Memoirs from South Asia Workshop 2015 at NUS School of Computing

Life often throws surprises at you, some of which delight you “awesomely”. I had no idea I would be selected for this prestigious workshop when I applied for it in the month of March. I took a chance telling myself that our advisor (PK) believes that we (Precogs) are deserving enough for this opportunity. And it paid off on a fine morning in April when I was pinged by Ms. Aminah Ayu, Program Coordinator for Graduate Studies at NUS telling me that I had been selected for the workshop with full scholarship support. I am grateful to our advisor for encouraging me for this.

I was screened out of more than 160 applicants on the basis of my SOP, research interests and future goals. I was happy that I’d be visiting one of the best universities in South Asia to get a glimpse of their research and life. The 3 day program was scheduled from 27-29th May. I arranged for tickets and travel documents and reached Singapore on the midnight before the workshop. Traditionally workshop participants are accommodated in Sheares Hall which is just a 10 minute walk away from the School of Computing.

Even though I had reached late, I got up early on the first day, excited and looking forward to the talks and meeting new people. Walking down the sideway to SoC, I met a group of undergrads from IITK and came to know that most of the participants were from India and a handful from Sri Lanka.

The first session began timely with Mr. Chan Mun Choon introducing the program and Mr. Roseblum(Dean, SoC) delivering the welcome speech and Mr. Abhik RoyChoudhary giving us an overview of the Graduate education programme. Lunch and tea breaks gave me an opportunity to talk to fellow students and I was happy to see that we at IIITD are doing good work when it comes to comparing with IITs and other IIITs. It was great talking about ideas and humoring about college life and the prospects that lie ahead.

On the first day we were introduced to the research being carried out NUS in the domain of Data Management, Software and Security. I particularly found the work of Dr. Talel Abdessalem for Access Control and Reachability in Social Networks interesting. Also the talk by Dr. Liang Zhenkai on Application Architectures for Critical Data Isolation introduced me to some new concepts and ways which were captivating.

I spent the evening exploring the campus and the nearby attractions. University Town at NUS was fabulous in every sense, lively and brimming with students. It also had a nice food court apart from the auditorium, theater and a local shopping store. I had a lovely dinner looking over an aerobics team practicing for a competition. I explored Marina Bay late that evening and found it to be a beautiful walk, before I called it a night.

The second day session was a bit shorter where the professors from Department of Information Systems talking about different areas they are working on. It was mostly on Cloud Computing and Social Networks and I found myself engrossed in some excellent ideas that they talked about. Prof. Quang described how he studied influence on friend circle on OSNs in times of disasters  while Prof. Chen described how the legal community is adapting to the invent of cloud and how comfortable companies are taking their projects to the cloud infrastructure.

It was followed by a guided tour of the campus and a group photo session in the lobby of School of Computing. The evening was eagerly awaited as we were to be taken for a Night Safari at the Zoo. It was an amazing outing – we had a lavish dinner at the dining area in the zoo and saw a stunning fire show before proceeding to the tram cars that were to take us on the ride. The ride and trails showed us an impressive collection of mammals and reptiles that the zoo boasted of. The encounter with giant bats in the cage was the most thrilling of all. It was a great end to Day 2.

The final day was devoted to talks on Media and Artificial Intelligence and engaged us with the fascinating work of Dr. Preeti Rao and Dr. Wang Ye who described how systems are being developed to teach music and local languages. It was very interesting to see that music can actually help i healing people with locomotion disorders such as in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Wang Ye even took us for a tour to his labs and explained how they synthesized musical pieces and how they aided in the patient’s treatment.

Dr. Silva showed us his award- winning student projects on building low cost systems to aid general people while Dr. Anand talked about Energy Efficient Gaming Applications with Mobile Cloud Computing.

The workshop ended with some of us sharing our experiences and Dr. Abhik RoyChoudhary handing over certificates to each participant. The evening was spent exploring a place called ‘Little India’ and catching up with an old friend before I headed back to Changi airport and bid goodbye to Singapore.

As the 0640 flight took off for New Delhi, I couldn’t help but ponder over the wonderful experiences of the past few days. It’s one of the few good things that will go down the memory lane. I am thankful to the organizers at NUS for making the workshop and stay at NUS a memorable one.

