During the end of my 5th semester, I started searching for professors to do an independent study under. The reason for this search was simple – I needed an LoR as I planned on going for higher studies. After talking to seniors and batchmates, it became very clear that Precog was the best place for this purpose. As I sit now, 1.5 years later, recollecting my journey in Precog, I realize I have gained so much more than an LoR – in fact, I realize that I have gained more than I could have ever imagined in December 2020.
My first interaction with PK was in the last round of my interview process. I distinctly remember being nervous because I had no idea about Computational Social Science. But as the interview progressed, I felt more and more comfortable. At the end, I didn’t feel as though I was interviewed by a professor but rather felt as if I had a discussion with a friend about our passions.
Shortly after this was Precog’s 10th birthday celebrations. Unfortunately, due to COVID, it was virtual. During the zoom call, I was truly in awe of the number of alumni who showed up merrily and shared their personal journeys at Precog. Prior to this, I was under the misconception that a research lab was a space where a student carries out research under a professor and nothing else. That was also when I realized that Precog was much more than just a place where people conduct research; it was a place where people supported each other and helped each other grow.
My Journey at Precog
My first project at Precog was on the analysis of the Capitol Riots. It was my first experience working with large unstructured data. The experience of cleaning up the data, analyzing it and plotting understandable graphs while collaborating with ~8 people taught me how to prioritize and focus on what’s important.
Most importantly, I learnt that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them – During one of the project meetings, PK asked me to extract some statistics from the data which he needed to tell a reporter who was interested in reporting our work. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I quickly wrote code to extract the numbers. However, later I realized that the code was wrong, which meant the numbers were wrong, which meant the numbers PK reported were wrong. With literal sweaty palms, I remember typing out the apology message to PK. Though he was unhappy, he made me feel better and I also learnt an important lesson.
After this very enriching experience, I started working with Avinash Tulasi and Tanvi on analyzing twitter users through interaction patterns. Later, I joined Arnav and Rishi on their work on analyzing restored users on Twitter. Working on these projects gave me my first experience with long-term research. In my opinion, I learnt three important skills here – Training and fine tuning AI Models, writing a research paper and effectively communicating the work I had done in the weekly meetings. However, the most important skill I learnt was – owning the work I did. I realized that no one knows my part of the project better than I do, so it was critical for me to own up to it and do the best I could.
Throughout the nearly 6 month process of researching the problem, writing the paper and finally submitting it, I could not have asked for a better advisor/mentor than PK. What I admired the most (and still do) is how much importance he gives to what the student wants. Whenever I was unhappy with an aspect of the project, I always reached out to him and always found a solution. During the paper writing stage, his quick feedback on various aspects of the paper proved invaluable.
One of the most significant advantages to working with Precog are the collaborators you get to work with. I had the privilege of working with Dr. Hemank Lamba and Megha Arora on the Cowin: Fairness project. Seeing how much Precog alumnus had achieved was truly inspiring. Moreover, learning how they approach solving a problem and deal with obstacles taught me a lot and helped me grow as a person.
I finally met PK in person in Spring 2022. One of my most memorable memories of my last semester on campus was having dinner with PK on Tamil New Year and playing tennis with him early mornings.
As my journey at Precog comes to an end, here are a few key takeaways-
- Always communicate any issues with PK right away. As PK rightly says – Don’t surprise your advisor.
- Own your work. No one knows it better than you do.
- Help others as much as you can. Not only is it the right thing to do, but you also learn a lot in the process.
Precog and PK have played a crucial role in my journey at IIITH, and will continue to do so wherever I go. I cannot be more grateful for the opportunities I got here. If you are someone considering Precog, I would only say one thing – just join us. The research exposure, bonding, connections and memories you will form here is unparalleled.
I am now joining the MS in CS program at Georgia Tech.