More girls than boys are applying for research in STEM

Research capabilities define an institute; good research needs the four pillars of competent faculty, bright and interested students, supporting ecosystem and staff, as well as funding and infrastructure, says Debarata Das, director, IIIT Bangalore. In an exclusive conversation with
Education Times, he defines the institute’s focus on developing research across domains.

Focus on research

The institute is focused on research in the fields of AI/ML/DL, computer vision and image processing, web science, communications, and cryptography, says the director. “In the field of e-health, research teams are working on projects such as robotic brain surgery as well as hardware designs for paralytic, neuron affected patients,” he says.


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Girls in STEM PhD

There has been a rise in number of girls applying for PhD in STEM subjects at the institute, reveals Das. “We have a ratio of 55:45 research applications and selected students, both in favour of girls,” he says. Girls are doing excellent in technological research as they are focused, hard-working, go to the fundamentals of the subject, have team spirit as well as good analytical and logical thinking skills, says Das. “The institute also offers extra fellowships to encourage girl students in the field of STEM research,” he adds.

Work in Data Science

The institute’s courses in Data Science is well-renowned, making it imperative to stay ahead in research as well. “Initially, a database was needed to store information and as a consequence Data Science emerged to interpret the complexities of huge chunks of information packed as big data. With increase in computational activities, need for storage rose, leading to introduction of analytics and analytical modules. Rise of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL) showed that data science can be used in fields beyond technology as well,” says Das.

Today, Internet of Things (IoT) is used to collect data needed for research in the field. “A data set is used to frame decisions that will affect the related automation. While this is where research in data science stands today, the next step is to analyse whether the decisions are exact; this needs to be done through the process of explainability. Students at the institute are proactively taking up research in related areas of geographical information systems, immense processing, computer networking, hardware and others, based on AI/ML/DL” says the director.

Academic-industry collaboration

“Our students participate in various industry-led research projects. Additionally, during the summer, our faculty join any industry of their choice to discuss and understand unsolved research problems, making efforts to find solutions,” says Das. The industry also invites faculty to train and mentor their current workforces so that it remains updated with all changing trends and newest additions to their field of operation, adds Das.

Need for soft skills

While being technically sound is imperative, soft skills in communication, teamwork, having integrity, and being ethical are equally important for engineers. “The undergraduate (UG) curriculum for any Engineering course is divided into three parts, including concepts/basics, problem solving skills as well as focus on soft skills, health, and sports. Despite having faculty focused on soft skill development, lack of interest from students acts as a roadblock,” he says.

Students are focused more on gaining technical knowledge as their schoolteachers have told them that single-minded focus is the only way of getting a job. “Once students join an Engineering institute, it becomes difficult to change their mind-set. To make engineers all-rounders, changes need to be made at the school level itself,” he says.

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