I appreciate the support and help of my advisor, Dr. James. C. Browne. His vision and ability to abstract away the details has taught me how to discern the forest from the trees. Working with him, I learned the full import of what it means to ask the right questions. His questions would often send me scurrying on a search path that would clarify my confusions and would lead me to a true understanding of the problem, and hence, to the solution. But, first some interesting background. After completing my MS at Austin, I was searching for a supervisor for my PhD who can sponsor my research assistant-ship. At Austin, RA ship had to be sponsored by the supervisors from their funded projects. Some supervisors were able to obtain huge research funding while others fed upon their projects. I learned that JC was among the largest grant-getters at UT Austin, and had a huge “empire” consisting of several research labs, scores of research students and several associated faculty members.
How I ended up joining the parallel programming group of CODE and chose him as an advisor is an interesting story. Someone had told me that he offered a course in which everyone used to get an A. The last piece of information was of great interest to us who were always tempted by the short-cut. On verifying that it was the case that for the past several years every student of JC’s graduate course had always got an A, we promptly enrolled in his course. After I had joined the CODE Visual Parallel Programming Research Group, one of the group members who was a Post Doc working on the project asked me why had I taken JC as my supervisor? Didn’t I know that the research students of JC typically took at least 5 years for their PhD! But, this piece of information came too late. I had already committed and I could not wriggle out from my commitment.
I realized the hard way why they took so long. But, I am so much the better for that. He would let us be on our own for months at end without even asking us to report! Something which is unheard of for younger supervisors. During the initial period I took a lot of time going over the related literature. Read as much material I could find and tried to identify the gap on which to work on. This was at times really boring but in the end quite rewarding. I learned it the hard way that if if you want to complete your PhD early, select a supervisor who is hungry for publishing research papers and acquiring tenure track. He will sit with you, edit your work, even work on derivations with you and would some how make sure that your work gets published as soon as possible. Often I would delay going to him for months, waiting till my work was flawless.
Eventually when the pressure built up from within me and I would prepare a progress report for submitting to him, I would try my best to hide away the major problem from him in the report. Typically, the progress report would consist of tens of pages. How true. Only now I am beginning to discover what he meant then. One day I went to his office and there was no empty chair to sit on. There always used to be piles and piles of old and newly arrived issues of journals and conference proceedings. It looked as if all the journal editors and conference editors are his friends or indebted to him or have his subscription and are thus sending all their issues regularly. That day, every chair and every nook of the office seemed to have these piles of journals issues and conferences proceedings. He stood up, went to a visitor chair, lifted the pile lying on that chair, making space for me to sit, and placed the lifted pile elsewhere on the floor.