Portuguese Research-Universities: Why Not The Best? by 84eeg7


									Portuguese Research-Universities:
       Why Not The Best?
              Michael Athans

          Visiting Research Professor
        Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica
            Instituto Superior Técnico
                 Lisboa, Portugal
  Professor of Electrical Engineering (emeritus)
     Massachusetts Institute of Technology
             Cambridge, Mass., USA
    athans@isr.ist.utl.pt or mathans@mit.edu

                September 29, 2000
                 University of Porto               1
• Remarks limited to engineering education and research
   • my hope is to stimulate debate
• Faculty member at MIT for 38 years
   • supervised 40 Ph.D. and over 80 Master´s theses
   • co-authored over 300 technical papers
   • director of research center (LIDS) for 8 years
   • several teaching and research awards
• Visiting research scientist at ISR/IST for past 3 years
   • Had many discussions with engineering faculty and students
      at several Portuguese universities
   • perceived tension between Portuguese industry
      needs/desires and university training

                       My Beliefs
• University research is a noble intellectual activity
• Research universities represent a national treasure
• The societal benefits from university research are immense
   • the Silicon Valley syndrome

    There is nothing worse than a wasted fert ile mind!

          Impressions of Portuguese
• Well-trained and hard-working students
• Overworked and stressed junior faculty
   • they strive to create research environment
   • too many teaching and administrative duties
   • too many examinations
   • lack of institutional incentives and support
• Too few full professors; many technically obsolete!
   • unfair and arbitrary promotion proceedings
   • inbreeding in hiring, extremely dangerous!

  The time is ripe for improving research environment
      Good Research Requires Time!
• Few people can be superior researchers
   • too many trivial conference papers, few publications in first-
     class journals (resume padding) are not the hallmark of
     superior research
• Superior researchers are intellectual “masochists”
   • they must accept that most new ideas lead to dead-ends
   • they must learn to accept failure, yet persevere to keep
     trying over-and-over
   • they live for the rare thrill of a “breakthrough”
• Prolonged periods of personal time are required to think deeply
   • high-quality research cannot be done in one’s “spare time”
   • intense concentration and “well-being” are essential
• Research teams provide “idea-multiplier”

          My impression of situation in Portugal:
     too much equality, little promotion of excellence
     My Suggestions: Three Building

• Create more uninterrupted time for research
   • all teaching and all examinations must be conducted from
                 September 15 to June 15
• Provide better career incentives for Portuguese researchers and
  fair rewards
   • invert academic pyramid: increase number of full and
       associate professors
   • improve financial rewards for superior researchers
• Strive for improved university-industry collaboration

              MIT vs IST: Statistics

• Small number of full and associate professors in Portuguese
  universities is unfair and contributes to abuses in hiring
  (inbreeding) and promotion process
• Present system encourages “academic dictators”
       U.S. Research Universities:
    The Jewel of American Institutions
• Several centers of excellence, both public and private, in
  engineering, science and technology
   • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
   • University of California at Berkeley
   • Stanford University
   • Carnegie Mellon University
   • University of Illinois at Urbana
   • California Institute of Technology
   • University of Michigan
      ....... and many many others
• All provide first-rate engineering education and excel in basic
  and applied research

            What can Portugal learn from these
                    success stories?                                8
             Fundamental Premises
• Technological obsolescence can occur in as little as 5-10 years!
• Excellence in research is one of the ultimate roots of all
  academic excellence, in both undergraduate and postgraduate
• Objectives of undergraduate engineering education
   • teach fundamentals
   • teach “how to learn”
   • minimize risk of technical obsolescence
• Objectives of post-graduate education (Masters, Doctorate)
   • mastery of the state-of-the art in professional subjects
   • close and prolonged association between teacher and pupil
   • learn how to innovate
   • learn how to discover
   • experience the thrill of discovery

        Portuguese students should be trained for
      careers and success in the global marketplace                  9
Good Researchers Make Better Teachers!

