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Bizarre academic spam

I’ve been getting these sorts of emails every couple days lately:

Respected Professor Gelman

I am a senior undergraduate at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur). I am currently in the 8th Semester of my Master of Science (Integrated) in Mathematics and Scientific Computing program. I went through some of your previous work and found it to be very interesting, especially ‘Discussion of the article “website morphing”‘. I am interested in working under your guidance in a full time research during this summer (May 2014 – July 2014)

I have a deep interest in Economics (especially Game Theory), Applied Mathematics and Statistics and I have consistently performed well in many courses. My past research experience convinced me of my potential for research and I am in search of an opportunity under your guidance to hone my analytic and research skills

As evident from my resume, most of my work till now hovers around analysis and application of abstract ideas, where in most cases I have had taken up famous research papers (like “On computable numbers with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem, A.M.Turing, 1936”) and build upon them to solve a particular problem, often applying my coding skills and knowledge of statistics. As a result of these experiences, I am confident of my solid problem solving skills

I strongly believe that this opportunity to work under your guidance in a research project would provide me with an invaluable experience in real life research. I would seek this opportunity as a long term commitment to continue working under you in future

Thank You for your time and cooperation. Attached is a copy of my resume for your reference

Yours faithfully

OK, I understand the basic economics here. I live in a rich country, this person lives in a poor country so he wants to come here. The success rate of any pitch is approximately N*p, so I assume he’s going for the traditional spam plan and maximizing N. He has access to a long list of emails of math, stat, econ, and engineering professors in the First World and he’s sending this message to all of us. Finally, he is demonstrating his access to computing skills by stripping out an article with my name on it. But I don’t think this particular student wrote the software to do this. I get so much of this sort of spam that I’m pretty sure there’s a free or pirated program do do this strip-cut-and-paste action.

What amazes me is that these spammers seem uniformly to pick the most inappropriate of my articles for these pitches. Always, it seems, they’ll pick a discussion or a comment or an article on the history of statistics or something else that’s not really so close to my most active research. Maybe it’s something about the program they use to grab an article title? Maybe it purposely takes the title of an article with very few citations on the theory that I’ll be impressed that the student “went through” something obscure?

The whole situation just makes me feel sad. I hate to see people lie. I mean, sure, I liked American Bluff as much as the next guy, but actual lying in real life—especially this sort of thing, a poor person lying to a rich person in a hopeless attempt to climb the ladder of economic opportunity—it’s just a sad, sad thing.

79 Comments

  1. Gabs says:

    From what I understand, it is much harder to get into IIT, than Harvard or MIT. It is a well respected university in the US, and graduates from the IIT have a good chance of getting into top US graduate schools. Also, I’ve never been to India, but from what I’ve read and seen, it seems to me that it is highly unlikely that this kid is poor. He is far more likely to have come from a wealthy indian family, and is used to the things we Europeans or Americans can only imagine (think servants, chauffeurs and such).

    Anyway, all of this doesn’t mean that kid is not overly ambitious, and at the same time immature and lacking respect and possibly morals. Because, the letter does seem spammy. Out of curiosity, is it even possible for someone to get a summer internship like this (cold emailing), even if he is in the US and did their research? Seems so renaissance, given today’s bureaucracy at universities.

    • Mike says:

      Getting into an Ivy league requires knowledge and connection. For undergrad, it’s about legacy and SAT. Grad school is a bit more generous in terms of legacy, it’s more about how you can contribute to my research at my department.

      I don’t think the guy has any chance. Does he even satisfy the minimum requirement? Grades and connection. I also don’t think it’s spam. This is how Indians write. I’m sure any department would take him if he has both above.

  2. Ashwini Mathur says:

    I respect everything that you write. I was surprised by you stating the fact that US is rich and India is poor in such an “straight forward” manner. And seems like from your letter that poor to rich is the only reason why students would aspire to move to US from India. A bit disappointed with the tone of the posting.

    • Rahul says:

      On average, the fact that India is poor & the US rich, is purely factual. Not all students, but looking at the quality of this email, I can be pretty confident that any idiot who writes it must have “poor to rich” as a dominant aspiration.

      Ergo, I see no reason for your being offended by it.

