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WHERE?

AREA OF WORK

MY RESEARCH AREA RELATES TO USING PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES AND FORMAL METHODS TO HELP PROGRAMMERS AND DESIGNERS DEVELOP RELIABLE, SAFE, AND CORRECT SYSTEMS. IN PARTICULAR, I HAVE BEEN WORKING HEAVILY ON PROGRAM SYNTHESIS. HOWEVER, I’M INTERESTED IN ALL DOMAINS OF FORMAL METHODS AND RIGOUROUS SYSTEM ENGINEERING.

AT IST AUSTRIA

Arjun Radhakrishna joined IST Austria in 2009 as a PhD student in Thomas A. Henzinger’s group. His doctoral thesis on “Quantitative Specifications for Verification and Synthesis” won the ACM SIGBED Paul Caspi Memorial Dissertation Award. Currently, Arjun is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. We interviewed Arjun about his experience as a PhD student and about his transition to postdoctoral researcher.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN COMPUTER SCIENCE?

I first became interested in computer science in high school when I learnt about programming. This was about 15 years ago, so the interest has always been there and has stayed with me.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO DO A PHD IN COMPUTER SCIENCE?

I did my PhD right after my bachelor’s. After my bachelor’s I still felt that there were more things to learn than I already knew. I had the opportunity, so I decided to take it.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR PHD AT IST?

That was mainly because of Tom [Henzinger]. I did an internship with him when he was still at EPFL. I really liked the work I did during the internship and asked if I could work with him. He replied that he was moving to IST Austria so I decided to join him there.

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE DOING A PHD WITH TOM HENZINGER?

It was really nice. We had a very pleasant group of people to work with. Something you come to appreciate is that the group you work with is just as important as the advice you get on your work. Tom is really good—there is no question about that. That is by the way another great thing about IST Austria, that the faculty is really good. We had advice available for whatever project we were working on.

WHAT WAS YOUR EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE LIKE DOING YOUR PHD RESEARCH?

We met about once a week on average. Meeting Tom once a week was really a privilege. Within a few minutes, he could understand exactly what I had been doing the previous week and could give me thoughts and advice that would guide me for the next week. He has this skill that many good researchers have of asking exactly the right questions that makes you think about the problem in the right way.

I also did a lot of work together with postdocs and we had a lot of fruitful collaboration together.

WHAT ACTIVITIES DID YOU DO OUTSIDE OF RESEARCH?

Paint, and I read a lot. Reading was my main hobby. My new year’s resolution every year while I was a PhD student was to read one novel a week. [Laughs]  I never quite achieved that, but I read a lot. Two of my favorite authors are Milan Kundera and Terry Pratchett.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOU GAINED FROM YOUR PHD EXPERIENCE AT IST AUSTRIA?

As a graduate student you’re mainly working on your research. But at IST Austria you also develop a way of thinking, which is much broader than what you get at a regular computer science or engineering department.

The great thing about being at IST Austria is that you get to meet people from a wide range of subject areas, such as computer science, life sciences, and mathematics. This broadens your mind.

WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE WORKING AT UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA?

At UPenn, I am at the school of engineering and applied science. I get to meet a lot of people who are doing cool engineering, and I didn’t have that chance before. That’s something different. There are also more students at UPenn than at IST Austria and this also gives me more opportunities to teach.

YOU WON THE ACM SIGBED PAUL CASPI MEMORIAL DISSERTATION AWARD, WHICH IS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT. DID YOU EVER ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIES IN THE PROJECT OR WAS IT SMOOTH SAILING?

It’s definitely not smooth sailing. You struggle a bit, you have your ups and downs. But that’s what the PhD is about. You stay with it, and you persevere.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR PROSPECTIVE PHD STUDENTS?

It’s really hard to give advice. Every student is different and every advisor is different. But I would say, perhaps try not to stick to just one problem but work on a few different problems. And as I suggested before, for a PhD student, much more important than any other quality is perseverance.