“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabindranath Tagore
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am a Ph.D. student at University of California, Merced, navigating my way through exciting graduate research at the intersection of algorithmic human robot interaction (AHRI), autonomous driving and cloud computing. I am also an exchange student at UC Berkeley, where I am taking one of the very few AHRI courses offered in the US (thanks to Anca Dragan, she is amazing and one of the 25 Women in Robotics 2016 you need to know about!).
I was raised in a middle class Bengali family in India. I love to paint (mostly oil medium) and am stuck in the impressionism era when it comes to style preference. I started my career in architectural design. Thanks to that had the opportunity to visit some the best art galleries in the world (Picasso Museum, Barcelona, Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Louvre Museum, France and Chicago Art Institute).
I shifted my career from architectural design to human centered design to computer science. It is the pervasiveness of the impact of CS that attracted me. The shift was not easy, emotionally as well as professionally. Fortunately, I was at a great place to begin with (UC Berkeley) when I decided to make this switch. I received advice from and was able to professionally work with some of the most well-known experts in the field of design and human computer interaction. During my undergraduate program in India, my favorite teacher used to call me ‘Hitler’ for my headstrong nature. I hope to channelize my headstrongness in the right direction and become a good and socially aware researcher in computer science.
What # would define your life journey?
Favorite website / app:
http://robohub.org (for all you want to know about robotics)
https://www.facebook.com/female.artists.in.history/ (because I could not learn about them from the painting curriculum)
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
I get inspired by someone everyday: some of them may be professionally very successful at an early age and others may have overcome difficulties in life, far beyond what I have seen, and yet retained their smile. I truly admire Indra Nooyi. Her interview about work/life balance was, in particular, enlightening for me. I have also been lucky to closely observe two professionally highly successful women in my family. What I admire the most in them is their ability to be a great mother in addition to managing a successful medical career. As for my research, Christopher Alexander, Ken Goldberg and Don Norman are three personalities who inspire me to pursue art and science together.
Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
When I decided to shift my career from architecture to engineering design at University of California, Berkeley, I had to work around the clock. I had to learn programming all on my own. I learnt about sensor networks and machine learning by working on engineering projects that I felt passionate about. Christmas is the time when most of the international students go back to their own country. I had to stay back to learn about and work on my research. I could not meet my parents for 3 years. Not seeing their only child for 3 years was tough on my parents too. I am grateful that they were persistently supportive of my efforts. Now that I have formally joined a Ph.D. in Computer Science, I am constantly faced with the challenge of keeping up with the rest of the cohort. I am excited that I can teach core CS courses to undergraduates in UC Merced. I work at UC Merced, take courses in UC Berkeley and manage a home in the Silicon Valley. For my research, I have etched out collaborations with CMU and UC Berkeley. I also mentor undergraduate researchers at UC Merced, as I used to, when I was in UC Berkeley. I believe that challenges are not over and will never be over. Every small step that I take in my career is an effort towards overcoming a small challenge. That is what makes life exciting.
I will pursue a research career in AI and Robotics and apply AI for social good. That is all I can say for now.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
If you are not happy with your work or your career, don’t sulk, don’t feel depressed. Talk to experts. More often than not they will understand you. I have met amazing mentors in my career who have understood my strong urge for computer science. They helped me and guided me. So reach out to the right persons as soon as possible. Sometimes it is worth giving up your ego, but not worth giving up your goal. That goal may be vague. But we all have vague goals, only when you move closer to it will you see it clearly. So work towards that vague goal.