  3. I just wanted to step out of the blog-lurking shadows and thank you for your time and posts, which I definitely look forward to reading. I’ve gotten reams of this type of spam primarily from Chinese sources, but this is the first one I’ve seen presumably from an Indian source. I believe there may be agents out there that allow students to pay for this service? The spam of this nature I’ve received is mostly for students looking for academic advisors and assistantships for study, not for summer internships, so that’s also a new flavor you’ve outed for me.

    But I think these services must offer the ability to specify a set of keywords or criteria to match against a web-scraped database of publication and research topics, that then kicks out a form letter with a basic set of criteria filled in (the student’s name, institution, general research interest, etc.). I think this is the case because I’ve gotten identical letters for different students with only these details changed.

    I suppose another option, rather than real students looking for sponsorship, may be that it is just a money grab, and as soon as you wire money for a plane ticket or such, the contact disappears. Maybe they take us academics to be more gullible, thereby increasing p in favor over decreased N.

    • Gabs says:

      As in, someone from a genuine university would wire airplane money before talking to a person allegedly applying for a position and doing a background check on her? Now, that’s a long shot, I doubt that’s what’s going on. I recon you have a better chance with a vanilla nigerian than with this.

      • I would think so too, even if the request is legitimately for internships or assistantships. I mean, with as spammy as these form letters the response rate must be mind-bogglingly low, yet still, we keep getting them so someone somewhere must be biting, scam or not. It’s hard to underestimate any social engineering effort and its effect on decision-making, especially when you’re dealing larger than average egos (i.e. us academics).

  4. Martin says:

    I see a guy that is asking an opportunity, and, probably he is not giving solid evidence. But I do not see how to conclude that he is poor.

  5. Nathaniel Daw says:

    I get a lot of these messages too and it hadn’t and it hadn’t really occurred to me they were fully software produced. But you’re right they do bear a certain resemblance to spam like “would you like to edit an open access book on $papertitle” (or a frontiers special issue, or speak in session 2354 of the world congress on science)

    But I think poor article choice is typical of trainees, because figuring out the big picture of someones research takes some sophistication. I find in emails from (or interviews with) american PhD prospects who have tried to study up there is a similar tendency to choose reviews, commentary, or seemingly odd old papers. I think if you don’t know much, the shallower and broader things attract more. Hell, I do this, when preparing to meet with someone outside my area: I’ll look at a couple reviews to get the lay of the land.

  6. Abhimanyu Arora says:

    While there may be good reasons to be suspicious (scams, email from a ‘poor’ country, being disappointed etc. including all generalizations), this might be a case of breach of protocol on behalf of a confused/ignorant student too.

    A phone/skype call to the administration or an academic mentioned in the references might help separate speculations from fact.

    To quote commentator Gabs:

    “Also, I’ve never been to India, but from what I’ve read and seen, it seems to me that it is highly unlikely that this kid is poor.”

    Interesting to see such (non-statistical?) inferences here.

    • Abhimanyu Arora says:

      Also an interview with the student on what exactly he/she found interesting in that article on “website morphing” might shed light on the scam hypothesis and the hypothesis that smart guys are socially awkward!

      • Andrew says:

        Abhimanyu,

        I have no idea if this spammer is smart or whether he or she is socially awkward, but I have no interest in interacting with someone who seeks an introduction based on a completely irrelevant one of my papers.

  7. I’m shocked at how many people commenting here give this a small bit of credence as if it weren’t almost entirely computer generated spam. I know from just the occasional discussion about this topic with professors that some professors literally receive hundreds of these per year, sometimes obviously form letters that just have one or two words replaced here and there and coming from multiple students (so obviously generated from a template.

    It goes to show how if spammers can reproduce awkward humans then that’s all they need to get past the first line of defense and seed doubt about whether their stuff is spam or not.

    From my perspective, this must obviously be spam, no one would say that they had built upon Alan Turing’s work from the 1930′s on fundamental aspects of computing and the problem of decidability to “solve a particular problem”. It’s just TOO obviously inappropriate, it would be like saying you’d built on Plank’s work on the black body spectrum to improve your cooking technique by incorporating food Albedo :-)

    • zbicyclist says:

      Are you saying I’m NOT in negotiations with the former oil minister of Nigeria?

      I agree. This is spam and not worth getting sympathetic about. The sender might not even be a student, just somebody who is eventually going to hit you up for money — no more credible than the panhandlers outside Union Station or annuity salesmen offering incredible returns.

