ACM India,  ACM India CouncilGiri,  Experiences

From a Random Idea to 100+ PhD Clinic Sessions, The Journey!

TLDR; an idea with discussion among PhD students on campus – ACM India elections nomination – Starting PhD Clinic in a humble way with 4 mentors – Getting elected for ACM India Council  – Starting Clinic under ACM umbrella – Curating mentors – Starting AMA sessions – Completing 100+ students and have regular student requests – Amazing feedback from students, faculty and others – Thanks to many for helping with this #StrengthofWellWishers

Oct 2019: As part of my Dean of Student Affairs role, I organized Open-House to meet with students on campus, once a month; this was done regularly among UG, Masters, and PhD students separately. During one of these discussion among PhD students, I randomly mentioned that we should have PhD students on campus to come together, share their research work to get feedback from peers and potentially faculty, and I wrote it on white board, let’s call this “PhD Clinic”. This the 1st time I can remember giving this name and thinking of this idea. 

6th Jan 2020: An email with subject line “Call for Nominations for 2020 ACM India Council Election” caught my attention (below is the email). I have been a member of ACM from my grad school days, and was the faculty mentor to create the ACM IIITD Student chapter in 2010. We had organized a few events on campus in the ACM banner [Thanks to Anush, Samarth, Kuldeep, Himanshu, and other then PhD students on campus for this]. Spent a few days thinking about the email, reading about the current Council Members, their profiles / roles / activities, etc. Was not fully sure about going through the whole process of elections, etc., had a chat with few faculty friends, and students to understand what activities can be undertaken to have some impact being a Council member. Special thanks to Niharika for nudging me taking a shot at it! 

Email from ACM for nominations.

26th Jan 2020: After getting 2 existing senior ACM members consent for giving recommendations for my candidature, I submitted my nomination. Interestingly, it is exactly an year now since I sent my nomination; writing the 1st draft of the blog on 26th Jan 😛 

April 2020: Next few months from Jan went on to do the ACM process of nomination, selection, sending profile, etc. to ACM worldwide, etc. During this period, I was preparing myself the manifesto for elections 🙂 Thanks again for faculty friends and students who helped generate this list, I was super thrilled about the position statement that I was able to put together (below is the flyer that I used for promoting the election; Thanks to Bhavika Rana for helping with the flyer). Among other items, added PhD Clinics as part of the manifesto. 

Flyer that I used for promoting the elections manifesto.

May 2020: ACM Elections email arrived on 4th with subject line “2020 ACM India Council Election” and the deadline for completing the voting process was on 6th June. I took this opportunity to promote sending out email to friends, and share it on social media to get members to vote (unfortunately, voting can be done only by professional members, wondered why this rule is!). I was delighted to see the help and support that I was getting from faculty and industry folks for my candidature; below are some pics from the social media posts. Many friends and well wishers on their own saw my nominations, and sent many good luck emails, some saying that they voted for me 🙂 Another experience for #StrengthofWellWishers 

10th June 2020:  Was super thrilled to see an email from Mr. Chandrashekhar Sahasrabudhe, COO ACM India arrived congratulating us for being elected as Members of ACM India Council! Our 1st meeting of the ACM India council was scheduled on 30th June 2020. I announced the same on social media to get a lot more wishes about the role. 

30th June 2020: Given everything was online during this period, I was a little nervous while joining the call, as some of the very senior professors in the country and people I look up to / have taken classes from, are all members of the Council! Was in listening mode the entire meeting, except for introducing myself and sharing my ideas about the PhD Clinic, and other items listed in the position statement. 

July 2020: Prof. Jayant Haritsa, ACM India President sent out an email about different committees of ACM India and my membership into different committees. I was super thrilled to be a member of the Research Facilitation Committee (Chaired by Prof. Supratik Chakraborty, IITB), and Chair of the Publicity and Membership Committee. I later got added to the ARCS (Academic Research and Careers for Students Symposium) Steering Committee (chaired by Prof. Meenakshi D’Souza, IIITB) which is an yearly event where PhD students come together. 

While all this was going on in ACM, I was curious to try out the idea of a PhD Clinic myself, so sent out an email on 22nd July 2020 to Rajiv, Mainack, and Niharika asking if they would be interested in joining hands with me to start interacting with PhD students. All three agreed and we kickstarted the Clinic July 29th; here is a Facebook post announcing the same. We immediately started getting request from students seeking for time; I did my 1st interaction with a PhD student from PEC on 1st Aug 2020, similarly Rajiv, Mainack, and Niharika had their sessions immediately after we started. 

Aug 2020: During the 1st meet of the ACM India Research Facilitation Committee meeting, I proposed the PhD Clinic and shared with them how I was doing it until then; all members immediately agreed that we should try this under the ACM India umbrella. I was super thrilled to try out the idea on the ACM India platform. I curated a list for potential mentors that I could write to requesting their help, and improvised the Slot Request Form with ACM details. Multiple rounds of email discussions / threads with RFC members, mentors, were on during this period, fleshing out details of the program. I developed a draft email, sent it to Shekhar to be sent out to 11K members of ACM in India; I was a little nervous again about this email going out to such a large audience. First email about this went out on 31st Aug 2020 with the subject line “Doing PhD in any area of computing? Need feedback/suggestions? ACM India kickstarts #PhDClinic” Of course, there were goof ups from my end, some glitches in email, links that were put in the email, etc. I think, these are the experiences / lessons that makes the process more memorable I guess 😛 

Sept 2020: I announced the program on social media on 1st Sept Facebook post now as a program part of the ACM India activities. Was feeling a sense of satisfaction, and a little anxious and tensed to see how it would pan out. We had 16 mentors when we started the program; below flyer has all the names and institutes of the mentors. 

