Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just when you need it..

Have you come across situation when there is something going on in your mind, you are trying to find answers or at least bring yourself to peace by arguing in your own head rather than speaking and discussing with someone else? I do run into such situations occasionally. And today, as I was struggling with my thoughts, this is what I came across.

Image Credits: Robin Sharma (Author)

Reading this, I felt as if I found a solution (Just when I needed it!). Probably not the answer though. But also acknowledging the fact, that in life, it is not always possible to get answers to all our questions. So, in such situations, even getting a solution that pulls you out of the what-why spiral helps.

Any comments, thoughts? 

- Dippy

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Building your professional connections #ghc14

Session: Building your Professional Network
Speakers: Elizabeth Bautista (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
                 Raquell Holmes (Boston University)
Venue: Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2014 GHC 2014

This session offered some ideas on how to present and introduce yourself in a professional setting, making connections and then staying connected. 

1. Drafting our elevator speech: Drafting an elevator speech is in a way challenging. We not only need to introduce ourselves to someone we are meeting for the first time but also make a positive impression. We talk about where we are from (institution), what's are our research/job interests, what brings us to the conference etc. The speakers presented a useful tip that can help us make the content of our speech better. Think about what you would like to know about the other person and then inculcate that into your introduction. 
      The presenters engaged the audience in 3-4 minute group activity where every person had to introduce herself to four other people. Speakers asked everyone to think about four words/adjectives that they would like to hear about themselves. I thought highlighting this point was important since many of us missed mentioning about them in our introduction. Traits such as self-motivated, reliable, team-player etc. 

2. How to approach someone you do not know: Now, this gets tricky at times. How do you walk up to someone you want to talk to and believe that he/she can offer some advice/perspective but do not know much about them. How to break the ice? One of the ideas speakers presented is - to ask them about their experience on some of the decision paths they feel they might have come across. Or if you are struggling with a specific issue, you can seek their opinion on what's their take on it. 

3. Staying connected: Now, making connections is one thing but staying connected afterwards is equally important. The speakers provided a new perspective on how we should look at the idea of maintaining connections. Instead of looking at the people in your network as someone who can provide let's say recommendation letters etc, we can also think about reaching out to invite them for a talk, collaboration or even seeking feedback. 

GHC 14 - "Building your professional network"

I hope you find this information helpful! Thanks,

- Dippy

Thursday, October 9, 2014

GHC 14 - Building your professional persona presentations #ghc14

Originally Posted On: Dippy Aggarwal's blog ~My Ramblings

This session titled "Building your Professional Persona", presented by 
Patty Lopez (Intel) and Jaime Teevan (Microsoft Research) presented do's and don'ts on how to build and project your professional image online. The first thought that strikes my mind when I think about maintaining a professional image, is to have a good online presence in terms of blog or website and social networking sites such as facebook or twitter etc. The session not only addressed that concern but also highlighted how conducting and disseminating the results of one's research are equally  or even more instrumental in in developing one's desired professional persona. 

While maintaining an updated professional profile on LinkedIn or personal website is critical in reflecting one's profile, but in order to do so, one first needs to of course build credentials that can be added to the profile. This is where the factor of doing good quality work comes in. Jamie presented several examples of things we need to keep in mind while conducting and publishing research.

1. Paper submission quality - If you are debating on whether to submit a paper to a conference/journal, think about this - consider your paper submission as a reflection of you and then try to answer the question again.

2. Illustrating the research idea with an example - This is really critical in conveying the contributions in a clear manner. 

3 Conducting literature review - Think of it as how you connect to it as opposed to how all that is wrong. Coming across a paper where the authors have done work similar to what you are planning to pursue is not always disappointing.  As long as you can convey and highlight the novel in your work or how you build upon the existing work to create something new, it is in fact an encouraging sign. Having work similar to what you are doing validates your idea and shows that your idea is of interest in the community.

4. Keywords selection - Jamie emphasized on not to over-generalize the keywords in the paper. The reason for that being, the reviewers are assigned papers based on keywords and/or abstract. So, having very broad terms in the keywords might lead to your paper reaching into the hands of someone who is not very deep into your research. This further means that it will be become harder to comprehend the paper by the reviewer, leading to rejections.

5. Apart from ideas on how to conduct and publish your research, the speakers emphasized that it is important to make sure that when someone tries to reach out to you for an open position in his/her organization, then it should be based primarily on your competency and credentials.

So, these were some of the points that were addressed in this talk. Feel free to share your thoughts.

