More girls than boys apply for STEM research

Research capabilities define an institute; good research needs the four pillars of competent faculty, bright and interested students, an ecosystem and support staff, and funding and infrastructure, says Debarata Das, Director of IIIT Bangalore. In an exclusive conversation with
education timeit defines the emphasis placed by the institute on the development of research in all fields.

Focus on research

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

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Girls in STEM doctorate

There has been an increase in the number of girls applying for PhDs in STEM subjects at the institute, Das reveals. “We have a ratio of 55:45 research applications and selected students, both in favor of girls,” he says. The girls do very well in tech research because they are focused, hard-working, get to the fundamentals of the subject, have team spirit as well as good analytical and logical thinking skills, Das explains. “The institute also offers additional scholarships to encourage female students in the field of STEM research,” he adds.

Work in data science

The institute’s courses in data science are renowned, making it imperative to stay at the forefront of research as well. “Initially, a database was needed to store information and hence data science emerged to interpret the complexities of huge chunks of information packaged as big data. With the increase in computational activities , the need for storage has increased, leading to the introduction of analytics and analytics modules.The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL) has shown that data science can also be used in areas other than technology,” says Das.

Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is used to collect data needed for field research. “A set of data is used to frame decisions that will affect the associated automation. While this is where data science research is today, the next step is to analyze whether the decisions are accurate; this must be done through the process of explainability.Students in the institute proactively undertake research in related fields of geographic information systems, immense processing, computer networks, hardware and others, based on AI/ ML/DL,” says the director.

University-industry collaboration

“Our students participate in various industry-led research projects. Additionally, during the summer, our faculty join any industry of their choosing to discuss and understand unresolved research issues, striving to find solutions,” Das explains. The industry is also calling on faculty to train and mentor their current workforces to keep them up to date with all the changing trends and latest additions to their field, Das adds.

Need for soft skills

While being technically sound is imperative, soft communication skills, teamwork, integrity, and ethics are equally important for engineers. “The undergraduate (UG) syllabus of any engineering course is divided into three parts, including concepts/basics, problem-solving skills as well as emphasis on soft skills, health and sports. Although the faculty focus on developing soft skills, lack of student interest acts as a barrier,” he says.

Students focus more on acquiring technical knowledge because their teachers told them that concentration is the only way to get a job. “Once students join an engineering institute, it becomes difficult to change their mindset. To make engineers versatile, changes need to be made at the level of the school itself,” he says.

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