Entranced by Vision : S.N Bose Scholar Shubham Bhuyan
Purposeful and Passionate- are the words that best describe Shubham Bhuyan, who recently bagged the prestigious S.N. Bose scholarship, which enabled him to intern at the University of Maryland. With a mind for research and eye for success, this final year student of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering has carved a niche for himself in the field of Computer Vision and Deep Learning. Read on to know more about his journey so far.
MM-What was your childhood like? Any fond memories you would like to cherish.
Shubham Bhuyan- I was born in Baripada, Odisha and did my initial schooling there but I don’t have any distinct recollection of the memories made there. My father is a State Government employee so every four to five years he had a transfer. As a result of which I had been to four schools till my intermediate. I liked that a lot because every time you change a school you get exposed to a new environment. So I have been to various places and met different kinds of people. I believe it to be a good opportunity to socialise. I did the bulk of my schooling from St.Vincent Convent School, Balasore though I completed my matriculation from St.Joseph’s High School, Bhubaneswar and my intermediate from DAV Public School, Unit 8.
My childhood days were fun, enjoyable and carefree as my parents never forced me to study so much. I spent most of my time playing cricket. At that time like a typical young and ambitious Indian lad, I dreamed of becoming a cricket player one day. My father and maternal grandfather are big cricket enthusiasts so I guess that rubbed off on me. Besides that, my favorite pastime included teasing my elder sister. I still cherish those memories of mimicking her persistently that would eventually drive her nuts. I owe her a lot for whatever I am today.
MM-How did you get Electronics and Communication engineering at NIT Rourkela? Did you choose it or was it fated?
SB- I had a JEE Main rank of 4687 and was eligible for any branch at NIT Rourkela. I chose Electronics and Communication Engineering. I didn’t want to take up Computer Science but I wanted to do something related to software. Electronics seemed like the option where I could further my interests in the realm of Software too and keep up with my interest in coding.
MM- Students at NITR find their first year in college very hectic. How did you deal with it and what all clubs were you a part of?
SB- In my opinion, the first year is not that hectic if we compare it to our days of JEE preparation along with the 12th Board Exams. Talking about the semester exams, I think fifteen days is quite enough for preparation. In the remaining time, just be attentive in the class, and you get the evening to do other stuff; listening in the class helps a lot in the preparation. In my first year, I was a part of Spawn because I loved coding. In the second year, I joined Cyborg and I am still an active member of Cyborg.
MM-How did you manage your time between Academics, club work, and preparing for internships?
SB- I never really focussed on academics much, as I was never CG-centric. I just gave exams because we had to. Coming to clubs, I never really enjoy reading things until I have seen it working and explored it. That is the reason I liked Cyborg as we could implement what we had in electronics accompanied by coding. It was pure enjoyment for me. Internships were fun too. In both of my internships, we were working on something very new in the field which definitely was out of the scope of academics.
MM- Can you Elucidate upon what Internships you have done in the years preceding your Final Year?
SB- During my first-year summer, I joined the training program at RCPL on Embedded Systems and Robotics. During my second year summer, they invited me to be a Teaching Assistant(TA). While the Professor taught the students the theory and I helped them with the practical work which was mostly coding and how to connect the circuits. It was a paid internship and all of this was only for the month of May. For June and July, I was selected for a Summer School on Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Computer Graphics, to be held at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. I did a project entitled “Image Dehazing using Convolutional Neural Networks(CNN)” that involved removing haze and fog from a single input image. The work was carried out along with my branch mates, Pranoy Panda and Nishant Mohanty, who also interned there, under the guidance of Sanchayan Santra and Ranjan Mondal, two Doctoral Students of ISI. Our work was accepted to be presented at the Ninth International Conference on Advances in Pattern Recognition (ICAPR-2017) that was held in December last year, in Bangalore. My experience at ISI was amazing and I developed an interest in research after my stint there.
MM- You were awarded the prestigious S.N. Bose scholarship. Guide us through your experience in applying and bagging it.
