Experiences,  IIITD,  IIITH,  StudentGiri,  Students,  Tradition

The Precog Pulse: Weaving Passion into Purpose

I have taken too long to write this blog, not because of writer’s block or procrastination, but probably because eventually penning this blog would signify a certain finality in my journey with Precog. And if you are a member of Precog, you never want this journey to end 🙂

My journey with Precog hasn’t been the most traditional in many senses. I started as a part-time research intern with Precog in early 2020 while pursuing my BTech in Delhi. A pandemic, multiple courses, a Masters thesis with Precog and countless memories later, I have recently started my PhD at TU Darmstadt and the University of Copenhagen. When I first started working with Precog, I could never have imagined I would be doing full-time research on my favourite topic as a PhD candidate in Europe. I specifically want to mention the inexplicable ability of PK that enables him to help his students discover their passion. I have been lucky to have worked with PK for almost 3.5 years, where I observed the workings and the culture of Precog, the students, and most importantly, PK. I realized that this process was transformative for me as well since I evolved into a much more informed and passionate researcher and human.

Celebrating PK’s birthday with the whole group (including alumni). These celebrations were always fun!

Change is inevitable whether you like it or not, and Precog is the perfect place that encapsulates this phenomenon. I joined the lab to explore research during my bachelor’s. Eventually, I realised that Precog and its environment helped me evolve my interests into a passion for pursuing exciting questions. One of the most unique things about the lab is that PK always encourages students to pursue projects that interest them while striking a balance between social good and societal impact. I started to realise that even I evolved as a student and a researcher with the projects I was working on. PK has always acted as a catalyst for this change – both in the project and the student. If PK is the Yin, then the students of Precog are the Yang, two mutually perpetuating forces, always interconnected to make the best out of any situation. The weekly meetings with the whole group – Whatsup, as we called them – were always helpful and productive for everyone involved. These meetings were not just a way to stay updated with the group’s ongoing research but also to get and give feedback. This is exactly the kind of thing that helps shape the culture of a group and gives character to Precog, which eventually transforms both the group and the students themselves.

Fun is second nature at Precog. We used to have lab outings with the whole group at the end of the semester!

While the research was always a focus in the group, PK was also very helpful in other aspects. I remember a specific instance where I could not find new directions in a research project and felt a bit burnt out, and PK, with his nuggets of wisdom wrapped in #ProfGiri told me to take a small break and come back stronger. Support like this from your advisor is a very critical aspect of a researcher’s journey, and I am lucky to have had this support system to back me up. #ProfGiri is a testament to PK’s innate ability to channel important information to the group in a quirky way.

It’s true when they say that Precog has footprints worldwide. I met many Precog alums in Abu Dhabi while attending EMNLP 2022.

The change in me was also activated due to the peer group at Precog, and I was blessed to work with a brilliant set of people during my time there. I explored a wide range of research directions – from knowledge graphs and social media to core NLP – while working with some of the best people I know. This gave me a platform to dive deep into different domains while working under the aegis of senior members in the group. I met and worked with Prashant, Geetika, Nidhi, Shivangi, and Hitkul – all incredibly talented people, and I am still in touch with many of them. I was also involved in many lab activities and academic duties, which helped me build a rapport with other members, including Vamshi, Shrey, Jushaan, and Ashwin, among others. Sometimes, it felt like you could talk to anyone in the lab and get a very insightful discussion out of it. I think this makes the lab experience unique – you get the best environment when you put the most driven people in a room together with PK; only fun things will happen!

Poster session for the Computational Social Science course at IIIT that I was TAing.

While Precog has always been a closely-knit group, another outstanding characteristic is the collaborations and connections that facilitate our research. PK has always been affirmative of setting up a collaboration if a project demands it – and the nature of many Precog projects is interdisciplinary. I had the opportunity to work with an excellent set of collaborators – Prof. Monojit, Prof. Saptarshi, Prof. Balaraman, and Prof. Charu – from some of the top research institutes in the country. Navigating an interdisciplinary collaboration is always challenging, but with PK involved, you can always rely on him to alleviate any issues.

I consider my experience with Precog the most transformative time in my life – it helped me shape myself and my research and instilled in me the habit of being confident in my work. In the art of storytelling, the basic elements of a story are usually divided into six parts. Since Precog is a story in every member’s life, I wanted to draw parallels to my journey with it.

  • Exposition: This is when I applied to Precog to work as a research intern. I then joined the lab full-time after my bachelor’s to work as a Research Associate. This exposition to the lab culture inspired me to join PK as his MS student.
  • Conflict: During RAship and MS, I worked on multiple projects with other members of the group, some shaping into papers we submitted to international conferences (Code-mixing and Legal NLP at ACL; Graph-based NLP at IJCNN). However, the biggest challenge was when I started working on a wacky idea that fortunately PK greenlit, with Prof. Charu Sharma. When we submitted the work to NAACL 2022, it got rejected and thrashed by the reviewers.
  • Rising Action: Meanwhile, PK motivated me to stay put on the project and keep working and improving based on the feedback. I also worked as a Teaching Assistant in the CSS Summer School at IIIT, which helped me understand various topics in-depth. I was working on improving my original draft with PK’s and Prof. Charu’s feedback all this time.
  • Climax: I had completed my MS course requirements and it was my ambition and a personal challenge to complete the degree with a first-author paper for my thesis. I improved and submitted the draft to EMNLP 2022, and PK’s advice came true! It got accepted, and a reviewer gave a 5/5 score 🙂 I got the opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi for the conference and meet some of the most amazing people in NLP.
  • Falling Action: This was the time when I started writing my thesis and worked as a TA for PK’s CSS course at IIIT. I was involved in other collaborations and projects too.
  • Resolution: I submitted and defended my thesis, got accepted into a PhD program in Germany and bid adieu to Precog 🙁
Badminton session with PK. I could never win a game with him 😛
Convocation 2023 and PK joining virtually from the US

I would like to think that every student takes a little part of Precog anywhere they go. And I hope I can leave a mark in the world to finally say that it was Precog that ignited this fire and weaved my passion into purpose!

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