Time management: So important yet so ignored

October 9, 2018

Time management is an essential component of our success in life. It is easily said than done. We easily fret away valuable time often without realizing it. The reason: many or most around us/you are also not aware and/or they do not care.

 I myself is a poor manager of time.  But I developed one little technique that served me well over the years, and I am going to tell you that.

This was when I was doing Ph.D. at the Brown University that I started being a bit worried about the real duration of quality time that I was spending in research. I  was unhappy because I felt that I am wasting time somewhere. So, I sat down and made a list of my time windows. And I discovered something interesting. I was leaving office with the most people around 5:30 PM but I was not returning before 9:30 PM or even 10 PM. Why such a long break? Because we used to cook dinner, and then eat and then also watch a little TV — mostly some serial or sports. Many things started from 8 to 9 PM.

Thus, I found that I am losing 4 to 5 hours of my time just by returning home for dinner! That was an eye-opener. Of course a few days I used to go play which was fine, but most days 4 to 5 hours for dinner did not make sense because I always returned to my office after dinner as I used to start my day late, after 10 AM in the morning. Therefore, I needed  4-5 hours of work/study at night. But I was not getting that important window.

Thereafter, on many days I just ate something simple at dinner in a simple restaurant nearby (we had a McDonald within 2 minutes walk and another sandwich shop) and ate something again after returning home say after  1 or 2 AM. That suddenly opened up a huge time duration for me. I followed this even during my postdocs. Even the days I used to go back home for dinner, I used to keep an eye on the clock.

I see in India also students take extra-ordinary long breaks. They usually leave for snacks/tiffin etc around 4:30 -5 PM, but never return before 10 PM. Many finally returns to the Hostel by 11 PM or 12 mid-night. So, these guys hardly get anything done after 5 PM. Even if they start at 9-9:30 AM, they just do not have enough time for work.

I have seen many guys just do not get any work done. They think they are working but they are fooling themselves.

I give you another real-life example. After I returned from abroad to join my Institute, I faced an interesting situation. I used to enter my office around 9:30 AM or so. Even before I could settle down into work, one of my colleagues used to come and ask me for coffee. The coffee trip used to be also meeting many people, accompanied by many important discussions about the future of the nation or of the world. Typically 30 minutes. Now I finally got down to work around 10:30 AM. But by 11:145 or so, the same colleague or another one used to show up and asked me to accompany him to coffee. As the junior most faculty, I felt compelled to go. Also, it was kind of fun — the freedom from work. Suddenly I was in an atmosphere where work was no longer important. I have a permanent job. Also, I was told that there was really no need to write a grant proposal.

The same thing was repeated after lunch. So, you could realize the amount of work I used to accomplish during my 10 AM to 7 PM stay in the office. You have to factor in the “excitements”  during lunch, seminars etc etc.

Clearly, nothing was getting done, and I was becoming unhappy. Then I listened to a great lecture by then a well-known senior scientist who spent last ten minutes of his talk exactly on this subject — young faculty going to coffee 5 times a day and taking recourse to endless gossiping.  He warned against such waste of time and told us he never went to coffee with faculty, except some walk with students, he never left his office. This lecture was not only a slap on my cheeks but also pointed out my mistake. From then on, I stopped going to tea/coffee with faculty. I went only with students and I started to get work done.

What is the lesson that I am trying to give? Students and young researchers cannot fret away the valuable time by going tea and coffee many times. Even 2-3 times are too many, There shall always be students and friends who are always eager to go to tea and coffee. These students are often good company but you need to avoid them

You all have heard the proverb that time and tide wait for none. And that time is money. But time is more important than money — your entire career depends on this.

Always keep an account of time spends on non-academic activities. No harm in having fun but use your time judiciously.

Good luck!

Biman Bagchi

09-10-2018, Bengaluru




Some interactions leave you happy, some sad, yet some angry

October 6, 2018

Human beings come in all shades, sizes, and color, in different psychological make up that can vary enormously from person to person. As a matter of fact, I regularly meet a good number of people these days, many of them are students, many faculties, even some staff, and secretaries …. Never before I interacted with so many people on a daily basis.