  8. SomeEcon says:

    Interestingly, I too get many such emails even though I am a junior academic working in India itself.

    Apart from the poor to rich angle, I think often the writers of these mails are students who find themselves in a program with little employment potential or who do not want to continue in their current areas of specialization and who think of a research internship as a way of making a sideways career move or improving their resume.

  9. Harjot Gill says:

    Your understanding basic economics is fatally flawed. I wonder how you ended up being a professor at all. Even an average McDonalds worker does not have this sort of a bias.

    • Andrew says:

      Harjot:

      I don’t think that many McDonalds workers are getting spam from people in other countries looking for internships. But, who knows, it’s possible. I’ll leave it to someone with a better knowledge of economics to figure that one out!

    • Entsophy says:

      “I wonder how you ended up being a professor at all”

      Becoming a professor is always a combination of poor life choices and unfortunate circumstances. It can, and often does, happen to the best of us.

      • Louis says:

        but poor live choices and unfortunate circumstances can lead to a fulfilling life -if that exists-

      • Louis says:

        I read through the entire discussion and it is -by all accounts- amazing. It keeps surprising me how you (Andrew) manage to generate such discussions with seemingly innocuous blog posts.

        • Andrew says:

          Blogs have been likened to cafés. I provide the food and a good location, and then people hang out for the conversation. And, like a café, having a good location is somewhat self-sustaining: once people know that there are good discussions here, they’ll come and stop by. And once people know the blog is popular, they’re more motivated to leave comments, knowing that people are actually going to read those comments. Finally, I think the technical nature of many of the blog items gives us a somewhat selective audience so that conversations go in interesting directions and are not completely sidetracked into political ranting (as happens sometimes, unfortunately, on Marginal Revolution comment threads. It’s not Alex and Tyler’s fault that their popularity has attracted ranters, but it means that many of the interesting comments on their blog get lost in the noise).

          • Entsophy says:

            The comments here are no less contentious then on Marginal Revolution, but they’re of a totally different kind nevertheless.

            If the old publishers saying that “every equation in a book reduces the readership by half” is true, then maybe it’s worth putting at least 4 equations in every blog post.

    • Anon says:

      Harjot:

      The premise and the grammar of your argument makes me wonder how you got into an Ivy League university like Penn! (I hope its you, in the linked profile!). I wonder if you even understand the meaning of the words “fatally” and “bias” !

      • Harjot Gill says:

        A nice gathering of “scholars” we have here. First, the author of blog writes an offending post, which contains nothing but lies. I found it rather unbecoming of a scholar that he is. Next, his “cronies” start blindly defending him by further issuing condescending statements. And now, some a$$kisser is trying pretty hard to win the argument by analyzing my statement structure. I don’t mind his/her comments about my grammar, as I am a proud Punjabi speaker. Penn is a diverse & international community of students and scholars, who are working hard to push the boundary of human thought. I was more than welcome while I was at Penn. Penn never taught me to look down upon nations. History has shown us better.
        Still, I don’t understand that how hard is it for the author to be a little humble, acknowledge the concerns of several people and take back his unwarranted statement?

  10. Zach says:

    I think people are misunderstanding Andrew here. I don’t think he’s condemning the kid who sent the email. I think he’s saying that it’s a sad state of affairs that bright students from poor countries have to resort to sending hopeless dishonest spam emails to first world professors to get good economic opportunities.

    • Zach says:

      That said, I think this student will probably do very well in life coming from IIT

      • Rahul says:

        Not necessarily. The IITs produce a ton of junk two. I wager this fellow is from that cohort.

        • anonymous says:

          I dont think you have any priors for the fact that the student is junk either.

          • Rahul says:

            I think I do: (1) General quality & tone of email (2) IITs typically have a *huge* quality crash from the BS to MS levels (3) He’s from an IIT non-core (i.e. non engineering) program (4) The timing: most good IIT guys apply way in advance & most importantly (5) From personal experience, I know where on the scale the mass boilerplate emailing students typically lie.

            The word “junk” is, obviously, subjective, but by all indications you are looking at quite poor material here.

        • Zach says:

          Even if he’s ‘junk’, he’ll still probably do quite well in life with IIT credentials.

