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Ashoka student attends Google Research Week

Isha Singh shares insights into the learning and experience she had at the Google Research Week 2023

I started off as an Economics major at Ashoka but ended up switching my major in my second year. My switch to Computer Science in my second year was propelled by my budding interest in Machine Learning research. The CS Department played a pivotal role in fuelling my research curiosity which eventually led me to secure a place at Research Week with Google 2023. 

The event was organised by Google Research India in Bangalore and was designed for working professionals, Ph.D. students, and final-year Masters/Undergraduate students. It included a series of lectures, career panels, and research discussion sessions led by pioneering researchers in the field of Machine Learning. Due to the exclusive nature of the program, the selection process was very comprehensive and competitive. Applicants were required to make their candidature by delineating their previous research experience and future research plans. The application also included evaluative questions which were aimed at testing a person’s research and scientific thinking. 

The program was geared towards fostering research specifically related to machine learning and was divided into three tracks: ML Foundations, Computer Vision, and Natural Language Understanding. Each applicant was required to submit a statement highlighting their interest, experience, motivation, and future research plans for a specific track. Although I am currently dabbling in computational social science research for my capstone project, I worked extensively in the field of computer vision during my internship at Microsoft Research India last year. Therefore, I was selected for the computer vision track and had the opportunity to interact with researchers who are at the forefront of this field globally.

The keynote speech was delivered by Dr Jeff Dean, the head of Google AI, wherein he highlighted the various Google AI projects currently in progress and their contribution to advancing technology. Some prominent researchers from the industry, including Gaurav Aggarwal, Prateek Jain, Steve Blackburn, and Praneeth Netrapalli, also presented their research. The speakers expanded upon some of the projects announced in the Google for India 2022 summit when Sundar Pichai visited India. These AI projects revolving around advancing the Indian agricultural ecosystem and preventive healthcare, prompted young researchers like myself to ground our research in meaningful problems to make a difference.

I also had the opportunity to attend some extremely fascinating technical sessions in which researchers like Dr Praneeth Netrapalli talked about their graceful solutions to fundamental, yet extremely significant machine learning problems such as non-robust features and simplicity biases in neural networks. During these technical sessions, I was amazed by the ingenuity of the research questions being discussed. One project, for instance, tackled if lip movements and multimodal input (including speech, text, and vision) could train a model for tasks such as speech generation. 

Amongst the many distinguished researchers that attended the event, I was extremely excited to get the opportunity to interact with Dr Angela Yao from the National University of Singapore. Her research session on modelling regression-type models in computer vision as classification tasks for a variety of application areas had me hooked right from the beginning. Dr Yao was also a part of the panel discussion on pursuing research careers in academia and the industry. This fireside chat-type session was the perfect platform for young computer scientists to get their non-technical questions answered. Further, it was refreshing to hear encouraging words from a successful woman in Stem such as Dr Yao. During this panel, Dr Steve Blackburn from the Google Brain team also shared his personal anecdotes while guiding us on career pathways and research directions. 

Dr Manish Gupta, the Director of Google Research, was another prominent speaker who shared his experience of establishing the Google Research India laboratory right from the time of its inception. The most enriching part of the program, however, was the informal interactions I had with the speakers, research scientists, the team from Google, and the bright participants.

With participants from reputed engineering colleges such as the IITs, IIITs, BITs, etc, I felt grateful and proud to be able to participate in and contribute to this symposium. Having this experience as a non-engineer woman in STEM made the experience even more exhilarating. I hope that more women with diverse backgrounds and research interests can access conferences of this scale.

At the end of this event, I was fortunate to have met some amazing people, senior academics and students alike, who are carrying out trailblazing and socially impactful research. Apart from being exposed to the thought process behind how high-quality research is carried out, I have also been able to understand the relevance and impact of AI for Social Good. I am glad to have returned with a profusion of research ideas and a renewed motivation to pursue research projects that positively impact the global population on a large scale.

Isha Singh (ASP’23) is currently completing her advanced major in Computer Science. She interned at Microsoft Research India last year and has worked on research projects in computer vision and computational social sciences.

Study at Ashoka

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