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)!
When I first visited PreCog’s website, I was impressed not only by the exciting research being carried out but also by a small, recurring line found below each project, “If you are interested in knowing more or helping us with the research please write to pk [at] iiitd [dot] ac [dot] in”. There was a sense of approachability that you don’t normally see in research groups. So, I quickly sent out a mail to PK about internship opportunities and was pleasantly surprised to see a reply under 20 minutes. It oozed professionalism, genuine interest and a no-nonsense attitude, signs of things to expect from the group. Within a month of my correspondence, my application to join PreCog was accepted. A new place, new language, new people, I wondered if I would actually fit into the group. Having never been part of a “research lab” before, my imagination conjured up a dull boring dungeon filled with geeks and nerds without a social life sketching graphs, concocting equations and spitting code. Thankfully, I found PreCog to be very different, a vibrant cohesive group of really smart young people full of bright (and crazy) ideas! The transition to the group was completely seamless, aided by my mentor Anupama Aggarwal and the healthy group culture brewing here. The group members are like family, always willing to help and share. Once in PreCog, there is a very contagious bout of enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and confidence that quickly rubs off on you and gives you a sense of belonging here. Everyone knows what other members are researching on through weekly afternoon ‘What’s Up?’ meetings where idea-sharing, problem-sharing (and sometimes even lunch-sharing) take place! The members work on varied fields such as phishing, spam, social networks, access control etc., experimenting and constantly trying out exciting new ideas. I found that the members research on their topic of interest, limited only by their imagination while being guided (and not instructed) by PK. It gives a feeling of ownership and naturally, pride, to ultimately see YOUR idea flourishing. I also like that special focus is given to building usable software based on research conducted whenever possible, thus creating a real, measurable impact instead of limiting work to just publications. Ofcourse, Precog is not all research, development and publications. We have birthday parties, anniversary parties, celebration parties and even guys-only parties(\m/). 5 cakes and an amusement park outing in 4 months isn’t a bad count for a research group, right? There is plenty that I would take away from my time here, technically I gained a lot, understanding how to go about research, different techniques adopted, inferences that could be drawn etc., but what I didn’t anticipate is how PreCog would shape me personally, my thinking, outlook and confidence. It was a wonderful experience, something that I would certainly cherish and enjoy looking back.
Come back next month for more technical details into my research at PreCog.