I now divide people into three categories : (i) ones that make you happy, (ii) some make you sad and (iii) some inevitably angry. The ones that make you happy are usually easy to recognize. they are usually reacting positively to most of the things you say, refrain from talking too much about themselves and their children (they usually do not talk about their wife) ask about your work etc. When asked, they also divulge some details of their life. These are likable people and they are in demand.

My second category includes the people Who make you sad, unhappy, even insecure. They inevitably give you bad news, ask questions that make you unhappy. I give you an example. Let us say that you are chatting with a few of your friends, having a good time. Now the make-you-sad person appears, and the first thing he says, “you know X’s visa application got rejected”, knowing well that I was soon going to apply for the visa. Or, take this one. “You know A’s son got admitted to college Z because he did not get anywhere else”, again knowing well that son of one of us goes to college Z. Is this a deliberate act or just a lack of sensitivity?

After watching a few persons like this, in their 50s or 60s, I became convinced that these are deliberate acts of sadism, the idea is to make one unhappy or sad. Of course, there are people who are so sad themselves that you also become sad seeing them. But the latter type of people is harmless.

Who are the people who make you angry? People who belittle you deliberately. Why do people do that? Jealousy is one reason. The utter contempt or insensitivity for/to fellow human beings is another. I have known people of both kinds. There are people amongst us who are so egotistical that they do not consider us as human beings. It is hard to believe that such do exist. These people are the ones making up to this stage through some kind of political connection..

Jealousy is somewhat easier to understand but intolerance from jealousy is not acceptable.

We think, or people outside academia, think that active scientists are above all the pettiness and that they have no time for all these nonsense. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Remember how Isaac Newton attempted to and succeeded in destroying  Leibnitz  — it is a pity that  Leibnitz, and also Newton could not see that it is now Leibnitz’s Calculus that is followed widely.

The Newton-Leibnitz example shows that scientists can be extremely petty. Steven Hawkins commented that “Newton was not a nice man.” It is like what Sherlock Holmes commented on Profesor Moriarty. It does not bode well for humanity when a mind of highest intelligence turns to crime. Moriarty was referred to as the “Napoleon of crime”>.

  I have my share of experience. But here in India we have mediocrity even in pettiness.  The stakes are low, and the fight is vicious.

As my Blogs are for students and young faculty members and researchers, there is really not too much to worry. But must locate the petty people early and deal them with caution. You shall not be able to avoid them fully but stay away as much as possible. Avoidance is often the best policy. If you do not cross their path they also tend to leave you alone.

Poor Leibnitz crossed the path of Newton. The sad was the story.

Anyway, stay well, and stay put. Try to avoid troublesome people.

And Good Luck !

Biman Bagchi, IISc.,


From correct English to good English: Navigating the roadblocks — some clues

September 28, 2018

In this Blog I return to the subject of writing “good” English while preparing articles and essays as we routinely do in science and engineering including academic) papers that are essential for our survival.

When students join our  Institute, they, with a few exceptions (mostly girls) do not know a thing about English writing. This has remained a puzzle to me. They know all the words, but just do not manage to construct a correct sentence.

My father, who was an English teacher, used to describe it as “sinking sinking drinking water” syndrome, which is a word-by-word translation of a popular  Bengali proverb into English. This may explain the difficulty. Indin students tend to use their own language to write English.

The well-known Kannada writer, Mr. U.R. Ananthamurthy once commented that when a Kannadiga writes in English, he could tell the underlying Kannada sentence. Mr. Ananthamurthy was a famous , respected and versatile writer. And his comments match my father’s observation. let me call this URA effect (after Mr. UR Ananthamurthy).

