One more PhD from the lab! Jitesh Jhawar defends his PhD thesis investigating Collective behaviour in schooling fish

Congratulations to Jitesh Jhawar, the newly minted PhD from our lab!!!! He defended his thesis in December 2019.

Jitesh defended his thesis titled “Intrinsic noise in collective dynamics” – where he theoretically and empirically investigated how stochasticity plays a very counter-intuitive role and creates order!

The thesis was reviewed by Prof Martin Evans (Dept of Physics, Edinburgh, UK) and Prof Malay Banerjee (Dept of Math, IIT Kanpur)! We thank them for their very constructive comments and their valuable time.

As you can see, although this work is from CES and we look at fish schools, it was reviewed by physicists/mathematicians! This is because there are lots of links between physics and schooling fish.

You can read the synopsis of his thesis here.

Here are three papers arising out his thesis (and two more are expected):

1) Jitesh Jhawar, Richard G. Morris, U. R. Amith-Kumar, M. Danny Raj, Harikrishnan R., Vishwesha Guttal, Noise-Induced Schooling of Fish, arXiv:1903.12132

2) Jitesh Jhawar and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Noise-induced Effects in Collective Dynamics and Inferring Local Interactions from Data,

3) Jitesh Jhawar, Richard Morris, and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Deriving mesoscopic models of collective behaviour for finite populations, In Handbook of Statistics Vol 40: Integrated Population Biology and Modeling  (edited by Arni Srini Rao and C R Rao), Part B, 551-594. DOI:;  Pre-print from Arxiv;  Codes and data on GitHub.  Download PDF

Jitesh is continuing as a short-term post-doctoral fellow in the lab. He will soon join Max Planck Institute for Collective Behaviour in Konstanz for his postdoctoral work on honey bees and collective cell migration.




Sabiha Majumder – a former PhD from the lab – joins banking/finance sector

Hearty congratulations to Dr. Sabiha Majumder who is all set to join ING in Amsterdam on a new exciting career path of banking/finance.

Sabiha got a PhD from the Physics department of IISc in 2017/18, working jointly with me and Sriram Ramaswamy. Her thesis applied ideas from nonequilibrium statistical physics and stochastic systems to analyse risks of ecological collapse. She published a number of excellent papers on this topic, in prestigious ecology journals. After her PhD, she joined ETH-Zurich for a postdoc, where she continued for two years.

In her new job, Sabiha will be employing her interdisciplinary skills as a Risk analyst in the banking/finance sector!

This shows how skills learnt in PhD are highly transferable. One need not continue in the traditional academic set up after PhD — something that a lot of PhD aspirants are unaware of. There are a large number of opportunities outside the academic set up where skills of PhD are going to be extraordinarily useful.


No summer internships in 2020

I receive a very large number of applications for summer internships from all over India (and occasionally one or two from abroad). I usually take 2-4 students every year.

Unfortunately, this year (2020), I have decided not to take any summer interns due to a rather hectic schedule I have in summer.

I had informed many students to contact me in early February to know about my decision on interns this year. If you see this message, I know this will be disappointing, but I hope we will find ways to work together later. I wish you all the best in finding alternative internships.

Akanksha conducts a workshop on image processing for ecologists at SCCS-Bengaluru

Akanksha Rathore, a final year PhD student in our lab, conducted a workshop on the timely topic of using image processing in ecological studies (formally titled “Image processing for animal census and movement studies”; my name is listed as organiser but quite shamelessly I wasn’t even present on the day of workshop). She was ably assisted by Preethi (a former project assistant of our lab and current PhD student of my colleague Kavita Isvaran) and Arun (system admin of our lab).

This was a day-long workshop and covered the basics of the topic.  Here is a brief description of the same.

Camera traps, aerial imagery vehicles and top-mounted cameras are becoming popular modes of data collection in wildlife and ecological studies. Videos and images captured using these approaches aid in the studies of space-use patterns, animal movement, and animal census. This mode of observation can help us gather Spatio-temporal data at unprecedented detail and thus aid in answering a novel set of questions that were previously difficult to address. However, when collected data is huge it becomes difficult to manually extract useful information from the videos/images. For eg, identifying animals in the images captured from camera traps, locations of individual animals within a group, fine-scale movement trajectory of an animal or even identifying a particular type of flower or vegetation from the images. These tasks can be automated up to some extent using techniques from Computer Vision field. In this workshop, we will be covering case-scenario for which video or image-based data collection can be useful and then some basic concepts from computer vision field which can be used to extract meaningful information from the images. we will also cover the concepts of some of the available software for animal detection and how to choose the software for a particular type of data.

