RIT: Transcending boundaries and making great minds meet

by Abhisek Dey, Computer Engineering MS student

Ever wondered what kinds of engineering goes into making of a run-of-the-mill cellphone? Well, there is no definite answer. In fact, in the deeply interconnected world that we live in, every engineering marvel that is seemingly so obvious is the result of people from various parts of the spectrum coming together, sharing ideas and putting all the pieces where they belong. RIT recognizes this and has been trying to instill the same spirit in research as well as in the coursework that students take.

Being a graduate student in the Computer Engineering department, I can vouch for the broad base of courses that I am allowed to take as a part of my degree. I have already decided to take a course from the Electrical Engineering department and hopefully another from the Computing Security department. Taking relevant courses from outside our department not only broadens our knowledge base but also brings about an interdisciplinary area of expertise which both the research community and the industry requires.

Much like this bridge which connects the College of Computing (left) with the College of Engineering (right), RIT students go beyond disciplines to innovate and collaborate!

RIT also encourages you to mix with faculty and student researchers from other disciplines. It is not mandatory for you to pick a graduate advisor from your department. I have personally known many graduate students to align with an advisor outside their department because they either had common research interests or some relevant background which made him a good fit. For instance, a friend of mine from Computer Engineering chose a Professor from Computing Security to be his advisor because he was looking for security as his focus area and his communications background made him a good fit for the Professor who was working on wireless security for IOT devices and vehicular communications.

This approach has been very well-admired by companies that come to hire RIT students during the career fair. Companies across the board, from Amazon and Google to Microsoft, as well as numerous local industries based in the Rochester area are impressed by the talent and preparation of RIT students. Our graduates are well-prepared to hit the ground running. Alumni return to their alma mater and further encourage students to participate in cross-disciplinary projects and research collaborations.

The greatest piece of advice from myself to other students considering RIT is to never be afraid to ask questions – to others and to yourself. It is going to be your greatest asset and a tool not only in your time as a graduate student trying to explore a research problem but also in the later stages of your career!

 

 

#myRITstory – Syed Sajjad Haider

Program: Electrical Engineering MS, expected graduation fall 2019

From: Islamabad, Pakistan

Syed learned about RIT through his local EducationUSA Advising Center, where he was researching prospective graduate programs in robotics and artificial intelligence. His search for the perfect program and research opportunities led him to RIT’s Engineering and Computing programs. He ultimately chose RIT because of its strong emphasis on Co-Operative Education. (You can read more about RIT’s Co-op program online.)

In July Syed will begin a six month co-op placement at Abiomed in Boston, Massachusetts. He was hired as Lifecycle Electrical Engineer and will work on the design and analysis of testing automation for various Abiomed consumer products.

Says Syed about his search for a co-op position – “I found a Co-Op in Boston, MA through the Handshake platform RIT just introduced. All students in RIT are strongly encouraged to attend the two career fairs organized by RIT each year and to apply for various opportunities on the handshake platform. The Office of Career Services at RIT is very helpful and useful. I got my Resume reviewed from them and also participated in a mock interview event. These small things really help you prepare for the real interview.”

Syed will return to RIT in January 2019 to complete his MS program. In addition to his coursework and extracurricular activities, Syed has also worked part-time for RIT Dining and for RIT’s Reporter Magazine as a staff photographer.

 

 

MS Computer Science: Bridge courses

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

Every year, one of the most common topics that is on an incoming MS-CS student’s mind at RIT is bridge courses. These are a set of three graduate level courses that the CS department requires every student to be well-versed with before proceeding with other graduate courses. They “bridge” the gap in knowledge.

These courses are in place because the department probably saw that a number of CS graduate students were not up to the mark when it came to fundamental programming skills. Nowadays, almost every admitted MS-CS student who has not obtained an undergraduate CS degree from a US university is required to complete these bridge courses.

The three courses are “Advanced Object Oriented Programming (using Java)”, “Computational Problem Solving (using Python)”, and “Foundations of Computer Science Theory”. If a student is assigned to any or all of these courses, the only way to let the department know that they already possess the technical skills offered in the course(s) is by taking up and passing the corresponding bridge waiver exams successfully. So if a student feels that they were assigned a particular course by mistake, they must take and pass the waiver exam(s).

These waiver exams are held on the day of the department orientation, are of 1 hour each in duration, and cover all the topics that would be taught in the course itself. The syllabus and timing of each exam can be found at https://cs.rit.edu/orientation/bridgeexams. The exams would be a combination of multiple-choice, short answer, medium answer, and long answer questions. They would test a student’s knowledge on the subject thoroughly.

