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A Peep into the Clockwork: Interview with the CSE HoD

We had a detailed discussion with the Head of the Computer Science and Engineering Department, Dr. Ashalatha Nayak regarding research, labs, and general guidelines. Since many students of the department were confused about the rules and procedures, she patiently answered a lot of questions the student body had posed to her and revealed details that most students were probably not aware of.

PROJECTS

Regarding projects and research, a lot of students aren’t aware of when they should get into it. Should it be in their third or fourth semester, especially if they have prior knowledge? Who should they approach?

Ideally, they have to undergo some courses prior to starting research. The ideal time would be after fifth semester and not after third semester since they aren’t introduced to topics like machine learning, object oriented programming or software engineering then. Some students start early, thinking that talking to professors, downloading some videos about the topic and reading up about it is research. But it is not so. Research is actually knowing about existing literature, identifying the gaps and then publishing about it. When somebody follows the above procedure, then only the investigative work done by them is worth consideration.

You may have had exposure to programming but that is not research. It is something more than that because the final implementation is one small component. Before that, there a lot of aspects of actual study and work that one has to undergo.

Is it possible for the students to be made aware of this by faculty beforehand?

Yes, it is definitely possible. In the coming years, just like M.Tech, for undergraduates also we can have a rule say, that one publication is compulsory before passing out. There are a few universities which are doing that. We have not gone for it because we believe that if we implement it, the quality of paper may not come out well.

Many students are clueless about who to approach to take up research projects. Is there a list of projects that the department is doing right now so that the students can join in and contribute to that?

Instead of a list of projects, we have put up the list of research groups. We’ve identified the main research areas and under that, we’ve listed the faculties so that each faculty is under one or the other research group. This allows the student to look at which faculty is undertaking research in which area and he/she can approach the concerned teacher. This list has been published since a long time and every semester we update it. The list that was updated in January has been put up on the notice board.

Many colleges have their own summer research internship programs within their campus. Can something similar be done in MIT also because at times not everyone is able to find it outside due to lack of contacts? For instance, there are a lot of students who stay back in the summer to work in the technical projects such as Formula Manipal, RoboManipal, etc. Can something similar be done for the students who are not in any technical project but would like to stay back to work with a professor or fourth year student?

It is possible but the thing is we want the students to go to industries for their internships rather than any institute. They’re always welcome to go to the IITs but there are minimal openings. We’re trying to bridge the gap for the students to receive their industrial training and we recently spoke to Oracle about this. They were impressed by the idea of industrial training and they’ve said they’ll look into it. We feel that if they offer internships of one month to the students, the students will be ready for their final semester six month project.

Projects is something which we always allow and is very much possible but that can’t be a replacement for industrial training. Many students take up this option where they initially come but do not follow up later. Either they quit or say they’ve something more important. Something of this sort has to be done more seriously. Students have to devote time to this just like another subject. Students simply come initially, but after that, they are not following up. Either they will quit or they will say ‘I have something else,’ or ‘I have to avail vacation,’ or do something else in the industry, it should be done more seriously.

There are people who are serious and want to do that. I went to one of my teachers, and he said that the department will put up a list later on. Another three weeks passed, and no list was put up. So despite us really wanting to work on something like that I did not know at all what to do.

No, that I think is because students are well, full-time students, and faculty is also full-time faculty. So both of them have to find a common, convenient time. Students will quit, they will think about their sessionals, submissions, and the continuity is gone. Research is actually, in spite of everything, somewhat like an additional subject. For example, you have five subjects, how you are devoting time? You know that at any cost of time, you will have to work for it. You will work. Same way, just like an additional subject, they have to work. Then only it is possible. And if students are ready to do so, we can work it out. We can also do that during vacations. If it is during the vacations, when it is, let us know. So that we can have such an activity.

During the semester too, like right now, students spend easily two hours every day working on activities related to their clubs, and we also have reduced credits with respect to previous batches. So we do have the time even during the semester. Is there a procedure or some guidance the department can provide, that if you’re interested, this is the way to go about it?

That is what. See, all the time, every faculty is interested in publications. Everyone has some need of project associations, to come and work. If B.Tech students come, it is definitely very good because they can be inducted into some implementation. But there is a need from the faculty’s side. Students also want their CV to be strengthened; both of them are in the need but that is not happening. That I think maybe from the students’ end, you can propose. We can modify and we can see.

There are several teachers who have their own research papers that have been published. Is it possible to make them available so that students can have an idea of how things are being done?

In the library website, there is a section on E-prints, a portal where it is available. In fact, if you type in the name of the faculty you can get them from the internet also. But, E-Prints is a portal where all Manipal University faculty members’ articles are published. It is only for MU.

 

** UPDATE: As discussed and approved by the Director, MIT will be offering summer/winter projects for its students this immediate vacation onwards. Proposals have been accepted. A list of projects under various faculty members has been put up. For registration, use link https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1H45cwxOc6PPgmKyVkuz_W8prTImugJHhcBA5t7qs-Jg/edit?usp=sharing

 

LABS

There is lot of discrepancy regarding repeating missed labs, especially because of the shortening of the semester. Some teachers are saying they can’t provide a makeup lab when you’re absent, even if you have a medical certificate. Then some teachers are saying you can do it with the other batch. Is there a procedure, because every teacher is doing it in a different manner?

Actually somehow, students are directly approaching me. So I check whether the reason is genuine, and if I find it to be so, I have always written in that letter itself to give them the scope to carry out the alternate. The cases you are talking of, are those that don’t have a valid, genuine reason. They can do it, but they will not get the missed lab evaluation marks. If they have genuine reasons, they should come to me.