- Dippy

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GHC14 - Finding your Dream Job Presentations #ghc14

Hi All,

So, here I am in Phoenix, Arizona attending Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing Conference 2014. For those of you who are not aware of this meet, GHC is the world's largest gathering of women in the computing field. 

Last year in 2013, the conference hosted 4750 attendees. But this year, the head count has gone up to 8000 women! Isn't that huge? All of sudden, I do not feel being a minority as the national statistics of women in computing speaks about. According to a statistics released by a national bureau, the percentage of women in computing nationwide in US is only 15%. And that is where conferences such as Grace Hopper comes in.

I volunteered for covering three sessions today and this is a post on the first one I attended - Finding your Dream Job Presentations. I really came out much more aware of how things work. Found it very informative.

Presenters: Jaeyeon Jung (Microsoft Research)
                    Lana Yarosh (University of Minnesota)

This session was catered to the graduate students who are about to finish their graduate studies and are on their way for looking for job opportunities, either in academia or industry. The session provided some practical advice on how to decide which track to opt for - academia or industry, how to navigate the interview landscape in each of the two sectors. Do they share some commonalities? And overall things to keep in mind during the application process. 

Very briefly, introducing the speakers - Jaeyeon Jung did her PhD from MIT 
 Lana Yarosh (left) and Jaeyeon Jung
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology), worked at Intel Labs before switching to her current position with Microsoft Research Labs in Seattle. Lana Yarosh recently started her academic career as a faculty position at the University of Minnesota in this Fall itself. But she also possess industry experience working at AT&T for about two years before taking up faculty position. 

Here's the highlights of the talk:

1. How to decide which sector who should go to? - Having a doctorate degree opens doors for being qualified to apply to both academia and industry. So, how to decide which one would be best of the two. The answer lies in understanding the fact that different jobs bring different values to the table.So, it becomes a question of individual's priorities. If it's salary primarily, then possibly industry is a better choice than academia.If it's teaching or community outreach, writing, mentoring etc., then you seem to be a better fit for a faculty position.

2. Identifying opportunities - Once you have figured out which way you want to go, the next step possibly is to determine what opportunities are available out there for applying.There are a number of things you can do in this context:

  •  Get on people's radar - network with people in the field. Let them know that you will be on the job market in one year. If you are ready to apply, reaching out to them and asking if there are any opportunities  that they are aware of and help you with. LinkedIn is another great resource to get in contact with people. This networking model is highly recommendable if you are interested in industry research labs because they do not support specialized portals/associations such as SIGCSE, ACM etc. to list the open positions as they exist for listing open academic positions.
  • Serving as a student representative on the search committee is a great way to get an idea of what the applications look like, what was there on a particular applicant's profile that made him/her get the offer. 
3. Manage and documenting the application process - When you are applying to several positions, it is hard to keep track of the status, any pending materials (such as, recommendation letter from someone) or the response received (if any). So, in order to stay on the top of all this, maintaining a simple Excel sheet really comes handy.

4. Rock in interviews - In order to avoid the awkward silence when a question is posed to you and you just do not have an answer, it is good to be as much prepared as possible. Now it is understandable that we can not anticipate every potential question that you may across during your interview, but at least doing your best in preparing for some commonly asked questions is helpful. For the same question, try to get answers from  different people. That will gain multiple perspectives on the question in hand. 

5. Negotiating - Both the speakers laid great emphasis on the importance of negotiating once an offer is made and they believe that start up packages are easy to negotiate than getting salary promotions later. There is a lot of wriggle room (bonus, stocks etc. ) in the industry positions. One important point I found interesting was understanding that it is not always the direct financial negotiation you should try for, but instead also look at factors like - having a reduced teaching load, getting funds for equipping the lab etc. 

These were some of the points that were covered in the session. The speakers were really knowledgeable and more than willing to answer questions. Glad that I could attend it!

This post was syndicated from My Ramblings.....!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Big Data Revolution

Heard of this term Big Data? 

This is a term that surfaced few years ago but has been well-embraced and adopted by researchers and organizations all around the world. The rapid adoption of smartphones, billions of posts made on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, tracking of anything and everything we do online, from purchasing a book online to visiting someone's profile on Facebook, all of it is adding to the "digital tsunami" [1] known as Big Data. Technically, it is used to describe data that is not only voluminous but also comes in all different formats (as an instance - no specific format on the posts you make on Facebook or consider the raw data coming from sensors) and at high speed (sensors monitoring a room temperature every second or so). 