I had a non-CS background coming in to the CS grad program here so I needed the bridge courses. In my experience, most students who took up the bridge courses felt like they benefited from the practice they got by solving the weekly assignments and studying for the midterms. The coursework of these courses definitely helped in my interview process.

Many incoming students would hear that these bridge courses are extremely difficult to clear. Although I did not take up the option of sitting for the waiver exams, I believe that one of the major reasons why a small number of students clear the waiver exams is because of the clear gap in knowledge and maybe the fact that most students end up either taking the waiver exams lightly or do not even turn up for them.

Every incoming student would love to clear one or more waivers since that would mean saving on the cost of those courses. However, I feel that by trying to clear all three in one go, students end up not doing well enough in any. Unless a student is extremely confident in their abilities and knowledge of a particular bridge course, I would honestly recommend students to pick and choose their strongest course and put all their efforts into clearing that.

What is a Co-op?

Picture from my Co-op during Summer 2016

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

“What is a Co-op?” is probably one of the most frequent questions I get from prospective students so I thought I should be writing a short article explaining what exactly is this word Co-op that RIT staff and students use a lot. Co-operative Education or as we love to call it, Co-op, is similar to an internship that can be done during the academic semesters (Fall or Spring) and is a practical experience that add values to your degree and can be done anywhere in the world. It is the best way to get your foot in the door of your favorite company and also gives you a great experience.

For an opportunity to be considered as co-op it should be full time (35 hours or more per week), paid, and relevant to your field of study. Employers love the co-op program at RIT because it gives them a chance to assess a student’s skill set before they offer them a full-time position at the company. Students love the co-op program because they get to do the same work as a full-time employee and sometimes even pitch new product ideas, which adds great value to the company. One of the perks of being an RIT student is that unlike many schools that require their students to pay for certain credit hours to be registered for a co-op, RIT doesn’t ask its students to pay anything. RIT recognizes that this co-op brings a lot of value to the student and also helps them financially so they encourage their students to complete a co-op before graduating.

The Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education has absolutely the nicest people who are always there for students to help them prepare for their interviews, try to bring a lot of companies to the career fair for students to meet employers, review resumes and tons of other services. I personally have done one co-op and it was the best experience ever and was lucky enough to get a full time offer too. So to conclude this short article, a co-op in simple language is just an internship done during academic semesters.

More information can be found on RIT’s Career Services website. 

Government of the people, by the people and for the people

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

It was just another snowy day at RIT and I was having a conversation with my roommate about some food that is being thrown out by dining services at the end of the day. It deeply saddened me to hear food being wasted and I wanted to do something about it. After asking around I heard about the Student Government who is a part of the governing body at RIT which makes policies and votes on them along with Staff Council and Academic Senate. Their mission reads “To represent the interests of the student body through the implementation of innovative programs, services, and initiatives that enrich student lives. We will be the primary source of advocacy for students from Rochester Institute

of Technology and we will utilize our shared governance structure to voice student opinion and concern. RIT Student Government will be the forefront of change within the university.”

I was deeply intrigued by this and felt they would be the best people to talk to about my concern and I did end up talking to them about it. It was a great interaction and that is my first interaction with Student Government. In the next few months I kept learning more and more about them and felt very passionate about the change they are bringing about at RIT. Then came the wonderful day when I saw that they were accepting applications for different elected position in the Student Government. My eyes finally fell upon the Graduate Senator position and understood that the position is of a representative for the graduate students at RIT. After an intense month of campaigning and elections I have successfully won the elections and started in my role. As I went about in the role, I understood the kind of impact that Student Government has in the university. On a weekly basis, I work with the various Graduate Directors in order to discuss the new
programs that are being proposed by the departments and also propose any changes required to the graduate student policies. Apart from that I work with the different graduate student advocacy groups to address graduate student concerns like housing, transportation, etc. Also, I work with President Munson on the University Council where we discuss and vote on various university policy changes.

The presence of Student Government in the University Council ensures representatives who will be looking out for the best interests of students on the council. The impact that my work has on the students and various other stakeholders makes me feel more responsible to the role I have been elected to at RIT. Today as I write this blog I feel proud to be a student of RIT where students are given importance in policy making and this proves that indeed the school cares about its students genuinely and takes their opinions. I see the RIT Student Government as the Government of the students, by the students and for the students and glad to be a part of it.

 

Transitioning into a Different Academic System

by Kexin ‘Coco’ Wang, Visual Communications Design MFA student

It’s final weeks now here at RIT, and it’s also my first time dealing with multiple final exams and project under a semester system. You are probably wondering why, and I am here to tell you. It’s because my undergraduate uses a block plan, which means the school only runs one block at a time for three and half weeks, and we were only responsible for one final exam or project every month. As a matter of fact, I was trained to really focus on one subject during a certain period of time and got my work done efficiently.

