sharadsinha

Posts Tagged ‘Science & Technology Promotion’

Presentation as a Sales Pitch?

In Education, Engineering Principles, Research and Development on March 25, 2015 at 5:19 PM

It is not uncommon to hear these days: “make your presentation to sell your ideas”, “a presentation is a sales pitch” etc. What was earlier confined mostly to marketing and sales departments is now making its way to other places as well, including academia. Imagine going to attend a talk titled “Truth and Lies About XX” and after spending some time there one realizes that the presentation has no relation to the title at all! The catchy title was just meant to attract people but it lacked substance. Over the past few years, I have come across quite a number of such presentations where the title and the content are very unrelated. The sad part is that most of these presenters walk away with impunity without any member of the audience ever making a remark with respect to the gap between the title and the content. I find this practice not only misleading but also unethical. Most of the time, people come to attend a presentation with a certain notion of it based on its synopsis, speaker’s bio-data  and the title. The title plays a very crucial role in creating excitement. However, I don’t think that it should go so far as to end up unrelated to the content.

I agree with the view that one needs to polish and shape one’s presentation to help the audience follow it; that one needs to choose words and phrases carefully to highlight the main points, one’s contributions etc. However, I don’t agree with a blatant disregard for the audience’s intellect that becomes visible when such titles are chosen. The presenters may say that it was unintentional and that they were only concerned with making it more fancy. However, the fact  that it was unintentional itself says that the presenters did not think deep enough about their target audience.

When people , who are not sales professionals, like engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers etc. try to become like them, they often forget that there are both good and bad salesmen. That is why they teach sales and marketing in business schools. If it were just a matter of catchy title and pompous claims, business schools would not need to teach the subject. In their effort to sell their ideas, the presenters also forget that the audience has its own mind. In most cases, it won’t simply buy whatever is presented to it no matter how charismatic or fancy the salesman is. Of course, if a presenter knows that a certain audience has a bias, he can use all the tricks to impress the people. In general, I don’t think it is a good idea to keep emphasizing the “sales pitch” version of non-sales related presentations. Instead, what should be emphasized more is to connect truthfully with the audience.

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When Economic Forces Influence Universities

In Education, Research and Development, Science & Technology Promotion and Public Policy on January 31, 2015 at 9:28 PM

That universities are being increasingly subjected to economic forces is no longer a surprising news. Many articles have been written about the utility of research done at universities, transforming them into products, restricting funding to research in areas of less economic importance etc. I won’t discuss these in this post as this subject is vast. However, I will highlight one important development that I learned about only recently. I was talking to a professor and we discussed faculty appointments, research areas at his university etc. It came to me as a surprise that most students in his department were opting for courses that led to jobs in companies in a few prominent industries in the region. As a result, the university and the department were increasingly more interested in hiring faculty who had experience in those subjects. This was not always the case with those students. Five to ten years ago, the student population was not skewed this way. As a result, the department had faculty in almost all areas of study/research. Now that the student population had become so skewed, a number of faculty members have very reduced teaching load. In effect, these faculty members are now becoming “surplus faculty”. Needless to say that their areas of research and scholarship are only remotely related or unrelated to areas in which students are getting placed. Consequently, there is little hiring of faculty members in these areas and it may also have an impact on the number of faculty members who get tenure. Is this good for education and research? What should a university do in such a case? I would say that such an effect of economic forces is not good for education and research. However, in a world that increasingly wants to relate every human activity to some sort of economic force, it can be difficult to make a convincing case for hiring/retaining scholars in those disciplines. As far as what a university should do is concerned, it is not an easy question to answer. It requires administration with vision, foresight and strength to deal with such a scenario. Whatever be the case, it seems that the concept of a university is undergoing evolution and there is a need to choose a path that is least damaging to all/most stakeholders.

The World as a State Machine

In Design Methodologies, Education, Mathematics, Engineering Principles on April 29, 2013 at 9:46 PM

A state machine is basically a model of computation which helps one analyze the effects of input on a system. This system can remain in different states throughout its life cycle though in only one state at a time. It can transition from one state to another depending on some input. Every state machine has a start state and it progresses from there to other states eventually leading to an end state. Note that it is possible to reach the end state from any intermediate state as well as the start state. It depends on the system being modeled. Also, the output of each state may depend on the current state as well the inputs to that state.  Thus state machines model reactive systems i.e. systems which react. A good description of state machines can be found here. Note that the description there is related to finite state machines, which are so called because they have finite number of states. State machines are used in different fields of study not just electrical or computer engineering. They are used in biology, mathematics, linguistics etc. They also have different variants each trying to capture some additional parameters of a system which I would not go into. You can read about them at the link mentioned earlier.

