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Research Diary 1: Human Computer Interaction

October 16, 2019
- Vinayak Pushkar

Hi, I am Vinayak Pushkar, a final year student pursuing my bachelor’s in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Science Engineering. I am interested in investigating and designing the interaction between humans and machines or computers.

Why I Chose Research:

Research was not the first career track that I pursued at the beginning of my undergraduate life. In the first three semesters of my bachelor’s, I went on exploring and working with a lot of campus groups(mostly technical) and later I met a lot of professors for research projects. Most of us are hesitant to talk to professors and ask for projects in the beginning which should not be the case. I have always been interested in building products at the intersection of design and technology and I found that focusing on research gave me more time to pursue my interests. The more we explore and introspect in our initial years, the closer we get to what is precious to us or at least we come to know of things that do not align with our interests. I have experienced research on a small scale, but I can say it is a lot about patience. Even if you do not happen to be at some highly ranked foreign university for your research internship, you can still find ways to get involved in projects that interest you and work sincerely on them. If you want to explore research, you must dedicate a fair amount of time to it. In the institute, I have attempted projects in the Material Sciences, Physics and Architecture Departments and was also involved in some mechatronics projects. At first, I went through the research work which was being done by the professor. If I found it to be similar to what I wanted to do or if it seemed interesting, I approached them with my prior work in that field or just expressed my interest to work on similar projects after going through some literature from that field.

It is also very important to have proper planning on how to proceed with the projects. I had to drop a project in the Physics department because I was simultaneously involved in three projects in three different departments which I do not recommend beginners in research to do. Focusing on a single project and working wholeheartedly on that is a better option. While approaching professors, you need to show them how you can add value to their ongoing research. You may do it by describing your work, interest, and its alignment with research being done at their lab. I was given the position of Research Assistant which is generally a funded position in most universities. Some professors were interested in inviting me to work with them but they had a lack of funds. So, I kept trying until I landed a funded offer. It is actually a very good experience where you make a lot of connections with some people involved in quality research and labs across the globe. I approached professors directly through e-mail and inquired about funding if they seemed interested in my application. DORA IITR can also be helpful in case you need to get your travel aid for your internship or a conference. In the case of undergraduate research, funding becomes a big issue at all the different levels of research. Outside, one has to worry less about these things so they can work on anything they want to.

My Research Work at The University of Michigan :

My research at the University of Michigan was based on the personalization of medication information using computational modeling of user’s behavior and how it could play a role in improving Health Literacy across the globe.

The output of my research was as follows:

a. Impact of the research: People will face less difficulty in interacting with healthcare information.

b. Takeaways: It would be great if we could learn to use and manipulate our technological advancements for the welfare of people who have been deprived of healthcare services.

c. Rewards: A publication if you consider this as a reward, but most rewarding is the experience you get during your research work. Being a part of a good research lab teaches a lot of things about what it is to be a researcher and the ethics involved in good research work.

My Experience In Other Internships:

My research work at CPDM IISC Banglore was based on 3D visualization of data in Virtual Reality for a smart manufacturing setup and adding hand gestures to it so that the user can interact with and manipulate the visualized data in VR. Some other projects in the lab where I was involved included “Locking targets for shooting a guided missile by fighter jets using eye-gaze behavior of the Pilot”. These projects were done in collaboration with the Indian Air Force(IAF) and I had opportunities to interact with a few Wing Commanders of the IAF just a month before the Airstrike was carried out. It was really inspiring to see the lab working out technologies that could empower the IAF.

At present, I am working as a visiting scholar at the University of Potsdam, Germany. My work here is based on developing scalable fabrication techniques based on laser cutting. Our goal is to investigate how to convert models for fabrication (focused on laser-cutting) to work on any machine, material and material thickness. This makes it possible to use models made by others without having to consider their machine/material. Fabrication using 3D printing has some limitations, like printing large structures can take a lot of time, and disassembly of 3D printed models can be cumbersome. Our prototyping system aims to overcome these limitations. This is a great experience for me as I see some exciting new technologies being developed in the field of fabrication.This project is also very insightful for me as now, I have seen how an imagined concept is converted into a real product and the time, effort and enthusiasm it takes.

Signing Off:

The overall takeaway would be that I could investigate my interest in academic research through these internships. Going for an internship for a few months is very different than pursuing research in graduate studies but surely one gets a glimpse of what to expect if one plans for graduate studies. Writing a paper is an art and I was not good at it. The guidance I received from my professor was extremely helpful, particularly while articulating my work. Having research publications helps in proving your capabilities in front of any research lab and communicating your interests in an efficient manner. The experience of interacting with and getting interviewed by various researchers inside and outside the country was very helpful. We get a sense of what it means to be involved in research.

Write well-articulated emails and make connections. GPA matters but I could get in with an average GPA. So, if you try hard enough, you will surely grab an opportunity somewhere. Research takes time, we need to be patient and always curious. Feel free to get in touch in case you need any help :)

Good Luck!