• Speed of technological innovation makes it mandatory to
  continually move “advanced topics” into post-graduate and
  undergraduate courses
   • this process provides superior motivation for all students
   • professors with excellent research credentials are best
      suited to implement such educational innovations
• Researchers must have responsibility of monitoring long-term
  industrial needs and guide undergraduate and Masters research
  topics along relevant directions
• History has shown that long-term educational impact of serious
  researchers is superior to that of classical “good” teachers
   • distinction breeds distinction
   • attitudes, as well as knowledge, are promulgated by
      distinguished teachers-researchers

 Advanced research is necessarily an “elitist” activity!
Undergraduate Engineering Education:
  Some Radical Recommendations

• Classes and exams: Mid-September to Mid-June
   • no formal classes or exams during the summer
• Students should take only 3-4 technical subjects per semester
   • at present, there are too many subjects and “labs”
• Eliminate insane practice of repeated examinations
   • current system inhibits thinking and learning in-depth
   • adopt weekly graded homework assignments
   • give two midterm exams and a final to assign grade (no
      second chances!)
• Introduce “undergraduate research opportunities” as early as
  possible, as an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum
• Provide serious academic and career counseling for all students
  by faculty

              Benefits for Learning
• Reduced academic load and change in examination philosophy
  helps students to think while learning
   • weekly homework and frequent exams are a superior
     mechanism for “learning how to learn”
   • intense studying only at the end of the semester is highly
     counterproductive; almost always a waste of time
• Industrial summer jobs allow the students to understand
  industrial needs and procedures (and make some money ...)
   • industrial experience can lead to more relevant
     undergraduate and postgraduate research topics
   • gaps between theory and practice provide superior
     motivation even for advanced theoretical research at the
     doctoral level

         Portuguese universities should develop
          administrative mechanisms to place
           students in industrial summer jobs
              Benefits for Research
• The three summer months provide uninterrupted time for deep
  thinking for faculty and postgraduate student research, freed
  from academic and administrative duties
• More routine research and development tasks can be done
  during the 9-month academic period
    • advise undergraduates of research opportunities
    • monitor postgraduate student research
    • plan and execute undergraduate research projects
    • review literature
    • write and rewrite papers and books
    • write research proposals

    Academic administrators MUST cherish, protect
   and safeguard their precious research resources!!!
Postgraduate Education and Research
• Postgraduate students must have adequate salary
   • conditioned on satisfactory progress
   • alternate between “teaching assistants” and “research
• Single Master’s thesis supervisor; no thesis defense
• Early establishment of doctoral thesis committee
   • enforce tough qualification criteria for doctorate
   • frequent research reports to thesis committee
   • doctoral thesis defense examination should be a “formality”
• 1-2 years for Master’s thesis; 3-4 more years for doctoral degree
• All Master´s and doctoral theses should be written in English
• Doctoral students should have no expectations for guaranteed
  academic career, especially at the same university (inbreeding)

        Postgraduate students are a vital link in the
            educational and research process                          14
             Research Incentives (I)

• Salary equality is a major cause for educational and
  professional mediocrity
• Allow faculty one day per week for paid industrial consulting
• Provide extra salary for up to 3 summer months paid by
  research contracts
   • current 14 month salary should be treated as 9 month salary
   • no contracts, no extra pay!
• Establish multiple professorial salary ranks to reward
  outstanding teaching and research achievements
   • not all professors are created equal!

      There is nothing more frustrating than to work
          an 80-hour week without professional
           recognition and financial rewards
           Research Incentives (II)

• Reduce teaching loads for proven researchers
   • 2-3 subjects per academic year should be “normal” load
   • credit for graduate and undergraduate research supervision
• Increase international collaborative efforts
• Institute annual departmental/university awards for superior
  teaching and research
• Provide adequate technician, secretarial and administrative
  support for research contracts
   • faculty members should not be accountants

               Research Philosophy
• Primary aim of research is to uncover facts of “strategic value”
   • discovering more-and-more facts is not enough (especially
     trivial ones)
   • strive for deep insights to poorly understood questions
   • exploit multi-disciplinary thinking
   • welcome industry inputs
• Rely on peer review and peer pressure
   • encourages humility
   • in absence of peer review, mediocre people think that they
     are “big shots”
• Appreciate that fundamental research requires critical mass
   • research teams provide critique, exchange of ideas, promote
     competition, and foster humility
   • research teams are incubators of “idea-multipliers”
                Create research superstars!
               University Policies (I)