Flyer announcing the ACM India PhD Clinic.

During some discussions with PhD students on campus, and during my Clinic sessions, I realized a large body of students are interested in questions about PhD life, what goes on in PhD life, post-phd life, finding a job – academia / industry / entrepreneurship, etc. Seeing this need, I explored the idea of many-to-many conversation on phd life, as an Ask-Me-Anything session. Socialised the idea a bit with the RFC members, and some faculty friends & students, got positive responses. 

Oct 2020:  Organized the 1st ACM under PhD Clinic umbrella with Prof. Madhavan Mukund, Chennai Mathematical Institute; Prof. Balaraman Ravindran, IIT Madras; full video of the AMA. We had 80+ students & faculty attend the AMA. The next AMA was about getting job in industrial research labs, AMA was with  Dr. Manish Gupta, Director, Google Research India; Dr. Gargi Banerjee Dasgupta, Director, IBM Research India; Dr. Venkat Padmanabhan, Deputy Managing Director, Microsoft Research India and the last one in Dec was on To Do or Not To Do PhD with Ms. Nupur Aggarwal, Research Engineer, IBM Research; Prof. Jayant Haritsa, Professor, IISc, ACM India President; Dr. Shourya Roy, Senior Research Director, Flipkart and Vice Chair, ACM IKDD; Mr. Nitendra Rajput, VP & Head, AI Garage, Mastercard. Last AMA that we organized attracted 100+ participants; Facebook post about AMA Have been curating all the videos and details. We also crossed 50 Clinic sessions in this month. 

Dec 2020: Many more students and faculty started reaching out to me about Clinic sessions and registering for interactions with mentors. Seeing the traction to the program, I started exploring more mentors for the program, thanks to RFC members and faculty friends helping in curating the list; special thanks to Profs. {Madhavan Mukund, Venkatesh Raman, & R Ramanujam} for acting as a whiteboard for me to bounce ideas about mentor curation, process, etc. As of today, we have around 30+ mentors (Full list) in the program. We reached 100 students on Dec 21st, my Facebook post on this milestone Below is the flyer of all happy mentors and students, pics taken during the clinic sessions. 

It is super satisfying to see students, faculty, and industry professionals to appreciate the efforts for the PhD Clinic; below are some from the students who attended the clinic. We are also seeing students come back to the Clinic sessions sometimes wanting to meet with the same mentor, sometimes a different mentor, it is gratifying to see the students and advisors feel the usefulness of the Clinic and come back for interactions. Special thanks to all the amazing mentors for helping with this program, they are the pillars and assets of the program. Kudos to all mentors!!! 

Here are some feedback that makes me do more for students 🙂 There are many many emails thanking mentors, many formally also submitted in the Clinic feedback form, which I try to send as part of the ACM India emails to members.

“Session was very good. The way he [Mentor] explained his thought process behind writing his own paper was good. Definitely something to take forward from the session.” 

“Mentor has put lights on the areas where I had doubts. It was a great session. He helped me to formalize the experiments and protocols to proceed with my project.” 

“***** Star.” 

“I am really thankful to PhDClinic to give me this opportunity to discuss with such an icon [Mentor].”

“The way she [Mentor] answered the questions was so good! She shared personal experiences as well and that made me connect to her.”

“He [Mentor] guided me in such a nice way about how to find a research topic, what areas can be there and how I should align my research in a proper manner.”

By students attending Clinic sessions

A few mentioning my efforts.

A tweet by Prof. Nipun Batra.

Tweet by Prof. Nipun Batra on PhD Clinic.

“I came across many of your [PK] posts recently and just wanted to say that love the work and effort you have been taking out for PhD students in India 🙂 Wish we have more such cool profs like you!”  

Industry professional, past IBMer!

“Dr PK dedicates significant amount of time for ACM students and he provides guidance for PhD by himself conducting variety of sessions and being present in all other the sessions. His presence ensures that the session is focused towards PhD students and his words of wisdom are very helpful to PhD students which is evident from the repeat attendance. A special thanks to him for identifying and getting such nice set of speakers and guides on board and getting them contribute their time for this initiative. Due to his helpful nature, I would go ahead and call him Dr PKguru (adding last 4 letters of his own name) since that better suits his attitude focused on helping students.”

An email sent by a student to ACM India which was shared back to me! 

There are many many people to thank for the milestones that we have achieved in the PhD Clinic, would have to write another few pages listing all of them 🙂 Would really like to thank ACM India for the platform, RFC for constant feedback, mentors for helping with the program, and special thanks to all students who are interacting with mentors. 

Also shared here.

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Professor @ IIIT Hyderabad