For more about this workshop, do read Vidushi’s blog on her NUS visit in 2012!

Pic: Myself during the visit.

It’s been about three years since my time at Precog

It’s been about three years since my time at PreCog with PK as an undergraduate intern. Looking back, it was definitely one of the highlights of my undergrad life. My undergrad thesis and the subsequent publication helped give me a first taste of social network analysis and data mining. My work at PreCog gave me a huge leg up. It opened up exciting new opportunities, first as a Research Assistant with Dr. Huan Liu at Arizona State and now, as a Data Scientist at Doximity.

Looking back, PreCog shaped me quite a bit as it was my first time at a research lab. I learnt the core aspects of how to approach and formulate a problem, critically think and implement techniques to get at it. In truth though, it would be a disservice to PreCog if I were to touch only on the technical aspects, it was an holistic experience really. Certain things, you can quantify, make an effort and explicitly learn but other elements you just pick up along the way, almost subconsciously like inculcating ownership of the problem, a certain drive and professionalism. At a certain level, my internship continues to help me even today.

PreCog is definitely moulded in the shape of PK, his qualities quite obviously translated – including that human touch. I still remember when, being the newest member at that time, I was asked to cut the cake for Precog’s first anniversary. PreCog can do that to you 🙂

Remembering the good times (pic taken in 2012)!

The best of times!

Fun-filled and knowledge-enriching experience at New York university, Abu Dhabi!

As rightly said, “you get the most when you expect the least!”. While the memories of my first international trip to the United States of America didn’t fade away, I had another opportunity in hand, thanks to my supercool advisor, Dr. PK. I had visited University at Buffalo as a Research Assistant (June – Aug ’13) under the guidance of Prof. H. R. Rao. The experience was enriching! (curious ones can read my blog here! :-)) This time, it was New York University, Abu Dhabi as a Research Assistant for 8 long months! It was different from previous one in terms of duration and responsibilities (Well, I’m a PhD student now ;-))

I was working in joint collaboration with Prof. Mustaque Ahamad, one of the top names in our security research community and Payas Gupta, Research Scientist at NYUAD. Everything was pretty much set before flying to Abu Dhabi, thanks to Payas for doing the needful. I got a perfect adieu from friends and colleagues, here in India, with CERC’s evening get-together. On October 19, 2014, I left to live a new dream awaiting me, bidding goodbyes to family. The journey was pretty much smooth and I settled down well, admiring my new apartment, in the campus itself. Evening was spent exploring the new destination and gearing up for the next day.

Next morning started with the campus tour, followed by setting up a few admin things to get started. Post-lunch, I met Dr. Husrev Taha Sencar, senior Research Scientist and CRISSP (Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy) manager. CRISSP had people (researchers, post-docs, masters, research engineers) from various departments and interests, very much aligned with our center CERC, here in IIITD. I met some passionate researchers in the lab working on cool and interesting stuff. CRISSP, NYUAD had a pretty descent and cordial working environment. I made friends within no time and started enjoying my work. I remember having a lot of technical discussions with people around, during a cup of coffee, and was always amazed and fascinated with their perspectives. Payas, always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, was an amazing mentor and friend. He helped in resolving challenges encountered while solving a research problem. An ardent work-alcoholic himself, he taught me how one should love one’s own work! I’m glad we got along really well and could work some good problems 🙂 I got lucky with Mustaque visiting Abu Dhabi for a couple of weeks, an exuberant personality in his own, and we synergized quite well. Needless to say, my skills honed working with an experienced researcher and guide like him. We used to chat for long hours and it was a fabulous experience to understand how he approached a problem.

Apart from work, I had a lot of fun in Abu Dhabi too; PK’s surprise visit with family, my family’s visit, dinner outings with Mustaque and Payas, CRISSP outings, and usual hanging around with some amazing friends I made there. Not to forget, I even had an unexpected, fantastic international birthday bash 🙂 It worked as a catalyst to impart energy and impetus to work. Overall, it was an invaluable experience, both personally and professionally and the learnings would remain with me for a long time! I would like to extend special thanks to PK, Mustaque, and Payas for giving me this wonderful opportunity and ever-lasting support, encouragement, and guidance making it even more memorable.

Below is the picture during one of the fun-filled evening with Mehfuz (Mustaque’s wife), Taha, Mustaque, and Payas.