Dipanwita Guhathakurta and Pravalika Mukkiri’s academic and career aspirations get a boost with this unique initiative from Micron India that targets talented women engineers in their pre-final years.
Every year Micron India offers 59 scholarships “to nurture and reward academic rigour, innovation, research and co-curricular pursuits of women engineers” who are in their pre-final year of BTech or Dual Degree courses of ECE/CSE/EEE. The scholarship is also available for differently abled women and men in their pre-final years of Engineering to assist in their career aspirations. The scholarship offering is part of Micron’s flagship University Research Alliance (URAM) program where it partners with some of the best minds in select Indian universities. The partnership focuses on fostering research, innovation and collaboration by bringing together academic institutions and key faculty experts, advanced research labs, student communities, industry associations, startups and government agencies. Dipanwita Guhathakurta, Dual Degree student and Pravalika Mukkiri who is a BTech (Hons.) student have bagged this year’s scholarship from a competitive pool of over 420 aspirants drawn across the country.
To be shortlisted and selected for the scholarship, the process involves submission of a Statement of Purpose along with recommendation letters from professors. “I was fortunate that both Prof. Madhava Krishna and Prof. Syed under whom I have worked, wrote letters on my behalf,” says Dipanwita. The modest Dean’s List Awardee – who has secured a place on it consistently since 2019 – credits the competitive environment at the institute for her motivation to outperform her peers. Her drive also stems from the circumstances of her early childhood. “Having witnessed my divorced mother give up her career in Science owing to family pressure, I developed the determination to pursue my passion for technology against all odds early on,” she states. By working on independent projects such as the one exploring the application of AI on social media and finance under Prof. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, in collaboration with Microsoft Research India and similar other joint academic research efforts, her passion for research has also received recognition by the AnitaB.org with a Grace Hopper’s scholarship.
Not A Mundane Electrical Eng Course
As an ECE student and a woman at that, Dipanwita initially struggled to find a female peer group at the institute. “I felt like an outcast in teams of male batchmates due to the dismal gender ratio,” she expresses, quickly adding though that engaging directly with the professors paved the way for an early start in her research journey. Dipanwita is of the view that the ECE course at IIITH unlike elsewhere is truly unique in that it is a combination of both Computer Science as well as Electrical Engineering. “Here, if I’m an ECE student, it’s not like I have to stick with Signal Processing or VLSI Design only. I can explore across domains like image processing, robotics and so on. By working on both computer hardware as well as software, I know how a system is built, end-to-end.” And then there’s the close-knit ECE community as well. “Unlike other places where there are a 1,000 people in a batch, we’re a close team of only 50. We know each other really well and I think, at this point, that’s a really nice thing to have,” says Dipanwita.
Scholarship Money: No Strings Attached
The URAM scholarship amount of upto INR 100,000 is granted to recipients for flexible expenditure towards tuition and examination fees, hostel and boarding expenses, hardware and software imperatives, books or specialised courses needed for upskilling, participation in conferences including travel expenditure and other research-related expenditure. In Dipanwita’s case, she is yet to decide what to use the scholarship for. “If I need any hardware for my research or maybe a laptop, we might use it for that. I’m discussing with my advisor and will finalise the details in a bit,” she says. In addition to the scholarship amount, the awardees will gain access to mentors drawn from Micron’s leadership. “We had a session by a master inventor who is in possession of a number of patents. We were told that many more sessions will be conducted on ‘how to build a career’ or ‘how to be an inventor’ and so on.”
An Opportunity In A Challenge
Pravalika Mukkiri is currently taking a short break at her home in Nellore before her summer internship at Microsoft kicks off next week. “I had been a part of the Engage mentorship programme by Microsoft in 2021. As a mentee, I developed a Microsoft Teams clone app which provides video calling, chat and live options for multiple users. I made a complete application with authentication and user interface for which I got very good feedback from the MS team. They offered me a direct summer internship after that program,” she says. Currently pursuing her BTech (Hons) under Prof. Deepak Gangadharan in the Computer Systems Group, 20-year-old Pravalika’s outstanding academic track record does not betray her rural roots. “My father is into farming and my mother is a housewife,” she says, adding that they never stopped her from pursuing her dreams. She got into IIITH via the Special Channel of Admission (SPEC) that selects students with an extraordinary talent or background. “I was in the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies, RK Valley when I first got to know about the SPEC channel of admission at IIITH,” she says. Possessing a natural curiosity for learning anything new and how it works, Pravalika credits her school and college teachers for their constant support and encouragement.
Enamoured by Entrepreneurship
At IIITH, thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of research, Pravalika has had an opportunity to work on diverse research projects. With cloud computing and data science as her forte, she helped in developing an android app called ‘Crop Darpan’ that assists farmers in disseminating knowledge about crop diseases. The app was launched on Play store and has 5t+ active users”, she remarks with pride. She is currently studying hybrid deep learning models to predict the flow of traffic. Ask her what part of STEM fascinates her the most, and she replies instantly, “Entrepreneurship”, adding, “After working for a couple of years, I would eventually like to start out on my own”.
There are obvious financial constraints in Pravalika’s journey. “I have used the alumni fund from the institute for paying my fees, which I have to repay once I get a job upon graduation,” she says. For now though, with the scholarship money, she plans on buying a laptop and iPad that comes under one lakh. “When I’m writing code for applications and while running them, it hangs a lot. A new laptop with more speed and GPU will come in handy”, she smiles.