Digging Deeper, the NUS Way : Suyashaa Rao
Pursuing a course which is nowhere related to your stream isn’t something which everyone dares to do. But, even against all odds, that didn’t stop Suyashaa Rao, a sophomore pursuing M.A. in Development Studies, from bagging an internship at the prestigious National University of Singapore, a top 15 university in the world. A student of Journalism from Dayananda Sagar College in Bengaluru, she hails from Bhubaneshwar and is a person who always keeps digging deep for knowledge. The topic for the internship was “Cyberbullying in South-East Asia”. Team Monday Morning recently had the opportunity to have a small chat with her and know more about her and the internship.
Monday Morning: Walk us through your early days before coming to NIT Rourkela?
Suyashaa Rao: I am from Bhubaneswar and I did my under graduation from Dayananda Sagar college in Bangalore. I was pursuing Journalism back then and had done internships earlier in that field. After my graduation, I was freelancing for a while, after which I took admission in NIT Rourkela.
MM: Why did you choose NIT Rourkela and how did it happen to you?
SR: Back in College, I was doing an internship as a content writer and it was during this period that I realized that I felt for the rural and underprivileged people. Then I came across that NIT Rourkela provides a course for masters in development studies. So, I filled up some paperwork and here I am. I had to find the sweet spot between journalism and Development studies. I had done some groundwork before even applying for this institute on the fields of interests of the professors of my department. For example, my current guide’s field is social media, which I am already familiar with.
MM: As a journalism student, how do you feel we are dependent on Media and how it is evolving?
SR: Well, media is evolving at quite an alarming rate. Machine Learning, Big Data analysis are the major players. But nowadays, media is being used in the wrong way many times because of the power many big players hold. When Social Media or media as a whole is giving journalists so many opportunities, they should use it ethically and not get influenced by the views of anyone else.
MM: How did you develop a tinge for Programming?
SR: I come from an ICSE background and I had learnt basics of JAVA and other languages early on. So I had strong Fundamentals. Although I wasn’t tilted towards science, I was always fond of Computer Science and English. Seeing the current scenario where Machine Learning and Deep learning are on fire, I asked myself why “shouldn’t I give it a try?”.
MM: Who were your support systems throughout your journey?
SR: My parents were always beside me all throughout my life. Then, my friends, especially from Bangalore constantly motivated me during my days there. I had no hope that a student from arts background would get selected by such a prestigious university. My friends and family were the ones who kept pushing me to apply to various institutes.
MM: Can you share some memories from your previous college.
SR: My schooling was from Bhubaneswar; my junior college from Ranchi, so, I have been roaming quite a lot. So, the transition from homely food to the food available in Bangalore was tough in the beginning, but I eventually started liking the food there. I had friends from various backgrounds and streams. Many of my professors and friends always encouraged me to apply for various opportunities across India and the world.
MM: How was the transition from Bangalore to Rourkela?
SR: Back in Bangalore, I had a very active social life and had a lot of fun. So, I had thought that I would go to someplace which has better exposure than Bangalore, but I didn’t expect that I would end up here. But, the campus here is so beautiful. So, no regrets.
MM: Tell us about your teaching experience in “Service for humanity” foundation.
SR: A couple of months ago, there was a meeting regarding this. The teachers who were already present were from Germany or Georgia and were moving out. So, they needed someone to fill in. So, I took that opportunity to do something for the underprivileged. It is a shelter for children who need special attention and orphans. So, they need some kind of exposure and care for their development. I have my own syllabus for them which includes showing animated movies, etc.
MM: You worked as an intern at The Logical India and Nirbhaya. How was your first experience to witness the professional working environment and how did you manage to get there?
SR: Nirbhaya was my first internship. It was at the initial stage so I applied only at Orissa, where I chose reporting as my area of interest. I was assigned the task of taking coverage near Master Canteen in Chagg square, where workers were protesting against insufficient money given to them. It was a tabloid, it was a fortnight thing, I covered this and gave a report.
Later at the Logical Indian my period of the internship was for three months. I worked there as a content writer posting articles on Science. It is growing and has a big team of reporters.
MM: How did you apply for an internship at NUS? Any special reason for selecting that institute and place?
SR: I had a social visit to Singapore, but I started applying before that, I had mailed to quite a lot of professors whose areas of research matched my area of interests. A couple of them replied, the professor, I interned under met me during this social visit, before that we had a skype interview. During this visit, I developed a research project proposal, which she liked and decided to take me.