    • Zach says:

      What i think Andrew is missing is that most people from all cultures just vaguely want ‘a prestigious opportunity’ and don’t really strongly prefer one professor over another. And people from all cultures BS to get opportunities like this. it’s just that this student puts less effort into disguising his BS or is less able to disguise it than most western students. The country he comes from isn’t as big a factor as Andrew thinks it is.

    • Rahul says:

      It’s a huge speculation to assume this fellow is a bright student. How do you know? What are your priors?

      • Zach says:

        My prior is based on the fact that he’s coming from a super selective and rigorous school.

        • Rahul says:

          One caveat: There’s a bimodal intake distribution. Reason: Affirmative action quotas.

        • merian says:

          Well, yes and no. There are quite a number of IITs in India (the idea is to have one in every state, which I don’t think they have up and running yet). I know they produce very good students and researchers (one of my main mentors, as well as a good number of graduate students and post-doc currently at my institution), but it would be overly optimistic to claim they are all equally selective and rigorous in every subject.

          I do not know if the email was written by a real student or not. I also don’t know if Andrew Gelman’s field and institution welcome summer interns as a matter of course. But if this is a student, I’d wager Andrew Gelman is maybe a little hard on subservient phoney careerism from the foreigner when the way it would be expressed from an American student would appear less remarkable.

          • Very good point (in the last paragraph). People like the guy who emailed Andrew can actively work on transforming their phoney careerism, poorly expressed, into something more meaningful (even more meaningful for themselves) by working through how-to’s like

            http://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html

            I don’t think that the above notes on networking were meant to be a cynical comment on how to get ahead in academia; however it can be used by people like the internship-seeker to figure out how not to come across as outright insulting in such spam mails.

          • Andrew says:

            Merian:

            You write, “I’d wager Andrew Gelman is maybe a little hard on subservient phoney careerism from the foreigner when the way it would be expressed from an American student would appear less remarkable.”

            I think you’d lose that wager. My annoyance, as I said above, comes from the fact that this person is clearly lying. I had the same problem with Alexa Russell, Maricel Anderson, and Marty McKee, all of whom I assume are American. And, for that matter, Edward Wegman.

            As often is the case, these people seem to lying for an instrumental reason. If the journal editors had known that Wegman was copying from Wikipedia, they wouldn’t have wanted to publish his article. So he (or his collaborators) lied about it. Lying was a convenient alternative to actually doing the work. Similarly, the student who sent me that email seemingly did not want to go to the trouble of actually reading my articles. But he or she wanted to say that he or she did, to increase the probability of coming here. So the student lied. It was a way to get to a desired outcome without putting in the work.

            Beyond all this, if the student truly was spamming and was sending this email to thousands of people, he or she is wasting a lot of people’s time, and is also doing his or her part to degrade this channel of communication, thus making email less useful for all the legitimate students who might email a researcher after having actually read that researcher’s work, etc.

            • I interpreted Merian to mean that if the student were more adept at deception (as American students might be, due to better writing ability, or putting in more effort into researching the to-be-spammed professor), Andrew might have been fooled (I didn’t think that Merian meant that Andrew would look more kindly at a US student with a similar level of incompetence at deception, just because he/she is American).

              The Phil Agre document I pointed to teaches the approach that would probably work even if the student is only an opportunity seeker with no real interest in Andrew’s work. I speculate is that if such a careerist were to follow Agre’s recommendations, they might even end up transforming themselves into someone who could benefit scientifically from working with the to-be-spammed professor. But it’s only a wild hope.

              But these spammers have poisoned the well, as Andrew points out. I delete all emails coming from IIT students without reading them, so a legitimate email from an IIT student will never reach me.

    • Abhimanyu Arora says:

      Thank you for your kind interpretation of Andrew’s normative judgement.
      If one assumes that the quality of research/educational opportunities is better in the first world (in such universities as Columbia to be precise) then it makes sense.
      Since one is feeling sad, I am sure it has been properly verified that the email is dishonest.

  11. bv says:

    It could be machine generated spam, but it could well be a form template used by someone to mail multiple professors.

    When I had just got out of college, about a decade ago, sending these kinds of mails to professors in US Universities was the preferred prospecting tool among classmates who wanted to go to an University in US for MS/PhD and wanted a scholarship/TA/RA to help him/her fund the studies.