Whereas now I am studying under the semester system, which is the most common type of academic schedule, I feel like I am learning a lot to train my brain to multitask effectively while I am working on multiple subjects throughout one semester. Although I admit that it did take me some time to make this transition go as go as smoothly as possible, I do enjoy the way that my brain gets to switch to different modes during different tasks between different academic schedules and systems.

There’s a bunch of studies and experiments on how to multitask or what multitasking does to our brains and such, but since we are hitting the final days of school here, I still want to share some small tips for better multitasking that have been really helpful to me, especially when you are preparing for your final exams.

1. Establish clear goals and keep your schedules and to-do lists visible.
2. Create priorities and do the most important tasks first.
3. Know when you work the best and manage your schedule to use your best time free for the prioritized works.
4. Try work on related tasks together to improve quality and increase efficiency
5. It’s okay to be slow sometimes. You should allow your brain to reboot and then work up to the performance level you desire.

So I hope these would really help some of you, who are also facing final exams and good luck to you all (myself included)!

Graduate Class Highlight

by Josiah Bonifas, MBA student

For the past few months I have been taking a management class called Organizational Behavior and Leadership with Professor Bob Barbato. A lot of leadership concepts sound self-explanatory to be quite honest, but it wasn’t until the first case study breakdown that I realized the importance and relevance of what we were being taught. This class highlights the characteristics necessary in a successful leader, which can be effective both inside and outside the business world. Being a leader seems straight-forward, but there are a lot of aspects that come together to truly form a great one. Personally, when I go on to work, I want to change company cultures, encourage growth, and help make a difference. This requires certain characteristics. A leader needs to control his environment, understand those that he is working with, working under, and that our working under him. It is not easy to get a whole company on board with your ideas, or to know that you are leading them in the right direction. Every interaction needs a strong degree of emotional intelligence. This means not only being able to manage one’s own emotions but to understand and manage the emotions of others and a group as a whole. A manager will make sure things are operating appropriately, and as a leader will shape the culture. These concepts are the same for friend groups, social standings, and all of our interactions. First we must understand ourselves, and then we must learn how to understand others.

Professor Barbato does a great job at highlighting the importance of all of this, and more, by relating it to business scenarios, and everyday experiences. It is a class I would recommend not only for business students, but for any person interested in self-betterment, or being a better leader. We often see traits like leadership as a God given talent, but I believe that it is a skill that all can obtain, and everyone can improve on. Winston Churchill was a terrible public speaker when he first began his role in office, but that did not deter him. He practiced and worked at it, and went on to give one of the most inspirational speeches during World War Two. Any expert will tell you, to be great at something takes practice. Michelangelo once said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.” And that is coming from one of the greatest artists of all time.

If you would like to learn what it takes to be a great leader in your life, during your time at RIT, I recommend this class for you. You won’t become an expert overnight, but you’ll definitely be on the right track. Progress excels when two things are in effect; a great teacher, and an eager learner. In the management 735 class of Organizational Behavior and Leadership you will find a great teacher– now it is up to you to go out and learn.

The Animation Show of Shows Night

by Kexin ‘Coco’ Wang, Visual Communications Design MFA student

On November 9th, I went to a special screening called Animation Show of Shows in Carlson Auditorium. The show is an annual traveling selection of award-winning animated shorts that are from all over the world. As a visual communication designer who has majored in film and media in college, I am a huge fan of this kind of event. You are exposed to so many new ideas and eye-opening art pieces, which really make you think.

The show has been going on since 1988. The curator of the show, Ron Diamond, who is also the founder at Acme Filmworks, is so passionate about watching and picking fine animated short films. I was so impressed by his story of spending a whole 7 years on restoring a 1963 animated film Hangman in high resolution format, just because he saw the film when he was young and deeply loved it. Now with funding they raised on Kickstarter, the team is able to share fantastic films with the world.

Some of the shorts presented were from some amazing studios and artists such as Inside Out director Pete Docter, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant along with John Williams. Here are some links of the animated films or their trailers that I really enjoyed from the show:

TINY BIG by Lia Bertels (Belgium)

DEAR BASKETBALL by Glen Keane (U.S.)

ISLAND by Robert Löbel & Max Mörtl (Germany)

UNSATISFYING by Parallel Studio (France)

THE BURDEN by Niki Lindroth von Bahr (Sweden)

OUR WONDERFUL NATURE – THE COMMON CHAMELEON by Tomer Eshed (Germany)

If you didn’t attend the event this year, I highly recommend attending next year! It’s just so fun to sit with friends and family at a show that would take your love of animation to another level! If you enjoy and want to help The Animation Show of Shows, please show extra support for the event!

