Experiences,  StudentGiri,  Students

#ResearchGiri: My expedition with Precog

It’s fascinating how time flies and how fate works as I sit here and recall my entire journey with Precog, especially with PK. I clearly remember seeing him with his distinct “red cap” for the first time at KCIS during the summer of 2018. Around the same period, there was a buzz among the students that a well-renowned professor has come to IIIT-H for a sabbatical, and at the least, I knew that he would be advising me one day. After learning about him more, I read some of his works, which were impactful and had a social cause to them, and then (a dramatic pause here !) I looked at his number of citations (5k+ !!). Suddenly, I was a little disappointed because I didn’t know how to convince a professor with so much recognition to take me as his student. Nevertheless, I applied for an independent study with the best SOP I could have written and the best version of my CV (that required a lot of effort though :p), and I was selected :D. In the first group meeting itself, I realized how wrong I was to think PK was like any other professor I had come across. He was so humble and talked to us more like a friend.

I started my Journey with Precog through an independent study on chatbot detection, and it provided me an incredible opportunity to work on something new. One of the best things about working in Precog is the weekly group meetings (WhatsUp), where we present our works/progress and at the same time have some really insightful discussions on projects others are doing. I believe this brings a sense of collectiveness that aims to make progress on the research front together. During my time as an IS student, I learned a lot about social computing and computational social science. After my IS, I decided to work under with PK as a dual degree student for my thesis, and that has proved to be one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life (Disclaimer: he doesn’t like it when somebody says that they work under him).  During this time, I had a lot more discussions about my research through weekly personal meetings. I was given time as well the opportunity to explore different topics before finalizing my thesis research project.

Well, it will be unfair if I don’t mention how cool my fellow Precoggers are, my first interaction was with Neha and Shwetanshu, who came to Hyderabad for the winter break. I had such a fantastic time with them, doing research, exchanging ideas, and the final outing we had. Over time I got to know others as well, especially the pillars (the Ph.D. students). It will be an understatement to say that they have helped me in every way possible and have contributed to my journey to develop as a researcher.

Precoggers at PK’s home ๐Ÿ™‚

Before I move to the serious part of this blog, I think I should talk about the treats/outings/celebrations that I was part of. I think apart from the pillars; I’m one of the few lucky students who have experienced the Precog culture to this extent. It was such a great experience in getting to know everyone personally beyond research & work (obviously, the wide range of food was a plus too xD). I was incredibly amazed when PK invited us to his home. It felt like a family gathering to me where he treated us with so much warmth. This tells a lot about the culture that he has created where everyone is treated equally with the utmost respect, and every one is cherished for their own uniqueness. One of the things which I’m infamous for is asking for treats from him, but I take pride in this because when your advisor does something great almost every day, then you ought to ask him for treats :p (I’m grateful that he listens to these requests of mine !).

When I look back at myself from 2018, I realize how far I have come and how much impact people around me have had on me. Needless to say that my advisor is among the people who should be credited with this the most.  I still remember the words he said when I met him after I decided to change my advisor in December 2018, mostly because I was unsure how he would react to this. To my surprise, he said, “I don’t want to know what happened in the past. I just want to know what you want to do now?”, the sheer positive attitude at that moment in time was something I didn’t expect. He supported me during the most challenging phase of my research journey when I started my research all over again in an altogether different field, and from then, there has been no looking back. PK has been more than just an advisor for me, and I think more of him as someone who not only taught me about research but also about things beyond that. Our discussions on research philosophies and sometimes life, in general, will always be special to me because these helped me to develop as a person and have a better understanding of what I wanted to do (well PK is still one of my go-to persons for any advice!).

“Superheroes” day at KCIS! Who said that research labs cannot be cool ? :p

During my time with Precog, I worked on several projects, the majority of which revolved around my thesis topic of `Hate Speech on Online Social Media.’ I worked on three different research projects that explored this domain in total greater depth, opening new frontiers in the area. I worked on general online abuse detection and studied niche topics like Antisemitism and Islamophobia (some converted into publications, and some are still in review :p). Apart from this, I also worked on some small projects related to the Lok Sabha 2019 elections. On a fun note, through all these years, one of my most significant achievements has been that I never received a “#@$%!#%” mail from PK (If you know what that means, you know that’s quite a significant achievement !!!).

Celebrating Precog’s 10th anniversary virtually on 4th January, 2021.

The Precog culture always keeps you motivated to push yourself and do better. The same was with me; even when I felt lost, someone or the other helped me create my way. In fact, the spirit of always learning and improving oneself among all the Precog family members is what makes this group so unique. One of my personal favorite things about working here has been the attitude of “owning the work and being honest with it.” I feel really grateful for the fact that I was able to inculcate this nature within myself. Working at Precog was never about the grades or the stipend that I was getting but rather the feeling of satisfaction of working on something important to me.

Own your work and be honest towards it

If you know PK, you may also know how much Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” inspires him. The concept of “Brick Walls” from that lecture is something that is really close to my heart too.

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something

I learned that failures are like brick walls, it’s a human tendency to make mistakes, and my journey was no different (and boy, I made a lot of mistakes !!).  But each of the times, I learned from it and tried again, now when I look back, I realize how those brick walls helped me work hard and get something that I really wanted. Last but not least, I can’t forget my thesis defense (slides), which happened virtually on 29th January 2021, where I finally present ed my work and successfully defended my thesis ๐Ÿ˜€

After successfully defending my thesis ๐Ÿ™‚

Apart from my research work, I was involved in almost anything and everything from recruiting new students to mentoring my juniors and participating in talks/paper presentation sessions and, of course, planning outings/parties (which is kinda my forte XD). Well, it won’t be wrong for me to say that my journey here has been really special.

A single blog surely can’t do justice to my journey here, but at the same time, the blog has to end somewhere right?  So probably I’ll end it here. I don’t know what life has for me, so until then I’ll keep exploring ๐Ÿ™‚

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