The Road Not Taken: Adwait Jog
Team MM | Aug 17, 2015
A vast chunk of engineers who graduate every year out of the hallowed walls of the NITs and IITs go on to join the various MNCs and PSUs as the most sought after career paths, followed closely by those seeking a degree from the elite B-Schools in the country and abroad. A small portion of the graduates however choose the path that’s less trodden by, that of pursuing a post-graduate degree, specifically a doctoral course. Team MM caught up with one such lone-walker, Dr. Adwait Jog who went on to obtain a PhD from the prestigious Pennsylvania State University, USA and has recently joined the College of William & Mary, where he is busy setting up his new lab. The College of William and Mary (W&M), Virginia, USA is one of the few public Ivies (the 2nd oldest institution in US). Team MM caught up with Dr. Jog as he took a walk down the memory lane. Here are the excerpts.
MM: Going back to your beginnings, tell us something about your life before NIT Rourkela.
AJ: I hail from Madhya Pradesh and did most of my schooling there. For Class 12, I moved to BBSR, Orissa. New language, new school, and new friends- I had a difficult time adjusting with the new environment. I decided to study at home for my entrance exams and attend school regularly (KV Unit IX). However, to be in touch with friends who were preparing for the entrance exams, I decided to take coaching for Mathematics. It was not very surprising that a significant part of the instructor’s lecture was in Oriya. Because of him I learned (may be slightly) more Oriya than Mathematics. Thankfully, I successfully passed my AIEEE exam and landed up in NITR.
MM: How was life at NITR back then? Share with us your experiences during your time at your Alma Mater.
AJ: I finished my B.Tech in 2009 and I visited NITR couple of times during 2010-12. The life back then was, as I believe even now, fun. The campus had many student clubs and the students could find something of their taste. I was in Hall-1 in my first year, and I still remember those days: the small talk with friends, playing card games, and discussing random topics. There used to be only a tiny computer room where internet facility was available. There was a lot of demand for these computers leading to interesting chaotic situations. After 1st year, I was a day scholar, but used to stay very close to the campus and was in touch with the activities going on the campus. Tech and Spring Fests used to be a lot of fun. Altogether, the campus was lively and had great potential to become even better.
MM: Engineering is a once in a lifetime experience that transforms one's life forever. How has this transformation been for you?
AJ: After I completed my 12th grade, I chose the beaten track, not very sure of what would be the best for me. However, 2-3 years into the B.Tech program, I started to realize that the time spent during engineering could also allow you to figure out what you actually want to do in future. Before deciding to pursue my career in academics, I tried out many different things. I worked on some interesting ongoing projects in my department as well as in other universities (via summer internships) which eventually set the tone for my transformation and inspired me to apply for Ph.D. programs later. I also tested my B-plan formulation skills (jointly with one more student) in one of the tech-fest competitions and fortunately the plan was highly ranked. Altogether, I am glad that I was able to involve myself in a couple of activities that I liked and choose the one that I liked the most.
MM: After graduating from NIT Rourkela with a bachelor's degree in Electronics and Instrumentation, you went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from Penn State University. What motivated you to drift from electronics to computer science?
AJ: When I came to NIT Rourkela campus for AIEEE counseling, I had narrowed down to two options: Electronics and Instrumentation and Computer Science. I was not eligible for ECE because of my lower state-rank. After consulting with my seniors and friends, I decided to go with Instrumentation. The rationale was that probably it is easier to switch from Electronics to Computer Science. Ten years after making that decision, I do not think that decision was that critical as there are a lot of interdisciplinary opportunities between electrical, electronics, and computer science streams. In fact, there are many research and engineering issues that are common across all these disciplines. Therefore, in my opinion, switching across the aforementioned disciplines is not difficult.
I chose the CS department at Penn State as it gave me better career opportunities. Therefore, my advice to current students would be not to be afraid to change their discipline if it better suits their taste and allows them to succeed.
MM: Can you briefly tell us about your current job, interview process, and why you chose this job?
AJ: I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor at the College of William and Mary (W&M). The key word is tenure-track, which implies that I will get an opportunity to get a tenured (read permanent) position at the end of six years. The tenure-track positions in US universities are coveted and very scarce and the professors are expected to apply for research grants, set up their own research group, mentor Ph.D. students and do solid research with them, serve in various technical program committees inside and outside the university, and of course teach.
