Research can be daunting, but with the right tools and resources, it can be a rewarding experience. One such resource is the research group Precog, led by Prof. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru or as he likes to be addressed — “PK”.
As a research undergraduate, I had a unique experience working with PK for over two years. I say this as throughout my journey; I only met PK “once” in-person towards the end of my second year at PreCog. One of the reasons for this was when I joined, he was a faculty at IIIT Delhi but it was COVID time and by the time we were allowed back on campus, he had moved to IIIT Hyderabad. This “no-contact” journey had a lot of ups and downs, but that is what makes it one of the most memorable journeys of my life to date. Nonetheless, this no-contact research was as fruitful and satisfying as it could be, all thanks to the various methods put in place by PK to get regular updates at various levels — whether it be group, project or personal level — he makes sure “no man left behind”.
Let’s change gears, and let me give you the intricate details about how PreCog and its various methods of checks and balances helped me excel at research at an undergraduate level. My journey at PreCog kicked off in January 2021 after clearing three rounds of the onboarding and filtering process. From day one, being part of PreCog has been an eye-opener for me, both as a researcher and a student. The day one enters the lab, they are familiarised with a bunch of acronyms, which might seem a lot at the time, but one slowly realises how easy they make the lab’s communication. My favourite, or one of the best acronyms, was “@#&#$#$%”. Whenever a message from PK starts with such characters, the trailing message is super important, and he is annoyed about something. These messages essentially meant someone has screwed up or something is going on that PK does not like, and it is time to pay attention and fix it before things get out of hand.
Next comes what we in PreCog call “What’s Up”s or WUs. These are weekly meetups of the lab as a whole where everyone gives updates on their end on what they have been doing as individuals over the past week. They are quite useful since they keep everyone informed about the status of each project being worked on in the lab. This is also where people ask for others’ opinions in case they feel stuck at some point in the project.
Also, PK holds one-on-one meetings with each one in the lab at the end of every semester, very briefly, where he asks how we felt about the past semester and if we feel we could have done anything different or better. The best part of that conversation is when he asks, “What can I do to make your life easier?”. This shows he is concerned about every member of the lab. This culture is something I have never seen anywhere else, making PreCog one of the best places to be. You feel seen; you do not see any hierarchy. You feel equal to everyone else. Nobody is above or below you.
Another fantastic thing about working with PK is you have the freedom to choose which projects you want to work on. This helps instil in oneself a sense of ownership and responsibility. But this freedom does not come for free. Everyone is expected to take ownership of their work. Assigning tasks and only doing that much work is not a culture celebrated at PreCog.
Moreover, everybody is encouraged to pursue work that will positively impact society. This strategy helps people working on projects they are dedicated to and commit totally to their work as members feel empowered to take charge of their work and collaborate with others to achieve their goals. As the saying goes, with great power 💪 comes great responsibility ⛰.
Over and above that, a few sayings stuck with me. One of them is “Never surprise your advisor”. This means that ahead of the meeting with advisors and/or collaborators, share a doc with them with the updates. This helps the advisor be ready with some suggestions of his own, and we learn how to document and present our work well.
Lastly, PreCog is about community and connections. Getting to know your lab mates and the strong alum network built via the members of PreCog is incredible. Approaching seniors while applying for higher studies was a blessing. They were super helpful and helped me through the most dreaded part of reviewing and furnishing my SOPs. The alums of PreCog are far and wide, and that is just one of the many benefits of working with PK. While working with him, you not only grow as a student and a researcher but also as a human being, and you get ready to face the outside world better.
I am Tushar Mohan, completing B.Tech in Computer Science with Social Sciences at IIIT Delhi and joining M.S. in Data Science program at University of California, San Diego.