An Epitome of Excellence: Soumya Gupta
Soumya Gupta, a final year student from the department of Biomedical Engineering is an epitome of determination and hard work. The word impossible never existed in her dictionary and she’s always pushing boundaries. Not only by her academic excellence but she has also left her critics stunned by her proficiency in various other extracurricular activities as well. On a sunny Sunday Morning, Team MM caught up with this successful yet humble personality.
MM: Describe your life before joining NIT Rourkela.
SG: I hail from Kanpur. I did my schooling from Mariampur Senior Secondary School. I loved playing basketball and badminton during my school days. Actually I wanted to pursue a career in research and developed a passion for it during my 12th standard. Then I came to NIT Rourkela and again I have made up my mind to venture into the field of research after completing my B. Tech in Engineering.
MM: How have you changed since your freshman year at NITR?
SG: After my freshman year, I don’t think I have changed that much, to be honest.But after joining Monday Morning, I certainly developed self- confidence and communication skills primarily because I got to interact with a lot of people, including scientists visiting my department. As part of a media body, you learn to bridge the gap between authorities and students and that in itself is a very overwhelming experience.
MM: You have always been academically brilliant and you managed your time with other activities as well. How did you do that?
SG:First of all, you always need to prioritize all your activities. For me the choice was obvious and I always concentrated on my academics slightly more than anything else.
“The key is to learn to focus on the things that are more important, so that you can excel in that field. Everything else just falls into place.”
MM: Why did you choose Biomedical Engineering and what do you think about its current scope?
SG:Honestly, I didn’t have much idea about the branch when I decided to take it up. In fact, I just really found the name fascinating, at that time (laughs).However, my relatives living abroad told me that this department has great potential globally and hence I finally applied for it.
As far as the scope is concerned, I think the branch is constantly growing. In India, the Research and Development Sector is not that well-developed, but in foreign countries it certainly is. A biomedical student has a lot of options to choose from – if they enjoy coding, they can choose to specialize in fields like image processing, etc. while if they’re interested in more hands-on experiences then they can specialize in fields like biomechanics, biomaterials, etc.
MM: You did an internship at ISI, Kolkata at the end of your sophomore year. What was the area of your work and how was the experience?
SG: ISI, Kolkata is one of the prestigious institutes of our country. Bagging an internship at ISI was indeed a very difficult job, and I could not have done it without the motivation of all those people who believed in me. They in fact, guided me through the whole process and luckily I got through. I would specially like to mention Prof. Indranil Banerjee, who guided me throughout all my queries and doubts and I am highly grateful to him for his constant support. Over there I worked at the Department of Electronics and Communication. My project was to grade cancer from breast cancer tissue images. I had access to the images of the tissues, and I had to write codes in order to process them. The accuracy that we were able to attain during the course of this project was definitely commendable. My research guide Prof. Dipti Prasad Mukherjee was particularly very helpful, as was everyone else at the laboratory, from whom I got to learn a lot of new things. Overall, it was really a very insightful experience for me.
MM: In this summer, you did your internship at University of Pennsylvania. What prompted you to opt for a foreign internship?
SG: Everybody dreams of a foreign internship. Starting from my second year I had decided that I wanted a foreign internship as my branch is highly established abroad at present. After successful completion of my internship at ISI, my passion and determination to bag a foreign internship strengthened. I applied for DAAD, MITACS and S. N. Bose Internships hoping to get selected in at least one of them due to the highly competitive selection processes. Finally, I ended up bagging all of them but I went for S. N. Bose Internship.
MM: Could you elucidate the application procedure of S N Bose internship?
SG: First of all, one needs to fill an application form which is quite tedious and the deadlines for which are at the end of October. Apart from your personal details, you need to give your research interests and present 3-4 project ideas. After submitting the application, you will receive the results of the first round of selection. After that you will have to submit some documents like No Objection Certificate, recommendation letters, etc. After you receive the selection mail, you’ll have to send the name and details of the professor under whom you wish to work, within the next 5-6 days. In my case, because I had not contacted any of the professors previously, I had to do so in the short span they allowed. I ended up sending 80-90 mails searching for a professor, staying up for nights and finally got a positive response from two universities – John Hopkins University and University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the professor at John Hopkins University said that they didn’t have funds to support my project that year. So I finally went to University of Pennsylvania.
MM: What was your area of research over there?