Therefore we are safe to assume that at least a part of the difficulty that Indian students face in writing English is this sub-conscious and deeply ingrained habit of translating their native tongue into English. That is, the students first formulate the necessary sentence in their own native language, and then they translate. This is almost unavoidable.

My father also told us that ” Need to remember that  English is a foreign language, and treat it as such. You need to memorize the usage. Beyond a point, you cannot and must not rationalize. Your only tutor is the  English books — good books.”. He gave me many such books including George Bernard Shaw, T.S. Eliott, of course, Shakespeare but the later was more interesting to read in my own language because as a teenager (even later) I found Shakespeare English interfere with the story.

I see repeatedly the URA effect spoiling English writing of our Indian students. Since they all grew up speaking only Bengali or Tamil or Hindi, naturally they formulate the sentence first in their native language and then translate. This strategy does not work.

It is an enormous effort to make them learn. how to write simple basic correct English. Every time I start with “Strunk and White”. As Professor Balaram commented, “The most painful part of being a professor at IISc is correcting the English of students.”.

During my first semester at Brown University as a graduate student, other students had difficulty understanding me, initially. The person who helped me enormously was an Americal student, Geoff Scott. I do not his whereabouts but he cured me of my English language ills. Geoff used to work late night alone in a Lab next to my office. he was a senior undergraduate who had to stay one extra semester because he took one semester off to roam around in Europe. He used to score 100/100 in all the exams — he took both Thermo and Quantum PhD courses with us.

One night, as I went to chat with him as was my after dinner habit, he suddenly asked me “Biman: Can you tell me how you ask a question in your language ?” I told him verbatim. He smiles a bit and told me, “In English we start with the verb, as you know but the emphasis in on the start and on the end.  It is not flat. In your language, the utterances are flat, with some emphasis on the end part.” So, showed me how to say ” Where are you going”? “What is your plan for tonight ?”. The drill went on for 10 minutes. After that, I seldom had difficulty with communication at classes.

Another evening he suddenly asked me “Biman: is it faster to think in your language ?” I thought it was a bizarre question. But he explained “you speak so fast, so it must be you think fast. here we think a bit slowly and speak slowly.”

What a wonderful way that was to give the message that I spoke fast.

 I remain ever grateful to Geoff Scott, for the lessons he gave me in English speaking.

Now, returning back to English writing, all you need are such clues. I gave you one clue here: Do not translate a sentence in your language to English. That does not work. Try to study how sentences are constructed with the subject, object, and verb.  Follow the basic rules. You will succeed, AND SAVE THE TEACHERS AND PROFESSORS FROM INFINITE AGONY.

Writing is a creative art, even science writing. You get a lot of freedom to write but be diligent and be truthful. You will be rewarded handsomely.

Biman Bagchi, IISc. Bengaluru.   28-09-2018

Why chemistry is often regarded as a second-rate subject in science academia?

September 23, 2018

Recently I attended several high-level meetings that involved institute-to-institute level interactions, involving many people. Most of the people were scientists or were scientists at some point in time but now into administration, and represented different disciplines: engineers, biologists, physicists, chemists …. In the day-long discussions, the discipline or even the word “chemistry” was hardly mentioned. Most often, the areas and disciplines mentioned were physics, mathematics, biology, engineering … again and again .. with scant mention of chemistry.

It was quite painful for me to sit and listen to all the discussions. In India, in particular, chemistry is not a glamorous discipline. Is this because we chemists are not glamorous ourselves? Is it that we come across as mediocre people who fail to carry out an intellectual discussion?

Or, is it with courses that we offer or the way we teach? I  raised this question to Professor Richard (Dick) Zare — the famous scientist and the Stanford professor. he has the following as an answer “By starting with Newton’s laws the student gets the impression that physics controls and explains everything.  By starting with the periodic table, the student gets the idea that there are many, many different facts (on the order of 100 of them) that have some periodicity but the relation to everything gets easily lost. “

This is certainly true and in part the reason for the general avoidance of chemistry by bright students. In most undergraduate programmes, the majority of bright students go to do physics.  In our times (long, long ago),  eight of top ten students used to Presidency college physics departments.

