Disordered Matter Group

Jawaharlal Nehru Centre For Advanced Scientific Research

Group Meeting Schedule: Monday (9:30AM)

Next group meeting detail:

Date: 04.09.2017
Speakers: Anshul D. S. Parmar
Topic: Hyperuniformity and shear band near yielding transition

Upcoming group meetings:

  1. Monoj Adhikari (Find talk here)
  2. Pallabi Das (Find talk here)

Tentative schedule for upcoming group meetings:

To be uploaded

Instruction for group meetings:

The discussion in a group meeting should be based on ideas that somebody would like to discuss, or going through literature thoroughly. For that everybody should pick 2 papers each month, and work them out. The papers to include will have to satisfy the following criteria:
(1) They form essential literature for the research work you are doing.
(2) They will be papers that need some working out, be they theory papers or papers on methods, or that the results they contain are complex enough that you will need to work through them.
(3) In the case of computational methods, it would be good to also consider implementing them.
(4) One can and should also include review articles that are essential to the group’s work, and these review articles can either be the single choice for a month or spread over a couple of months.

Guidelines for PhD students and Post-docs: (pdf)

Srikanth Sastry, JNCASR

Doing a Ph D in basic science, and to aspire to be a practicing scientist, requires a number of qualities beyond being smart and knowing your subject well enough, which are typically the only qualifications that are tested in a Ph D admission procedure. Here I list what I consider to be additional essential qualities to aspire to, your obligations and guidelines for conducting research, and the time line and check points for your Ph D degree. You should try and understand each of these points, and talk to me if you don’t.

Essential qualities:

I describe below what I consider to be the most essential qualities for a productive and happy career doing research. This list is not the final word, but it is a good starting to try to formulate your own list. The eight-fold way to research nirvana are: Creativity, energy and enthusiasm, understanding and awareness, hard work, discipline, responsibility, team work, and communication. These are interconnected, but it is useful to think about each of them separately.
1. Creativity: In one line, the goal of research is to uncover something that nobody knew before. Such discovery requires you to go beyond book knowledge, to learn the art of asking the right questions, and to come up with ideas that will provide the answers. The goal is to create new ideas and new knowledge. The creativity required is often developed by insisting on rediscovering what is already known. For example, during your course work, trying to work out or derive results instead of reading them up in text books.
Or, trying to figure out something that you need for your work independently, even if you know that somebody has already done it. But to be a scientist you have to aim to go beyond this, and to ask new interesting questions and to come up with new answers that address them.

2. Energy and Enthusiasm: You can’t succeed in science if you don’t enjoy the process in some way. As David Baltimore (a famous biologist) was quoted in an Indian newspaper, The Hindu, as saying (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/article1180234.ece) “You cannot do science unless you are an optimist”. It takes a lot of optimism to think that you can work through the complexities of any problem that you may be looking at and to come up with an explanation of what is going on. But it is not just a matter of optimism – you have to work hard to produce evidence that validates that optimism. So, you have to be enthusiastic about the idea of seeking such explanations, be optimistic, but have the energy and the drive to seek out the evidence.

3. Understanding and Awareness: An understanding of how best to go about your work, how scientists function, and an awareness of the goals of your work is an essential quality. You must try to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Insist on understanding the motivation of your work and try to own the problem. You will not put your heart into your research unless you feel that involvement. A significant caveat is, however, that many times, scientists work on hunches and things are not always clear and you have to follow vague leads, often coming from a senior colleague, but you must do so with the awareness that they are hunches that must be validated. So, you should not fall into the trap of thinking that your advisor knows everything and therefore must spell out for you why something is being done, let alone how. Similarly, you or your colleagues (be it your advisor or a fellow student) may not posses specific pieces of knowledge that are relevant for your work, but the essential quality is to recognize when something is needed and to have the confidence that you can learn things as you need them, or in the event that will be hard, to have the confidence that your lack of knowledge or the ability to pick up quickly does not mean that you cannot come up with new ideas and results. A general rule to keep in mind is that you should work on the hardest problems that you have the possibility to solve. When one needs help, one should not hesitate to seek it, but such seeking of help should not come in the way of your creative engagement with the problems you are working on. Also, one must understand where one can find the resources needed for one’s work, and learn to use them effectively. This could be books, code, papers, people with specific expertise, etc. But such external help must not become an impediment for your independent thinking and mastery of what you do.

4. Hard work: Research requires a steady application of effort to bear fruit, and requires a lot of mental stamina. The ability to work hard requires that you enjoy and find meaning in what you do, and for the hard work to have the intended effect, it must be properly channelized.

