend wrote in response: Sure, but couldn't it be even more if they get rid of their bias towards new ideas?

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: I mean, if the student is smart enough to learn by himself why should he come to college to learn?

Friend wrote in response: To get a piece of paper called a degree certificate, so that Google will offer him a job :)

Eklavya Sai responded:

I think the Internet knowledge base is going to change all this. I mean a guy can learn so much from the net today itself. As online education portals become more organized and sophisticated I think they may become a powerful teaching alternative. To test whether a guy has learned or not they can have examinations - how the guy learned via regular brick-and-mortar universities or 'cloud campus' may be the choice of the student and/or parent.

Another major factor in favour of online education portals is the huge costs of university education especially abroad. I have heard horror stories of US students going into massive debt just to finish college and then they find they don't earn enough money to pay back the debt - they are into a debt trap BECAUSE OF COLLEGE STUDY. Horrifying stuff!!

Eklavya Sai had written in an earlier response: My experience is that it is quite easy to teach standard stuff to a smart student - the real challenge is to motivate and impart knowledge to the average student.

Friend wrote in response: Interesting. Yes, I don't have a teacher's perspective. Not being a teacher, I don't have to deal with the problem of the average student :)

1 comment:

Eklavya Sai Maalik, October 3, 2011 at 5:07 PM

Long discussion spawned as a child post: CS & IT: Pure vs. Applied Reseach

Saturday, October 15, 2011

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