I was wondering if the world can be modeled as a state machineI think that the world in fact is a state machine except that its end state is unknown. Those with absolute faith in cosmological physics would state that the “Big Bang” can be considered as the start  state. Those with religious views might consider something else as the start state.  The beauty of this world being considered as a state machine lies in the fact that it does not matter whether you believe in science or not. It does not matter whether you have more of a religious bent of mind and would like to see the world from a religious or theological perspective or whether you want to see it only from a scientific standpoint. Either way, the world can be modeled as a state machine. You get to choose the start state depending on which viewpoint you are more comfortable with. In both the cases, the world is in fact a reactive system. It can even be considered as an aggregation of interacting state machines where each state machine can represent the economic, social, political, religious and scientific state of the world. And nobody would deny that all these concepts influence each other. Every electrical or computer engineering student studies about Moore and Mealy state machines. To them, the world is probably a Mealy state machine though not strictly so: the outputs in any state that this world resides in is dependent not only on the current inputs but also on the current state. If we look around us, it sounds so true,   does it not? However, this state machine is extremely complex!

Weizmann Institute of Science: People-Driven not Number-Driven

In Education, Interdisciplinary Science, Science & Technology Promotion and Public Policy on September 27, 2012 at 11:58 PM

Prof. Daniel Zajfman , President of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science delivered a lecture on How Can a Small Institute for Scientific Research in a Small Country have a Global Impact?” in NTU today. It was a pleasure listening to his ideas of scientific pursuit, academic governance, state of education, research etc. He emphasized a lot on his policy of being “people-driven” in a research or an academic institution. This is in contrast to many other places which are “number driven” as he himself stated. Numbers which are derived from world rankings, amount of grant money, number of citations etc. The model that Weizmann follows puts its people and their ideas first. He was particular about these people being given the freedom to pursue their ideas. According to him, it is important to let his brilliant scientists choose what they think is the next most important thing in research instead of they being dictated by other agencies and other people. And he showed that his model or the model at Weizmann also works and it works extremely well. He showed that research commercialization can be a by product of independent research pursuit instead of research commercialization dictating research. The world has a place for different kinds of models of academic governance and models that are borne out of the culture and the human capital of a place or a country are the ones that can benefit that country/region the most in the long run and will probably contribute to the global advancement of knowledge on a larger scale. This is what he probably meant when he said that he was not in favor of exporting research institutions to other places (for instance a Weizmann campus in Singapore) though he was all for international collaboration. It is good to see that there still exist such places which operate in a different way and have protected their autonomy and freedom from the “market-driven” culture that is slowly permeating different fields in higher education.  It is difficult to argue which one is better because it is extremely complicated but it is good to see that there is space for all and that not everybody has begun to think alike.

Enterprise Collaboration for Research

In Education, Enterprise Collboration in Academia and Research, NTUGSC, Science & Technology Promotion and Public Policy on August 26, 2012 at 12:07 AM

I had submitted a proposal,when I was the President of NTU Graduate Students’ Club(NTUGSC), to establish a campus wide knowledge exchange and research collaboration platform in Oct-Nov. 2011. With the support of Student Affairs Office (SAO) and  Center for IT Systems (CITS) at NTU and Cisco Systems (USA) Pte. Ltd., we just launched the pilot trial of NTU Collaboration platform which is a pilot implementation of Cisco’s WebEx social in NTU. The platform aims to promote innovation, interdisciplinary research, exchange of ideas etc. between students and faculty from different schools. Majority of the pilot users are drawn from the graduate student community. I have been responsible for framing end user requirements specification, promoting the significance of the platform to graduate student community and some associated staff with the help of NTU Graduate Students’ Club. NTUGSC, CITS and Cisco Systems have all been working together as a team to take this project forward. It is hoped that such a platform will increase interaction between students from different schools. We hope to see an increase in productivity in research, generation and sharing of knowledge, social and recreational engagement and the development of a “community feeling” among the students.

Debate in the British House of Commons on Quadratic Equations

In Science & Technology Promotion and Public Policy on March 28, 2011 at 5:08 PM

Quadratic equation is one of those equations which every student learns during his or her school days. The applications of this equation are numerous and varied and it shows up in different ways in different fields of study (see 1 and 2 for an interesting discourse). It is indeed remarkable and surprising at the same time to find that the British House of Commons debated quadratic equations in 2003 (record of this debate can be found here). The focus of this debate was mathematics education and it was rich in drawing on historical developments and highlighting the importance of mathematics for future technologies.