Q1. Tell us about you MS in Control systems and Robotics at University of Washington (curriculum, professors, peers) . What were the various areas you explored and ones which you eventually plumped for ?
Ans. I did my masters in Electrical Engineering (EE) at University of Washington. University of Washington is blessed with a very good control systems program.
EE, CSE, AA, ME, Chemical Engineering and Bio Engineering departments offer joint courses in control systems and each department has research programs of their own. As a result, there are a lot of research topics to choose from if you are a graduate student in controls system and are looking to solve a challenging problem as part of your master’s or Phd thesis. Many projects are driven by grants from NSF and DARPA. Some of them even have implications in the field of defense and space program. Not every international student can get a job after his master’s program in the field of defense or space, but having a Phd makes it easier. Regarding the courses, senior level (4th year) courses for undergraduates at UW are very well crafted over the years and do better than our NSIT/ICE control system courses from Nagrath/Gopal/Manke. But having that exposure to classical and modern control theory in NSIT helped me tackle some of the graduate level courses very well, especially in the beginning. So even having that kind of a foundation helped. Professors at UW are experts in their fields and their teaching style is exceptional. I explored areas like robotics, sensors and motion control in the first year through some course projects before diving deeper into motion control projects in Mechanical Engineering department. Robotics was my first choice but all the projects there were defense funded and with the economy turning bleak, I chose not to put all eggs in one basket and decided to pursue motion control applications since it had more commercial applications.
Q2. What prompted you to go for a graduate course after NSIT ? What were the projects/internships you did whilst at NSIT ?
Ans. Being in ICE is more like being the jack of all trades and master of none, or at least that is how it is perceived. Some of my classmates did not like that about ICE. ICE students are never looked upon as an expert in anything. Not an ace programmer cut out for the ‘A’ category software jobs, neither an expert circuits cut out for jobs in Freescale/Texas Instruments. Of course, exceptions have always been there but so is the prejudice. But we like tinkering with systems with hardware setups, electric motors, circuits. We like making the overall system work. My first project was with Dr. KPS Rana, which was about controlling a vibration shaker in my 4th semester. He was a very good mentor and helped me pick up skills, not only in system modeling but also in Labview and technical writing. We co-authored a research paper from that project that eventually helped me build my resume for graduate school applications. I and my two other classmates also worked with Dr. Prerna Gaur to develop a motion control mechanism using stepper motors to etch a PCB from a schematic. My final year project, with three other classmates was under Dr. Yogesh Hote and involved Robotics, Image Processing, Embedded Systems, and Motion Control. It was aimed at developing an intelligent transportation system with defective object elimination. We also submitted a paper that got accepted in a journal publication. I also did internships at Bechtel, Indian Navy, and DMRC. And, except at DMRC, I actually did some work and contributed during my internships. I enjoyed my projects and internships quite a lot. I realized that I can keep doing similar or better projects and get a similar job profile if I followed some of our ICE seniors’ footsteps and pursue MS after graduating from NSIT. So I decided to apply for grad schools in the US, after the third year at NSIT ended.
Q3. Kindly mention MS programs that ICE engineers can look for in the US.(kindly mention some links if you can)
Ans. ICE engineers are extremely lucky to be exposed to so many things in the four years at NSIT that they can do pretty much anything in graduate school. Control Systems touches everything in the field of science these days. They can apply in fields like aerospace, bio-instrumentation and surgical robotics, chemical process control, machine learning, applied mathematics and precision motion control to name a few. The possibilities are endless. Stanford, Berkeley, MIT and Gatech have very good graduate programs and interdisciplinary research to excite sharp minds. One of my friends did her masters in Gatech and her research was in bio-instrumentation. Another friend did his masters from Stanford in applied mathematics. Someone did his from TAMU in computer networks, while the other did robotics in CMU. You can see how varied the fields are. Now we are working in very different types of companies. Only thing common in all of us is the four years at NSIT-ICE and the courses there. So if you are in ICE, you are master at being jack of all trades. If someone is looking for courses in control systems, just pick a field. When the options are many, specific links don’t help. Google is your best friend.
Q4. What are the upcoming prospects and opportunities available in the industry after completing post-graduation/ doctorate in your field ?
Ans. Industry is fast evolving. We did not have smartphones/drones/cloud computing/commercial space programs/surgical robotics/electric cars till a few years ago. Technology is going to evolve as time goes by and exponentially, if I may say so. If the economy can sustain itself, the growth prospects are limitless. Silicon valley is at the heart of the all the technological changes with companies, constantly looking for bright minds and leaders to deliver products and services to the consumers. After finishing the graduate program, industry is a viable option if your research area or interests have a commercial zing to it. Academics is another good option where you can stay in research area you so love and spent 3-6 years polishing the skills, networking with people in your field and publishing papers in journals and conferences. Getting a tenure track at a university is difficult and competitive and can be stressful from what I have heard. Another option is to become an entrepreneur if you have an idea for a product/service in mind. The graduate program should have helped you develop your skills and connections to execute the idea you have. Question to this answer has nothing to do with ICE/Control Systems and is generalized for all fields.
Q5. Where do you see yourself 5 years down the line ?
Ans. I really can’t say for sure. Five years is a long time. I am working with Western Digital right now. Although it has only been three years in my role as a Servo Design Engineer , I am taking more and more responsibilities in my group as time is going by. There has been a great amount of learning for me, graduating from UW and learning my way through enterprise class hard disk drives (a challenging yet exciting technology). I have been working on different kinds of problems , with some sharp minds in the field of control systems, embedded systems and electronic hardware which has helped me broaden my skill set. Even today, I think that being the jack of all trades in not that bad a thing.