    But I have never heard of anyone try/get a summer research opportunity outside India.

    I am a touch disappointed that someone managed to spend 3.5 years in a Mathematics and Scientific Computing program without managing to reach your blog. If that is not the case, I hope this guy writes a comment.

    Apologies on behalf of people like Harjot Gill (I am sure a few more will turn up).

  12. I get at least one of these emails per month and have been curious whether my rate (being of Indian origin) is higher than average for university professors. It never occurred to me that the emails might be computer generated — I write back to each with a boilerplate text that “I do not have any internship positions available. Moreover, such things are very rare without some sort of external funding program.” I’m not sure whether I want to be so cynical as to assume they’re all spam emails. As another commenter notes, IIT (and several other Indian universities) are really very good, and if the writers really are from these places, I think the sad part is their ineptness at understanding how to communicate. I’ve thought at times to write back with actual questions about why they focus on irrelevant articles, for example, but I haven’t had the time or interest to bother. Has anyone?

  13. Kumar says:

    I’m an Indian currently doing a PhD in the US. I considered applying for internships in the US by writing emails like this student did, but decided not to. Nobody has to feel ‘sad’ about this student’s lack of opportunities or about the tactics he uses to try to get better opportunities. Doing an internship in the US is by no means this student’s only opportunity. People do work with professors in their universities and generally that work looks very good when applying for a PhD program. If the student is really interested in working on whatever he says he wants to work on, he will work in the summer with someone locally and he will do fine. Yes, doing an internship with a well known statistician like Andrew Gelman would be helpful when applying to graduate schools, especially because people from rich countries with good PhD programs cannot necessarily judge the value of an Indian’s degree or competence. And yes, the student is using the law of large numbers. (I assure you the email wasn’t machine generated, though.) This student isn’t degrading himself by writing emails like the one Andrew got. He’s being enterprising and putting in extra effort to take a shot in the dark at slightly improving his already very good prospects. No need to shed any tears.

    • If he’s doing it by hand that’s a shame. Ironically, I’d be more likely to hire him if he had coded the automated web scrape, search, and email system, because at least he’d have a modicum of coding ability in addition to ambition. :) If he’s generating these by hand it just shows a lack of professionalism and research, in addition to ambition, which I find distasteful.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting to see everyone giving all sorts of opinions on this (and their experiences receiving such kind of emails), but curiously no experience has been shared in which a student has been given a chance to prove himself.
    Since this blog recommends bold experiments (Apr 3) to others and has many moral lessons for everyone, how about giving a chance to this kid? It’s just the summer after all and all initial sadness aside, you would get happiness as well as a valuable experience (maybe a good student). A learned teacher gets a good student.

    • Andrew says:

      Anonymous:

      I give all sorts of people a chance. I’m not going to give a chance to someone whose only interaction is to lie to me.

    • Rahul says:

      Excellent point. Next time I’m really going to wire $500 to Nigera. Who knows? That rich General Odumba who died might really have left me a fortune in his will. It’s only $500 after all and every Nigerian deserves his chance. For sure I’d earn a great experience and who knows maybe I’ll end up a millionaire too?

      • Anonymous says:

        I hope and pray the student does well in life despite some random commentators in a blog not being able to distinguish (and make up their minds) unscrupulent financial scammers from a confused 20 year old in need of some positive advice (if not a real/tangible opportunity).

  15. Anon says:

    I am ex-IIT student in the US myself.
    I just want to add a couple of comments to the already excellent discussion above.

    I also believe that the letters are much more likely to be not script generated, but just a form that is reused in multiple such letters.

    The reasons to want to intern abroad also include the fact that US universities have a much higher level of research going on than universities in India or anywhere else, and with many reasons for the differences (US has much more research funding, a longer tradition of research etc). In my experience, that’s definitely a bigger factor than money in looking for opportunities abroad, esp research ones.

  16. Richard Barker says:

    I get these all the time also – they want to come to NZ as well – possibly because we are the most socially advanced country in the world according to a survey which has to be reputable. With a conclusion like that, how could it not be?. I presume that the whole point of these things is that they work. Where do they end up? And is the market not saturated yet?

  17. Dave Giles says:

    Yep – I get a couple of these a day as well.

