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Professor S. Arun Kumar

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Department of Computer Science Engineering, IIT Delhi
http://www.cse.iitd.ernet.in/~sak/

"They themselves are the curators of their future and the milestones they achieve are all about the compromises they make in the coming years" 

 Educational Background and why he chose teaching as his profession

I did my B. Tech in mechanical engineering from IIT Kanpur. It was during the 4th year that I discovered that things began to wobble mathematically and were taking a more "engineering" perspective. We had to solve problems by looking at some empirical charts without the support of rigorous mathematical theories. The beautiful rigour of Solid mechanics, Dynamics, Fluid mechanics and convective heat transfer etc. had to be given up and that was when I became more interested in the mathematical theory of computation and the theory of languages. One look at the offer letter from the company which was placing me in charge of pumps, centrifuges and motors made me decide that I would rather do computer science.

Having enrolled myself for M.Tech in Computer Science in IIT Bombay, I began to see greater beauty in theoretical computer science. There is a lot more to theoretical computer science than just algorithm analysis and that, is what I liked best at that time. One look at the offer letter from the company which wanted me to write code conversion programs made me decide that I would rather pursue a Ph.D. in CS.

Ph. D. TIFR (Bombay): My (unassisted) education brought me into close contact with some really beautiful semantic theories of the λ-calculus and their relationships to mathematical logics and programming languages. The Ph.D. gave me a great deal of freedom to read, study and pursue whatever I wanted. In the later years I have been involved in applying theories to areas such as program verification and model-checking.

Most of my batch-mates were of course earning salaries that were an order of magnitude greater than I had. But that did not bother me. At the tender age of 25, they were already worrying about tax-planning, how to genuflect and whether or not it would be prudent to enrol for a management course in Finance (Talk about non-core jobs!).

 

Different experiences on both sides of the classroom

Well, the student has greater freedom -- to fall asleep, to zone out, to stare at infinity etc. The Professor does not have that luxury. I would especially love to stare at infinities and wonder about the manifold possibilities that infinities present us with. Have you tried reading the book "Infinity and the Mind" by Rudy Rucker? In this book, he leads us on a journey to a limitless expanse of the universe which he calls ‘Mindscape’, where he explores infinity in all its forms.

Research areas and collaboration with students

Exactly what my home-page says -- Semantics and Verification. Any student who wishes to collaborate with me should be able to think in a mathematically rigorous way about various issues related to logic, semantics of programs, semantics of programming languages and should have a strong grasp of the concept of a rigorous proof. He should clearly understand that mathematical intuition is only one aspect of mathematics which helps one to formulate definitions, theorems and other interesting statements in a theory. The concept of a mathematical proof and the presentation of a theory is a different matter which requires rigorous logical thinking.

 

The popular story of around 300 students getting DISCO

To set the record right, it was a class of about 450 (divided into 2 sections) and about half the class (about 225) had to pay the price of attempting to indulge in questionable practices to the detriment of the other half who were being particularly honest and trying their best.

 

Increasing trend of non-core jobs

This is a social and economic matter affecting large sections of society and I think the Government should worry about it. Look at it differently; every civil servant in the country has been doing a non-core job ever since the civil services were started. What are the various graduates in History, Geography, Philosophy, and Sociology who become IAS/IRS/IPS/IFS officers actually doing with their core degrees? There is also the added matter that people in the age-group of 16-25 are perhaps the most restless and rebellious and are always looking for “various” opportunities. The wide spectrum of opportunities that is available today was not available 25 years ago.

 

The fascinating picture on his website

So, there is just a small story behind it: This was a graphics assignment on image-morphing and was written by a student back in the days when e-commerce was not invented and when "Banking and finance" had a more traditional meaning. In those days, students were focused more on interest-oriented learning. They wanted to pursue higher studies in their favourite areas of interest in computer science. Nowadays, the scenario has changed with students limiting their potential to make big bucks.

 

Words of advice for students

They just need to remember that they are here because of certain decisions made by themselves (and their families) and the results of their efforts in that direction. They themselves are the curators of their future and the milestones they achieve are all about the compromises they make in the coming years.

~Interviewed by Sanyam Gupta