Pramsu Shrivastava (EE1)
Interned at IIT-D (SURA)
Domain: Cybersecurity in Wireless Vehicular Networks
My Motivation for Pursuing a Research Internship
I decided to explore research as a career path to see if it was viable. Although I initially leaned more towards corporate roles, securing a tech internship after my second year was challenging. Additionally, the courses I had completed were insufficient to land a core internship. I was also curious about research because it offers more freedom and encourages independent thinking. I wanted to gain experience in this field before forming a concrete opinion about my future career.
My Experience in the Pre-Application Process
During the pre-application process, I came across two research projects that caught my interest. I decided to reach out to the corresponding professors. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the professors at IIT-D responded to my emails. I received the first response within 3-4 days and the second in about a week. I decided to go ahead with one of them as a SURA project.
My Choice of Internship
I applied for a research project focused on cybersecurity in wireless vehicular networks with my friend Shivam. I made this choice primarily because I was passionate about the topic. Additionally, much of the work could be done on our personal computers, as the project didn’t involve much lab-intensive work. The primary benefit was that we could visit our home briefly during the internship, and the project would not suffer.
My Experience in the Selection Round
As part of the selection process, selected students were required to give a 10-12 slide presentation followed by a 5-minute Q&A session, during which we had to justify our approach. The selection rate from those who reached the presentation stage was around 40%.
My Preparation for the Internship
After the major exams, I had little time for special preparations before starting the internship.
Description of the Problem Statement I Worked On
The core problem we tackled during the internship was finding a solution for a critical challenge in securing mobile(moving) communication networks. Specifically, we addressed how we can design a system that provides a better security solution, location-based information and privacy for vehicles in a low latency network of vehicles by using specially programmed RoadSide Infrastructure. Developing the mobile network infrastructure for this task required running numerous simulations, which we primarily did using Python libraries.
Skills I Developed During the Internship
The internship significantly contributed to my communication skills. On the technical side, it helped me develop a strong understanding of programming, which benefitted my 3rd year internship preparation.
One course that proved to be beneficial for our work was MTL106. Although the problem we were solving required us to go beyond the syllabus of this course, it provided a solid foundational understanding. The simulations we needed to model the network were implemented using Python libraries. Since COL106 was taught in Python, I felt comfortable using the same language.
Level of Intensiveness of the Internship
A PhD student was our mentor throughout the internship, guiding us and addressing any related queries. The deadlines and submission requirements were not overly strict or frequent. Instead, we had weekly discussions with the professor and were given significant freedom to explore potential solutions. In fact, during the first couple of weeks, we were intentionally allowed to proceed with an incorrect approach just to experience one of the realities of research: the need to retrace our steps after heading in the wrong direction for a while.
Challenges I Encountered
One of the most challenging aspects of the internship was translating a vague problem into a well-defined mathematical one. This process forced me to sharpen my logical skills and develop a more robust computational thinking process. Dealing with combinatorics was particularly challenging, mainly when calculating the possible and optimal paths in a traffic network modelled as a graph.
The Most Frustrating Part of the Internship
At one point, we were extremely frustrated when our probabilistic curves generated jagged graphs, occasionally with values exceeding one. Fortunately, after about three days, my partner noticed the absence of a "+" sign in a particular statement, causing all the issues. The code had thousands of lines, meaning finding this error was like finding a needle in a haystack. Maintaining mental composure during such situations was essential to tackle such problems.
How Educative the Experience Was for Me
The internship offered a valuable educational experience. In our regular courses, problems often come with pre-defined approaches. In research, it takes time to determine what is right and wrong. I learned that thinking creatively is essential as long as you can subsequently justify your approach. Building systems from scratch significantly boosted my understanding of the subject matter. One common misconception is that there's a linear path from the problem to the solution. However, when dealing with challenging issues, the course tends to be zig-zag and full of loops, whether you like it or not. Although we didn't develop a complete solution, we managed to create a weaker solution with more constraints, which is a tried and tested approach to solving research problems: generalising a more specific concern to construct a solution.
My Advice for Someone Wishing to Pursue a SURA
I advise anyone considering a SURA not to hesitate to contact professors. Even if you don't have a clear research idea (which, trust me, most people don't at the beginning), interacting with professors can improve your awareness and help you become more skilled at formulating problem statements. Different professors may have varying criteria for selecting candidates—some might value academic merit in a particular test, while others are looking for passion and dedication. Additionally, contacting seniors who have previously secured an SURA can provide valuable insights and guidance in the selection process.
Fun Moments During the Internship
One enjoyable moment was when our simulations finally ran correctly, and the professor was delighted. We celebrated at the staff canteen, enjoyed a snack and chatted about life. It was an excellent opportunity to explore the non-academic side of our mentor's life.