Of Wisdom And Brilliance: Aishworya Roy
Aishworya Roy, a final year dual degree student from the Department of Electrical Engineering is not just a geek with exceptional benchmarks in academics but also an enthusiast holding an excellent record in extra-curricular activities on the campus. Being calm and a bright student with an equally lively persona that is certain to cheer up everyone in the room, hers is the inspiring story of an achiever who is quite down to the earth.
Her deck of roles spans from holding the position of Dean’s Nominee for the Literary and Cultural Society of SAC, being the Vice President of Clarion to serving as the Content Coordinator of Microsoft Campus Club and representing NIT Rourkela in swimming at Inter-NIT. Having an inspiring record of prestigious internships like MITACS and interning at RailTel, IIT Hyderabad, PEARS NTU and Hochschule Aalen, she is currently placed at Fractal Analytics. She has already received MS admits from universities like the University of Minnesota and Virginia Tech and is still waiting for updates on her application to other top universities.
Team Monday caught up with Aishworya Roy for a candid virtual interview where she took us on the roller coaster journey of her vibrant five years at NIT Rourkela; a story that is sure to inspire the batches to come.
Life before NITR
Monday Morning (MM): Please walk us through your life before joining NIT Rourkela.
Aishworya Roy (AR): Growing up, I had lived in different places across India. I was born in Talcher, Odisha. Apart from spending most of the time in Hyderabad, I had also lived in Chennai and Gurgaon. Living in Hyderabad has been the most pivotal part of my experiences. Being at all these different places has taught me a lot and has made me a pretty adaptable person. In Gurgaon, I was in an International board school, and when I came to Chennai, I attended Chettinad Vidyamandir, which had more of an orthodox and traditional schooling environment. I have been through many environmental changes and I have been through many varied experiences before NIT Rourkela. I have also met many different kinds of people. I feel that all this has been immensely valuable to me. My paternal grandparents live in Rourkela. It was amusing to me and it appeared like the serendipity of life that I ended up in NIT Rourkela. I never thought that I would be in Rourkela to study or be here without the only reason of meeting my grandparents. It was pretty pleasant and showed me how situations help us perceive things and places differently.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? Why did you choose to pursue a Dual Degree in Electrical Engineering?
AR: I had been in Hyderabad since my 5th grade. As I said that I had spent a majority of my time living here; I have felt that it has a very academic - intensive environment, and there are a lot of avenues that help you prepare for just entrance examinations. This culture is prevalent here. I went to Narayana for coaching during my 11th and 12th grade. It was a girls' school (again, a very different environment compared to DPS and other schools that I had been to till my 10th grade). Being there from early in the morning to late at night gave me a perspective on what I think is essential at different stages of life. Many people at NIT or other various colleges in India, at some point, while preparing, had prioritised everything about their entire lives, and the burn-out is real. However, getting into NIT Rourkela was basically due to my rank. I got a rank and Rourkela appeared to be a good option. I knew people here. I think many people outside Odisha have some inhibitions about Rourkela because they are not even aware of Rourkela. Even today, when I tell people that I study at NIT Rourkela, many of them are like, "Oh, Roorkee!" However, it was good for me as I said my grandparents lived here.
Choosing Electrical Engineering was a product of the trade-off between the college's rank and the department. I was a little sceptical about choosing anything that was not a core branch. With all the knowledge that I currently have, I know what each department entails and what I would be learning in a particular branch, but back then, I didn't have this knowledge and neither did I bother to search about it. Computer Science, Electronics and Communications and Electrical Engineering were my three options. That's how simple it was and there lies no epitome of the story behind why I decided to attend NIT Rourkela or went for Electrical Engineering. It happened to me the same way it happens to most people - you prepare for it and get what you get.
During my freshman year, I heard many stories about what a nightmare the electrical branch is and at that point, I felt that I had made the worst decision of my life. To be honest, I have questioned my decision at some points, but I feel that overall, it has been an excellent decision.
Since I chose the dual degree, they already assigned me the specialization in Power Electronics and Drives and I knew nothing about power electronics and drives! Gradually, I started thinking that I was getting a Master's degree in this subject, so I might like it once I delve deeper into it. It helped me not to deviate from the path, and honestly, I didn't explore many other electrical engineering fields. It was good because it helped me give direction to my work from a very early time. Even from my second year, I knew this is what I had to do and I didn't waste a lot of time exploring other options that somewhat appeared cool.