One can certainly see how this deluge of information is benefiting our quality of lives. We can track the status and progress of any flight on the click of a button,  observe the traffic patterns to identify the fastest route to the destination, determine weather ahead of time for planning our trips. With the e-commerce websites,with every purchase or even browsing their catalog provides you with recommendations. The advent of websites such as Coursera has enabled open access to education worldwide. Algorithms have been developed that can mine this plethora of information and draw conclusions before a human mind can even detect patterns or hidden information in the data. We can keep going on with this list and it is all great. With so much data out there, we are literally drowned in an ocean of information these days. 

But the question that we then need to ask ourselves is: Are we paying a cost for having all this more information at our fingertips? What are we losing or trading-off and what can we do about it?

As the author of the article titled, The second age of reason [1] from Time magazine quotes, "Our brainspace seems to be invaded by cyberspace". We tend to interact more with people whom we possibly just met once but connected through facebook than with real friends. Our work, play, rest all include connecting to internet. With so many websites offering advice, be it medical advice or immigration or any other issue for that matter, while they can help you in figuring out answers to your questions, the amount of information out there and the worst-case scenarios they bring to your attention, can also create even more confusion, creating mountain out of a molehill. Kids these days start tapping on iPad or iPhones much before they start going to school and parents feel proud to call that as smart. 

Furthermore, similar to the era when computers arrived and started gaining adoption in more and more industries, the technology created a stir among the middle-class sector. With the fast computing power, they also led to loss of jobs that were earlier done manually. Thinking on similar lines, who would need travel agents when websites such as Kayak or Priceline are out there. 

I agree with the author when he remarks that all this new information is valuable and needed. But I also think that we need to acknowledge the benefits of some of the older way of doing things. Instilling the skill of reading maps rather than blindly depending on apps? Lets not favor shortcuts and an easy way out in all cases. In my opinion, a better strategy would be to pause and reflect. Before picking Big Data and technological solutions for every situation we encounter, lets just pause for a minute and think about what and how we would have seen the same situation without the tools we have in hand today. 

Just as a revolution always creates "collateral damage" [1], the Big Data paradigm also possesses its pros and cons. What matters is how we put it into use.

The floor is yours now. Feel free to share your thoughts. 

- Dippy

[1] Michael Grunwald, "The Second Age of Reason", Time Magazine, September 8/Sept. 15, 2014.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Phone adventure

I recently lost my iPhone.  After 5 days and 9 hours of solo driving without phone, "I found it"!

I was driving to meet my family and thought I had lost it at a service plaza. So, when I reached my uncle's place, he traced the plaza's number and called them.  To my surprise, a pleasant one, they said, they have it and I can pick it on my way back. They asked me few identification questions to see if its my phone. I was like, great! But then I realized that I will be going on the other side of highway on my way back. On most highways here in US, you may have to drive 20-40 miles before you find an exit. So, as the next thing, I figured out the route. Luckily it wasn't that bad. Then, finally on my way back, I stopped there. Only to find out that the phone they had was not my phone! I was so disappointed. I mean, I was literally waiting and was positive that I will get it now.

My next worry was that I still had 330 miles to get to my place ~= 6 hours more to go. And what if, I need some help. I had roadside assistance membership but then how would I call them, in case I need to. Usually, we can get phones at gas stations but on turnpike (highway) there were gas stations only on service plazas and they do not sell phones. So, there I was. Just started driving again. As much as I was trying to put the thought away that I do not have phone, it's lost, it wasn't leaving my mind. But I did get over it I guess to some extent. About 5 miles from my home, I heard the phone ringing. And I just went like - Woo hoo! It's somewhere here in the car :-) I could not even wait to reach home. I pulled my car to next stop, which was university. There was a student passing by. I asked him if he can give me a ring. And there it was - my phone! It was under a mat under the driver's seat. God knows how it got there.

I saw so many missed calls. But it never rang when I was driving my car during my stay at my uncle's place. What was even more intriguing was to see that its battery didn't die!

With all this adventure, I did realize one good thing. I was so relaxed for the fours days I did not had to carry the phone. No more checking for any missed calls or messages during the day. Not feeling obliged or in general answerable to respond to any general messages. I mean, I was just living my day the way I wish. These days we feel we can not survive without a phone. We talk about all the reasons for why having a phone and that too, a cell phone is so important.  What-if you are in a problem and you need to contact someone, what-if your family/friend needs you. How would they reach you and so on.