SB- The S.N. Bose scholarship invites applications from the month of September. Only the top two students of each branch are eligible to apply for this scholarship. If they have a good research profile, then the chances of being selected increases dramatically. You need to write a thousand worded Statement of Purpose (SOP) and another thousand words on research experience. Then you need two letters of recommendation, besides that, you can upload anything that supports your claim on the scholarship, for example, a letter from your previous internships. Having a paper helps in the selection because they are looking for people who are into research. I wanted to continue working on Computer Vision algorithms and my Statement Of Purpose mostly involved working on Facial Recognition Techniques. I needed two letters of recommendation for the program. Prof. Banibrata Mukherjee of my Department provided me with one. The other was provided by Prof. Bhabatosh Chanda of ISI Kolkata, the supervisor of the doctoral students I had worked alongside during my time there. The paper I had at ISI helped me a lot.
If your SOP is good, your chances increase manifold. It becomes even better if the SOP contains some original idea from your side, something that you want to work on. The result of the application comes around the fourth week of January, and then it becomes tedious to apply for visa and stuff.
MM- Share your experiences as a Research Scholar at the University of Maryland, USA.
SB- After the results come out in January in which fifty students from all over India are selected, not all get to go to the US. You need to have a professor in the US who has agreed to host you. If you write that in the SOP, it becomes an added bonus. In that way, the scholarship money helps them as the professor doesn’t have to pay much. There are basically two choices when you are applying to professors, he can enrol you in a course so you can go to the respective university and study the course or the professor might invite you to work under his supervision in the lab, where you don’t read subjects but work on a particular problem statement in the lab. I worked under the supervision of Prof Rama Chellappa of the University of Maryland, College Park on Age Progression and Regression. He gave me a problem statement of Age Progression and Regression using conditional Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). The project basically involved taking an input facial image and giving out an image of the same person but at some other desired age. This was done using a deep learning architecture called GANs that involves solving a minimax problem till a Nash Equilibrium is obtained. The application of this algorithm is mostly in criminology.
MM-How would you compare the research scenario in India and abroad?
SB- I feel that Indian institutes are almost at par with Foreign institutes. The first major difference I find is the work experience, for example, the techniques we were using in ISI, Kolkata were in use since 2005. The technique I used during my internship in the US, which was GANs, was very new, being first used in 2014. The second major difference was the number of resources.
The funds that US universities receive is much more than their Indian counterparts so that obviously creates a difference. The equipment and instruments used in the labs in the United States are also way more advanced. The thing that stood out for me in their labs is the people whom I worked with; they were super friendly and cooperative in every possible way. The expertise those people shared with me in the lab was invaluable and the professors were really supportive. The computational resources that were available to me in their labs were state of the art and I had complete access to them throughout my internship. Also, I had the absolute independence in carrying out my research work in the US.
Everything is pretty much similar. Indian research is slowly catching up.
MM- There is a craze among students to pursue foreign internships these days. Comment on the situation.
SB- I would say that is a welcome trend because if you go to foreign universities for internships, most of them usually cover all the expenses, in fact, they pay you more. Also, you can have a great work experience, get to know about the foreign culture, learn about cross-cultural skills and sensitivity. Although within that period they will be expecting results from you but not that much as research is tough and takes time. The duration of three months is not ample to do something really significant. So during the time, you can have fun, learn new things and gain experience.
MM-What changes and developments would you like to see in your department?
SB- The change that I had been looking for is the availability of more number of better types of equipment and instruments so that we don’t have to share them. Also, I would like the students in my department to be more interested in research than in jobs. Students should be exposed to an environment that would be conducive to encourage them to come up with their own ideas and approach professors with their ideas. Students must be provided with the proper incentives to take part in research activities. The final year projects must be emphasized on. It is good to explore new terrains.
MM-What are your other hobbies?
SB- I like playing football a lot. I have even played for my hall football team. Sometimes I play cricket too. I also watch a lot of Anime Series during my leisure hours.
MM-What are your plans for the future?
SB- I will be going for higher studies. I am currently preparing for my GRE examination which will be held this October. Hopefully, I will be seeing myself next year in the US or Canada.
MM-What message would you like to give to our readers?
The only thing I would like to say is never lose hope howsoever dire the circumstances may be. I have seen people here losing hope after the second or third year. If one thing doesn’t work out, be patient. Always remember we are in a better position than most of the people in the country, studying in a prestigious institute. Something or the other will always work out if you don’t give up.
Team MM wishes Shubham the best for his brilliant future ahead!