I now realize that the “looking down” on chemistry students by the college community at Presidency college was clear but we could care less at that young age. But it did matter once when we tried to join a group of students sitting in the usual hang out place,  between the two pillars of our main building, at that point of time occupied by boys and girls from Physics, English, Economics departments. The girls curtly told us, “stay back — you guys smell” which was unfortunately true as we just finished inorganic lab of group analysis where we used hydrogen sulfide.

In India, undergraduate chemistry Labs are partly the reason for our losing out bright students to other disciplines.

But do chemistry teachers and professors care ? I think they certainly do in a place like the Indian Institute of Science, but often not elsewhere. In the majority of places, chemistry teachers and professors chose chemistry in order to avoid mathematics. So, they themselves avoid physicists and mathematicians. Surprisingly,  chemists seem to be isolated from biologists too. In IISc., almost all the biology professors know me because of my work on “Levinthal Paradox” and “Biological Water.”. That has made my job as a Dean of Science easy because I could relate to biology professors. However, the majority of the chemistry professors do not make attempt to relate to biology.

How can we improve the image of chemistry and make it more attractive to bright students?  Dick Zare noted that students like it when they learn a theory or idea that helps them understand the world around them. This is a nice viewpoint to start with.

I remember that when Professor Zare visited our home, he performed a couple of elegant experiments that impressed both my son and a neighbor’s daughter. My son went on to do chemistry and still remembers that evening

Returning again to the main subject, how do we improve the situation? How do we start teaching such that bright students find the subject interesting? How do we compete with other subjects ?

I have not found any answer. But if we follow Zare observation, we need to teach chemistry so that students find  It seems we should start with chemical reactions which students see all around them. If we can explain why and how of the changes around them through chemical reactions, we could make a powerful point. We can start with photosynthesis where energy and electron transfer synchronize to sustain life on earth. We can talk of liquids, especially water. We can talk about medicine and drugs, like vitamin C and steroids.

 Someday I would like to write a book along this line. But for now, let us think about it. Or, as they say, sleep over it.


BIMAN BAGCHI, IISc., Bengaluru               22/09/2018




Is maturity a necessary virtue any more?

September 9, 2018

In sports and show business we see the demonstration of behavior which cannot be considered mature, at least not by our old standard. Also, these people cannot be termed wise, again by the old standard. But there seems to be a method in their madness which is worth pondering about.

When we were growing up, maturity was considered a respectable attribute. I remember that when my parents certified somebody as mature it meant something positive. Among us friends, we also considered that as a positive virtue. For example, when I coined a love poem on behalf of a friend of mine who was trying hard to draw the “attention” of a girl of our class, and got caught in the way (the girl immediately guessed who wrote the poem), my close friends immediately told me that it was most stupid and that “we thought you were mature.” Since I never considered (or, consider) myself as mature,  the sting had a sweet ring to it.

Days have changed. And this made me think and ask: “is it wise to be mature?” “What response or behavior does really qualify as mature?

My father was considered by all and sundry as a  mature person but my mother was not. My elder brother was considered mature but I was not. When I put all these information together, a pattern emerges. By mature means, you cannot show your anger, express your feelings and that you are upset even when you were screaming inside. Maturity means a balanced exterior. This part is under attack — tennis players (who are supposed to be a paradigm of sportsmanship) have allowed themselves to go ballistic.

The more important attribute of “maturity” is probably not in behavior, but in how you handle the crisis. I have seen many so-called mature people make a mess of a situation in crisis. They are pretty bad in handling matters, and people who trust them suffer. It happened to me. My so-called mature friends just gave me terribly wrong advice in a critical point in my life. I now avoid them — the wise and mature. I find them actually lacking in intelligence.

Why do “mature” people go wrong in crisis? I think that if you suppress your own instinct, you pay a penalty at many stages of life. And you give wrong advice. Another point is that the so-called mature people are always calculating pros and cons and often pros mean things to their favor.