Only having a land-line number also does not suffice. We have started looking at phone as a necessity instead of luxury, as it used to be years ago. With this experience, I realized that I can live without having it by my side all the time. Not to say that it has no use at all. But we need to draw a line somewhere.

The only thing that was making me uncomfortable was knowing that I have lost it. Not having something by choice vs. losing are two different things. Right? :)

This phone hunt really drove me crazy. But all's well that ends well, I guess!

Below is a picture I clicked on my way before I supposedly lost it. 



- Dippy

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why should we pray

Not all our prayers get answered. Right? Sounds pretty obvious.

Well, the quote below made me re-think. I enjoy spending few minutes on articles related to personal development and life in general. I read them almost every other day, if not everyday. Here is one of the many that I came across today.

If you ask for something in your prayer and you get it, surely, your prayer has been answered. But think about those times when that does not happen . We get dissappointed and a series of "Why-What-How-Where" flood our mind. We get entangled in questions of - Why did this not happen? Where did things go wrong and so on. 

The lines in the quote above sums it all. Seems like we need to change our idea behind praying to get answers, both when - we get we asked for in our prayer and also when we did not

- Dippy

Friday, May 23, 2014

Own your decisions

I have been a vegetarian all my life so far and plan to stick to it strongly in the future as well. 

Everyone in my family in India is vegetarian. So, the idea of trying non-vegetarian food did not occur as such. But as I grew up and especially after coming to US, things did get tricky at times. My extended family is here and they all eat non-vegetarian food pretty often. I do not even take egg (Not that I am a vegan. I do take milk products). However, I have still managed to stay by what I wanted to be - a veggie. 

The decision to strongly stick to vegetarian diet came with religious beliefs. But recently in last few months or years things have changed. My reasons for not having non-vegetarian food is not limited to spiritual concerns now. I feel, it has become more of a personal choice, my own decision.

I realized over time, that somewhere I have to be happy and confident with my decision rather than just being a follower of a religious belief or ritual. I have to truly believe in it to be able to follow it for the rest of my life. If I adhere to a vegetaian diet only because God (supposedly) says that or our religion advocates that, then I will start feeling suffocated. I would feel like breaking the rule. I will have arguments. 

In hindsight, I believe there are two things particularly that gave me strength to stick to this decision of staying vegetarian:

1. The fact that I feel that it is MY decision makes it very easy to follow it. Think about it - whenever in life we do something out of our own free will, even if it goes wrong, we are not as upset as we will be, if we did it because so-and-so person asked for it. Also, we would try our best to make things work in the first shot. 
          When we do things because lets say, your family wanted that whereas it was not of your interest (as an example, think of parents expecting their child to do for engineering but he/she wants to pursue another field), then the moment something goes off the track, not only we will feel frustrated but we will jump onto the blame cart. We will start regretting and blaming the other person. In some cases, we may not even put in as much effort to bring things back on track because subconsciously we are not decicated to them. I have started following this principle in my life from last few months, which is:
                                             Taking 100% responsibility of my actions. 

If I say that I am doing this for lets say my family, then also it is a choice that I made. I could have went against their wish. I might say that I do not want to hurt them. But then, that makes it MY decision. In that situation, I should myself - Yes, I am taking this step only because of my family. But it is not only to make them happy but also it will give me happiness/contentment in some way. So, this is a decision I have made. 

2. I just do not feel the need. It comes back to compassion for animals. With respect to the religion aspect, I would just say that my conscience does not allow me to change in this regard. Now, please know that this is just my personal opinion. With absolutely no offense to anyone who enjoys a non-vegetarian diet.

In some decisions in our lives, where we can hear our conscience very clearly, I think we should stick by it rather than conforming to someone's else expectations and likes or dislikes. I discussed this topic of vegetarian/non-vegetarian diet more as an example to convey this thought. 

Stand up for what you truly believe in and do introspect once in a while to understand and listen to yourself. We are usually so caught up in the cacophony of the world around us that it becomes hard to even know what we really want.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, April 28, 2014

When you forget something..

I often remember birthdays or any other day linked with something or someone that is important to me. Is it just because I have a good memory? Have you realized how you do not forget to call someone even when you are in the thick of something really important. While there are also those times when you forget wishing a friend on birthday even after receiving multiple reminders on your phone. I wrote a few lines.

I remember this day,
neither because it is on my calender,
nor that I have a good memory.
But just for a simple reason, 
that you are important to me.

What makes me remember some days and not all, 
What makes me remember them sometimes and not always,
Is it just that it slips from my mind occasionally that I forget, 
I find many people giving out this reason though,
But I feel there's more to it.

