How To Sample A Semester At IIITH

Have you ever eyed those awesome courses offered at IIITH and regretted missing the bus? Well, thou shall covet no more. A lateral entry programme is not the only way to land up at the esteemed campus. There’s a possibility of doing an entire semester at IIITH regardless of where you currently study. Here’s how.

A few weeks ago, when the Director of IIITH shared a blog post written by a student on Medium, it understandably piqued a lot of interest. After all, who was this non-IIIT-ian chronicling 3 weeks of his time spent here so far? Meet Amrit Preet Singh, a 3rd year BTech student at Punjab Engineering College (PEC), Chandigarh. He says it was at the prompting of the Director of his institute to undertake a semester exchange at any of the IITs, IIIT Delhi or IIIT Hyderabad that he applied to IIITH armed with recommendation letters from two of his professors. “I’m so grateful my application was accepted!,” he remarks.

In Ujjwal Shrawat’s case, it was a little more complicated. He’s a IIIT Delhi student who was toying with the idea of coming to IIITH for a semester long before an official notification came out encouraging a semester exchange programme with any university they had a tie-up with. “While an MoU exists for other institutes, for IIITH, I had to go through a formal process and demonstrate why I want to study here and the courses I’ll be taking here,” he says.

Exploratory In Nature

20-year-old Ujjwal is studying what he calls one of the most unique courses currently present in India: a BTech degree in Computer Science and Social Sciences. “Before entering this course, I hadn’t made up my mind on what exactly I wanted to do. As someone interested in Computer Science as well as all the Social Sciences, it certainly seemed like the best fit. I’m still in the exploratory phase,” he explains. To illustrate the flexibility inherent in such coursework versus a typical Honors system, he mentions opting for Economics which he didn’t find as interesting as he thought it would be. And he decided not to pursue it further. Similarly, in the case of Computer Science, he’s clear that he doesn’t want to delve deep into Database but is keen on picking up tools necessary for machine learning.

AT IIITH, Ujjwal is doing 3 full courses and has taken on 2 research projects under the guidance of Prof. Nimmi Rangaswamy. In fact, his raison d’etre here is the nature of Prof. Rangaswamy’s work. “I first met Prof. Rangaswamy when she had come to Delhi for a workshop and to deliver a talk at my institute. I got talking to her and was fascinated by the anthropological nature of her research work,” he says. Ujjwal has assisted her in completing a research paper that examines the manner in which Uber drivers interact with the app or the platform itself. “I’m exploring the sociological lens on human-computer interaction and find that extremely interesting,” he admits. The other research project that is still in the initial stage is on phone addiction and how notifications play a role in it.

Intense Coursework

For Amrit Preet, it’s not surprising that the 5 courses he’s picked at IIITH reflect his proclivity towards Computer Vision. The very first day that he landed here, he made a beeline to the CVIT lab and says he was blown away by the kind of work being done. “Prof. C.V. Jawahar has made me rethink the very foundations of Machine Learning in just 5 lectures of the course Statistical Methods in AI,” says Amrit. One of the research projects he’s been working on prior to coming to IIITH is on detection of deep-fake videos. According to Amrit, deep fakes pose huge social and technological challenges because of their ‘near perfect audio-visual content’ which is able to convince a human of their authenticity. “The ability to detect a deep fake video is crucial to keep the line between truth and lie, right and wrong, comprehension and deception as clear as possible, a critical necessity today. Hence, my aim is to develop a simple web tool, where people upload an audio/ video and it can identify it as being a deep fake with as high accuracy as possible in most of the cases”. Amrit plans on taking this project to Dr. Jawahar and having it mentored by him.

His focus on undertaking this semester away from home shows in the fact that he politely turns down a personal interview in favour of an email one. “I have a mid-sem exam of quite a vast syllabus this Friday,” he explains apologetically. Mention of the “huge coursework” is made in his blog post too where he says he’s written more than 1000 lines of Python code in just 4 assignments.

Experiences

When Amrit opted for a semester here at IIITH, he didn’t know if he made the right choice in giving up the opportunity to participate in an internship drive. But luckily for him, online interviews were arranged which he cleared bagging a 6-month internship at Rubrik, Bangalore. He says that the adage, ‘You never stop learning’, really hit home when he found senior people with grey hair sitting alongside him in lectures. He was also impressed to discover that his fellow student in one of the courses was a full-time ISRO scientist who had designed some of the parts in Chandrayaan-2. Apart from continuing his own research work, he plans on guiding his juniors in Computer Vision back home at PEC and taking back academic best practices.

Ujjwal says that he’s been enjoying classes a lot. “They’re anything but boring!,” he exclaims. For instance, the History course he’s taking here is nothing like what’s typically taught in schools. “We were watching a documentary on the Roman empire and I got thinking about why a particular event changed the course of history, the social structure, why exactly were people fighting the war, and so on. There are multi-dimensional factors that creep in and I find that very interesting,” he says. “When I go back to my institute, I’ll be looking at Cognitive Science. This semester will have indeed given me a lot of perspective,” he says. Dr. Rangaswamy is all praise for him when she says, “ I find Ujjwal extremely articulate, a well-spoken student, very self-reflective academically, very scholarly in attitude and a very beautiful communicator. It’s wonderful that he is here. I’ve teamed him up with some of my other students so that they learn from each other. This cross-student exchange is a wonderful thing and I think we should do more of this.”

 

 

 

Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….

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