Life of an Intern at NASA: A talk by Roshni Biswas
With the convocation looming over, NITR was shrouded in a blanket of bittersweet nostalgia and reunions the said week. Adding to the eventful week, Roshni Biswas, a graduate from the batch of 2018, who has completed two tenures as a Research Intern in different programs of NASA affiliation stepped up to the dais to share her dreamy achievements on a chilly evening of 17th January. Organised by the Computer Science Department, Roshni talked about her experience as a Research Intern at NASA in a spirit of giving back to her alma mater. Following are excerpts from the presentation and our conversation with Roshni.
Her first internship was under the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program via which she interned as a software engineer in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May of 2017. As a Computer Science engineer, her project was to make a single software pipeline which would process the samples taken off a spacecraft and analyse its genetic material on an evolutionary level. It included testing and benchmarking against other tools and components, and giving output in its entirety, to be easily accessed by any user at the space station.
Her recent project was as a Data Science Intern at NASA Langley Research Center’s Katherine Johnson Computational Research Research Facility in August of 2018. This internship was in the field of Bioinformatics and Earth Sciences. Her project involved studying the formation of a weather phenomenon known an Above Anvil Cirrus Plumes [AACP]. The exciting thing about AACPs is that they precede the vast majority of weather storms, hurricane systems by an estimated 31 minutes which is significant finding and may help us understand the formation of AACPs and their role in such systems. During her stint, she studied the formation of AACPs using raw data from sources like GOES super scanning, IR images and subsequently analysing them using machine learning to a build a model that can be used to identify and predict the formation of AACPs.
The internship with NASA Langley Research Center was my second time interning with NASA. Thus, I was already familiar with how the agency works and the kind of rewarding experience and exposure an internship of this sort offers. Langley is the oldest NASA centre, established 100 years ago as National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). There are a bunch of incredibly interesting labs and tours to see on the campus including the Rendezvous Docking Simulator from the Gemini and Apollo programs that was used by astronauts to practice docking of space capsules with other vessels; the Gantry where Neil Armstrong practised lunar landings back in the day; and a tour of Wallop's Flight Facility. I was fortunate also to watch InSight's Mars Landing from the centre and speak to people who have been directly involved in the legendary mission. But besides all of these great experiences, the best part was that we were encouraged to take 10% out of the deliverable work hours to take part other activities across the centre, which meant we had the freedom to on work for any other ongoing project, network with people from different directorates and attended plenty of lectures/workshops.
– Roshni Biswas, on her recent internship experience
Apart from her time at NASA, she also talked about the prospects for the students currently pursuing their degrees. At multiple times along the presentation, she reiterated the fact that she has also been very open to assisting people with applications and among other things CVs and SOPs. Moreover, she gave quite a few pointers of do’s and don'ts. For instance, one should focus on making application's content as concise and genuine as possible and containing just the necessary information. Furthermore, she went on to suggest how aspirants can also try connecting with prospective mentors on Twitter & LinkedIn to keep themselves up to date with the developments and openings in the labs and programs throughout their domain.
When asked about the feeling of coming back to NIT Rourkela and talking about her experience at NASA, Roshni replied,
I felt very honoured and humbled getting invited by my very own department to give a talk, within a year of graduation before even receiving my degree! It was an extremely overwhelming experience interacting with students and faculty who took a keen interest in knowing about my work and experiences.