Student Researcher Earns Dual Degree in Quick Time

What makes Rajashekar Reddy Chinthalapani special is that he has speed tracked through a 5-year dual degree program, to finish a semester early.  His story is noteworthy because of one small detail. He didn’t make it to IIIT Hyderabad in the first cut.

Rajashekar is just a normal guy with the usual favorites and phobias of his generation. He loves BTS, Anime and all combinations of Oreo shakes at the Juice Canteen (JC). The buzz on campus is that Rajashekar is among the first Lateral Entry (LE) students to complete his dual degree, with a semester to spare.  He played a significant role in setting up the outdoor air pollution project that would become the showcase for collaborators wishing to partner with IIITH labs. His thesis evaluation was selected for being fast tracked due to top-tier publications, and his public presentation is slated for early October 2021.

“It is pretty rare to graduate in the 9th semester but I reiterate that it is possible for a dual degree student if he puts his mind to it”, points out Dr. Sachin Chaudhari, Rajashekar’s advisor and mentor at Signal Processing and Communication Research Center (SPCRC). The expected graduation is 10 semesters for the normal dual degree, and for LE students, it is 8. Lateral entry students join other B.Tech students in the second year. “Though I belong to the UG 2017 batch technically, my actual IIITH journey started in my second year in 2018”, he explains.

“Rajashekar is an excellent research student who could work independently. Although he is brilliant academically, he is also humble and listens deeply”, an excellent attribute in a researcher, believes the professor. Prof. Chaudhari points out that there is a popular misconception that research is hard and that a dual degree takes longer to complete but Rajashekar has set a good precedent for hardworking students.

A lively hive of Research
“I didn’t score enough to get into IIITH, because of my luck on that particular day”, observes Rajashekar philosophically. “In my first year at JNTU, I had decided that I would join IIIT through the lateral entry program”.  Rajashekar was the topper of his batch and took the suggested courses by LE seniors in a Facebook forum that provided valuable tips on GPA, internships, projects and courses needed.

“My lateral entry experience was amazing”, he says. It was in IIITH’s summer school prior to admission, that Rajashekar got the opportunity to work with a few professors including Prof. Chaudhari, who advised him to do his dual degree (B. Tech plus MS by research in Electronics and Communication Engineering) under him at SPCRC. “I think finding the right guide who perfectly matches you is the most important thing. Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible”, he admits.

There was the initial trepidation about how his research would be accepted and how he would manage with batch mates who already had one year together and probably had cliques of their own. “But everyone, from my seniors, batch mates and professors were extremely helpful”, says he. “The main thing to understand is that the dual degree and LE programs are not just exciting but very doable”, observes Prof. Chaudhari. “Research may sometimes seem to hit a wall but students shouldn’t feel disheartened because there are great things happening at IIITH and our 2nd and 3rd year undergrad students are churning out some good work.”.

Rajashekar cites his role as TA for an embedded systems workshop, among his most satisfying experiences. It was an end-to-end hardware course being offered for the very first time and “I was handling five teams, working on outdoor air pollution and developing sensor nodes”, he observes.

“It was Rajashekar’s brilliant idea to involve more students and they helped in scaling the whole thing on campus”, explains his advisor. “What he has done is special, both in terms of hardware as well as deploying the nodes, many of which were made by students of that particular workshop.”

Feather in his cap
Rajashekar was recipient of the Huawei Scholarship for Excellence (2020-21), for his first publication in IEEE on Improving Spatio-Temporal Understanding of Particulate Matter using Low-Cost IoT Sensors. He also featured on the Dean’s list for Academic Excellence. The boy from Warangal who was brought up by academically accomplished grandparents was earning laurels for his hard work.

IIITH was shortlisted among the top 8 in the International hackathon on air quality conducted by Slush and University of Helsinki Finland and Rajashekar was a part of the research team. “As part of SPCRC, I am working with the main project called ‘IoT for Smart Cities – Pollution, Health and Governance’ along with Prof. Kavita Vemuri, Prof. K.S. Rajan, Prof. Aftab Hussain and Prof. Anshu Sarje (advisor)”, observes Rajashekar, who was able to publish three research papers as a first author, as part of his MS thesis from this domain. “The work that we initiated is now a part of a larger project of Living Labs at the Smart Cities Research Centre”, he reports.

The young scholar recently wrapped up a research internship under Dr. Hossein Rouhani of the Neuromuscular Control and Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Alberta. “I got it through Mitacs Globalink, a gateway for research interns to universities in Canada. It was a successful four-month internship with 2 journals in the pipeline.

Making up for lost moments that the Pandemic stole
Rajashekar intends to stay back on campus after defending his thesis (IoT based evolution monitoring algorithms and implementation).  “It’s pretty much my last semester here”, rues the youngster. “I want to hang out with friends and catch up on all the fun times we missed during the last one and a half years of the pandemic”.

For his future plans, the young go-getter has a pre-placement offer with Texas Instruments where he had worked as digital design intern, earlier this year.

Midnight deadlines and nocturnal feasts on campus
“I am lucky to have a close set of friends, who are also supportive”, says the introvert. There were many joyful moments on campus including the rousting-revelry sessions that followed the mandatory birthday cake-cutting ceremony at JC.

Felicity has made happy memories for legions of IIITHians including Rajashekar. “As part of the technical team of Décore, the new design club, I taught a tutorial on Adobe Audition at an event”, he gushes.

“I don’t think we had more than a hundred breakfasts in all the four years”, he smiles. “We would usually sleep around 3 am. Assignment deadlines ended at midnight. The 10-minute walk from our lab to the hostel would take us 2 hours. We would head to JC or to David’s Shop, a small outlet near guest house for our post-deadline sugar rush. JC serves all variants of coffee and chocolate combinations with Oreo shakes and we ended up combining a whole lot of flavors. We made several unplanned trips to DLF for shawarma and Maggi. Thanks to these nocturnal gourmet adventures, we were always broke by the 20th of the month. That’s when we remembered our Mess”, he says with a mischievous twinkle.

IIITH is an amazing destination for students, believes Rajashekar. He recommends it for the unique curriculum, academic environment, research opportunities, encouraging peer groups and team work, the complete freedom to choose electives and the early exposure to research collaborations with international universities.

The dyed-in-wool Anime fan loves Asian drama and graphical comics. ‘Epiphany’ by BTS headliner Jin is his favorite number. “There was a time during my B. Tech when I was feeling really down, and that song became my anthem”, he reflects. “You need to love the person that you are. That changed my view of how I look at my life”.

Commending Rajashekar’s rare feat, Prof P J Narayanan, Director, IIITH says, “I am very pleased to hear about Rajashekar’s achievements and about him finishing more than a semester early. This is precisely what we had envisaged when we designed the MS and Dual-Degree programs. The minimum residency for the 10-semester dual-degree program was set as 9 semesters. Students who get into research early — and there are many of them — can complete the requirements comfortably in that period as Rajasekhar has done. The opportunity to do top-class research is what dual-degree programs are truly about. I look forward to more Rajashekar’s among our students in the coming years!”

Deepa Shailendra is a freelance writer for interior design publications; an irreverent blogger, consultant editor and author of two coffee table books. A social entrepreneur who believes that we are the harbingers of the transformation and can bring the change to better our world.


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