To summarize,  these so-called mature people may neither be always honest, nor smart.

This might be the hidden reason that now an expression of emotion is more tolerated than in our times. The expressive people might be more honest (with exceptions, of course — look at the politicians !).

In science research, maturity does not really help. It is the playfield of immatures. In a famous poem, “Sabujer Abhijan” (The Advance of the Green (meaning youth and immature)) of Rabindranath, he encouraged and enthused the young generation to be restless, immature and adventurous, so that the old, mature ones can be awakened from their restful, sleepy existence — “Ore sabuj, ore abujh, Adhmarder gha mere tui bacha” (Oh young, oh immature, awaken the half-dead by hurting them !). I should remind the readers that Rabindranath often said that to reach higher levels, you need to suffer.

Tolerance of a society to eccentricity and peculiarity and diversity may indicate the inherent strength of the society.

Biman Bagchi, IISc.

09/09/2018,  Bangalore.






September 5, 2018

 How to say “Thank you” to a teacher ? This question came to mind as I received many “thank you” mails today. I should also mention that I got a nice pen and a nice blazer. Of late students are given to giving nice presents, last year I got a watch. I am a bit suspicious though of this increased extravaganza.

In a somewhat far fetched example from our mythology, when grandpa Bhisma was thirsty lying down defeated after the intense war in Mahabharata, he asked for water. Every body came running with mugs etc. Bhisma  looked at Arjuna who understood and pierced the earth with an arrow so that  the erupted water went to Bhisma’s mouth, and quenched his thirst. Bhisma was pleased with Arjuna — remember that he taught them at one point, and then appointed Drona as a teacher.

 There is of course the bad example of Ekolavya — and sadly such bad teachers do indeed exist. But on this good day, let us ignore them — they do damage for a while but then go away.

Any way, the real “thank you” to a teacher is given by excelling in work , in respective areas — in teaching, research, dedication to work,  respect, behaviour,…..   Arrogance is a strictly no-no.  However, students, especially our earlier students (who are faculty now) often fail to understand that.

Students should remember that teachers are indeed like parents, except most of the times, we are better than the parents !

The curse of modern society is that parents most often spoil their children, especially in India — more so in Bengal. Our times, boys were spoiled, now girls …

We do not spoil. Instead we “fix” them , into becoming a better citizen of the  academic world, and ultimately of the world itself.

So, kudos to the teachers of India and of the world, for their hard work (mostly thankless and unrecognized) . Three cheers for the teachers !

Biman Bagchi @IISc on Teachers day.

Bangalore                          05/09/2018

What shall make you happy ? Money, fame or the “freedom to do what you want” ?

September 1, 2018

What shall make you happy ? Money, fame or the freedom to do what you want ?

Of course, the answer from the majority will  certainly be “all of the above”. In addition, money could give you certain freedom. The problem is that for majority of us, the first two, if they come at all, come rather late in life when the “freedom to do what we want” has kind of lost its meaning and charm.

Of course, politicians, film actors and also sports persons make good in all three. But they constitute a very minuscule percentage, however omnipresent they appear. For people in academics,  we have to make sensible choices.

A poor man of course would choose money. A certain amount of money is certainly necessary, more so probably in India where people do not really have a safety net. We need to take care of our parents and have other responsibilities. Life is often hard.

If you happen to join a multinational company, you would have money. These companies are also trying, often, through paid advertisement and news, to make their executives famous. So, we now know names of several such  CEO who get the glory, because of a large number of unknown workers. But again only a few become CEO, most just work extremely hard. Or, rather, they are made to work hard. They do not get much credit or reward, at least nothing that is visible.

Our science is far more democratic. Here students become co-authors, get a good share of the glory.  On the negative side,  you do not get much money. Again, you do get to have some say in your own time.

But main thing is the quality of life. This concept of quality of life is a bit tricky, and is a fairly strong function of time.

