Experiences,  IIITH,  Students

Life at Precog: Coolness overloaded

I first heard about PK and Precog lab from some of my friends in my 4th semester (February 2019). Back then, PK was on sabbatical at my college, IIIT Hyderabad. I had zero research experience & was looking to expand my knowledge in Computer Science to find my passion. I started digging into his work and found his papers very interesting. I and a few of my friends talked to Kanay who was working with him on “The Lok Sabha Elections Project”. He referred us and that’s how we got the opportunity to work with the lab on the #Election2019 project. After working for a few days, I liked the work and decided to apply for the honors project (for 4 semesters). I got selected for an interview with some seniors and later with PK. Even after working with him for a few days, I was a little nervous but I was surprised how he conducted the interview. It was more like a conversation and he just wanted to make sure if I was passionate enough to work with him.

Everybody after Phase-5 analysis in Elections Project
Picture after the last phase (seven) analysis

I had the best time working on the elections project. I can’t possibly recall all the things I’ve learned from the experience. During election days, the whole team used to sit for around 12 hours in the lab collecting live data & doing analysis. PK was also there guiding us the whole time. These long sittings might sound too hectic but the camaraderie PK had with all of us with light banter & jokes, made it a fun and enjoyable experience. We were ecstatic when our work got featured in newspapers and aired on television as well.

The team on vote counting day

After the elections project, PK’s sabbatical at IIIT Hyderabad ended and he returned to IIIT Delhi. Since then, we interacted with him over slack & video calls and worked with students both from H and D. I had the opportunity to work with very awesome people. I had amazing mentors, Suryatej & Nidhi. I am working with Nidhi & Anmol for almost a year now. During this time, I have learned a lot of new things, related to our current topic and in general about research. Nidhi is a great mentor who always pushed me to expand my research horizon.

One of the things that I like about Precog was the amount of flexibility it offered to us. You can find an ongoing project on almost any topic. If you have a new idea, just pitch it to PK & the students in any meeting. There will be some brainstorming and after that, you can start working on the idea. Talking about flexibility in terms of the amount of work, if you want to take a break, just tell your team and it’s not a problem with anybody.

I really like #PKGyaan that PK sometimes posts in our slack channel or discusses in meetings. #PKGyaan is some useful tips that might or might not be related to research. Once he shared with us the different time management techniques he uses in his day-to-day life. I found some of them very useful which I’m definitely gonna try and practice in the future. One time, he organized a meeting to tell us the importance of taking responsibility and closure. Managing large number of students is very hard, and yet PK does it so well. I felt that PK was there for a call or chat whenever I needed help or guidance on anything be it work-specific or otherwise. He had multiple one-on-one meetings with all of his students where he asked our feedback, any difficulties we were facing, what he could do to increase our interest in the work, etc. We have many useful sessions such as paper discussions, interaction with alumni, tutorials on specific technologies, etc regularly.

Precog’s 10th birthday virtual celebration

My experience with Precog is not only limited to work. PK used to take us out to eat on various occasions when he was with us during his sabbatical. We used to eat, and discuss so many topics ranging from his experiences at and before CMU, issues he faces as a professor, general life tips, about colleges H & D, and so much more. When I just started working with him, he invited us to dinner at his home. It was a big deal for me since I’ve never been invited for dinner at home by any professor. We had a great time there and I remember a large group of people there talking about a variety of topics for many hours. In remote mode, we had virtual celebrations for every occasion, where we played games and shared stories.

Dinner at PK’s home
PK’s treat at Dunkin Donuts 🙂
Celebrating PK’s birthday in Hyderabad

My best memories with PK are during the elections project where we physically worked together. My juniors are very lucky that PK is now shifting full-time to IIITH. I had an amazing experience with Precog, and I want to thank PK and all of Precog for that.

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