  18. Adam says:

    Two possibly relevant personal anecdotes:
    - When I was an undergrad, I wanted to spend a few weeks doing physics research in Israel. It being a small country, I was able to email someone from every physics research group I could find, basically saying that I wanted to work with them for a few weeks. I don’t remember how much I knew about everyone I emailed. Anyway, one person wrote back, I went and worked for him (for free) and it worked out great for me, and he seemed happy as well. So, anyway, cold emails can work I guess.

    -When I was applying to grad school in statistics, at each school I applied to I tried to get in touch with one professor who’s work (genuinely) interested me. I had a nice conversation with one well regarded senior professor, and immediately sent him a thank-you email afterwards. Thing is, I’m really bad at writing emails (overly anxious, etc) so I basically wrote a form thank you email that I cut and pasted. I accidentally sent the email to this guy with the wrong name in the “Dear…” slot. Quite embarrassing. I didn’t get into that program, but there are many possible reasons, of course.

  19. The Wind. says:

    Another interpretation: perhaps this isn’t a student from IIT at all, and is someone trawling for a positive response that they can pass off as an invitation and use for a visa application to get into the US. I’ve heard of conference organisers in South Africa getting excellent looking abstracts from a certain West African country that shall not be named, becoming suspicious, and googling some lines to find that they were just copypasted from random papers in the field. It is unlikely that the abstract submitter(s) actually wanted to present at the conference – they probably just wanted a way into the country.

  20. Anupam says:

    I am a final year student in a similar Integrated Bachelors+Masters Program at IIT Bombay, about to start my PhD in a reputed US university this fall. I probably realize how irritated Andrew must have been after receiving this e-mail, and justifiably so. But I can probably give you another picture of this “habit” of e-mailing professors abroad for summer internships.

    I did a similar summer internship myself, last year, in a good institute in Germany. I had sent similar e-mails to around 10 professors who were working in a field similar to my undergraduate research, after thoroughly going through a few of their relevant publications and sending a different e-mail to everyone (not based on a template). One of them was interested in my application, accepted my request, provided me with a good stipend, and was extremely happy with my work during the summers. I continued working on the project further into my next semester when I was back at IIT, and we now have submitted the manuscript for publication in a highly rated journal. He also wrote for me a good letter of recommendation for my grad school applications.

    What I would advise Andrew is to completely ignore such applications which look spurious, and not take out unnecessary generalizations based on half-hearted knowledge about Indian students. India is a highly diverse country in all aspects, be it economic or educational. There are brilliant students in IITs who are genuinely interested in a wider research experience and apply for internships in the US or in Europe. There are also, unfortunately, many students with not enough credentials who just want something good to mention on their CVs (like an internship with a reputed professor), and do not put in enough effort to do some research before sending such e-mails. There isn’t necessarily an “economic ladder” aspect to this.

    I am not condoning the act of spamming – I find it highly objectionable specially because the acts of a stupid few lead to problems for genuine applicants like myself and many others, but then you can’t stop someone from sending an e-mail can you? The best you can do is use your common sense and ignore what is to be ignored.

    • Rahul says:

      No, your emails don’t sound “similar” at all. “after thoroughly going through a few of their relevant publications and sending a different e-mail to everyone” is key. Has this been done here? Obviously not.

      • Anupam says:

        Uhm, by ‘similar e-mails’ I meant similar e-mails inquiring about internships, not e-mails similar to the one mentioned by Andrew here. I know enough research has not been done by this particular student before sending this e-mail, which is sad really, but publicizing such acts and drawing gross generalizations like a poor person lying to a rich person in a hopeless attempt to climb the ladder of economic opportunity therewith isn’t fair, really, and projects a bad and incorrect image of internship seeking students from IITs.

        • Rahul says:

          Well you are grossly mis-characterizing the debate here then: Andrew is hardly railing against well written emails of inquiry here. It the specific aspect of boilerplate unsolicited emails with low quality content & irrelevant citations that are the annoying part.

