SRISHTI-22 : Journey of an Intern


I am Yashashree Chandak, a passionate third-year student of Information Technology at Pune Institute of Computer Technology. Since May 2022, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Dr. Vishnu Sreekumar at MANDALAB as part of my SRISHTI internship. This internship has been a transformative experience, opening doors to the world of research and nurturing my skills in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP). Join me as I take you through my journey and share the invaluable insights gained during this enriching period.

Discovering SRISHTI and IIIT Hyderabad:

Driven by a strong desire to delve into the realm of research, I embarked on a search for summer internships that would provide a solid foundation for my aspirations. Amidst exploring opportunities at various prestigious institutions, SRISHTI caught my attention. The research culture at IIIT Hyderabad, coupled with the inspiring stories of IIITH alumni like Shradha Sehgal, who graciously offers guidance, motivated me to apply for an internship here. Little did I know that this decision would shape my professional growth in profound ways.

Exploring the Fascinating Field of NLP:

The focal point of my internship revolved around studying the intriguing interplay between memory and language. Our research aimed to unveil whether language could reveal signatures of memory retrieval. Engaging in every aspect of the project, from data collection and processing to employing diverse machine learning models, I delved deep into the world of NLP. The project also entailed understanding the cognitive aspects of memory, unravelling the mysteries of human recollection.

Overcoming Challenges and Nurturing Growth:

Like any research endeavour, my internship presented its fair share of challenges. However, with the unwavering support and guidance of my mentor, Dr. Vishnu Sreekumar, I found the strength to overcome them. Dr. Sreekumar’s dedication, ambition, and flexible approach allowed me to explore ideas at my own pace. Witnessing his unwavering commitment to his work motivated me to push beyond my comfort zone and strive for excellence. Throughout this journey, I embraced the philosophy of continuous growth, always seeking to expand my horizons.

Unveiling the Hidden Potential:

My internship experience was not limited to theoretical knowledge but extended into the practical realm of research project development. From inception to execution, I embarked on a transformative journey, honing my skills and gaining insights into the intricate process. As I traversed through various stages, I had the privilege of contributing to research publications that resonated with top-tier conferences. These experiences have equipped me with the tools needed to navigate the intricate landscape of academia and research.

Embracing Collaboration and Networking:

Despite the remote nature of my internship, I had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Vishnu and fellow lab members through online platforms such as Slack. Engaging in regular lab meetings and journal club discussions allowed us to share progress, ideas, and delve into fascinating research papers. Though I occasionally envied the physical presence of my colleagues, who enjoyed games of frisbee and chess with Dr. Vishnu, the virtual collaboration proved to be an enriching experience. The lab became a space for shared learning, where knowledge was freely exchanged.

Highlights and Achievements:

One of the highlights of my internship was the acceptance of our abstract for the 9th Annual Conference of Cognitive Science (ACCS9) at IIT Delhi. Although I couldn’t attend and present due to university exams, it was a significant recognition of our work. Additionally, our research work has been accepted for presentation as a poster with abstract publication at CogSci 2023 (Sydney), a prestigious conference in the field.

Stepping Towards Future Endeavours:

Recently, I was selected as one of the six recipients across India for the Adobe India Women In Technology Scholarship 2023, sponsored by Adobe Research. This accomplishment not only validates the research work conducted during my internship but also paves the way for future opportunities.

Personal Growth and Reflections:

This SRISHTI internship has played a pivotal role in shaping me into a well-rounded individual. It has provided me with abundant opportunities to explore new avenues, discover my interests, and acquire a deeper understanding of conducting impactful research. From honing my coding abilities to enhancing my communication skills, every aspect of this journey has contributed to my personal and professional growth.

Words of Advice:

To current students seeking internships or research opportunities, I would encourage you to seize the benefits that such experiences offer. Approach mentors with confidence, as their support proves invaluable in both good and challenging times. Stay active on social media platforms, engaging with a diverse range of individuals and seeking advice. Explore social forums where organizations frequently post opportunities and connect with past scholars to gain further insights. As I reflect upon my SRISHTI internship experience at IIIT Hyderabad, I am filled with gratitude for the invaluable knowledge gained, the skills honed, and the meaningful connections established. This journey has solidified my passion for research, equipped me with invaluable experiences, and set the stage for a future dedicated to making a positive impact through technological innovations.

Supervisor’s Comments about Yashashree

Yashashree was a bit reserved initially, but based on our initial conversations, it was clear that she was super smart and hard-working. She shares this with other successful students: she does not nod her head if I say something that doesn’t make complete sense to her. She stops me and asks me further questions, and this was true right from day 1. So, one can tell by the questions a student asks if the student is naturally curious, if their priority is learning, etc. Once she did some of the initial work that I had proposed, she started coming up with new ways to look at the data herself. This is the hallmark of a good researcher: curiosity combined with a willingness to try new ideas unprompted by an adviser. 7-8 months into our collaboration, Yashashree was able to submit a 6 page paper to the Cognitive Science Society’s annual Meeting (Sydney, 2023; accepted as a member abstract now). This was the only paper submission from the lab. So, it was impressive that Yashashree was able to do this while working with a full course load at her home institute. It meant that she was willing to do what it took to take full advantage of this opportunity she had to get some serious research experience.

As I stated earlier, she came up with some ideas on her own and let me know after she tried them out. For instance, we wanted to understand the structure and dynamics of the output of the cognitive system as people engage in writing autobiographies. At some point, she decided to use Topics Coherence Measures to understand the coherence of topics within these narrative works. We are still working our way through the logic but this is now something I learned from Yashashree as I had never used these coherence measures before in my own research. I always tell students that the first signs of maturity as a researcher become evident to me when I start learning something from them. We use Slack for communications within the lab. Not all students communicate regularly or effectively, for whatever reason. However, Yashashree, like other good students in the lab, has always let me know if she had something going on that prevented her from delivering on a promised piece of work. Of course, she rarely missed deadlines but if she had to, she always gave me prior notice. She also regularly shared her thoughts and updates on Slack.

From the initially reserved person, Yashashree has grown into a confident researcher who is unafraid of coming up with and sharing original ideas. She recently messaged me a few ideas that she thought the new SRISHTI interns could work on. She has also identified another dataset to apply her methods to test related but new ideas. This internally generated drive and motivation to do research is not a common occurrence and this is something that makes Yashashree stand apart. Even before the cognitive science society submission, she had submitted an abstract to a national conference. That being her very first experience writing an academic research article (it was a slightly extended abstract), it took many iterations before we were satisfied. This first experience is often frustrating for students because they don’t often understand why such effort is required to make every sentence read well and connect logically with the others. Yashashree displayed great patience and a willingness to rework it as many times as needed based on my input. The same resilience and patience was also clear when we worked on the 6-page paper submission later.

To summarize, Yashashree is a fast and motivated learner who has matured into a confident researcher in a period of under a year of working with us. We are working on a journal article together now which I am very optimistic about. I’m confident that this is the beginning of a very successful career for Yashashree and the Memory and Neurodynamics (MANDA) lab at IIITH is glad to have played a small part in her journey.

Vishnu Sreekumar
Assistant Professor | Cognitive Science | IIIT Hyderabad