Sunday, 8 September 2013

Time Flies !

Preface: Yes. Time flies ! I can't believe that its an year since I came to Edinburgh, UK, to start my PhD at The University of Edinburgh. I still remember those days of filling the applications forms. After applying to some of the top Natural Language Processing (NLP) schools in the world, and after a long wait, I got admits at CMU, Cambridge and Edinburgh. As my preference was UK, it was easy to remove the US option. I went by my supervisors' suggestion "Cambridge is great, but in our field Edinburgh is even better". My family was happy not because I was going to one of the best NLP schools in the world. But because I am going to UK so that I can complete my PhD and return to India in 3 years compared to 5 years in US (Though these are the numbers on paper, reality could be quite different). I was the first one in Ambatis to go abroad for higher studies. So, my family, several of my relatives and friends came to airport to give a grand send off.

First Month: After coming to Edinburgh, I spent first two days at Teju's (friend of mine and post-doc under my supervisor) house. I then rented another post-doc's house for a month as he was on vacation. Having friends at a new place is really handy. My friend Siva and I decided to rent a house once he reaches Edinburgh to start his PhD in October. This one month I had to get adjusted with the new place. Fortunately, I didn't have to struggle much. My supervisor is great, and office mates are very very friendly and helpful. Freshers' Week made things even simpler. I did most of the things one needs to experience in Edinburgh during that week. A few of them are walk to Aurther's Seat hill, Museums, Portobello Beach, Socials, dances (especially Ceilidh and Bhangra) etc. Siva reached Edinburgh towards the end of September, when I was almost settled. We started house hunt and realized how painful it is during Sep/Oct when the university starts. After few stints of staying in hostels for a couple of days, we finally found a house to rent. I wouldn't say its my dream house, but it is decent. 

ResearchI came to Edinburgh with tons of expectations as it is one of the best in NLP. Be it supervisor-student relation and/or guidance, quality of work, friendly and highly knowledgeable peers etc. etc., it is better than what I expected. We have weekly group meetings with my supervisor where everyone updates their status. I can reach out to anyone to clarify my doubts, and get feedback. My research is going good and I have a short paper at ACL-2013 conference which is the topmost NLP conference. One thing I really liked here is the importance that faculty and students give for publishing research papers at top conferences, in addition to doing good work. One takes every possible step for it, like abstract reviews with peers, feedback from supervisor and friends on different versions of the paper. Its a nice and vibrant research atmosphere.

Life-Style: Being in Edinburgh, I didn't have to change my life style much. I am the same vegetarian, non-alcoholic, simple person as I was a year ago. I can think of three major changes. First one is going to swimming on almost every weekday. Second one is learning Bhangra, Punjabi folk dance. I started it as a way to meet Indians, but now reached a stage of giving performances. The third major change is that I started cooking some nice (I think so :D) food. We had few house parties, where we cooked food for our friends. Major one is dinner with Bhangra friends, where I cooked for 20 people single-handedly! For a person who never cooked, that was quite an achievement. I also went to several food and drink parties at friend's houses and had very nice food. Best among them is Tanvi's mother's food, when she invited Bhangra team to her house. In addition to nice hospitality from their family, for 2 days we had awesome food. Paneer curry, puri and pav bhaji I had there was the best so far I had in Edinburgh.

In the past one year, I visited several places in UK. Some of them are Firbush, highlands, (for water sports), Stirling (conference + holiday), Glasgow (for Telugu Association of Scotland's events) London (for Bhangra dance performance). 

Last MonthsI went to India in July for 3 weeks. It was such a nice feeling to be back home. I had a great holiday. Within a week of my return from India, I had to go to Bulgaria to present my paper at ACL conference. Bulgaria was good but the conference was great ! I got nice feedback on my work, and met several NLP celebrities I wanted to meet. When I came back from Bulgaria, it was the time of Fringe, the world's largest arts festival. I went to couple of stand up comedy and other shows, and had loads of food. August ended with Mela, where we saw nice dance shows and had nice Indian food.

So far, its been great in Edinburgh. Research is good, people are friendly and there are lot of nice places to visit still. In addition to research and Bhangra, now I have to learn violin with the violin gifted by both the Sivas for my birthday !