MM: You were awarded the Certificate of Merit for the academic year 2016-17. What was your daily routine related to academics that brought you this award?
AR: The curriculum was different when I was in my first year. We had a total of around 30 credits in the first year. Many people told me that since I had been from a coaching background, the first year would be a cakewalk for me because the coaching institutes had already taught almost everything in the first year's curriculum, but it wasn't true. First-year of college was the time when I felt that I was learning a lot, so much was being thrown at me and I had to keep up with all that while trying to embrace the culture at college and the campus. NIT Rourkela allows you to do whatever you wish for - you can sit in your room, study, go to the library if you want to, be free to join fifteen different clubs if you wish!
I used to study more in my first year. Talking about my daily routine, I used to attend classes very religiously. In the first semester, I had basic electronics engineering and it was a bit difficult but we got through it. Then in my second semester, I had basic electrical engineering. Everything in the class appeared so great. I remember talking to my friend Deepak (Kumar) a night before the mid-semester exam of BEE (Basic Electrical Engineering) that it was all so easy.
I was thinking about what was there to be scared of in electrical engineering. Everything was just maths and basic stuff like Kirchoff's law, etc. However, after seeing the paper, I felt like I knew nothing. I ended up with an 8 or 9 during the mid-semester exam and I freaked out. I thought, “If I couldn't do first year's basic electrical engineering, how would I do it for five years! I might as well drop out now.” I remember calling my mom and telling her that I couldn't do this. However, the professors were helpful. I went to the professor who was teaching me BEE at that time and I told her that I had no idea about what was going on and I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I got through it.
MM: Please tell us about your journey in Clarion, first as a debater and then as the Vice President.
AR: Clarion has given me a lot. I joined Clarion in my first year. Sahiti (Ravipati) and I went together for the inductions. Sahiti was the only person I knew when I came to college. We both heard that other people were getting SMS, stating they had been inducted, but we hadn't received any. At first, we thought that we weren't good enough for this club. However, later we got the SMS.
The journey in Clarion was very challenging. As a child, I have always been very apprehensive. I remember taking part in a fancy-dress competition in which I dressed up as a doctor. I had to go on the stage and speak about my role, but after seeing all the people in the audience, I started sobbing. That's how I had been for a long time. It wasn't until my 9th grade when I finally decided to open up and talk more. Then I got into a little bit of public speaking and debating. I did some MUNs as well. I wanted to join Clarion because I felt that if I let it go, the skills that I had developed very recently would fall into old patterns where I was an under-confident person and wouldn't be able to talk freely to people.
As Clarion's Vice President, I was on the other side of being a debater in Clarion. I was accountable for things that members do. I had to be accountable to SAC. I had to be answerable on behalf of the entire club. It was a very enlightening experience for me in terms of handling so many people. It's always been a learning curve. You slip up, talk to people, get back. It was always nice to have a support system - Soorya, Srija and Siddhesh (co-post holders) were the people I could depend upon. We were always there to ground each other. It was a very good experience.
MM: What are the achievements/ things that you will always cherish about being a part of Clarion?
AR: It helped me develop as the person that I am today. You can always cherish your achievements but I think cherishing your experiences is always more important. More than cherishing accomplishments, I would cherish the time I had spent in Clarion, how it helped me to grow as a person, the friendships that I had made there, everything it had taught me and how it helped me turn into a more articulate and confident person and also helped me become more approachable. Clarion was mostly about debating and figuring out what points to say.
I remember my very first debate in Clarion. It was Srija, Rashmita and me. We had to debate about Donald Trump. During that time, we had too little awareness of anything in the entire world. We had about 10-15 minutes of prep time and we had no idea about what to do. Back then, we didn't have Jio and seamless internet searching, so we decided to call Rashmita's mom! We asked aunty for help because we knew nothing about the topic. She gave us three points, and our entire speech was over in 2 minutes 30 seconds. We were debating with a third-year team. They came and they killed us! They had such great arguments and we were sitting there listening to them and felt that they were making a lot of sense.
