Thursday May 20th
RLOS Week 1 Cont’d
- Okay, maybe that isn’t as catchy as “Helms-a-lee” in sailing.
- A couple awesome things happened! A company sent me a book on ML Ops! It will be really helpful for my project (since my project involves distributed systems) and I’m super grateful! One of my mentors at MSR, Cheng, got me unstuck with my first config error, and I was able to resolve my second error on my own (using information from how we solved the first error), and things worked out! My next task is to get a config I had running remotely to be triggered locally from my environment, and also to work a bit with some other scripts. So I’ll be working on that through Friday and Sunday.
- It’s really satisfying to see my jobs work, and I enjoy troubleshooting and reading the logs, interestingly. My job succeeded at 5am and I sent a celebratory message on Teams during that time. I also pushed code for my advisor around midnight, so in hindsight, maybe it looks like I don’t sleep.
- I met with my long-term mentor, Amal, and she gave me a lot to think about; in fact, we ended up spending 2 hours chatting. She is always great because she gives me this long-term vision about the PhD; what the upcoming road should look like, what I should be thinking about, how to evaluate and reassess. One of the things she mentioned that I was thinking about is a list of possible persons I would like to be a mentor for me for the next stage of my life after the PhD. I really appreciated her saying that; to make a list of people with whom you have had deep conversations, or whose papers you really enjoy, and think about whether you might want to work with them as part of the next step. Thank you so much for putting that into perspective for me.
- One of the stories Amal told me was about her interaction with a professor she really respected as a student, who is a giant in her field. She told him she really wanted to understand Category Theory to understand a problem she was working on, and he told her “don’t”. What he was saying is that she should give herself the freedom to reimagine different ways of solving a problem; to walk a different path. And that turned out to be successful for her work.
- I also stayed up to watch Timnit’s talk at ICLR, because I had heard so much about it but wasn’t able to see it in person. The very topic has been on my mind, because I’ve seen it myself. I’m happy that she has been so open in bringing to the forefront these issues of not having work seen and being erased, because it’s a real problem. So let’s talk about erasure, support and publishing.
- I often tell myself that I cannot compare myself with others (even though, by nature, I am a competitive person), because support during one’s PhD is a sliding scale. You may be a PhD student secretly depressed that your peers are churning out more papers, or at the end wondering why you didn’t get as much, and part of that might be on you, but you really don’t know about the internal issues or lack of support that plagues so many students. And those issues account for some of the disparity between what happens at the end, even though we are judged by a number, or an h-index.
- If you secretly gawk at a student who has worked with the same advisor since their Undergrad, is continuing that work in their PhD, and has a supportive advisor who only has a handful of students and a lot of time to invest in them, it’s a longer climb for that other student who has had to switch advisors a number of times, switch institutions, have their advisor dismiss them for lack of funding or some other reasons, among other things. All sorts of things can pop up if you are unlucky, and this can affect your access to support and productivity. That friction (let’s just call it what it is; “unneeded drama”) can make it more difficult to churn out one or two more papers, and is also emotionally exhausting.
- Internally, professors are humans, too, and they do choose to have more of an interest in some students more than others, and in some projects more than others, and these things play out unconsciously in the amount of support and availability they give to their students. Amal mentioned that this is called “managing your advisor”, and it’s an important life skill in general in obtaining agency, regardless of what field you are in.
- Oh, It has often been asked whether I sleep, and I promise that I do! But this morning I got about 1 hour, because I was about to head to sleep and then saw I had gotten a student award to attend IEEE S&P Oakland, and I was super stoked about that, so I ended up just staying up and continuing to work on the project. Ha. A goal of mine is to publish in that conference one day! That would be super neat and is not trivial; that’s what I’d like to call a “fierce” conference (you have to be “fierce” to get in).
- I’m super grateful that my MSR mentors are so patient with me, and it’s been enjoyable thus far. It makes me excited to continue working with them, and to work on the project in general.
- I’m excited to also meet my other mentor at my Microsoft internship, too; she and I have been conversing, and she is also lovely. I also saw quite a few Microsofties yesterday at a ZK Proofs Session I attended online, which included a job fair, which was really just a bunch of us hanging out and talking about papers. I’ve also noticed that they are really nice, and talk to you, and take the time to listen, which is nice. It’s a very supportive community.
- I’m actually going to be working on a different type of encryption that isn’t ZK, but I like the ZK community; they’re cool and very knowledgeable and just fun.
- Today I have a couple things going on; one is that our first Fireside chat with A. Tudhope, a well-known Ethereum contributor, is today, for my Gitcoin Kernel Fellowship. I’m super excited! I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with my group; there is a LOT going on in that cryptospace.
- I’m also attending a couple recruitment events, and my mentor at FAIR (the article is in French; sorry!) booked a session to meet with myself and my podmates, but that won’t be until next week, which is also the same week as my Alan Turing Institute workshop with a keynote from B. Schneier, which I’m excited about. I’ve enjoyed the other invited workshops with them so much! The invited group has always been fantastic!
- I’m also attending a Bitcoin social today, which I’ve attended in the past, and which has had good conversation, even though it’s on another continent. I don’t know how I’ll ever get used to being in person at events after this. It’s been really great to continent-hop.
So what’s next
- I’m pretty busy for the next week and a half until my internship, but a lot of it is with focused work. I’m trying to establish a common timeline for getting work done, so I can get used to getting to sleep at a certain time (Satire: Clearly, it’s working).
- I’m in a space where I’m pretty calm and I can get focused work done, and unfortunately we’re on campus in Fall (grumble grumble), so I’m going to lose a bit of access to that, but I’ve scheduled things on the same days, mostly, so hopefully that means I can have other days where I can stay home all day and get focused work done.
And what will you be doing with your Award money?
- I forgot to mention that RLOS does give you Award money for being selected, and apparently when it was possible to do in-person things, if your project was particularly good (top 3), they’d even invite you to their offices (all-expenses paid trip kind of thing)!
- So what am I going to do with mine? To be honest, probably just save it. After all, for me, money is freedom and I love hodl-ing and investing; I’ve been doing that for more than a decade. I plan on contributing to my retirement accounts, as I’ll be fortunate enough to be able to do that this year. Hooray for compound interest!
- Thank you so much for supporting me!
And that’s It
Written on May 20, 2021