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Q: What happened in your placement interview with Qualcomm?
People were selected on the basis of a written test, prior to the interview. I had the conception that being a theory person is a disadvantage as they say that you can only theorize and not practically implement stuff. But electronics companies in particular are looking for theory people who can fit into their R&D Departments especially in the up and coming offices in Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Qualcomm Hyderabad is still upcoming and they have a really small R&D Team as well. So, they thought they could fit in in their Statistics Department or Coding Theory Department. They didnít ask many technical questions. They asked me about my internships. They wanted to know about my CMI experience so theory internships do help in that sense. And they closed it with that.
Q: Any advice for people aspiring to get placed in core electronics placements?
Very few companies come for core. According to the latest statistics, only two companies have hired purely for core electronics. Revisit topics like Communications or Signals and Systems and such fundamental topics which even people employing you believe is essential for you.
I can speak for the Communications side. I donít know much about the electronics side. They look for people with good Math. So, brush up on your Math Skills and go back to your Communication courses to revise all the Math you missed. Donít take it on yourself to sit for every company that visits. Sit only for those that match your profile.
Q: How to tackle pressure during placements?
One Big Tip: The interviewer isnít interested in the answer you are giving or whether it is right or wrong. Rather, they are more into the way you derived it. If you are strong in your fundamentals and you can prove him that you know some concepts that are used to solve the problem, then, he is interested in you.
Also keep explaining him the concepts that are running in your mind so that it takes the pressure off you and it conveys the interviewer that you mean stuff. Your communication skills and other soft skills are also tested along with your confidence. So, appear really relaxed and cool so that it looks like you are in charge of your solution.
Q: What is your journey at BPHC?
The first day I entered campus it was more like I had to take in all the opportunities BITS was providing me and at that point of time I was more into co-curricular activities. At that time, I was looking for opportunities in ELAS, the Quiz Club and a lot of other things. As far as academics was concerned it was a lot of hard work right from my first semester. I was surrounded by a lot of co-curricular activities during my first and second year.
At the end of my second year, I dropped my PS1 and took an internship at The Chennai Mathematical Institute. The kind of people that do an internship there or the kind of people the institute hosts are those having an immense interest in theory, pure mathematical research. I am an ECE graduate but I did a Computer Science project there. So that sort of set the stage for the coming years and ensured that I was interested in theory.
My second internship was also in theory, which was at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and then later at IIIT Hyderabad. Right now, as far as internships are concerned, very few people are actually interested in theory.
Q: How did you balance your academics and co-curricular activities?
In my first year it was relatively easy, since we had a very small coursework. We had those defined 5 to 7 courses. There was sufficient time on the weekends to go out and conduct our weekly quizzes or writing events. The thing about balancing academics and co-curricular activities is about what you want to do. Like if you are really passionate about creative writing, it will come to the forefront regardless of what other work you have. I have always tried to maintain an active presence on campus. I am still an active member of Quiz Club, I write for The Daily BITSian and I am the chief editor of On The Rocks.
Q: What kind of disciplinary and open electives did you take which helped during your theoretical internships?
For the people who are interested in theoretical stuff, I really encourage them to take open electives which are math based. I took open electives in logic, discrete mathematics, theory of relativity and also, I did an allied course on artificial intelligence. These courses are quite varied but deeply theoretical. I really feel that if there are people interested in theory, they do take up maths courses apart from their disciplinary ones.
As far as disciplinary electives are concerned I did a course on Image Processing and other standard lab or project based courses. You need to figure out early whether you are interested in theory. At the end of 2-1 if you have an inclination towards theory, I really suggest that you take maths courses like algebra, discrete maths and some real analysis courses if time permits.
I believe the real specialization starts after 3-2 and by 4-1 you will have an idea of which field you want to pursue. Suppose you are an electrical engineer and you want to pursue information and coding theory, so besides the course of coding theory provided to us you might consider the M.E course on it.