It is not just the brain cells that makes us remember or forget,
but our feelings that are tied to a day or a person.
When I remember a day that is important to you,
It is not just the wishes that go with it,
but a silent message that says - I care for what matters to you.

All these memories may not be carrying positive energy,
Some may be reminders of sad times, 
But the fact that remains unchanged is,
This day was/is important to me because of you.

Next time when we forget a day,
Let's not say that we just forgot,
The fact is, 
It was simply not a part of our priorities....

- Dippy

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Give Me a Break!

A story is told of a man who goes out to church and prays, "God, I need a break. I need to win the state lottery. I'm counting on you, God." Having not won the lottery, the man returns to church a week later and once again prays, "God, about that state lottery....I've been kind to my wife. I've given up drinking. I've been really good. Give me a break. let me win the lottery."

A week later, still no richer, he returns to pray once again. "God, I don't seem to be getting through to you on this state lottery thing. I've been using positive self-talk, saying affirmations, and visualizing the money. Give me a break, God. Let me win the lottery."

Suddenly the heavens open up, white light and heavenly music flood into the church, and a deep voice says, "My son, give me a break! Buy a lottery ticket!"

So, the point was to convey the spirit of "taking action". Nothing will happen until we take action. There are several nice quotes in this book. below is one of them.

Things may come to those who wait,
but only the things left by those who hustle. - Abraham Lincoln 

P.S. The story above is from a book by Jack Canfield. The title is "How to Get from Where You are to Where You Want to Be"

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I no longer pray per say but..

Waking up in the morning as I greet my day,
I no longer pray asking HIM if HE can turn it my way.

I get onto my knees not with the hope that,
my day will turn any different or better to say, If I pray..
For I know that HE has already planned my day.

I fold my hands more in gratitude and,
to acknowledge the unfathomable power of nature and the divine.
With the theory of karma being mysterious to me,
but hearing all the time that it is working in the background,
I sometimes give up in fighting over my thoughts on,
how things "should have" turned out,
as opposed to how HE has made them happen. 

This is not to say that I am ungrateful for waking up to another sunrise,
Or that I am by any means disappointed seeing not much control over destiny,
But a mere understanding and acceptance that there are few things beyond my control.
With every event that is happening,
Is it a blessing in disguise for I might not know what is best for me,
given my limited human vision.
Or just a rough patch that will make me emerge stronger and turn better?

Though there's one thing that I can vouch for -,
Everything has its own time,
A time that it is destined to happen,
As the day unfolds, I should just let it flow.
As long as I feel happy and contend with the way my day went,
If I see that I did whatever I could do to the best of my ability,
If I I did not let myself run down on my self-esteem,
It was a successful day.

Provided that I was honest with myself,
For anything that did not go as I wished for,
I just need to keep my mind and heart open,
I will get the answers at the right time.

There is usually something better in store for us than we think,
Or if that is not how it seems like or turns out even in the longer run,
then it has to be one of the following two cases -
either it made us tread in a direction that we would not have explored otherwise,
and emerge stronger, or
It's still not the end..?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My takeaways from Obama's speech today

I heard the live telecast of Obama addressing State of the Union today. I do not take much interest in knowing about politics. So, I will refrain from critiquing on the political substance of his speech. I am only blogging on the takeaways that I had from his speech. 

I always find his speeches very compelling. And today's speech was no exception. It was aspirational, touched upon various issues that America is facing today - jobs, health care, terrorism, education to mention a few. Speeches have a hard time in making an impact on the people but in my opinion Obama is a great orator and his speeches carry a sense of optimism and an honest assurance that his administration will try their best to solve the problems their countryis facing today. I liked the parts in his speech where he talks about recognizing and creating opportunities on what America can do together, on creating a better life for his countrymen and the world. His speech reflects the idea that America wants to lead by example and not by power. He describes America as a country where each individual is free to live his/her life by their own will but stand united as one nation - The United States of America. That was impressive.

The sustained applause with standing ovation that lasted for over one minute for Cory Remsburg remains to be the most emotional moment of the speech (Link to Obama honoring Cory Remsburg). Anyone who watched Obama's speech (or if you watch it online now) I am sure you will share the same feeling and admiration for this war hero. In fact the complete military force is commendable for that matter.

One of the beauties of this country I have realized staying here for few years now is - their appreciation and acknowledgment for hard work and the importance that they give to human life. 

Lastly, I found his words - "Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy" very inspiring. 

Signing off on that note. Thank you for caring enough to read my blog post!