5. Discipline: The most important form of discipline is mental discipline. Creative work, and the generation of ideas is unstructured, unpredictable and thus not time bound, but a number of essential activities surrounding it require disciplined thinking and are time bound. Once an approach to a problem is identified and the required know-how is acquired, till a later stage when one must again pause to think, there are usually well-defined steps of work, which should be done in an expedient and disciplined way, with a predictable time line. The time available to think in an open-ended way is the luxury that you acquire by being disciplined and organized about all the things you can do in a predictable fashion. Even if not stated, there is always an operating notion of a reasonable amount of time for a given activity and you should aim to be ahead of such time lines. Even though research work is unpredictable and progress is sporadic, the verdict on the role of a regular regime of discussing and reporting one’s work is clear. Students who have taken it seriously have benefitted, and those who have not (with whatever clever reasoning) have suffered.

6. Responsibility: As a student and in general as a co-worker, you have a number of responsibilities that you must take seriously.

You must firstly realize that the responsibility for all matters related to your student status, requirements, course and research work, rests fully with you, with the advisor, and the center doing what they must to in their respective capacities to approve or facilitate. But you are responsible for your course work, you are responsible for have your qualifying examination in a timely fashion, for preparing reports of your work, for understanding and fulfilling degree requirements and deadlines, and for writing your thesis in a satisfactory way. In all these things (and many that are not mentioned) you must aim to understand and take care of all matters that pertain to you without being reminded, or expecting somebody else to know what are needed and when. That does not mean that you can act independently without consultation. Most administrative matters need to go through the advisor and therefore must be brought to his attention, and most academic matters, till stated otherwise, should proceed only after the approval of the advisor (an abstract, a research summary, applying for a meeting etc). But it is your responsibility to know what is needed and take care of them.

The next is the responsibility to the group. There are a number of things that need to be taken care of, and that contribute to the general academic well being of the entire group. Each member of the group must contribute their share. One person not doing his/her share creates a bad atmosphere in addition to the neglect of needed work.

Finally, there are responsibilities towards the advisor (and more generally co-workers). The most important of these is to be dependable in general (i. e., when you say you will take care of something, people should be able to trust that it is taken care of), and specifically, to respect time lines and deadlines. This is usually a very serious shortcoming that is both too common and the source of most unpleasant interactions. When you agree to do something by a given time, it is your responsibility to first have made an estimate of what is feasible, and once a commitment is given, to work hard to fulfill the obligation. Such an expectation should not lead you to not commit to anything. This is unhealthy, since ultimately it is your work that will suffer. Responsibilities in such matters should be approached with a positive spirit, that you want to do as much as possible, but with realism about what you can do. Equally important is to keep up communication of progress and any unexpected difficulties concretely, so that it is possible for the advisor to correct course, or to realign expectations. If you are not done with what you committed to do by a given time, it is okay, but at the time you commit to, you should produce what you have managed. This is of utmost importance to understand correctly. As an analogy, if you are preparing for an examination, and if your preparation is unsatisfactory, the logical and common sense action is still to go to the examination and produce the answers to as many questions as you can. It does not make sense to not go to the examination unless there is a hopeless situation. The same thing applies to every appointment you make when you are expected to deliver something: you must deliver whatever is the best you can do by the appointed time. In particular, you must never show up to a discussion without something you were supposed to produce and state you can do it; if it was expected, and you could do it, you must plan properly and come ready.

In the event you cannot deliver on a commitment on time (either results, or a presentation), the worst possible way to handle it is to wait till the last minute to break the bad news. If you will not be able to make presentation that is scheduled, for example, it is your responsibility to communicate that well in advance, either to indicate that you may not be able to do what you promised on time, or to withdraw the commitment for the time being, while there is still enough time to plan accordingly. Last minute cancellations are unprofessional, discourteous and not acceptable.

You are generally expected to be focused on your research and other academic work six days a week, and are encouraged to take a day off (Sundays) to attend to your personal matters, and can take time off on holidays if you need to. However, when you are not going to be around, you must, barring unavoidable situations, inform by email and if possible in person about your absence and make sure it is okay. Be concrete with the reasons, and be responsible.