• International departmental/research-center visiting committees
  should have major impact and real power in assessing
  educational excellence and research accomplishments
   • should meet every two years
• Visiting committees should be composed of high-caliber
  academic and industrial leaders (no politics!)
   • should conduct confidential individual and group sessions
      with students and junior faculty
   • evaluate fairness of hiring and promotion practices
   • help isolate “academic dictators” from mainstream process
   • public disclosure of evaluations and recommendations
• University administrators must be required to pay attention to,
  and act upon, recommendations of visiting committees

              University Policies (II)
• Remove politics from university administration
   • only faculty should decide educational and research policy
   • students and support staff do not have strategic long-term
   • student committees can and should provide input to faculty
• Enforce fair and impartial tenure and promotion procedures
   • promote on fixed schedule, not based on openings
   • must document international research reputation
• Faculty inbreeding should be discouraged; hire only the best!
   • tap Portuguese talent abroad
• Strive for improved university-industry collaboration
   • establish mechanisms for life-long learning

  Inbreeding has Reached Crisis Level
• Mediocre “academic dictators” use inbreeding as a smoke
  screen to hide their academic and research incompetence
   • current jury system is flawed; too much misinformation and
   • current system represents a “massacre” of the concept of
      academic freedom and university independence
• Inbreeding is a perfect example of “mediocrity breads
• Inbreeding stifles new ideas regarding teaching and research
• University and national administrative procedures are urgently
  needed to stop these corrupt academic practices
   • need to develop and enforce tough standards and demand
   • independent visiting committees are the key to the solution
          A Partnership for Progress
         UNIVERSITIES                          INDUSTRY

             RESEARCH                          INDUSTRY R&D


             STUDENTS                          EMPLOYMENT

• Strong university-industry collaboration and advanced research
  can lead to Portuguese “Silicon Valley” development
• This does not mean that university researchers must solve
  immediate industrial problems
                 Policy Challenges

• Fair intellectual property guidelines (patents and copyrights)
• Realistic industrial liaison and contracts policies
   • mechanisms for disseminating research to industry
   • “company secrets” vs. open research dissemination
• Establish strict “conflict of interest” rules
• Encourage and fund research leaves and sabbaticals abroad
• Attract international doctoral students and post-docs
• Remove “burned-out” faculty from mainstream research process
• Nurture budding entrepreneurs (students and faculty)

                Do not allow bureaucracy to
              exti n     h
                    gui s the flame of research                    22
                    National Policies


               GOVERNMENT                INDUSTRY

• Requires improved coordination between Education, Science
  and Technology, and Commerce ministries
   • increase full and associate professor slots
   • formalize education/research visiting committees
• Formalize “research university” status
   • not every university in Portugal can be a research university
   • facilitate visiting faculty sabbaticals in research universities
• Provide R&D tax incentives to industry so as to encourage
  industry-university collaboration
• Revitalize impact of Portuguese Academy of Engineering
• Change academic calendar: September 15 to June 15
   • eliminate multiple examinations at the end of each semester
   • encourage undergraduate research projects, as early as
• Increase numbers of full and associate professors
• Provide well-deserved financial rewards to distinguished faculty
• Avoid “inbreeding”; it has reached dangerous level
• Demand international peer-review using visiting committees
   • at present full professors have too much power and no
• Promote long-term collaboration among research universities
  and industry, in both teaching and research
• Formalize “research-university” status

               Strive for research excellence,                       24
                  do not reward mediocrity
                Why Not The Best?

• High-quality advanced research training and education are in
  the best interest of Portugal
   • national pride
   • global marketplace of ideas
   • better educated citizens
   • global economic competitiveness
• Spin-offs from university research environment can be unique
  contributors to national wealth
• Portuguese economic health provides ideal climate for change
   • costs are minuscule!
• John F. Kennedy quote:
      ... Others say “why?”. We say “why not!”

Researchers of Portugal, unite! You
    have nothing to lose but your


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