Experiences,  IIITH,  Students

Learn, Bond, Grow @ Precog!

Back in 2020, I was as perplexed as any other second year student when I had to make a choice for a lab and an advisor to pursue my honours. My interests lay in working on applied NLP and real world problems that could have a direct impact on people’s lives and society. After elaborate considerations and weighing my options amongst the many brilliant labs at IIITH, I decided to work WITH Prof. PK at Precog. I’m sincerely thankful to my really cool seniors at Precog who introduced me to the lab, explained to me about the spectrum of work that happens, and guided me in making the right choice. Since then, I have been fortunate to have had this wonderful journey in this awesome field of computational social science and have evolved as a computer science and research student.

I have had the opportunity to work on a diverse set of problem statements at precog ranging from analysing Political Movements on Social media, Code Mixed NLP, Hate Speech Detection and Characterization, and ICT for Development. Each of the threads I have been associated with have helped me enhance a unique skill – be it dealing with mammoth sized datasets, understanding newer NLP architectures, thinking from a social science perspective and many more. Initially, when introduced to the Precog team, I was slightly intimidated. Each member was tackling some out of the world research question, or presenting at a top notch conference, or even just confidently speaking about their work during our weekly “What’s Up” sessions. Nevertheless, what helped me blend in was the extremely warm and welcoming nature that the group possessed. You are never alone! Right from the senior Ph.D. students (THE pillars) to my project teammates, everyone has been highly supportive.

At Precog, I also received great exposure to network actively. If it is not already evident through PK’s ever so buzzing social media, sir has established a rich and dense network in academia and industry which we, as his students, get to leverage. The rapidly growing Precog Alumni circle offers tons of contacts to connect with and get guidance from. Personally, I have benefited greatly from this. I was able to approach several senior students for my graduate school application process only because of my association with Precog. Moreover, through Precog’s recent collaborations with professors from renowned universities around the world, I had the opportunity to work with Prof. Kiran Garimella from Rutgers University. I learnt tremendously from this project (published paper), through both Prof. PK and Prof. Kiran, as well as from my absolutely fantastic teammates.

As much as this sounds like I must have aced the art of research, my research and honours work has not always been a flowery ride – haha. I have had my fair share of lows, confusions, and uncertainty in figuring out my true interests. I still remember how sir would patiently listen to me fret over failures. As a student, I consider myself to be fortunate to have been under the mentorship of PK. His investment in each and every student is beyond imaginable. The one-on-one attention that he gives his students is something that has brought out the best in all of us. Having worked with PK for over two years now, I have had the experience of witnessing how he seamlessly leads such a large group. Truly, leadership is one quality that I have learnt from PK and I believe I have successfully been able to replicate some, if not all, of his methods in life as well.

Beyond the lab, I also worked with PK as a Teaching Assistant for his CSS (Computational Social Science) course. This was a challenging but great learning experience for me. In handling a relatively large class size, working closely with sir to design assignments, and assisting students by brainstorming project ideas with them – I was able to directly apply the skills I had picked up in my time at Precog.

Through my four semesters at Precog, the research group gradually transitioned to a research family. Aside from the intense work at the lab, I adored how well-knit the entire group was. One of my earliest bonding sessions with the group was over a “Virtual Lunch” that PK had organized, during the Pandemic. I was pleasantly surprised to see how a professor was so attached to his students. Towards the end of my undergrad, luckily once the pandemic somewhat subsided, PK arranged for the Precog outing – bowling and dinner! This will be one of my fondest memories of my time at Precog, not just because we had tons of fun, but because I saw yet another example of a great leader, professor and friend in Prof. PK. As graduating students, PK had also invited us to his home for dinner, where we spent time with his family, a truly warm gesture.

As I now step into the next phase of my life to pursue my Masters in Computer Science at Columbia University (Fall ‘22), I am greatly indebted to PK and Precog in helping me get to where I am today. Sir’s return to IIITH from an Adjunct to a Full-Time faculty, was one of the best things that could have happened for me, as his honours student. I have evolved as a computer science student through my time at Precog and have developed innumerable skills along the way. Precog and PK helped me grow as a person and as a professional, and, above all, have inculcated in me a keen sense of “giving back”. I hope to remain guided by this principle all through life.

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