We got a lot better from there. We went to KIIT Bhubaneswar. Even though I happened to live in various places, I never went out much on my own. So, the college gave me a completely different experience. We took a night bus and went to Bhubaneswar and we were there for the entire day.
Another thing that I have learned is how different situations provide you with different perspectives. Sometimes, you might have to debate a topic that you disagree with. I have never been a highly opinionated person.
Despite being in Clarion, I rarely have opinions about a lot of things. However, sometimes you have strong beliefs about something and then some topics contradict your beliefs or values. I struggled a little with this during my initial days of Clarion, but it helped me to detach myself from what I believed and look at things from a different perspective regardless of what I earlier thought. It has helped me evolve into a more rational person.
MM: How was your experience being a Content Coordinator in Microsoft Campus Club, NITR Chapter?
AR: I joined Microsoft Campus Club as a content team member in my first year. As I went to Narayana in my 11th and 12th standards, I didn't learn anything related to coding, which most people usually do in their 11th and 12th standards. I was coming from a ‘know-nothing’ background in this matter. So, I joined Microsoft Campus Club and tried to slowly get into the club's coding aspect by attending workshops etc. However, I quickly realized that coding probably wasn't my cup of tea or not even something I was much interested in. Yet Microsoft still provided me with a lot of opportunities. As a Content Coordinator, I mostly worked on just making contents for posters, social media handles etc.
It was a very different organization and had a completely different way of doing things. I always find it amusing to see how all the clubs approach things so differently. I met a lot of fascinating and super-talented people here. I got to learn a lot from them. Just being a part of another club and contributing in any little matter has given me so much perspective.
MM: You became the Dean’s Nominee for Literary and Cultural Society. How did that happen and what motivated you to take on that responsibility? How was your experience? Were you satisfied with it?
AR: I was the Dean’s Nominee for Literary and Cultural Society in my 4th year. One has to be in the pre-final year to be eligible to be Dean’s Nominee. I think this is one of the advantages of being a Dual Degree student. In my 4th year, I was kind of lost. From my 1st to 3rd year, I always had something to do after my classes. I had to attend a meeting or be a part of the meeting and stand up there and say something to people. This had become such an integral part of my college life by then. Fourth years, in general, are not much involved in club activities anymore and are more focussed on placements. And in my 4th year, I didn’t even have placements to prepare for. So, I was looking around and thinking about what I can do to make more productive utilisation of my time. This motivated me to take on the responsibility of being Dean’s Nominee. I decided to apply for Literary and Cultural Society because while I was in Clarion, I had interacted with a lot of professors who were a part of the Literary and Cultural Society. So, I had more idea about how this society works.
Working in SAC was a very different angle of working for me. I was now the link between the clubs and professors who were part of SAC. I was responsible for establishing communication, ensuring that everything runs smoothly from an administrative point of view, ironing out a few differences and just making sure that everything is going the way as it should and there is no discrepancy from any side. This is something that I didn’t recognise until I was in that position. As a part of a club, one feels like everything is happening seamlessly, and there aren’t any glitches. However, this position is a much larger scale of looking at things compared to being a part of a club. I worked with Prof. Saroj Kumar Patel, Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, Prof. Upender Gundala, Prof. Sambit Bakshi and a few more professors.
This opportunity gave me a lot of perspective on how different clubs work and how SAC functions. I was definitely satisfied with my experience of being Dean’s Nominee. It taught me a lot of skills, like how to deal with different kinds of people. In clubs, a lot of like-minded people work under the same roof. They attract people who think in the same way. However, working in SAC and dealing with multiple clubs and people with varying thoughts is a very different experience altogether. It is beneficial that I learnt the skill of dealing with people and understanding how they think. Individually it’s kind of like making friends, but it’s also like making friends with people you don’t necessarily have to agree with, but you still have to work with. This has been a very valuable lesson that I have taken away from it.
MM: You are proficient in swimming, from being an Inter-District Level Swimmer to All India Inter NIT swimmer. You were also part of the Institute Swimming Team. How do you describe your entire journey in this sport?
AR: Honestly speaking, it’s not something that I have done seriously. Yet, I tried doing it seriously when I went for Inter-District level. I figured that it’s something that I do recreationally, for fun or to just clear my mind. So, it’s not exactly a journey, rather something that has been a part of my life which I do recreationally.