7. Team work: Either with your advisor alone, or with other collaborators, you are typically doing your research in a team, and you must understand what it means. The first and foremost is to understand and appreciate that you are pursuing a common goal, and you must behave that way. The second is to have respect for each person’s contribution, and to trust that they are trying to do their part, unless you have strong and concrete reasons to feel otherwise. In such situations, if you feel it is needed, it is okay to speak honestly about how you see things, but without a prior negativity and judgment. In many matters, expressing your views nicely will create the necessary awareness that will solve whatever may be the problem. The third and most important thing to understand is your role and the expectations others have of you. At the end of each interaction, have a very clear and concrete understanding of what you are expected to be doing in the coming days, what the goal is, and what the expected time frame is for accomplishing it. It is your responsibility to monitor and inform if things do not turn out as expected. Never keep silent if somebody (your advisor, colleague) is expecting you to be progressing along some agreed upon lines and you are spending your time doing something else. Remember, it is completely okay (and in fact common) that you don't proceed with a problem as planned because you discover new things. But if you work with a group, you have to keep the group in the loop. If you are working under somebody's guidance, you should keep that person in the loop.

8. Communication: It is clear that many forms and aspects of communication are central to a successful career in science, though most science students come with very poor education in this regard, and worse, they have very poor attitudes concerning the role of communication. Good communication begins with articulating to yourself the purpose and nature of your pursuits. Your day to day work requires (though many students do not understand the central importance of it and thereby let their work suffer) a regular, informal, verbal communication with your advisor, and other colleagues. Most students arrive with very poor language skills and do not care to improve them, but they do not realize that they cause great difficulty to their advisors and co-workers, and make their work suffer as a result. To understand how to precisely, concretely, and unambiguously state ones thinking is essential to work effectively with others. Beyond informal verbal communication, one has the regular requirement of communication of data, through graphs, tables, and graphics, which must be done with care and attention. The next form of communication is in the form of more formal talks, which require slides, or posters, which must be prepared paying attention to their ability to summarize and communicate. The last and perhaps most neglected aspect of communication is writing well. This involves the correct use of language, an understanding of common norms of scientific writing (how do you write an abstract, how references have to be cited, typeset, how figures have to be prepared, captioned, what are the different journal styles etc), how best to write to communicate your results, etc. Each requires attention, learning and understanding.
In every form of communication, one must aim to be concrete, unambiguous, precise, and effective. Your goal is always to get a point across to your audience and you must pay attention to the means to do so effectively. You must avoid vague forms of speech like the plague, and whenever you are involved in a discussion or are making a presentation, you should aim to clearly articulate what you are attempting to do, why, why is it interesting, how you are approaching it, what you have managed to do, where you have got stuck (if you have), and what you plan to do next.

Guidelines and Obligations:

The following list of obligations for group members must be treated as sacred. Exceptions are possible but only by prior discussion in advance.

1. Each week, a diligent summary of what has been done during the preceding week, and what questions need to be addressed, should be prepared and brought up in the discussion. If you wish to discuss any results, it is desirable to send it in advance by email. For weekly discussions, this need not be very polished, but should state a summary of previous discussion, questions to answer, and the results should be annotated so as to be clear.

2.Research work: After each discussion of any kind, all items to be worked upon should be noted in a note book/file/…, and emailed to me later. Follow up discussions should take up these issues and clarify. Research work progresses by incrementally taking up aspects of a problem, addressing them, and then synthesizing the knowledge gained. For this, it is essential to keep track of what is being done, and what is necessary to address.

3.Each month, a written summary of work, along with the necessary data and other files (plot files, code etc, in a tar.gz file), should be prepared, and presented orally. The preparation of such material should be viewed as training for how to present one’s work in writing, and my feedback on shortcomings should be sought, and worked upon. The material should also serve to prepare various necessary summaries of work done, as starting points for papers, and eventually for the thesis.

4.Presentations in group meetings and discussions. Every student must make a presentation in one's turn in the group meetings, and should do so more informally in the weekly meetings with me. You must prepare to answer any questions that arise in what is being stated, in the more formal presentations. One must avoid 'this is what they say' answers, but in one-to-one discussions this is okay, if one also plans to work further and understand. These presentations should be taken seriously, sharing in advance the slides with me for feedback, and any unclear material should be discussed in advance.

5.Research discussions: Research discussions can be of many types, pursued either by the mandatory once a week meetings, and whenever needed and feasible, by daily interactions. The main types of interactions are: (i) thinking aloud, trying to figure out something, trying to come up with ideas. This kind of discussion is necessarily speculative, often imprecise. This kind of discussion must be clearly separated mentally from: (ii) clarifications (how do I do this?), how-to, and what-I-plan-to-do, discussions. Here, either the questions, or the statements have to be precise. (iii) Results. When you come claiming to have done or found something, you must exercise the most precision. All statements made must be backed up by precise arguments, actual data, and calculations, which are shown/presented. Statements of interpretation not backed by data should be (a) clearly understood to be speculative, and (b) accompanied by ideas on how to validate the interpretation.