I had directly mailed the professor as fewer internships are available for art students.
MM: Was the internship a funded one? If so how much stipend did you get?
SR: Yes, it was funded. It was a lump sum amount provided, sufficient enough to live and have fun there. I got selected in Japan and Singapore during my application process but Japan was partially funded, so I chose Singapore over it.
MM: How many other programmes had you applied to apart from this?
SR: Apart from Singapore, I applied for Germany and Japan, and I got selected in Japan as well. Germany also requires a language proficiency certification and due to not-so-user friendly website, it was hard for me to get through it. I didn’t even get a response from Germany, unlike Singapore where each professor at least replied with a no or a yes.
My research at Singapore was neither related to pure Machine learning nor to pure journalism, my topic was “Systematic review of Cyberbullying in South East Asia”. During some other research, I found out there is not much research done in South-East Asia in comparison to western parts of the world. My research included South-East Asian countries like India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
MM: Tell us something about Cyber Bullying and your experience interning under Prof. Jungup Lee.
SR: My professor already had a lot of experience in this field so she guided me well. The best thing about NUS is they have an open-door policy where you can directly talk to the professor and get the hand to hand comments, they will guide you despite the fact you are enrolled into NUS or not.
MM: How do you think cyberbullying affects the security of an individual and society at large?
SR: There are a lot of similarities between cyberbullying and traditional bullying, the difference is the fact that cyberbullying has the anonymity factor, but it is still harassing someone in space. Cyberbullying has major effects on mental health and data security. But I think the biggest issue is that when people see someone being harassed, they ignore it thinking its none of their business, which needs to be reduced by increasing awareness. People here are unaware of the facilities given, but they need to so that they can go and complain about is happening wrong to them. This can be increased when we provide them with the assurance that the anonymity of the victim is maintained and immediate action is taken.
This leads to mental illness and depression among people when they suffer from this harassment for long.
MM: How was your experience at Singapore apart from your Internship?
SR: It was a hotter place, but the transport system is appreciable in the city. In-campus transport makes life easier. I interacted with a lot of people from all over the world. I travelled across a lot, went for cycle trekking, a ferry ride to Indonesia. The barbeque parties, the friends café and the NUS canteen satisfied my appetite.
MM: Why are you interested in deep learning methods?
SR: I do it because I want to use numbers and come up with a method that detects whether someone is being bullied on social media, analyzing the language and triggering on it. In the future, if I get some collaboration to help me with this idea, I will proceed with it.
MM: Artificial Intelligence is amongst the hottest topics everywhere. You have much more than a first-hand knowledge over the subject. Shed some light on the subject and tell the readers about its importance.
SR: When I was in Singapore, I attended a conference on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for the future conducted by MIT. It has a lot to take in the future, it is combined with medical science to detect problems seeing the initial symptoms.
Artificial Intelligence can be used as a pocket nurse, which can be used to take care of the old parents who do not stay with us detecting their movements, a family culture followed in most western cities.
Using artificial intelligence to help the kids with special abilities and also the kids growing up, when the basic emotions are inserted in the bot, they help the kids to understand as a teacher and teach them, using the right program. I am really fascinated by this method.
It also needs to be regulated with the present and the future prospects so that it cannot be used for any criminal activities.
MM: What are your future plans? Tell us something about your dreams which don't let you sleep.
SR: Well currently I don’t have any solid plans but I am hoping for a PhD outside India. Otherwise, I will work as a research assistant to explore my interests again. My area of interest is Machine learning and journalism, I would be exploring more about it, this increases my scope of applying for work.
MM: There has always been an enthusiasm among people to study abroad while we have universities offering amazing courses here in India. What do you prefer?
SR: I do not really think the place matters as long as the students, the professor and the campus have the facilities to prosper. When I came to NIT, I was diverted in the field of research, given my interests in journalism where I like to search for information, also here the professors are very cooperative and research-oriented, who supported me to get through all this. You cannot judge a place by its ranking until and unless it helps someone to grow.
MM: What would be your message to our readers?
If somebody is aspiring for a future abroad, start applying soon and never lose hope. Never bring a sense of negativity on the basis of branches. Just stay focused and confident.
Team Monday Morning wishes Suyashaa Rao all the best for her future endeavours.