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Short informal bio of mine

The under undergrad years

My name is Gil Cohen. I was born on Dec 3rd 1982 (yep, just turned 40...) and spent my childhood at Kyriat Shmona, a small town located a few kilometers away from the Northern Israeli' border with Lebanon. When I was young (11-ish) I loved programming and dreamt at becoming either a game designer or a hacker when I grow up. I taught myself Pascal from a nice book, then Assembly from Peter Norton's fantastic book, and was also fascinated by the elegance of Object Oriented Programming. My main hobby at the time was to code viruses, a task that was much easier back then. Ironically(?), I learned the basics from Norton's book.

 

My love for mathematics grew stronger only during the high school years (of course, completely unrelated to the math taught at high school). My first encounter with (by my standards back then) higher mathematics was my attempt at writing a 3D engine. This involved some amount of linear algebra, which I found fascinating. I still do. I attended the International Science Summer Institute (ISSI 2000) at Weizmann which was a month long stay at The Weizmann Institute together with about 40 young science enthusiasts from around the world, dipping toes in research and learning about neat current math and science discoveries. This was a lovely experience. Years later, as a PhD student at Weizmann, I tutored at ISSI, which was a nice closure. 

During the high school years, I founded a website, and a community around it, for flash developers called FlashOO (see the pictures below from one of our gatherings; Interestingly, I still have this shirt...). Ancient history by now, but it was my first and only experience at founding something, and it felt great.

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Undergrad at the Technion

In 2004 I enrolled at the Technion's Computer Science program but after one semester I've decided to switch to the "double track" program with Math. Best decision I ever made. I keep telling my students - learn as much math as you can (see this and that for courses that I gave, years later at Tel Aviv University, manifesting my belief that deep mathematics can be extremely valuable to theoretical computer science and, more importantly, to the theoretical scientist herself). I obtained my BA in CS and BA in Math in 2008.

Taking part of the computer science excellence program, I TA-ed already as an undergrad both undergrad as well as graduate-level courses. The highlight for me was that the recitations I gave (and developed) for the introductory course to algorithms at the Technion were recorded. These are still viewed by students today. For me, this is exciting as I enjoyed watching so many great recorded lectures and recitations as a student at the Technion myself, and so it feels like being a part of something big and eternal-ish.

At the final year of my undergraduate studies I also worked at Google Haifa. Google was new, fun, and exciting at the time (and it was the first time in my life in which I actually had money) but working at Google mostly strengthened my understanding that I want to do nothing but research. I also tried my luck at competitive programming as an undergrad. Two of the photos below were taken in Romania where our team lost miserably. After our failure, the Technion has decided to allocate significant budget and human resources to these competitions, and not long after, teams from the Technion did extremely well. So all in all we did some good. Towards my graduation, I married Orit (see photo below) and we're happily married ever since.

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Master at the Technion

During my undergraduate studies I had the good fortune to get to know Amir Shpilka (now at Tel Aviv University). I took a guided reading under Amir on additive combinatorics and another one on pseudorandomness as an undergrad and was thrilled to learn so much from Amir. Starting 2008, I did my M.Sc. under Amir's wonderful guidance. Together with my fellow advisee, Avishay Tal (now a faculty at Berkeley), we strengthened and generalized my thesis, obtaining our first joint paper - my first publication(!) on which I gave an informal talk at Princeton (see photo below). During these years, my son Yahli was born and immediately showed interest in computation and self reference. Nowadays, as a 13 years old, he is into Physics but he is my son and I will always love him :)

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PhD at Weizmann

After 6 years at the Technion, I've decided to switch scenes. I was extremely fortunate to be advised by Ran Raz (now at Princeton). I spent 2010-15 at the Weizmann Institute of Science which was a great experience with a terrific research atmosphere generated by theoretical giants such as Ran Raz, Oded Goldreich, Shafi Goldwasser, Irit Dinur, Moni Naor, and Adi Shamir among others. Some of my fellow students back then are by now faculty at top universities, including Gillat Kol (Princeton), Avishay Tal (Berkeley), Ron Rothblum (Technion), Igor Shinkar (Simon Fraser), Tom Gur, (Warwick) Eylon Yogev (Bar Ilan), Ilan Komargodski (Hebrew University), and Merav Parter (Weizmann). You can see my Ph.D. thesis as well as my happiest research moment, in which I resolved the final issue with my Ramsey graph construction after I almost lost hope, sitting at a nice cafe from whom I borrowed the paper as I came with no hope nor a piece of paper.

My research at Weizmann was quite diverse. I gave matrix rigidity a shot, joint with Noga Alon (now at Princeton, then at Tel Aviv University). With my fellow student Ron Rothblum and coauthors, we also had a nice paper on secure multiparty computation, a surprising combinatorial result with my fellow student Igor Shinkar and with the wonderful Itai Benjamini, and a little bit of circuit lower bounds with Igor. Avishay and I continued to write about our joint interest - polynomials. My first paper at my PhD was about non-malleable extractors, a topic that will be a big part of my postdoc. My first solo paper was on randomness extractors and followed was my paper about Ramsey graphs. There are some other works such as this one on the coin problem, one on bit fixing extractors, and a PRG for low degree polynomials based on algebraic geometric codes.

At Weizmann there are no undergraduate students and I missed teaching. Thus, as a student at Weizmann I gave three courses. This was quite unusual but I didn't care and my fellow students were kind enough and played along. This was a great experience. One course was on pseudorandomness and derandomization, another on computational complexity pivoted at  Ryan Williams' celebrated (and, at the time, new) result, and a third on algebraic geometric codes (later I gave a more matured version of this course at Tel Aviv University).

At the same month I graduated from Weizmann, my sweet daughter Meshi was born, right in the midst of preparing towards our relocation to Pasadena.

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Postdoc at Caltech

I did my first postdoc during 2015-16 at Caltech, where I was hosted by Leonard Schulman with whom I had the honor of working on tree codes (and also on randomness extractors). Tree codes have sense became a passion of mine as well. I was also hosted by Thomas Vidick (now at Weizmann). Unfortunately, though, despite our joyful meetings and the insights Thomas shared with me, my quantum is still at an embarrassing level.

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Postdoc at Princeton

I did my second postdoc during 2016-18 at Princeton University, hosted by Mark Braverman where, together with Sumegha Garg (Mark's student at the time) we worked on space-bounded derandomization. I also co-lectured, with Mark, the course Reasoning About Computation. Princeton University, and the nearby IAS, was a great place to grow at. I made the conscious decision of stop, almost entirely, working on extractors and expand my interests. As part of that process, I used the opportunity, and sat at (too) many courses given by Princeton's fantastic math department.

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Joining Tel Aviv University

I applied for faculty positions while being at Princeton - a stressful period - but was excited to get several offers and eventually chose to join, in 2018, Tel Aviv University which has a strong theory group, and CS department in general, with many great faculty and students. This is an ongoing chapter in my story, so TBD.

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