And their official website is: https://www.animationshowofshows.com/

Artificial Intelligence at RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

Artificial Intelligence today is what the dot-com boom was a few years ago. We hear the term everywhere and there has been an explosion of advancements in the field. Although people use the word loosely, Artificial Intelligence as we know it is comprised of various topics like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and many others. These tend to fall under the broader term cognitive technologies. From driverless cars to Alpha Go, the world has seen advancements which have only been a part of science fiction movies. As a kid I loved science fiction, be it the Jetsons who lived in the future with holograms and advanced robots or Marty’s cool hover board from the Back to the Future. I always wanted to live in a future with such great advancements and today being part of an event at ROT discussing about the possibilities of such a future was very exciting.

Coming to the AI retreat that took place on February 17, 2017 at RIT was one of the most interesting days I had after coming to RIT, it was a daylong retreat which explored the advancements in artificial intelligence with a focus on RIT’s role. Speakers from various companies and institutions spoke about the work that is being done in the industry. One of the most captivating sessions, in which I was deeply immersed, was the topic “AI 2.0: brains for bots” by Mr. Max Versace, founder of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab and the Co-Founder and CEO of Neurala Inc His company is a pioneer in deep learning neural network software that could be deployed on ordinary processors with low cost sensors. Apart from Mr. Versace I also had the pleasure of listening to Mr.Robert H. Bo Ewald, President of D-Wave International, who talked about quantum computing and the big names in industry that have been investing and relying on quantum computing. The presentation reviewed some of the thinking, fundamentals and activities behind quantum computing, starting with the ideas originally introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982. Later we had a presentation by Roman Yampolskiy who talked about the Future of AI and also discussed Artificial General Intelligence and its effects on humanity. It was a very thought-provoking presentation which was thoroughly enjoyed by both students and faculty.

Post lunch we had discussion groups with topics like “Impact of AI on Education, Ethics, and Law, Vision and Language and Cognitive Science and Bio-inspired Computing.” I personally had participated in the Vision and Language discussion group that discussed the ongoing work in the industry related to the topic and  brainstormed ways that RIT could start their own research in a related field, potentially making a real difference in the world. Because RIT is one of the largest technological colleges in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing inspired the group to discuss the potential that Vision and Language has to help them in many ways. There were discussions about Automatic Captioning, which would be of great benefit, and also other such great ideas which really made me feel proud that the Tigers at RIT, with the help of their faculty, are indeed trying to make a difference and work towards advancements in the field. The day ended with a note from Jeremy Haefner, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, who promised that he would see to it RIT as an institution would support the research that the students and faculty will be working on from this day forward. It was a very special moment for me knowing how supportive the college is towards students and its faculty and then I realized I made the best decision by coming to RIT for my Masters.

Before I end this post I would like to repost some reflections that the Provost has communicated to the entire RIT community about this retreat –

The working title for this retreat is ‘Move 78’. This bears an explanation. Back in March of this year, there was a historic matchup between the Google computer system named ‘AlphaGo’ and Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players. (The game of Go is considered to be one of most cognitively challenging strategy games because of the vast number of possible moves; for example, there are 20 possible opening moves in a game of chess and 361 in a game of Go.) And in a 5 game series, AlphaGo defeated Sedol in 4 of them, thereby sending shockwaves through the Go and cognitive computing communities.

What is truly fascinating, however, are two ‘moves’ from the series. In Move 37 of Game Two, AlphaGo astounded Sedol with a play that experts never saw before let alone anticipated. Sedol took an unheard-of 20 minutes to respond. At that point, it looked grim for Team Human. But in Game Four, Sedol, wanting redemption, knew that he needed more than just the expertise he had developed in playing Go all his life and so dipped deeper into his creative well. His play, in Move 78, did just that. It astonished not only the Go world but AlphaGo itself. This move has become known as ‘God’s Touch’ and Sedol went on to win Game Four.

This story inspires me. As I think about the vast implications for the seemingly unlimited potential of cognitive computing, I could imagine a very bleak future. But I prefer not to. Rather I have tremendous faith in the creative and imaginative power of the human mind. To quote Wired Magazine,

“[Move 78] showed that although machines are now capable of moments of genius, humans have hardly lost the ability to generate their own transcendent moments. And it seems that in the years to come, as we humans work with these machines, our genius will only grow in tandem with our creations.”

The future isn’t scary; it’s exciting.