My name is Rohan Saxena and I am in my final year at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan. I love self-driving cars and work on artificial intelligence.
I was fortunate to be awarded the Venkat Panchapakesan Memorial Scholarship in 2017, which was a very special experience in my life. I would love to answer any questions you guys might have on the topic.
Best of luck!
Could you brief up top 3 things why one should apply this Scholarship? You can also mention the after Scholarship experience too.
Learn about how computer science is used in the industry from Google and YouTube’s Silicon Valley offices. You also get to meet amazing people (from senior Google VPs to the CEO of YouTube, Ms Susan Wojcicki!). They gave us deep insights from their experience and advice for our careers.
Networking: with the executives at Google and YouTube, and also with your fellow scholars. Each of my fellow scholars had done amazing things to win the scholarship, and I learnt a lot from them.
Through this scholarship, you are recognised as one of the 6 best Indian students in computer science by Google. This is an amazing accolade in your profile which will help you stand out in future too.
What quality do you think a candidate should definitely have to get this scholarship?
I think it is very difficult to pinpoint a single quality that is absolutely necessary for this scholarship. In my opinion, getting through this scholarship (just as getting through life) requires resilience. Persistence to keep yourself motivated after repeated failures is a very useful life skill that will help you throughout your lifetime.
That said, I think an answer applicable specifically to this scholarship would be – as my fellow scholar Nikita said – clarity. Through your scholarship application you must be able to convey absolute clarity about what you have done, what you want to do in future and how the scholarship can help you in that.
Would you recommend this program?
Who were your Letter of Recommenders? How did you go about choosing them? How was the process like?
My first recommender was a professor at BITS Pilani with whom I had worked as a student researcher in robotics. He knew me for 2 years by then and liked me, since I had worked very hard at his lab. He agreed to write a strong letter for me. My second recommender was my mentor from the Udacity self-driving car project. I had done quite a few projects under him, and he agreed to elaborate about my projects in the letter.
I chose them because they both had a good impression of me and I had worked with them substantially, so they knew me well. This enables the recommenders to write a detailed letter as opposed to a generic one. They can include specific details from your work, which makes for a good letter.
First I asked them if they would be willing to write a letter. When they said yes, I sent them the details (whom to send the letter to, deadlines, etc). I also followed up with them regularly to ask if they had questions about the process, whether they had the deadline in mind, and so on. Both of them submitted the letter before the deadline and I moved on to other parts of the application. I think doing this well in advance is good, because it will give you peace of mind, and allow you to focus on the other aspects of your application.
What are some of the things for college students to explore while in college? Could you give some insights?
I think I can only do justice by commenting on students in a computer science programme in college.
People think computer science is just about software development and scoring an IT job. But it’s actually about so much more. There are entire fields and subfields within computer science that can capture your interest for a lifetime. There is computer networks where you study how internet packets travel across the world, there is operating systems where you study how a processor manages the multitude of tasks that we run on a computer, there is artificial intelligence – which itself contains robotics, computer vision, natural language processing and so much more! I hope you are able to appreciate the breadth of this subject!
For many students, an undergraduate degree in college is perhaps the last step in a formal education process. Even if it’s not, it provides a valuable foundation for further studies. Hence, I would encourage you not to waste it. Explore as many areas within your field as possible. Take extra courses in college, do MOOCs, read research papers from the best journals in your field, form technical teams, make study groups, do research… There are infinite ideas and variations – you can do what suits you best. The point is, as Steve Jobs famously said, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”.
What is the impact that the scholarship has created in your life? How are you using the 225 USD Project grant?
I think I have mentioned most of the positive impact as part of my answer for question 2. This scholarship really helps you stand out amongst your peers in today’s competitive world. It also played a role in helping me get my undergraduate thesis in DFKI (German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence), Germany, where I am working on computer vision for autonomous cars.
I am using the project grant to create a community of like-minded people in my college interested in artificial intelligence, who could help develop the self-driving car technology for emerging markets such as India.
Could you mention some of activities which you were part of in college? Have you won any other Scholarship/Opportunities while in college?
I have been (and still am) a deep learning research intern at ITRA Media Lab Asia, working on computer vision for Indian traffic monitoring with IIT Delhi under Prof. Narendra Ahuja (Director, ITRA and Professor, UIUC) and Prof. Santanu Chaudhury (Director, CSIR-CEERI and Professor, IIT Delhi). I had also interned at Wolfram Research, Boston after my second year in college and worked on semantic segmentation for autonomous driving. That summer I was also selected for Google Summer of Code with Red Hen Labs and University of Bremen, Germany. Apart from this, I have also worked on robotics and machine learning with a couple of professors in my college.
I have been a senior member of the student chapter of ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) at my college. This chapter has been awarded as the best ACM student chapter in India by ACM India for the last three years in a row. This year, ACM International also awarded us for Outstanding Recruitment from amongst student chapters all over the world!
What advice will you give a First year/second year CSE student?
I have some very specific advice that I always give to my juniors starting out in college. You can find my detailed answer on Quora.
What do you ‘think’ was why your application stood apart from rest of students applied? Some tips too 🙂
I think why my application might have stood apart was because of the clarity that I displayed in my essays and video. I was very focused on robotics and artificial intelligence in my application, and was able to connect what I had previously done in this field to the current projects I was pursuing, with what I wanted to do in future and in my career as a whole. Even my LORs were from people with whom I had worked on in this field. I think this helped me make a very specialised application, focusing well on one area. It also helps convey passion for the subject and clarity of your intentions.
Could you share some of momentous(also Fun) occasions you had in the Silicon Valley Retreat?
I think one of the most significant parts of this trip was meeting amazing people from Google and YouTube. Meeting Ms Susan was a huge deal for me! She was so nice and humble with all of us that it was almost a surreal experience.
Coming to the fun part… Well, I am a serious foodie! So for me the most fun moments were when we went to different fancy restaurants to try a variety of mouth-watering cuisines. Visiting the Stanford campus was also a lot of fun. Roaming around the beautiful city of San Francisco was also great.
What preparations you did before applying for the scholarship?
I don’t think I did any specific preparations before applying. Although, I will suggest that you plan out a timeline for your application, so that you to finish it comfortably and well before the deadline. I didn’t do this, so you can learn from my mistakes :p
What made you to apply for this?
The opportunity to meet amazing people, the honour of being recognised by Google as an outstanding member of the computer science community, and the opportunity to travel to their offices and a new city, all made me apply for this scholarship 🙂
What advice do you give on writing the essays for application?
I have given some detailed advice in an interview by Rethink Foundation recently:
I don’t think I can elucidate more details than that in writing 🙂