MM: How did you manage to strike a balance between your academics and extracurriculars?
AR: During my first year, I was into swimming and I was also a member of Clarion and Microsoft Campus club. It's relatively easier to have a balance between academics and extracurriculars in the first year because it's the time before college has spoilt you with all its freedom. In the first year, you're coming from a period of your life where you were used to being productive for most of the day. I used to wake up at 6 AM because I used to go swimming. During my first year, there were very few girls into swimming, so girls' slots were at the most ridiculous times you could imagine. Back then, I also used to have a strict bedtime. I used to go to bed by 11 or midnight and I would wake up at six every day.
I don't think I ever looked at it in the way of managing; it was always like I had to do this, I have to study, I have to do that. One of the main things that I did in the first year was carefully listening in class and making notes. I think that made it a lot easier. I didn't have to go back every day and study. Studying becomes a lot easier if you listen to the class. A piece of advice that a senior had given me in the first year that had helped me a lot was that it was effortless to boost your GPA in the first year because once you go in the branch, it becomes difficult; so study well during the first year.
Internships and Placement
MM: Share with us your first internship experience at RailTel Corporation of India.
AR: RailTel Corporation is the telecommunication service of the Ministry of Indian Railways. To be very frank about it, there are not many ways to get an internship there in your first year.
In my first year, I felt like I had no opportunities to get an internship since neither of my parents is from engineering backgrounds. One of my friend’s dad worked at RailTel, so I got in touch with him, and he helped me bag the internship. This was a month-long internship while I was in Hyderabad. I worked in the field of telecommunications, even though I didn’t know much about this field at that time. It was more of a learning experience for me. I learnt how engineering is used in real life, communicating with trains, fibre optic communication etc. I analysed how these things work on a larger scale, as we have such an extensive train network in India. I was looking at the maps, finding where alarms were situated, what method of communication and technology they used and how it could be improved.
MM: Your internship in IIT Hyderabad was based on applications of Machine Learning, how was your experience there?
AR: I think, at some point, every engineer had gone through a phase when they tried to learn Machine Learning. So, just like any other engineering student, this was the time when I thought, “Hey! Machine Learning! Looks like such a good topic to work on”. So, at IIT Hyderabad, I worked on Machine Learning. (laughs!)
In IIT Hyderabad, mostly the other interns working with me were in 3rd or 4th year. So, I felt like I lacked a lot of background knowledge, but my professor was very supportive and let me work on whatever I wanted.
I worked on user communications and mobile networks based on Machine Learning. When we are travelling to different places, our phones connect to all these cell towers, and it knows which tower to connect with. So, I worked on how that can be based on Machine Learning and how we can predict which tower to connect to.
I didn’t do much concrete work, but I did a lot of background work, like literature reviews etc. I helped a student in IIT Hyderabad who was working on his thesis at that time on this particular topic. So, I helped him do some research, get some background, and look at what he is doing and learning from it.
Something that really helped me to get an internship here was the fact that I had already done an internship. This is why I think people find it a little difficult to find internships in their second year if they haven’t done anything in their first year. Doing internships is something I would recommend to everyone. Even if it is a month or 2-month long internship, try to do something on every vacation as it builds your credibility.
MM: You have been a research intern at Hochschule Aalen. What was the application procedure and how has your internship experience been?
AR: Hochschule Aalen was the first foreign internship I did. The application process was the same as IIT Hyderabad, which was emailing professors of the University. I wanted to do an academic internship because I felt like I would be able to learn more as a part of the lab or University. I am sure there are great companies in Electrical Engineering where you can do internships, but at that time, I wasn't skilled or credible enough to get internships in any of these places. So academic internships were my best bet if I wanted to learn and explore Electrical Engineering subjects. At the same time, I got selected for the Indian Academy of Sciences fellowship but I chose this research internship over it. I was sceptical about it but it turned a blessing in disguise.
I worked on some really challenging things here. This was my first time diving into power electronics and figuring out what it actually is. Even if my professor didn't speak a lot of English, he still took every opportunity to help me understand. He made sure that I was learning and was being able to contribute in any way. He provided me with opportunities to maximize my skills, and he helped me get into Microcontroller programming. Once, he gave me a couple of microcontrollers and said, "Play with it, blow it up, do whatever you want. But try and see if you can learn something from that." It was totally what caught me interested in power electronics in the first place.
