Sunday, November 9, 2008

Writing a PhD Synopsis/Summary/Proposal

Writing a PhD Synopsis/Summary must count as one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a number of aspiring scholars. One of my former students asked me if I could assist him with ideas so that he could write his PhD synopsis. I thought it would be best to put it on my blog so that a number of people could benefit. This post is not about writing a synopsis geared towards an English literature PhD. It talks in general about how a synopsis might be written. I have collected a number of interesting links on the issue.

The first link is from IIT Bombay, (Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India), where they have this PDF form and the fifth page of the document makes it clear what might be required from a PhD synopsis for their institution. It states that the synopsis should be between 1000 and 4000 words and should be accompanied by relevant tables and figures. It also states that the primary objective of the synopsis is to ensure that the reader could judge if prima facie there exists a case for the researcher to begin work in the selected area.

The second link is from The College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Australia, which states that the synopsis [they call it the proposal] should be between 1000 and 2000 words and should establish the research are, present the central 'research question' and show the methods to be employed while conducting the research. It gives you the structure to be followed while writing the proposal for PhD and it also gives you a link for further reading. This link can be accessed at

The third link is from University of the Punjab in Pakistan, where there is a Word document that gives you details on how to write a PhD synopsis. This is really helpful and quite detailed.

The fourth link is from Arizona University, which is quite sketchy.

The link at the University of Ortago, New Zealand, is quite helpful and detailed.

Here, you can find a live example of a PhD synopsis from the Department of Neurology, Faculty of General Medicine and the link can be accessed at

Semmelweis University in Hungary has a very helpful Word document that lists the formal requirements of a PhD thesis.

I hope you folks found it somewhat helpful. If you need any further information, please do let me know.

Should Learning Professionals Blog?

This is a very interesting question: Should learning professionals blog? I discovered a very important post on the issue. You can read it at The post makes out a case for learned and learning professionals to share their thoughts and ideas through blogging. It raises certain questions whether a professional, if s/he were a true professional, could find enough time to indulge in blogging. Then the poster Stephen Downes goes on to say that if learning professionals were to substitute their offline activities, where they waste a lot of time, with more productive and efficient online activities, they could easily find the extra time required for the purposes of blogging. Moreover, the positive aspect of blogging is that it needn't always be very consistent and very meticulous, even if it is a professional's blog.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Quote About Teaching

Most ideas about teaching are not new,
but not everyone knows the old ideas.
Euclid, c. 300 BC


Dear Folks
This is the site map file for my blog. You can find a collection of all links in my blog till now here. Happy reading.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was founded in 1905 and chartered by the US Congress in 1906. It is an independent research and policy center whose objective is"to do and perform all things necessary to encourage, uphold, and dignify the profession of the teacher."

Their website can be accessed at

Andrew Carnegie, who founded it, was born on
November 25, 1835 and he died on August 11, 1919. Andrew Carnegie's life was a true "rags to riches" story. Born to a poor Scottish family that immigrated to the United States, Carnegie became a powerful businessman and a leading force in the American steel industry. Carnegie believed that the wealthy had an obligation to give back to society, so he donated much of his fortune to causes like education and peace.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is central to any pedagogical and teaching enterprise but it is perhaps most widely abused by the teaching staff. I wouldn't like to place the blame only on the teachers because the students too are guilty of academic dishonesty and lack of academic integrity. Without proper academic integrity, not much can be accomplished and most pedagogical endeavors would remain merely of academic interest, without no import whatsoever.

I read a very interesting letter written by William M. Taylor of Oakton Community College from Des Plaines, IL 60016 to his students and I found it quite evocative. I liked his letter for its honest tone. I quote from his letter:

Academic integrity, as with so much in life, involves a system of interconnected rights and responsibilities that reflect our mutual dependence upon one another. The success of our individual efforts in this course, as with so much in life, depends on all of us conscientiously exercising our rights and living up to our responsibilities.

You could read the six page letter at the following link:

The Virtual Classroom Project

I learned about a very fascinating project called the Virtual Classroom Project. It looks like a very interesting concept and we would like to hear more about it and see how it shapes up.

Ideal Strength of a Classroom

What is the ideal strength of a classroom? How many students should a class have? In India, where I teach, at our University, this varies greatly in different courses. We are in New Delhi, the Indian capital, and our university has better facilities than most universities in the country. So, the infrastructure and the facilities that our university possesses in not, in any way, emblematic of the situation in the rest of the country. In most state universities in India, the conditions would be far dismal barring a few state universities which have been established long ago or which used to enjoy the patronage of the erstwhile kings before the Indian independence.