SG: I worked in the Department of Radiology, under Dr. Robert Nick Brian, who was the Chairman. Although he is technically retired but he is still very active in his field of research. I worked on two projects, namely Workflow Analysis of a new Medical-Informatics Tool and an MRI-based Brain Image Analysis.
The primary project was Workflow Analysis of a new Medical-Informatics Tool, where after reading the images manually, they could fill out some check-boxes which were preset into the software, so that it would automatically generate a ranked list of the results of the diagnosis. This software was under trial, and my job involved helping the professor to draw statistical comparisons between the accuracy obtained with the software used and without it.
The second project was an MRI-based brain image analysis, where some images were given to me from normal individuals and some from patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The brain is divided into different regions of interest and my job was to extract data from that image. For a particular region of interest, I had to extract data from the Alzheimer’s disease patient as well as a normal person and make statistical comparisons between the two.
MM: How did you adjust to the environment there?
SG: Initially, it was completely new for me. People over there are very hardworking and they are always eager to help you. However, the accommodation process wasn’t easy. Since I had bagged the internship through the S. N. Bose Programme, the University was not responsible for providing me with any accommodation. They had hostels and dorms within their premises, but it was too expensive for me. I contacted a few of the previous scholars who had been there via facebook and got some websites from them like PennLet and PadMapper, where you can find some accommodation in Pennsylvania. So I had to search a lot before I finally found an Indian girl who was ready to sublet her apartment to me, outside the campus.
MM: What was the stipend amount that you got during the internship?
SG: The S. N. Bose programme provided me a stipend of USD 2000 completely for the three months. Apart from that, they gave medical insurance, travel insurance and airfare. The professor was supposed to give USD 1000 apart from the regular stipend for the accommodation.
MM: What were some of the pros and cons of the exposure, work culture and facilities over there?
SG: The technology over there is very good, as compared to India.
The professors over there were very learned. You get to know a lot of things from them. Your thinking horizon widens because of the exposure over there. Everybody working at my lab was very helpful and interactive. The entire system of operation there is extremely organized.
I used to go to Hospital of University of Pennsylvania nearby to interact with the radiologists there, since I had to do statistical comparisons between the results they got when they were using the software and when they weren’t. I cannot think of a single con of the work culture there, though – there was absolutely nothing bad!
MM: Did you get much free time there? How did you use it?
SG: During my leisure time, I visited Manhattan, the main part of New York City and saw the Statue of Liberty and went to Ellis Island as well. I took a trip to New Jersey and Atlantic City and was very fascinated by all the tourist places over there. I was very overwhelmed by everything I saw – the places I visited were so beautiful, and I really think everyone should see these places at least once in their lifetime. During my stay at Philadelphia, I also did a historic tour of lot of places there since the city is notable for its rich history.
MM: Was there anything at the University which you would want to implement at NITR?
SG: I was very impressed with their highly organized work culture and the laboratory equipments were also highly advanced. The laboratory setup in NITR is good but it needs to be more improvised to facilitate all kinds of research.
I feel that the curriculum of various departments in NITR is not very well made. For example, the Bio Medical Engineering students need more knowledge of Electronics but is absent in the current curriculum and similar is the case with curricula of other departments too.
MM: Over the last three years, what are the positive changes that you have noticed in this institute?
SG: Firstly, availability of video lectures for various subjects of different departments that are frequently updated is a huge boon to every student of NITR. The Digital Library is also a tremendous positive change and all information regarding the renewal of books and addition of new books into the library is now informed to us through a webmail. BBA was not air-conditioned during our freshman year and the infrastructure is also gradually improving. The development of the placement website which not only gives a list of the companies that visit and recruit from every department, but also helps you to apply for them, is also extremely helpful. Finally, I think the alumni relations have also been strengthened to a large extent over time and it will definitely have a positive impact on the lives of students.
MM: What are your plans after completion of your B. Tech course?
SG: The scope of Biomedical Engineering is vast. As I already mentioned, we can choose from a variety of different courses based on our own interest. I have not made up my mind yet about what exactly I’m going to do, but from where I am, it seems like I will enjoy pursuing higher studies in my area of research interest.
MM: What word of advice would you like to give to the readers?
SG: " Believe in yourself and ignore any kind of discouragements that you get along the way. Work with dedication and patience. Failure is temporary but your will to overcome the failure should be permanent. Live your life to the fullest because you can live only once. I personally enjoyed my work with MM and it helped me evolve into a more confident person besides helping me in improving my communication skills. So, I suggest everyone to take part in any kind of extra-curricular that they are interested in."