Many  IISc students who are now working at different organizations in the US or in Germany, France …. told me that they enjoyed their life at IISc enormously. The first time I came across this sentiment was in 1991-92 when I went to work at NIH. I was staying at a place close to an apartment complex where a large number of Indian IT engineers were staying. Before they or we knew the common “origin” (that is, IISc) we paid scant attention to them. I considered them a bit of a nuisance as they occupied tennis courts and swimming pool, mostly as learners. We could hardly get a chance.

Somehow we got acquainted. Once they knew us, the warmth and affection they all showered on us were amazing. And when I got Bhatnagar that year, they all knew from IISc sources, and they threw a big party. All through, they kept on telling how much they enjoyed IISc, how much they missed IISc etc etc.

Those days PhD or MTech scholarships were really small. Students were poor.  They practically had little money to enjoy eating out, travel etc etc that our present students easily undertake. For Bengali crowd, the entertainment was to go to M.G. Road and Brigade Road, eat in the Rice Bowl which was famous for giving a lot of food at a low price. 

But from all accounts, those students were happy, very happy. Why ? They told me it was the ambiance, the atmosphere at IISc. Also the freedom to work at nights, weekends, many friends …. the list was quite long.

I had the opportunity to travel with IT engineers a few times while traveling to the USA. One occasion I remember distinctly. I was sitting next to a project leader in one of the well-known, big IT companies. When the young man came to know that I was from IISc, he became quite free — those days respect for IISc was paramount. I took the opportunity to ask about the work experience, the  job satisfaction of young people in his group and company, in general. What he told that surprised me because these things were still not known outside. He clearly told me that while they had some amount of money, they were all pretty unhappy and that there was a lot of competition and jealousy. He did not at all depict a happy picture.

This was at a time when IT jobs were highly fashionable, when IT engineers were in high demand as bride grooms and brides, newspapers were full of stories about them … 

Clearly there was darkness below the lamp, as is the case most often.

I could not but compare with our ex-PhD students who were insanely happy. Of course they were in better positions, in the USA, and probably avoided the kind of jobs my co-passenger project leader was referring to.

It is not my intention to glorify PhD students or studentship or the academic life, although it might serve to make the point that freedom at a young but mature age between 22 and 28-30 is special. It was for me.

Probably the key to happiness lies in trying something different and be somewhat successful at the end. That gives enormous satisfaction. As stated by Robert Frost in those immortal lines :

I shall be telling this with a sigh

 Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. “.

 I wish you a less traveled road too ! Good luck !

Biman Bagchi                           01/09/2018

IISc., Bangalore




Have we become more slavish now than ever before ? At a time when we could be more proud and self-reliant.

August 15, 2018

Today is the 15th of August  — our Independence Day (ID). I spent the morning at IISc. , participating in the Independence Day programme, listened to several nice patriotic songs, passionate lectures — the usual ID celebration.

While returning back to the office from the Tower to my own office, I wondered : why does such function still have an appeal and special meaning to our generation ? I grew up in Bengal in late 1950s and early 1960s when freedom movement was still felt and talked about.

Our earlier two generations fought the British for independence. They made huge sacrifice that today’s young generation (age group 20 to 40) cannot even imagine. My own father was a freedom fighter, spent the best time of his life (17 to 22 years of his age) in various British jails, as a “prisoner of the queen” that now sounds great but was fairly torturous….. He hardly talked about it, but then later wrote a book that chronicled many of the inhuman tortures that they suffered in the jail.

There is no doubt that the fervor of those glory days have almost disappeared (or, disappearing), as the last of the freedom fighters. One thing my father and people of his kind (there were not many) disliked was the mindless adherence to foreign culture, behavior, dress …. While many of these freedom fighters welcomed change, they used to recoil when ever they felt that something was directly from foreign (especially England). This dislike was all pervasive, from food to dress to songs. Only Shakespeare, Tennyson, Milton, Dickens ….. were welcome with open heart to our house. It was a strange “love-hate” relation.