          Having been the recipient of many such emails myself (not as a Prof. even but as a lowly RA) & having known several students personally who have resorted to this mass-emailing technique, I can clarify that indeed you are right & this isn’t specific to the IITs. But it seems a pan-Indian phenomenon.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am amazed at how some people are trying to imply that IITs are good institutes. For one, forget Stanford, MIT, or Harvard, I don’t think they will even figure in the top 100 or 200 universities in the world. Second, I have met quite a no. of products of these IITs in my Professional life and I can vouch that they are no better than the average Joe. Thirdly, why some people are taking offence at Andrew for calling India poor and US rich? Isn’t it a simple fact that India is a third world country whereas US belongs to the first world? Lastly, c’mon, he IS a spammer. It is so obvious.

  22. Steve Sailer says:

    Hey, it’s better than the blog comment spam I get, which appears to be machine-translated from a foreign language: e.g., there are numerous references to “movie star Tom Voyage.”

  23. Jani says:

    Respected Sir,

    I belong to one of these poor Universities in India. I want to bring to your notice these facts

    conversation rate of students in Columbia University is 6.9 % (no of students got admission to that of no of students applied)
    Conversation rate of students in these so called poor universities IITs is 0.7 % (1400000 students applied in 2013)

    Its way tougher to get into IITies than into Columbia university (You can see that as you understand maths better). I am not trying to prove any point here , I am just trying to inform you about IITies (as you clearly don’t know about them). Afterall what should a professor see in a student ? Does he have what it takes ? or Is he from a poor country ? I understand few of my friends trying so hard to get an opportunity to work in a university like Columbia (by crook & hook) , but sir I believe it doesn’t give you the right to take it for granting that its a desperate attempt to climb the ladder by a poor person . Isn’t it just random probability that he was born in India(scarce opportunities) and you in the rich America (Oh probability ! you understand better). I mean no disrespect to you, Infact I respect you a lot for the work you have done but I expect better from a person of your stature. the tone of the mail seriously ? .

    These mails are from few ill informed friends of mine, mostly in thier sophomore year who just joined college.
    I am sorry for the inconvinece caused to you
    Not all IITians want to go to Columbia to become rich, India is in better state than what you percieve of it

    Regards,
    Not so poor Indian

    • Andrew says:

      Jani:

      I don’t quite get your argument. IIT has a low acceptance rate, therefore it’s ok for this person to lie to me??

      • Jani says:

        No sir, I am not saying that!

        ” I understand the basic economics here. I live in a rich country, this person lives in a poor country so he wants to come here” I am saying this is not the case!
        “especially this sort of thing, a poor person lying to a rich person in a hopeless attempt to climb the ladder of economic opportunity” you being judgemental & calling it a poor persons attempt to get rich made me feel that I should write to you and tell a think or two about IIT

        I have a problem with your way of describing it.

    • Anonymous says:

      You first give some figures and then go on to say you don’t want to prove anything. I just did a quick Googling and it reveals that Population of India is 1.237 billion compared to 313.9 million of US. So it should come as no surprise that for a fixed no. of seats, the number of applicants in India will be higher than US. As the saying goes- “In China, even if you are a one out of a million kind of guy, there are thousands more just like you!!” But more importantly, your so called conversion rate does not really matter much. I hope some one will enlighten us by giving some type of world rankings of universities .

      • Jani says:

        Mr. Anonymous

        Such a Genius you are! ( Clearly you don’t understand numbers)

        How doesn’t it matter! Mr Genious tell me who has to work hard ?

        Case 1) to get a seat in 2419 available seats out of 34,929 applicants
        or
        Case 2) to get a seat in 9889 available seats out of 14,00,000 applicants

        considering the average intelligent quotient of American is same to that of Indian!
        BBC says the second option is tougher! consider a lot more factors

        Mr Anonymous where did you graduate from ? Columbia ?

        Lots of time waste here.. Enough of teaching today
        bye every one

        • Anonymous says:

          Ms./Mr. Jani:
          Hold on! Don’t get carried away.
          University XYZ of Republic of Malawi intakes 6154 students out of 1,025,666 applicants. No, I did not graduate from Columbia, or for that matter Caltech, or Princeton or Yale, but I would have liked to give a shot at that Univ XYZ. After all, it has an acceptance rate of 0.6% :-)
          No, my dear friend, a university is not judged by no. of seats or no. of applicants, but by a host of factors like faculty:student ratio, citations per faculty, proportion of international faculty, proportion of international students etc.