Here are some pictures from the workshop!

The workshop was partially supported by a UGC-UKIERI grant on collective behaviour of blackbuck herds.

Akanksha visits Max Plank Institute and attends ASAB conference on a Zukunftskolleg research visit fellowship


Akanksha with her poster at ASAB 2019, Konstanz

Congratulations to Akanksha Rathore, a final year PhD student in our lab working on the collective behaviour of blackbuck, who was awarded Zukunftskolleg research visit fellowship by the University of Konstanz in Germany.

With this support, Akanksha visited the new Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour at Konstanz in the month of August 2019. She was hosted by Dr Ariana Stranburg-Peshkin and Dr Blaire Costelloe at the Institute to discuss collaboration opportunities.

Using the same fellowship, Akanksha also presented a poster on her research work on the collective behaviour of blackbuck at ASAB summer conference 2019 at Konstanz.

JOB opening: Project Assistant Position on experimental investigations on the collective behaviour of fish [UPDATE: POSITION FILLED]


We are looking to hire a Project Assistant to work on a SERB funded project on experimental investigations on the collective behaviour of fish, led by Vishwesha Guttal (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) – DEADLINE for applications: July 7th 2019 

Project Description: The project aims to study collective behaviour in schooling fish via laboratory experiments. In our ongoing work, we are aiming to understand how fish interact with each other in groups by analyzing data from collective behaviour experiments in the lab. The larger project involves a blend of computational and mathematical approaches towards inferring such interactions. For this position, the student is expected to perform a large number of experiments in the laboratory. However, depending on the interest the candidate may participate in other aspects of the project as well.

The work will be done in the lab of Dr Vishwesha Guttal, Associate Professor, Centre for ecological sciences, IISc Bangalore.

Eligibility: Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from any branch of science/engg.

Skills: Experience with experimental design, statistics, fish behaviour, fieldwork and a knowledge of basic ecology will be desirable.

Appointment details: The position will start in August 2019 (or earlier if the candidate is available to join early).  The appointment will be for one year. Extension may be considered based on mutual requirement and funding. The project assistant is expected to commit to 1 year of appointment.

Remuneration for this position is as per norms (~Rs 25,0000 – 30,000 per month if you hold a Masters degree), and the position includes research expenses including travel support for fieldwork (if necessary).

To apply:  Please send the following to a 1-page cover letter describing your qualifications and potential interest in the position, your CV, and contact information for 2 references. An interview or test will be held with the interested candidate following which the decision to offer the position will be made. We will begin reviewing applications beginning July 7 on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Contact: For further information, do not hesitate to contact the PhD student in charge of this project – Jitesh Jhawar –


Akanksha Rathore and Jitesh Jhawar presented their work at Gordon conference in March 2019

I am quite late to writing this post (this seems to be sitting in my draft!).

Akanksha Rathore (4th year PhD student) and Jitesh Jhawar (5th year PhD student) presented their work on collective behavior at Gordon conference on Movement Ecology in March 2019. 

Akanksha was an invited speaker at the accompanying Movement Ecology of Animals (GRS) Seminar. Congratulations to Akanksha for the invited talk at a major international conference!

WhatsApp Image 2019-03-04 at 12.25.52 PM

Akanksha Rathore presenting her work on blackbuck herds.

WhatsApp Image 2019-03-09 at 1.01.15 AM

Jitesh Jhawar with his poster on fish schools!

New paper by Gokul and Athmanathan (UG students): Fission-fusion dynamics in heterogeneous populations

Very happy that a very cool paper led by two former UG students of the lab – Gokul Nair and Athmanathan – is now published!

Screenshot 2019-03-14 at 11.11.26 AM


Gokul Nair, Athmanathan Senthilnathan, Srikanth Iyer, and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Fission-fusion dynamics and group-size dependent composition in heterogeneous populations, Physical Review E99, 032412, arXiv:1711.06882 [nlin.AO], Data and codes,  Download PDF. 


This is the first analytical model of fission-fusion dynamics in heterogeneous systems. Previous studies had looked at only homogeneous populations. We make interesting predictions: smaller groups are likely to be homogeneous while larger groups will be heterogeneous.