I was fortunate to get an internship at Aalen. Aalen is a small quaint European town. I met a lot of interns and students there from different parts of Europe. It was a very rewarding and exciting experience. It wasn't a paid internship, so I wasn't paid a stipend or anything. However, they did help me out a lot by giving me free transportation and subsidized accommodation. I was able to live close by to the University and travel around in any service that I wanted to in the state for free! Luckily my Professor was a part-time pilot and he took me for a ride in his flight through the state.
MM: You have bagged the prestigious MITACS internship. Please throw some light on your preparation strategy and key learnings during the internship.
AR: MITACS was another academic internship. It is generally based on your GPA and what research experience you have in your past. In our batch, about 35 got selected for the internship and I had the lowest GPA amongst all who got selected. I was pretty sure I wouldn't get it but then I surprisingly I got selected. The main reason was that I had prior International experience. I worked at the University of Alberta and analyzed a new converter for the grid system which mostly involved Maths. I participated in different events being conducted. I even saw the Northern Lights. So overall, it was a great experience in terms of learning and exploring things.
MM: You have interned at PEARS NTU. Please tell us about the application procedure and share with us your preparation strategy and experience of the internship.
AR: This was the time when I was deciding to go to Grad School. Being in a dual degree, I am not allowed to do an internship in the fourth-year summer and stay in college and work on my thesis. So I decided that I have this one internship and going to make the most of it. I worked under a Professor in Taiwan and she is the one whom I have always looked up to. She used to make videos on control system in power electronics on Youtube and I used to watch them understand better what I was learning in class. I mailed a lot of Professors and as she reverted, I just had one thing in my mind to wok under her. Though Taiwan was a place where people rarely talked in English or were comfortable with foreigners but I enjoyed learning under her guidance. This was my first time working with industrial collaboration. The company was based in the USA and I was working with them on their software and checking if the results were theoretically correct. I am still in touch with the professor and I am remotely working on the software as well.
MM: Tell us about your placement journey. What was your initial reaction when you got to know that you are placed at Fractal Analytics?
AR: I intend to go to grad school and do an MS in electrical engineering. We are in an unpredictable situation and seeing my batch mates who have MS admits but weren't able to join due to global shut down, I was keen to sit for the placements to have a good offer that would help me learn. For me having only research experience it was difficult to justify to a core company that why should they take me. I started preparing for analytics because I wasn't good at software. Fractal Analytics was one of the best analytics company which comes to NITR. They do analytics work based on Artificial Intelligence. They don't expect you to have great knowledge in ML and AI but what they do expect is to have strong fundamentals in Maths and that us what electrical engineering has prepared me for. It is so much Maths (chuckles!).
MM: You received an MS admit from various Universities. What are your future plans?
AR: I have MS admits from a bunch of schools like the University of Minnesota and Virginia Tech and have applied for to a couple of places. For MS if you are going abroad for research, you must check out the course and the fields the Professor working on rather than going based on the ranking. The top university in the world might not be the top university for you in terms of what you wan because Professors abroad are generally involved in industry-based research work unlike in India. I am still looking for a few more admits. Virginia Tech has offered me a full waiver in tuition fees and it did offer my health insurance but I am still waiting for all my acceptance and rejections.
MM: What are your fondest memories and regrets (if any) throughout your journey at NIT Rourkela?
AR: My fondest memory is the entire journey of my college. I don't have any regrets but maybe I should have studied more and focus on my GPA. I feel that we shouldn't make study everything and focus on utilising everything in NITR, which I did. You are here to learn much more than just the course. A lot of jobs do not apply what you have studied in college but do apply what you have learned as an individual in college.
MM: What would be your final message to our readers out there?
AR: To anybody reading this, don't try to be like me or anyone whose interview you read. Just figure for yourself what's makes you happy. It's not just adding more pages to your CV but leaning more into the process you are going through. It might happen that you would be crying alone in your room or enjoying midnight at the road with your friends but at the end of the day it will all boil down to something which you will look back with a smile.
Team Monday Morning wishes Aishworya Roy the best for all her future endeavours!