          • Anupam says:

            People are getting carried away by statistics here. Let the statistics and acceptance ratios rest for a while. I am from IIT, and I know what the confusion is all about. IITs lag way behind in factors like citations per faculty etc. and other indicators of overall quality, and are nowhere close to universities in the US based on overall ranking, because there is a huge quality crash between the undergraduate and graduate level courses. The only ‘prestigious’ courses in the IITs are the undergraduate courses which admit students through the grueling IIT-JEE. Undergraduate courses in IITs are definitely at par (at least in fields like Computer Science etc.) with good universities in the US, and undergraduates from IITs regularly get admissions into top graduate programs in the US. The same cannot be said for IIT students who have got their undergraduate degrees from institutes other than IITs and have just done their Masters/PhDs in IITs. Again, I am just generalizing as there are exceptions everywhere, but it is a sensible generalization and not a gross one.

          • Anon says:

            Jani,
            I am an (highly ranked) ex-IIT-ian, now in the US.

            It makes no sense to try to compare IITs with US universities based on acceptance rate. There are way more ‘good’ US universities than IITs, and so students only apply to places they have a chance to get into, that appeal to them, are geographically appealing, etc. Also, not everyone is interested in the same major. In contrast, everyone in India is applying to IITs, and trying to do either Engineering or Medicine.

            Hence, it’s hard to compare students across different systems, but US universities are just as likely to have good students, and the students are much more likely to have interesting projects / work experience / accomplishments than students from India. And US universities definitely do a better job of teaching than IIT does.

            While I totally agree with you that it is not a rich/poor thing, please don’t buy into myopic group-think that IIT is better because it has a lower acceptance rate.

          • Anonymous (Different one) says:

            A tougher competition implies that the *quality* of students eventually selected will be higher assuming that the distribution of intelligence is same (irrespective of the quality of university). Yes, would be good to see your results after you given a shot at that university.

            • Anonymous says:

              You surely have heard something called “blessing in disguise”. I would rather fail in that Univ admission than missing a chance at Stanford. By your argument (which rests on some assumption), I may have to trade-off higher quality classmates to lower quality ones. But that is OK, considering that some of my classmates might gift something like Google to the world, whereas people like Andrew and many seemingly have not even heard the name of IIT :-)

              BTW, I do not concur with your argument.

              • Anonymous (Different one) says:

                Sure, if you apply the same logic and assumptions (and surprising attitude) to all aspects of your life, you wouldn’t be able to qualify anyways. And I wish good luck to your high quality classmates :-)

    • Phillip M. says:

      Ouch, that’s gotta sting Andrew. It’s rather pithy to deny a potential 9,799 more spam emails. Between that and every ‘analytics event’ planner bombarding you with a rather pricey smorgasbord… you’re just not batting a thousand here.

      Palm to forehead in 3….2…..

  24. Phillip M. says:

    Well, while you fine folks are arguing the finer points of academic spam and ‘good news nigeria’ for $500, I’m going for the gig in Kenya. Cost me nothing. All I needed to do was give the honorable Wolford Nottingham a social security number and my checking acct. What could be easier to get my 5.3M than that? See you in the Cook Islands comrades!

  25. Kieran says:

    Regardless of whether or not this is spam, communications like this have been coming out of India for over a hundred years. Consider this from an Indian railway clerk in 1913:

    “I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a university course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as ‘startling’.”

    Does he sound promising?

    • wcw says:

      Ramanujan is a special case.

      Like Euler.

      If you want to hear some stereotypes about the Swiss, just say the word.

    • Shravan Vasishth says:

      Yes, very promising, especially if accompanied by nine pages of his own original work. Ramanujan put in exactly the kind of work into drafting that letter to Hardy that is missing in the above letter to Andrew. Actually, this is a good piece of advice to future IITians sending out letters like these: send some original work that you did with your letter as proof of ability.

  26. I am an economics professor at the Indian Statistical Institute. My colleagues and I get a ton of emails like this, so presumably most of them are going to faculty at other Indian institutions, and branching out to Columbia must be a recent phenomenon. I didn’t realize that some are written by robots. Some of my colleagues have, on occasion, taken IIT interns who have gone on to do a very good job.

    • Andrew says:

      Somanathan,

      Yes, I have no problem getting emails from India or other foreign countries. When they start spamming me, I don’t like it, any more than I like spam from the U.S. But if the message is sincere, that’s another story.

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