Chicago: One Year In

Today marks a year since I moved to Chicago to begin my PhD at the University of Chicago Computer Science Department. It’s the end of an illustrious year full of new challenges, opportunities, friends and experiences. It’s also a new beginning as the Department has just finished its move from the ~125 year old Ryerson Physical Laboratory to the new space in John Crerar Library and we officially begin to use the new building today. Since we had run out of space in Ryerson, many research groups were forced to use spaces in other buildings and that meant lack of interaction across groups. I hope this move will bring everyone in the Department together and help build that sense of community that I longed to see here (compared to my experience at Brown CS).

Since celebrating the 10 years of writing a blog, I am newly energized to write more and thought it might be a good opportunity to reflect on my first year in Chicago.

What went well

  • The uncertainty of what I will work on during my PhD is gone – I am focusing on Programming Languages and Verification for Quantum Computing. A year ago, I did not have any idea that I will be working on Quantum Computing and now I have taken a course at the University, multiple online classes, skimmed many books and have gained a general familiarity with the most important concepts in the field. It will take continuous learning to become an expert, however.
  • I wanted to study foundational Programming Languages rigorously and even though there was no class being offered at Chicago, I got to attend the Oregon PL Summer School this summer and gained that necessary background from among some of the best PL researchers in the world.
  • I finally got to learn some Machine Learning because of a core requirement in my program. If it was not forced upon me, I might have continued to avoid it for uncertain length of time. My skepticism about AI/ML hasn’t fundamentally changed, but I am better informed about the field now.
  • Through a series of fortunate events (ie, to which I did not contribute directly), I am well supported to succeed in my program. Having lived through the stress of thinking about finances all the time during my master’s, I realize how much of a relief this is. Oh, and I managed to pay off my loans by late 2017.
  • Moving to Chicago and living in a big city has been a welcome change to my otherwise non-social lifestyle. I got to enjoy many activities that happen in the city, spend quality time with new friends, and explore the city’s various neighborhoods.
  • I started a Department-wide Slack community and helped build a organized structure for PhD student representation (largely modeled on what I learned at Brown).
  • I have reduced my dependence on social media to a good extent.
  • I got to travel to Bloomington (Indiana), Los Angeles and Oregon.
  • I have recently acquired a really good and lightweight bike that I enjoy riding.
  • I acquired a new hobby of phone-cam photography: and reorganized my blog (including this new domain).

What did not go well

  • One of my wishes (not exactly a goal) was to contribute something in research within my first year. I was distracted all year long and did not work enough to accomplish that.
  • I notice a lack of disciplined work ethic that I used to have in 2016 that I wanted to use to my advantage in my PhD program. I need to bring that back in.
  • One of my goals was to learn enough cooking and meal prep so I could feed myself without depending on eating outside so much, I have mostly failed in this goal as I still tend to eat out for about one meal per day.
  • My sleep got worse since last November and I have largely not returned to a healthy sleep schedule since then. My emotional health also took a toll at various points in the year that may have contributed to issues with sleep.
  • I broke my little finger back in Jan and have not recovered fully (partially because of lack of self-discipline in keeping up with the prescribed exercises). This comes at a cost because I am undergoing another surgery next week.
  • One of the other personal goals was to have a regular exercise routine. I tried couple of times during the past year, but never kept up for more than a week or two.
  • Even though I made many friends this year, I also lost a few. Keeping good relations is something I still need to work more on.
  • At various points, I tried to get back into meditation and like exercise, did not keep up with it for long.

I will take some time this week to identify goals for the next academic year (but most likely keep them private).

Overall, I am thankful for all that Chicago and its people have given me over the past year and glad that I get to call it home for (at least) the next few years (after moving around to different cities in the past 5 years). I am really excited about the new home of CS Department and my new office and hope that this change will help bring in that productivity that I could achieve in a comfortable environment before. Onward!