6.Thesis proposal, and reports for annual review: These must be prepared in time, and diligently.

7. Interaction with other scientists and groups: This can be in the form of preparing material for talks that I give, for presentations you make. Anything that is presented in such a fashion should have reached a stage where you are sure that it is correct, and that you have a reasonable idea of what you are seeing. These are important aspects of conducting research, and you have to put your effort into doing the best job possible. All correspondence with scientists outside the group (this could be with collaborators elsewhere, former group members or others that you contact for help, materials etc) should be done with prior discussion with me and with a copy to me.

8.All material presented in public (i.e., outside group meetings) should be shown to me at least 2 days before the time of the presentation.

9.In presenting work in a report, thesis, or research papers, you must pay attention to the format, content, and purpose and do your best to meet all these demands. If you prepare a draft of a paper, you must consult published papers that you are reading, pay attention to how they are written, and prepare a draft with the goal that I would not change it in any way. That may be ambitious, but you must try.

10.Responsibilities: You must understand properly your individual (for your degree) and group activities, and take care of them without the need for reminders. A central responsibility is to try hard to do things in a timely manner, including communicating your inability to so in extreme situations.

Expected timeline for a Ph D student and checkpoints:

The following list describes the time line of work an accomplishment that is expected for students working with me. Some of these are formal requirements of the degree program and the others are not. They are requirements and expectations that have to be respected nevertheless.
  1. I year - course work. Exposure to research problems. Basic skills in computation and other required knowledge. Start on a first research project.
  2. Second Semester/First summer - First research project. This project will be a doable continuation of some work in the group already done or in progress. Completion of this work will form the basis for taking the comprehensive examination.
  3. First annual review (August, second year) - Submit a preliminary work report, plus progress, problems etc.
  4. II year - Advanced courses and research. Take first project to completion. Work report for the comprehensive examination, normally at the end of third semester. This is a good stage to pick up skills needed to be efficient in your work, such as scripts for analysis, job handling, matlab/mathematica, coding for parallel computing, etc. The qualifying examination should be taken by the end of three semesters in a satisfactory case. (Centre rules: before end of two years). It is normally expected that the first research project will result in a publication, which the student takes an active part in preparing.
  5. 4th semester: Should be spent exploring possible thesis topic, read relevant literature, work on writing a thesis proposal based on available ideas (which should include the student's own ideas of problems to pursue). Thesis proposal should be ready by the end of the 4th semester. In the ideal case, thesis proposal includes first project already completed in 3rd semester, and the follow up research will be ongoing. Thesis proposal should contain between 3 and 5 'research project proposals', each of which outline a sub-problem which will be looked at, the state of the art, what concrete calculations will be attempted, plan of action, what they will generate as results if successful, what implications they have if they are as expected, and what progress to the understanding of the problem will the work constitute. Each research project proposal should have relevant literature references (which should have been studied well), and should be about 1-2 pages long.
  6. Second annual review (August, third year) - Submit thesis proposal final version, with available progress over the previous year.
  7. Second year summer onwards to the end of fourth year: Research work, which will result in 3 - 5 respectable publications based on thorough work addressing interesting questions to satisfaction. Thesis outline and preliminary chapters (based on work already done for thesis proposal) should get ready by the end of the seventh semester.
  8. vi. Thesis submission: Target - end of eight semester or the following summer.
  9. Before leaving the group, you are expected to complete all work related to publication of your work arising from the thesis, and handing over any data and know-how to a junior member. From past experience, trying to do any of this after leaving has never worked out well, and should be avoided at all costs. Leaving unfinished work is detrimental to the group you leave behind, and detrimental to starting out with a clean slate in your new position. You should be prepared that I will take a firm position on this and not see it as lack of helpfulness on my part.

Group Responsibilities:

Monoj Group Meeting, Journal Club, Reading Course.
Yagyik Systems, Computer Maintenance.
Pallabi Visitors, Lab maintenance.
Varghese Purchase, Store Purchase.
Rajneesh GPU computing tutorial.
Himangsu Webpage, Book Cataloguing.
Arun Group Outings, Inhouse Meeting.

Click here for Journal duty.