Q: How did you apply for The Chennai Mathematical Institute and what kind of profile, background is needed to do so?
The Chennai Mathematical Institute and its sister institute known as The Institute of Mathematical Sciences have an online application form that they float around November or December. I did it through an online route. You could also try cold mailing the professors if a professorís profile interests you, like there are professors working on graph theory, complexity analysis, logic and allied fields.
Frankly speaking they donít have much expectations from undergraduates, so they will check your past track record. The track record will be like the courses you have done and how well have you fared in them. In very rare cases will they keep an interview. In the interview, they will ask you very preliminary questions to check whether you are comfortable with mathematical work and have a mathematical maturity.
One thing which I would like to say is that the experience of such an internship is very different from the PS1 experiences because here you donít work on a project, rather you will be having an open problem statement that no one in the world has yet explored. You are the first person to have discovered the problem and need to churn out a solution on your own. You have freedom and a lot of time in your hands. I would encourage people to do such internships more likely for the experience you get. Just to see whether you can get your own publication out of it.
Q: Why did you consider these internships over any opportunity abroad?
Universities abroad look for quality content in you which isnít available in an undergraduate degree. Personally, I donít find any intellectual difference between an Indian and foreign experience. Some of my seniors who got foreign internships had great success stories but the others just had to code an existing programme. Hence, I chose to intern in India in spite of getting an offer from NTU, Singapore.
If you are a theory person I would suggest you to intern in India as there are sufficient opportunities at TIFR, CMI and IISc. as you would get to do some really creative work there.
Q: How many papers have you published? What were the courses that helped you?
I have published only one paper which is with the IIIT faculty. Frankly speaking, only the Discrete Math course helped. I would encourage you to approach all theory courses with the same amount of vigour as you may not know which course will come up first. For instance, in my latest internship in Coding Theory, I used Linear Algebra concepts and not the Coding Theory concepts that I learnt in the course here. Your first year Math courses will also help you a lot.
Q: How did you get your Letter of Recommendation?
Subject LOR and Character LOR are the two types of LORs. If the faculty at BITS know that you have performed well in academics, they give LORs somewhat easily. For a Subject LOR you should approach people you interned or did a project under. Ask them to specify your contribution to the work so that the person reading the LOR can understand your input to your work.
Writing a Statement of Purpose is an art. Nobody has ever written the perfect SOP. Being frank while writing it is better than trying to make it look over the top. At the same time donít be too humble by saying that you may not be able to extrapolate your work more than this point. Put yourself in a pragmatic position. For example, if you are doing an internship in Image Processing but you have just done the course, then you can write that you have learnt the algorithms which you havenít implemented yet. But also let them know that you can write simple C or MATLAB code to implement them. So just give yourself that room.
Q: How important is an LOR in your field?
Theory people are very conservative in accepting interns, so LORs are very important. In a theory internship, you donít have 6 or 7 people working in a project. Itís just one or two people. Hence the faculty is very concerned whether you can understand a concept that they provide to you. You usually donít have a say in choosing that concept as they decide it. In that case if you have an LOR which says that you have done well in that concept and have shown some original result then the faculty will be impressed.
Q: How do you build your profile in Phoenix?
Iím not the right person to ask for this as I havenít done a lot of projects. From whatever I know, I think the Hyperloop India team is very active. Apart from that MIT Media Lab and SandBox which are there in Campus. If you are in your first and second year and really interested in toying around with your Arduino then you can join these groups. They arenít research groups but practical hands-on-experience groups. Join Automation and Robotics Club and talk to your seniors often.
As far as projects are concerned, there arenít many professors with specific areas of interest. So, identify them early on and stick onto one project until completion. I am doing my first project in my fourth year and thatís because Iím more of a theory person. So, for people interested in projects just stick to one professor and take it on for three or four semesters.
Q: Any Words of Wisdom?
CGPA is very important. They play a very important role while applying for projects and internships, so donít neglect CGPA.
Thank you Mr. Arvind for your time and support regarding this.
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