The interview process for selecting a tenure-track professor is a multi-step, long winded process. The applicants are initially screened based on publication record followed by a gauging of the recommendation letters. Post screening telephonic interviews, and finally one/two days of on-site interviews are taken (around 15-20 people can interview over the course of 2 days). The candidate also has to deliver a research talk.
After my Ph.D., I had industry offers from Intel Labs and AMD Research, however, I chose this university job. There are many reasons behind it. First, I feel the assistant professor job is very rewarding, especially in US. You are working for yourself and your own group. It is very much like running a start-up. Second, you get a lot of freedom to choose your own research agenda. Of course, you have to earn your freedom by getting funding from appropriate agencies to fund your research, but at least you have an opportunity to do so. Third, you will always be among students and be in a university setup.
MM: Could you connect the dots between your days of learning at NITR and your days of teaching now?
AJ: I believe teaching has two critical aspects. The first aspect is to impart quality education to the students in terms of a solid background and fundamental concepts. The second aspect is to effectively disseminate research findings and new concepts to the community via clear, insightful, and interesting talks and publications. I am committed to both aspects of teaching.
I was involved in organizing workshops and tutorials for students since my NITR days. My first teaching experience was organizing a tutorial on the SPICE tools followed by a circuit design championship for roughly 30+ 2nd and 3rd year students. After joining Penn State, I was a co-instructor for an introductory course on computer architecture for undergraduate students. Overall, it was an absolutely thrilling experience for me to teach students, answer their questions, and contribute to their learning. I have not yet started teaching in William and Mary, but will do soon.
In terms of the second aspect, my first research experience was at NITR. I also did a couple of summer internships at NUS Singapore and IISc Bangalore when I was doing my undergrad at NITR which helped me to get a taste of research. Doing good research is an art - you have to choose real and important problems and come up with elegant and simple solutions for them. Learning this art takes time. However, I am glad that I started early during my NITR days.
MM: You are starting a new computer architecture research group at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Please enlighten us about this. What kind of students are you seeking for this group?
AJ: I am starting a new computer architecture research group at W&M with the goal of designing future computing systems more energy-efficient, reliable, secure, capable, and useful. For my start-up, I am looking for highly self-motivated, talented, and creative students, who have interests in the broad areas of computer architecture, systems, software, and circuits. I am also excited to explore opportunities that can lead to solid cross-disciplinary research work. Therefore, I am also on the lookout for students having interests in other disciplines such as (but not limited to) biology, economics, machine learning, security, and theory.
MM: Alumni are an indispensable part of any reputed institute. Cordial relations should be facilitated between the institute and the alumni for the betterment of both. What can be done in this front to enhance the alumni relations of NIT Rourkela?
AJ: I am aware of many alumni get-togethers that happen throughout India and abroad. Personally, I have not got a chance to attend any of those till now, but I would love to do so in the future. Alumni get-togethers are a great way to connect various alumni members. In addition, we probably need a bigger forum for directly connecting with current NITR students. We should leverage social media more effectively. Hosting regular online meetings and being active on social groups (e.g., Facebook, Google) can be an effective way to communicate. I am sure the NITR alumni association is doing a great job and I will be happy to contribute to the best of my capacity.
MM: Have you ever felt, having missed out on the personal front? Do you have any regrets while you retrospect your life?
AJ: As I advanced in my field, I started to get into a new circle of friends and colleagues. As a result, unfortunately, I started to lose contacts with old ones. I regret that I do not get enough time to be in touch with my old school and NITR friends. We talk sometimes in between, but I wish I had more time on my hands.
MM: A man in your position would definitely look amusement at the end of a tiring day. Any hobbies that you might have taken up during your college days that you pursue even today?
AJ: I used to play chess and cricket in my NITR and school days. I am still an ardent follower of cricket and play chess once in a while. I also enjoy music.
MM: Our readers would definitely like to know what inspired you to reach the position you are at right now. Please share your words of inspirational wisdom.
AJ: Pursuing a career in academia holds dual satisfaction for me. While on one side I would be able to fulfill my own curiosity about new research topics, on the other side it would also enable me to transfer both basic and advanced knowledge in my field to younger minds.
I think the bottom line is that one should attempt to pursue the career in which they are most interested. If you are not sure what you like, take some time, try out different things (Engineering is the best time to try out), and then decide.
Adwait Jog is an alumni of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering of the batch of 2005-09. Currently an Assistant Professor at the College of William and Mary, he is starting a computer architecture research group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, for any questions as well as queries regarding the possibilities of joining his group. His previous work can be checked out here.