ENTC GAAP : Undergraduate and Pre-Doctoral Research

Having some undergraduate or pre-doctoral research experience can boost the strength of your graduate school application. In semesters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, you get to learn the basic concepts of mathematics, electronics, communication theories, and biomedical engineering (learn them well since grades matter a bit sometimes). In addition to what is taught to you at the department, you can get a little adventurous and follow a few courses online in subject areas like machine learning, deep learning, image processing, computer vision, cloud computing, programming languages, etc. After you get a sound knowledge in these concepts, you can slowly start applying what you learnt in class into a research project. There are a few of ways of contributing to a research project during the time you spend at the ENTC.

  1. Self-Initiated Projects

After you get some insights about the subjects you have learnt, you can reflect on them and find out the topics you are most passionate about. After that, you can think about an unsolved problem in those areas (you can get some help from the lecturers to define a good research problem) and start working on a solution to it using the knowledge you have gained. You can do this on your own or you can initiate it together with a few friends who have the same interests. You can level-up your work by getting some supervision from a faculty member (or a junior lecturer who is working in the same areas) too! Working on a self-initiated project would be a great start to your research career and it would lay the foundation to more exciting projects as you move up the ladder. You would make a ton of mistakes in the first few stages of the project, but don’t worry about those as they would help you refine your skills! Even if a project like this did not amount to a publication, you could gain a lot of experience about research by working on it. Another perk of working in a self-initiated project is that you can claim some academic credits by showcasing your work to a panel of lecturers in the 6B semester :wink:

  1. Research Internships

This option would be really good if you would have the chance to partake in a foreign research internship at a reputed university or a research institute. In the past, ENTC undergraduates have interned at venues such as Google, Microsoft, University of Melbourne, Univeristy of Sydney, University of New South Wales, EPFL, National University of Singapore, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Emory University, CSIRO, ASTAR, and Singapore Management University. The research experience and exposure you would receive at venues like those would be immense. You would likely get to work in an exciting project/ research during your internship and if it goes well, you would be able to land a publication at a good conference/ journal. Besides that, working at a reputed university or an institute will expand your academic network from whom you can inculcate lots of valuable traits to your career. Finally, if you do well in your internship, you would be able to request a strong letter of recommendation from your internship supervisor and such a letter would greatly add value to your graduate school application.

  1. Final Year Projects

You would get to commence your final year project after you finish your internship. It’s a platform where you can utilize the technical knowledge you have gathered in the previous years of your university life. Get together with a group of your friends who have the same interests as you (it’s okay to have different interests and skills too as different individuals can bring distinctive and value-adding outcomes to the project). When the faculty members advertise their projects, your group can pick the project that is most aligned with your future aspirations. Or else, you have the option of brainstorming for project ideas in the research areas you prefer to work on and proposing your own project. After that, it’s all about surveying literature, setting short-term goals, managing time and resources, and integrating the short-term achievements to construct the final outcome of the project. If things go well, you can document your work and submit it to an appropriate conference, journal or patent. Take the FYP very seriously as it is an amazing stage where you can apply your analytical, logical, and technical skills to materialize a impactful product (tangible or intangible). A great FYP always adds color to your CV/ Résumé.

  1. Contributing to an Existing Project of a Senior Faculty Member

This is an instance where you can approach a senior faculty member to see whether there are opportunities of contributing to a research project led by him or her. ENTC lecturers constantly engage in research, and they are willing to include highly motivated students in to their projects. Sometimes these projects would have foreign collaborators, and in such cases, you will be able to have an extra exposure to research from them as well. If you decide to join the department as an instructor, junior lecturer or research assistant, then you would have more opportunities to join as on-going project supervised by a senior faculty member.

Working on a research project can add a lot of value to your profile and it would definitely help your prospects of getting in to the graduate school of your choice. When selecting a project, pay attention to your future goals. For example, if you would like to pursue higher studies in robotics, it would be worthwhile to work on projects associated with robotics. But it is okay to work on diverse projects too! Then you can explore and get a good grasp on many different topics. Doing so would increase your versatility and may increase your chances of getting recruited to a good masters/ PhD program.

Finally, do keep in mind that there are no easy routes to accomplish a successful research project. You will have to work hard to earn it. If you do an excellent project, then research artifacts such as conference papers, journal articles, and patents will automatically follow. Don’t do research because you are desperate for a paper or a letter of recommendation. Do research because you are thirsty and curious for new ideas, inventions and knowledge. Curiosity, motivation, and perseverance are the key ingredients to an excellent research project and if you maintain such traits it would greatly help you in paving the way to your intended graduate school.

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My undergraduate and predoctoral research experience :

My research interests includes machine learning, signal processing, computer vision, and neuroscience. I used to participate in research talks and seminars held in the university during my undergraduate days and they helped me to keep myself updated about the current trends in the research areas I was interested in. In my second year, I participated a talk by a Professor in the University of Melbourne, Australia and I wrote to him to see whether there were any opportunities in his lab for me to contribute to an on-going research project. Communicating with him opened up an avenue for me to intern in the same university (at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience) in years of 2017 and 2018, and it was where I first got an exposure to machine learning, signal processing, and neuroengineering.

After the internship, I started working on my FYP (with Malsha, Asma, and Kithmin) which was focused on developing a sensor system and a real-time hand gesture recognition algorithm for a bionic hand. Our FYP was supervised by Dr. Simon Kappel and Dr. Thilina Lalitharatne. Since this project went well, we were able to get two conference papers out. Concurrently, we worked on a rodent behavior classification problem (using deep pose estimation) with Dr. Ranga Rodrigo as well.

After graduating, I joined the department as a junior lecturer. Apart from my teaching responsibilities, I (together with Malsha and Navodini) worked on a computer vision project aimed at facilitating large-scale diabetic screening. This project was a collaboration between the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. We wrote a journal article outlining our algorithm towards the end of this work. In addition, I worked on another computer vision problem associated with phase unwrapping. My colleague (Malsha) and I got the inspiration for this project from a research fellow at the Center for Advanced Imaging, Australia. This work was recently accepted to a reputed conference associated with signal processing.

I’m currently working on a few projects encompassing Graph Neural Networks, multi-channel signals, EEG artifact detection, and surrogate models with collaborators from Imperial College and UIUC.

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