IIIT Hyderabad’s IHub-Data Fellowships to fuel tomorrow’s growth story

A coveted Fellowship program of IHub-Data from IIIT Hyderabad, part of a DST-funded National Mission aims to create well-honed, future-ready generations of data-leaders and innovators, with a holistic world view of data analytics and big data systems. The grant is available to Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD, Postdoctoral, young faculty & senior professionals from institutions across the country, who meet the rigorous selection criteria for research in data-driven technologies.

Innovation Hubs as the vanguard to a new world
The quantum of data generated every second is mind-boggling. We live in a virtual global village where data is the new fuel, powering data-driven technologies. But how do you convert this raw resource into a bankable asset? Enter the Data Scientist. Governments and corporations worldwide are increasingly dependent on data-driven analysis to inform policy decisions and to quantify results. The chief challenge is the lack of credible datasets.

To address this issue, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has set up Technology Innovation Hubs (IHub) in select premier technological institutions across India. The IHub-Data at IIIT Hyderabad will curate large-scale Datasets across domains, with the larger goal of using data science approaches to convert raw data into meaningful insights for decision-making. The shortlisted domains are mobility, healthcare, smart buildings, systems like edge computing, cloud computing and storage structures, data mining and analytical frameworks, data systems or India-specific research initiatives.

Why the IIITH-IHub Data Fellowship is important
The Data fellowship program, the next logical step in the grand scheme of things is an investment in identifying and training top talent who will be the future of the lucrative Data industry. The 1st batch was instituted in January 2021. Prof. Gopalakrishnan Bulusu, an adjunct Professor in IIITH and Head of Programs, IHub-Data brings his vast experience in life sciences research in TCS Research, to his role as the Programs in-charge of the fellowships at IHub. “I’m taking care of the processes concerned with inviting, screening and admission of applicants”, observes Prof. Gopal who is currently whetting the next batch of Fellows with the aim to “achieve something interesting, different and innovative”.

Prof. Gopalakrishnan Bulusu

The TIH model as defined by the government requires specific collaborations, and IIITH collaborates with many organizations such as Intel, NIMS, NIMHANS, Grace Cancer Foundation, CSIR-IGIB, IITH, IITD and IIIT Sricity. About 20 faculty members of the Institute are actively involved in IHub-Data’s activities with Prof. Deva Priyakumar as the Academic Head, Prof. C. V. Jawahar and Prof. Bapi Raju as the Faculty Leads for Smart Mobility and Healthcare respectively and Prof. Vikram Pudi leading the Data Foundation.

Applications for the upcoming January 2022 batch will open in the 3rd week of November 2021.

The Selection Criteria
The IHub Data Fellowship is a year old and the Institute has already enrolled two batches of 10 students each, comprising of chiefly Masters and a few Ph.D scholars. By way of testing the waters, the first two batches have focused on healthcare and mobility; two domains in which IIITH has proven expertise, especially in the mobility space.

The IIIT-H selection committee comprises of senior professors who review and grant fellowships. The candidate should have adequate programming skills, proven interest in data driven technologies and some work/research experience in the focus domains. The defined criteria include academic qualifications as well as project deliverables, both tangible and intangible.

“In our selection of candidates, our aim is to be inclusive and democratic in terms of domains and faculty and the issues of diversity are necessarily being addressed”, reports Prof. Gopal. “If the Fellows show promise or significant contribution, we offer them regular MS/ PhD by research degrees and they will continue to work on IHub related projects with their supervisors”.

In mobility, there are sub-categories like road infrastructure mapping, road safety resource optimization and technology for surveillance, etc. Sub domains in Healthcare are in image diagnosis, new diagnosis protocols, research prognosis using variables, decision support systems, drug design and proactive public health. Similarly, for smart buildings, it can include energy efficient building operations, fault detection and diagnosis, sensors and general building design. “We are looking at different types of computing, data structures, data mining and India specific endemic diseases. We are also looking at agriculture, disaster management and disaster resilience”, observes Prof. Gopal.

Datasets and Deliverables
“A key component while applying is that we had to set certain milestones and in that time frame, submit the deliverables”, says Souradeep Deb, an MS by research student in Healthcare at SPCRC, from the 2nd batch (August 2021 – July 2022). “We are generating multiple datasets in our experiment and at the end of the deliverable time, we will club all the data sets and submit our research papers”.

Souradeep Deb

Souradeep’s advisor, Dr. Sachin Chaudhari observed that his research on IoT based air pollution monitoring was perfectly aligned with the kind of deliverables that the Grant required. “My research is exploring different factors like geospatial and meteorological, by deploying IoT nodes to collect particulate matter data from the ambient atmosphere to understand the factors that impact air quality”, says the scholar.

Inter-disciplinary Centers at the core
“Although it seems geographically very distant, I wanted to join IIITH as it is one of the finest Institutes in this country, working on data driven technologies and research in computer vision, machine learning, AI and IoT”, says Souradeep, the young engineer from Guwahati. He points out that the Institute is quite different from the normal educational paradigm. “This is the only Institute where your department is recorded at the time of registry as a student, but once you enter the campus, you work in research centers dealing with multi-disciplinary areas”.

Ph.D scholar Purva Barche from the 1st batch was a recipient of the Data Fellowship in the Healthcare domain. Originally from Madhya Pradesh, the M. Tech in Embedded System (JNTU) has clocked over 10 years of teaching experience in ECE. Marriage brought her to Hyderabad. She enrolled for her Ph.D in Speech Signal Processing through the PGSSP course offered by IIIT-Hyderabad. The lateral entry program allows working professionals to pursue post graduate and higher studies on a part-time basis. “Since my CGPA satisfied the requirement, I am doing my fulltime Ph.D in the Development of resources and clinical tools for the assessment of speech disorders from speech (IHUB-Data) with my Guide Dr. Anil Kumar Vuppala”, says Purva. “We have collected the database for stuttering in Kannada and a Dysarthria database in Hindi. The final two modules will involve building a mobile application for detection of speech disorders”. Even with the constraints that the pandemic put on research, Purva believes that it has been a great experience to work on this project since guidance was always available when she needed it.

Purva Barche

Regular reviews to stay on-course and achieve deliverables
“Monitoring happens every quarter”, explains Prof. Gopal. “We have hosted two mini symposia in which every Research Fellow gave a short presentation on their objectives and deliverables. Going ahead we will be inviting applications from Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D scholars in engineering and technology, computer applications, mathematics or statistics and any of the other quantitative fields with exposure to statistical modeling, machine learning or proficiency in programming languages”.

“The fellows will have the opportunity to take part in other activities of the hubs such as technical events, conferences, workshops, and to interact/work with experts from academia and industry. We will soon start the Young Faculty Fellowship and Chair Professorship programs”, notes Prof. Deva Priyakumar. “IHub-Data aspires to connect with young minds and enable them to grow as scientists in the general area of data driven technologies through the undergraduate fellowships/internships, MS, Ph.D and postdoctoral fellowships.”

Deepa Shailendra

Deepa Shailendra is a freelance writer for interior design publications; an irreverent blogger, consultant editor and author of two coffee table books. A social entrepreneur who believes that we are the harbingers of the transformation and can bring the change to better our world.