I really enjoyed working with these students and also with Prof Srikanth Iyer, who is a professor of Mathematics at IISc. My collaboration with Srikanth started with this project when we jointly advised Athmanathan, a UG student majoring in Math at IISc, for his UG project (Sept 2014- May 2015). While Athma formulated the model and got preliminary results, Gokul Nair (a UG physics Major from IISc) carried this on during his free-time, resolved many tricky mathematical issues, did more simulations and finally wrote the paper.

Although the paper is quite mathematical (perhaps most mathematical of all my papers so far), many sections are written in a way that is accessible to nonspecialists (you can easily skip mathsy parts without losing the essence – that was the attempt of our writing). I hope you will read and enjoy it!

Krishnapriya Tamma to join Azim Premji University as an Assistant Professor (updated)

I am absolutely delighted that Dr Krishnapriya Tamma – a postdoc from our lab – will soon (on 11th March 2019, Monday) be joining Azim Premji University as an Assistant Profesor! Hearty congratulations from the entire lab. Here is a picture from the lab party (Priya is on the right side, at the last minus one position)!


Priya completed her PhD from NCBS, working with Prof Uma Ramakrishnan. Priya joined our lab in April 2016 as a postdoctoral research associate. She was initially funded by a lab project grant and she then won the SERB National-Postdoctoral Fellowship award (from April 2017 onwards). Over these nearly three years, Priya has made immense contributions to the lab.

Priya helped us start a new direction of research in our lab on using remotely sensed vegetation data to infer the resilience of ecosystems. Her work with Sabiha (where both were equal contributors) is in nearly final stages of review and we hope to get that out soon! Priya also mentored Prashastha Mishra, an undergraduate student from IISER Pune and this led to another (in prep) manuscript on understanding the role of human influence in our characterisation of ecosystem states from remotely-sensed data. This is an area that we will continue collaborating for over the next few years. (In fact, we have just received a DBT grant – a post to come on that soon.)

Priya’s presence in the lab added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the entire lab. We are badly going to miss that now. As soon as she joined, she resurrected our defunct lab meetings and made them full of excitement and fun. Apart from the research described above, she was also pursuing many collaborations with independently. Visit her Google Scholar profile to read her papers.

Priya is also interested in science communication, underprivileged groups and hopes to increase her engagement with these in the coming years, especially with a focus on Northeastern India. Update: To mention a few of her very important initiatives –  Priya was in the core organising committee of SCCS-Bengaluru for a few years and organized a pre-school for the underprivileged students.she also led discussions in CES In-house symposium on extremely important topics like mentor-mentee relationships, authorship issues, and how power-imbalance between mentor and mentee leads to suboptimal outcomes to many mentees, how to navigate such experiences, etc.

Azim Premji University has been hiring top-notch scientists and teachers over the last few years and is one of the best universities in India for undergraduate education. Once again, Congratulations to Dr Krishnapriya for her new job where I am absolutely sure that she will do a splendid job!

New book-chapter by Jitesh Jhawar et al: A first principle derivation of models of collective behaviour that account for finite group size

I am really pleased that a new publication – a first book chapter from lab and first paper of 2019 – is now out! Its led by Jitesh Jhawar, a final year PhD student in our lab and in collaboration with Richard Morris – a former postdoc at NCBS.

Jitesh Jhawar, Richard Morris, and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Deriving mesoscopic models of collective behaviour for finite populations, In Handbook of Statistics Vol 40: Integrated Population Biology and Modeling  (edited by Arni Srini Rao and C R Rao), Part B, 551-594. DOI:;  Pre-print from Arxiv;  Codes and data on github.  Download PDF

Collective behaviours of animal groups are often modelled via agent-based simulations. They are relatively difficult to tract analytically. The main highlight here is that we present two analytical methods that are used in the literature (statistical physics and physical chemistry); we compare which method offers ease of model construction.

A second point worth highlighting is that most analytical methods often assume that group/population sizes are infinitely large. The methods we present accounts for the fact that real animal groups are finite in size and individuals interact with each other in inherently probabilistic ways! The resulting scale of description is also referred to as mesoscopic — a term that appears in the title of the book chapter.

The mesoscopic descriptions yield very counter-intuitive results,; for example, noise can actually facilitate collective order!!! Read the chapter for more details.

The writing style we have adopted is pedagogical so that even undergraduate students from physics and mathematics can understand the methods presented here.

Finally, I also want to highlight that the first author of the paper – Jitesh Jhawar – did his bachelor and masters degrees in Biotechnology – but in this chapter, he uses mathematical techniques like Fokker-Planck equations, Langevin equations, Ito Calculus, etc! So even biology background students can learn hard-core mathematical/theoretical biology if you really love doing theory!