We teach various courses in English. I'm from the English department. The courses range from compulsory English grammar--my colleagues in the US tell me that they do not teach grammar but that they teach composition, rhetoric and writing--to undergraduate minor, undergraduate major in English, postgraduate and M.Phil. in English literature. The Compulsory English course in our university is known as General English. No one has ever bothered about the nomenclature as to why it should be called 'general English' or whether it should be called 'special English', 'English grammar' etc. I guess nomenclature of courses functions by historical convention and there isn't much into it otherwise.

General English is compulsory for all students studying in undergraduate courses in the faculties of Humanities and Languages, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. The class strength is rather uneven and huge. There are some small groups where the students might number forty to fifty to a classroom but there are certain other groups where the students might number eighty to ninety to a classroom. It is again a reflection on the deteriorating state of education in our times that usually sixty to sixty five students normally attend a class where the total strength might be ninety students. Interestingly, the classrooms which are allocated to the teachers might not themselves have capacity to seat ninety people. There is one standardized syllabus that is taught across various courses as far as General English is concerned.

The classes where English minor is taught at the undergraduate level are a bit different. There the strength of the classroom is around forty students but the students are usually quite demotivated and it is expected that the teacher shall motivate them to read the prescribed texts.

Undergraduate English major classes have about fifty students to a class and they are motivated enough. The course is known as BA (Honours) in English and is a three year course, like all bachelor degree programmes in India. MA classes have around thirty students and M.Phil. classes have around eight to ten students.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chadha Commitee Report

The Chadha Commitee Report which was commissioned by the University Grants Commission, government of India, has submitted its report for the pay revision of university and college teachers in India under the Sixth Pay Commission. But there have been a number of protests regarding the report because it falls short of the expectations of the teaching community. On one hand, the Indian government has formed a National Knowledge Commission and there is talk of remunerating teachers in a manner which will attract the best talent. While on the other hand, when the pay revision report is submitted, it falls grossly short of the teachers should have got.

Isn't it ironical?

Effects of Part Time Faculty on Quality Education

A number of institutions of higher learning now work with part time faculty members. This has to do with a number of reasons. In the US, I believe, some of those reasons are tied to the payroll because part time faculty members are not entitled to the benefits that full time members receive. This is also true of a number of colleges in India, where college managements follow a similar practice, which is at best described as abominable in nature.

Part timers are unwilling and unable to devote more time to the students outside the classroom and it is pretty evident that in courses, where there is a high concentration of part time faculty, such problems are bound to exist. Part timers are usually paid by the hour, which is akin to daily wages in the realm of higher educations. As they are paid only to teach classes, it is certainly unjust to expect them to devote more time to students outside the class. The most important work with the students happens not just inside the classroom but outside as well. The students need their teachers in a formal education set-up for a number of reasons. However, in a situation, where a course curriculum is largely taught only by part time faculty, the course may be termed a regular course but it is no different from the distance education mode.

Interestingly, if an institution keeps part timers only to save on employee costs, the full timers tend to feel insecure and they too tend to devote less time to their students. In that situation, the full timers would only do what is necessary for them to keep their jobs intact and not do anything outside the box. However, it is this outside-the-box work, which is quite often contributory to student success.

In this scenario, it would also be unfair to blame the part timers because the academic administrators normally do not treat the part timers pretty well. They are given bad time slots and are given all sorts of duties that no one else wants to do. There is growing evidence that administrators misbehave with part timers as well. There isn't much that a part timer could do because if s/he were to complain to higher authorities about harassment at work or unfair working conditions, they might lose their jobs immediately or they might not find themselves considered for full time tenured positions.

Use of Part Time Faculty

There is a growing dependence on the use of part-time faculty at many institutions of higher education. This is self-defeating because institutions of higher education are supposed to impart quality teaching and part-time faculty, even if they are highly trained, are unable to devote the kind of time and attention that a full-time faculty could devote to the students. Most importantly, it is the level of engagement that a full-time faculty could demonstrate that is normally lacking in a part-time faculty member.

This situation is further exacerbated if there are inflexible administrators or coordinators of such courses that use part-time faculty. I am a full-time faculty but I do teach extra part-time classes in my University, where we have a senior faculty member who is the administrator of the course. I was sick recently and was on sick leave from my University. I had informed the administrator of the said course as well but he was too inflexible and was rather sarcastic, which could certainly complicate matters. The fact that I was medically sick and suffering from a very sore throat meant I was unable to engage classes. If I had forced myself to take those extra lectures, I would have committed a wrong at two places. One, I was on leave from my place of work and how could I take extra classes at the same time. Secondly, it would have been ethically incorrect to engage classes when I had a very bad throat and I couldn't even speak. But the attitude of the administrator only worsened things.