So people can approach you for the lab, and if they have a genuine reason, then they will be allowed to do the labs with some other batch.

Yes, medical certificate only from KMC. And if they just miss the lab, and they don’t have a genuine reason, they can do it with some other batch, but there is no provision of giving marks for it. They will get marks for write up, not execution.

There is a lot of redundancy if you have to write the whole code on the computer, then you’re writing it again in the manual. Of course, that makes sense because when you go back home, you might want to look at your code. But what is the logic behind getting lab manual mandatory?

We want to maintain records, whether a student has successfully completed the program. Something could be there on the screen, it could be copied, and it could be passed from somewhere else, right? But when you write down, we will have a record till the end of the semester. Everything is soft copy, we are not asking you for print out. We just have a record of your lab manual, seeing how regular you were. The lab manual is a place for you to write down your daily observations, so that during the semester exam if you wanted some reference in some shortcuts, some things, whatever you notice, you write it down.

The point of writing the manual, what you’re saying is, to maintain a record of what we’ve done. What if there is a central portal where students can upload their code at the end of each day? Say for example we have a 2-5 lab, at 5 pm we upload the code there, and that serves as the record.

Yes, we tried this already last year, and we found that it was not working because students were not putting their code. We were unable to track what is happening, so writing means, it is with their name, a physical book. It is easier for us to track whether the student was regular, whether he has completed in time. Because when we sign their hard copy, faculty members note also what all they have done that day, for each student. We will not be disclosing the split up, but we have some split up for every lab. So we make note of it, what is his execution marks, what is the observation of that student, how punctual and regular he was, whether he was completing his work or not.

At the end of the last semester, when Renuka ma’am was the HoD, we put forth a proposal regarding such a portal where students can upload their codes, and there would be a plagiarism checker, which can cross-check between all submissions.

Those are all not foolproof. They can change variable names, rewrite loops. In any case, it is against the rules for students to share their codes in the lab, and if found doing so, action is taken against them.

Are students allowed to come and work on the terminals in their free time? For example, if students do not have GPUs on their laptop, which is required for a Parallel Processing lab, and they need to research, could they use the terminals for this?

Definitely. That will be available in the particular lab only. But for the Research lab, if you can give me a letter pertaining to the problem, you can use it. We don’t want to create a noisy environment in the Research lab. If we know the student properly, if we have given them permission, we can do it. But just like that, they cannot enter, without any purpose. That is why I want a letter; let it be authorised. They must know what they want to do.

There are so many batches for labs, that there are times during the final lab exams where some students get direct questions, right out of the manual, and others get really difficult questions. There is a lot of disparity. How can that be tackled?

We exclude questions from the manual. We will not be giving such questions. I have to verify this with the teachers for the labs in question. I will make sure that such questions are not repeated. We maintain the level of complexity, and we shuffle the questions amongst sections. We do a lot of homework before we give questions to the students. However, when there are so many faculty members and so many subjects, and just like each student’s interests are different, each teacher has a different level of complexity. But we make a rule; questions do not come from the manual. I will make sure that the questions are not taken if at all they were taken.

Regarding the final lab exams – there are four sections for each batch, and each section has two halves, which are further divided into two halves. So there are sixteen sets of papers made. Maintaining uniformity for sixteen sets of questions is part of the problem, as you’re saying, ma’am. Instead of this, since many sections have their labs at the same time, they can all have the same lab end semester timings irrespective of batches. Is that possible? To maintain more uniformity in the style of questions asked.

We take care of that. We see which questions go for all sections. All teachers form the questions together. If for one class a certain lab is going on, and for the other too, the same lab is happening, we ascertain that the same set of questions be given to both batches.

This matter needs to be discussed in detail as we don’t really know what the practical problems of this system could be. Also, different sections have different, or no labs at all on any given day. If the slot is already accommodating the same subject’s lab for different sections, then we can probably do it. Otherwise, it will be difficult to allocate faculty members too, considering that some of them take theory classes too, during that time. In fact, we have also tried all these combinations. Practically, it is not feasible. Of course, for a few batches, we can still accommodate, but to have the same lab exam for all four sections at once is completely out of the question. Yes, it’s definitely not a bad idea, considering that all national level exams happen at the same date too, on such a large scale.

And honestly speaking, students always find the other batches paper easier! It’s just a matter of perception. All papers are set to the same difficulty level. It is the job of the subject coordinator to set a paper of a decent level, and such that the questions aren’t the ones already done in class or lab.

 

**UPDATE: Labs will be open after classes. If anyone wishes to use them, they must take prior permission from the HoD. The department is also in the preliminary stage of planning a portal where students can upload codes and they will have various checks on said code.

 

MISCELLANEOUS:

Is there a platform where students can voice their suggestions? If not, can such a medium be provided?

You can send me a mail directly. We don’t have another medium as such because ultimately I myself will take up the suggestion and discuss with relevant faculty members during the department meeting. So, the moment I receive such an email, I will be replying to it. Alternatively, each class has a class committee chairperson. So you can approach them with your suggestion or problem who can analyse it themselves and then let me know about it. During the class committee meeting, these can be brought up. So the platform is already present. These meetings allow you to meet concerned faculty face to face and make them aware of persisting issues.

How can the participation of girls be increased in Manipal, especially in the field of Computer Science?

We already had Microsoft come over to organize Codess for the girls, early this semester. So steps are being taken. Of course, there’s a lot to be done in order to further increase participation. Being a woman in this department, I’m aware that girls aren’t as active. So if it is possible for even some girls to take initiative, we will definitely be interested and we will work it out with them.