But one thing that our earlier generation had in plenty was dignity. I could appreciate the dignity and cultural integrity  Gandhiji wanted in freedom.

I had to deal with a crisis when I went abroad for the first time. It was very hard for me. Something inside me kept rejecting almost everything foreign. My greatest refuge was libraries. I was amazed how some of my Indian friends were so familiar with American culture, so accepting without any criticism……

 These days things are so different. There was a famous Bengali poem where the poet was lamenting how we adore foreign breed dogs while completely rejecting our own ones. This mentality is so wide spread now that people would laugh at me even if I express such emotions.

We adore every thing foreign — from mobiles to cars to dresses. But this  started happening in 1980s. Before that period, at least in Bengal, the craze for foreign goods and recognition were absent. Rabindranath, Satyajit Roy still held their place — only to be dislodged later.

I realize that days of nationalism is passe — one may be considered backward. However, where we live and work, and our locality remains more important than Internationalism.  We need to be open to all, accept new things, but at what price ? At whose price ?

Whenever my earlier students, now doing post doctoral studies abroad, visit our lab/group, they are full of stories of their new professors, all very happy with their post doctoral professor. I get a mixed feeling. I am reminded of the enormous trouble I took to train these students who come knowing next to nothing. I once discussed with my colleagues here at IISc. The general consensus was that only 20% of the students we get are equipped for research  at time t=0.

Now the US and Eu professors get this finished product — it is so easy. In India we hardly had have good post docs.

I can partly understand the enthusiasm of the students for their foreign bosses. When they started, and till almost to the end, they hardly understood  (less appreciated) any nice and interesting points I raised &/or pointed out. But once in the USA, they, because of the training, now qualified to understand the points. And all credit flow to the foreign professors.

So,  something is not right ! What about some sense of pride in oneself, in one’s own identity ?

Is not there a slave mentality at work here ? We got freedom from foreign rule but succumbed to foreign culture ? Which is worse ?

There is another reason why I am writing this Blog. Yesterday I had an encounter with a senior colleague of mine, an administrator mostly, who returned from abroad from several meetings. My senior colleague observed that our own PhD students now residing in the USA speak and write pretty good English. I found the observation funny — it is the same story as the one I outlined above..

We all hear how our students perform well in abroad and poorly here and we relentlessly blame ourselves, our own system — we spare the students. What prevents or prevented them from performing here ? I do not see many students really working hard !

  I got PhD abroad ! I know very well the difference. It is easier to work in a US University where things work better. But that does not mean students have to fail here !

Anyway, somehow it appears to me that great things may not be achieved in a land where culture is fast becoming a derived culture. Fortunately, science is international, as JC Bose, CV Raman, SN Bose have shown.

But still we need to publish in western journals, especially in great journals to prove ourselves.

Japan remains such a great role model ! They still greatly love and follow their own culture, food, … Yes — they also play computer games but in their own language, on their own stories (mostly).

We need a way out from all these mess around us. My hope lies in those hard working honest young people in our colleges and universities who are good and passionate. They certainly realize that to be happy and successful you need your own unique culture. Our great leaders like Gandhiji, Rabindranath, Vivekananda … realized that fully. The well-known Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, in his beautiful autobiography (not quite finished till his death) clearly stated this in the last few pages of the book in his most lyrical language that I am incapable of . We have a lot in stake for us and our future generation in continuation of our rich culture and heritage.

Freedom and power bring responsibility.

Happy Independence Day to my readers. Jai Hind !

Biman Bagchi, IISc.,

Bangalore, 15-08-2018

A practical guide to academic success : Indian students need to learn to combine respect & reverence with criticism

August 14, 2018

 We do not usually like or respect students who are not critical. But criticism must be expressed properly. I find most of the students do not know how to handle these twin aspects. It is an art and needs attention and practice. Indian students are often too diffident outside, but not humble inside, at least most of what I have seen.

