sushmitha1Sushmitha Shree is a PhD student in the Department, and has been awarded the prestigious Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF). She is jointly advised by Prof. Krishna Jagannathan and Prof. Avhishek Chatterjee. We caught up with Sushmitha to chat about her journey. Here are some excerpts from the interaction:

Tell us a bit about yourself — academic background, family background, etc.

I hail from Tiruchirappalli, known by its famous sobriquet Rock Fort City. My father is a professor in the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering at NIT, Trichy. My mother is a graduate and a home-maker. My sister is pursuing engineering at Thiagarajar College of Engineering (TCE), Madurai, Tamil Nadu. I obtained my Bachelor’s degree from the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering at TCE where I was guided by Dr. S. J. Thiruvengadam. I received the Best Outgoing Student Award (2014-2018, ECE) and the Student Achievers Award during the academic years 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. During my Bachelor’s, I interned under the guidance of Dr. K. Giridhar at EE, IIT Madras through the Summer Fellowship Programme (SFP) 2017, and subsequently carried out my undergraduate project during January – April 2018. It is this dynamic platform and the inquisitive team that influenced my decision to take up research after under-graduation.

What are your thoughts on winning the prestigious PMRF? What do you think you did right to receive this award?

I had applied for the fellowship during December 2019 and visited IIT Kanpur for the interview. I was tested on my basics and received positive comments for my performance. Nevertheless, my profile lacked something that I did not get through the process, and needless to say, the experience showed me where I stood. I was considering applying for one last time during May 2020 and my advisors readily assented to that. I am unsure of the specific factors that played a role in my selection this time, as I give equal weight to my academic profile, research proposal, statement of purpose, and recommendations. However, I am grateful for the honor, and understand that it is now time to push my boundaries, prioritize my tasks, and strive hard to justify the honor given to me.

Tell us a bit about your academic experience so far as a research scholar at IITM. Can you elaborate on the research environment, peer group, and other relevant aspects

Of all the semesters to date, my first semester was the most challenging. I had taken four core courses and was getting accustomed to various aspects of the system. Additionally, I had to prepare for my comprehensive examination. When I joined the Networks and Stochastic Systems (NSS) lab, most of my lab seniors were winding up. Yet, they stepped forward to guide me (both offline and online) through their experiences to face my ordeals effectively. Even today, without a second thought, I ask for their advice. The freedom to enroll in courses of any discipline has fostered my knowledge and widened my peer group across departments. Also, discussions with labmates and friends of allied labs have introduced me to varied research areas in the department, and I believe that this opens up opportunities for collaboration.

Shushmitha with her advisors, Krishna (C) and Avhishek (L).

Shushmitha with her advisors, Krishna (C) and Avhishek (L).

What aspects of Ph.D. student life do you particularly like? What aspects, if any, could do with improvements?

One of my favorite aspects of life as a Ph.D. scholar is the Teaching Assistantship (required when a student is under HTRA). I have handled three courses in five semesters and met students at all stages. Also, I am a teaching assistant for the NPTEL course, “Probability Foundations for Electrical Engineers”. This aspect has helped me a lot to keep me in touch with my basics and delve into the further unexplored notions of a concept through my students. Indeed, this has boosted my confidence to express what I have learned. In addition to this, the NPTEL team of IIT Madras offers research scholars an opportunity to serve as a Text Transcription Reviewer for a plethora of available courses which has enabled me to expand my knowledge across the domains of engineering.

Another aspect is that the system does not refrain its scholars from involving in non-academic activities. I have actively participated in sports, volunteered for several activities within the department and the institute, and also held some of the positions of responsibility. This has certainly influenced my research life as I have built a good rapport with students irrespective of their age, department, or degree of study, thereby increasing the number of peer groups. More importantly, this has ensured that I maintain a healthy balance between academics and non-academic activities.

Recently, I signed up as a mentee under the STEWARD mentoring program which aims at providing a solid platform to encourage women mentees to commit to a research-oriented career. The institute is at its best in providing the flexibility to explore umpteen opportunities and making every aspect of my research life useful and memorable.

What would you tell your friends and juniors who are considering doing a Ph.D.?

Dear Friend,

If you are the one who firmly believes in ‘Learn, Unlearn and Relearn’, Ph.D. is the right choice.

I am sure this says it all!

Any other comments, anecdotes?

I am very delighted to be honored with the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF). It all started on that late evening when my advisor messaged me to check the eligibility and apply for the fellowship during December 2019. I am grateful to my research advisors, Dr. Krishna Jagannathan and Dr. Avhishek Chatterjee for identifying my potential and emboldening me from day one  to keep going whenever I am downhearted. I thank Dr. Giridhar whose valuable suggestions during my internship have been instrumental in shaping my decisions after under-graduation. I would also like to make a special mention of Dr. Balaji Srinivasan, EE, IIT Madras, who has mentored me in all my successes and failures ever since we got connected through our alma mater. My sincere thanks to the faculty fraternity and my seniors for their apt guidance, and my friends for being my sounding board. I would certainly be remiss if I do not acknowledge my family’s effort throughout this process.

I am who I am today because of you all.

I wish that I make the best out of all the resources available to me and make you all proud with my future endeavors.