Key to success  : Respect others, especially elders. Listen attentively but be critical. Respect does not mean a lack of critical assessment. Similarly, criticism should not be expressed as to convey a lack of respect. Professors are sensitive human beings, may be with a tat too large an ego. So, be careful but do not refrain from voicing your concern.

All these of course need to be accompanied by hard work and self-study. Actually, a student can hardly be critical unless she/he  venture into serious self-studies, and begin to develop her/his own viewpoint. It could then be a lot of fun.

 This combination  is important. I have known  this since  childhood, from parents and teachers but have not always practiced it with due diligence because certain irreverence I had which is sometimes appreciated especially in the US science community. However, I have become more conscious of it (with age) . I then started a “research” into this and noticed, among the children around me and among students —- a child that grows up with respect for adults generally does well.  Some parents know it well, and deliberately foster the respect, with good results. And the parents who are sarcastic at home, continuously criticizing others, create in their children a big deficiency.

In a society where younger generation is increasingly becoming disrespectful, an additional -ve input from home can be dangerous.

Of course, as one grows up into an adult, a certain degree of disrespect or irreverence towards elder generation is natural. It actually starts at schools when we start making fun of teachers. I have seen made by parents is to encourage this behavior. Parents should just refrain from such act. At least, be neutral.

  But why and how lack of respect harm a child or a student? My eternal quest ! We must rationalize.

In our time, that is when we were growing up long long time ago,  society was such that this respect used to come naturally. Also we used to life stories of many great men of India — thin books with coloured cover.  read a lot about great men. That had several effects. First, we felt humble and small. Second, an idealism was encouraged. I myself grew up at Bally, opposite (across  the great Ganges) of Dakshineswar temple (of Ramakrishna Paramhanso) and next to Belur (with Ramakrishna Asram) of Vivekananda.

Students often need to differ with the teacher. It often happens that the teacher/professor is wrong, and even adamant.  The most difficult thing is to communicate or deliver a criticism with respect. Even adult cannot do it — most of us. It requires courage, it requires acumen, and above all requires respect. This cannot be a show. It must be honest.

It is good to have respect and faith. U shall find that it helps in life, to have a genuine trust, even when things might not be what you expect them to be.

Life often takes a strange path, more so in India where success rate is less. So, trust, faith and respect is even more necessary. But you need a critical attitude to differentiate between correct and incorrect, good and bad, and recognize a good work or even a good scientist.

Good luck and  Bon Voyage !

Biman Bagchi  , IISc.,
Bangalore, 14/08/2018     

How could some one steal my idea even before I had it (story of six dogs and seven bones)!

August 12, 2018

This is the most annoying part in our research career and I find this   happening frequently these days. When ever I seem to have a good idea, i find that some body  else had done it before., often just last year or a few months ago.

This could be regarded as funny but could also be serious, and most maddening.

On one end it means too many people doing research in “my” areas — far too many. We do not need these many people. It is like population explosion in science and it is taking the fun away. The earlier “gentlemen under the elms” approach is fast disappearing.

Bob Zwanzig used to laugh at my misfortune, recline back on  great chair (he was a big man), and  said “As for good problems, it is always the problem of seven dogs and six bones”. But then I had somebody great to complain to. These days there are so few senior (to me) people that I can complain to ! Actually I am resigned to listening complain from juniors.

Now, coming to  the syndrome of “ideas being stolen before you had them” — they are not that bad, if you stop to pause or stop to lament. The main advantage is that you have less work to do which is a good think at my age. It also gives you a bit of ego satisfaction, particularly if the other guy did not do a good job. “I could have done it better” satisfaction.

On the bad side, it could also mean you are thinking conventionally and of simple problems.

It is unlikely that deep original  problems are that easy to think of.

So, let us not feel bad when some body  steals your idea before you had it ! Science  remains full of possibilities as new horizons are created almost every day.


Biman Bagchi, IISc.,

12-08-2018, Bengaluru