Mugdha Thanawala, the Students Council representative at Symbiosis Institute of Technology, Pune has varied interests. An artificial intelligence (AI) buff, painter, passionate baker and travel enthusiast, Mugdha believes in making the best of the opportunities available. That belief saw her take on her role as an electrical engineer for her institute’s formula racing team and explore learning opportunities beyond her specialisation subjects – electronics and telecommunication.
“There was a silver lining to the dark Covid 19 clouds too. As we shifted to online learning, I found myself having more time on hand and used it to do new courses like artificial intelligence and machine learning,” says the intrepid youngster.
Calling her tryst with AI and ML “a blessing in disguise”, Mugdha plans to pursue a Masters in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning (ML) and sees herself doing research and innovations in the same field in the future.
What kind of classes is being conducted currently in your educational institution?
The institution offered online and then hybrid classes during the pandemic and the post pandemic days. However, we have gone back to fully offline classes now. Being an electronics student, we have classes for subjects like digital electronics, VLSI design, signal processing, communications etc. Apart from these, we have the option to opt for electives and enroll in a minors programme from other domains like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), data science etc.
What has been the general mood amongst students regarding attending offline classes and a possible re-shutting of colleges amidst the new surge of COVID cases?
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts have significantly affected our education. Although nothing could replace the real college experience, the seamless transition to online tools for teaching and the adoption of virtual labs and software tools for lab sessions has made learning very engaging despite it being remote.
That said, students are extremely happy to be back on campus now. Any thought of having to go back to online classes due to rising COVID cases and closures is a real disappointment since many have come from distant places.
The Students Council representative is one of the most coveted positions in institutions such as yours. How did you carry out your responsibilities amidst virtual classes?
It took some time to transition from the offline to the online mode but the Students Council simply shifted all the events online. We found tech support and reached out to our faculty when we needed help. While it did seem difficult first, in time students learned to conduct and enjoy the online events. We had our fests and even a concert that saw a good amount of participation.
I was a part of a college club called Wrench Wielders Racing which is a formula student team of my institute which had to completely shift online due to the pandemic. We worked together on platforms like discord and created our designs on software like KiCad, AutoCad, etc. The team also went for virtual design competitions like the FSEV Concept Challenge and the FMAE Design Challenge which I was a part of.
Do you think students were ready for offline exams since there was little time for revision of the previous year’s syllabus due to the pandemic-related disruptions?
While it is true that relatively less time was available for revision, our institute provided us with recordings of the classes conducted online along with notes and soft copies of referred material. All of this made our final revision before the exams very convenient.
How according to you could your institution bridge the learning gap caused due to the closures?
I don’t think we missed out on our learning and therefore have had the need to cover up through extra classes. During the pandemic, use of education-specific platforms like MS Teams and Google Classrooms created a virtual classroom-like environment. Apart from this, our professors introduced us to virtual simulators where we could perform hands-on experiments which helped us understand concepts better.
How did your life change post-March 2020? What changes did you and your friends have to incorporate to continue studying during the pandemic?
As a result of the lockdowns, our activities shifted online and we spent our time indoors. However, we remained connected to each other online. With regards to studying, my friends and I would get on group calls to study together as we could not travel to meet each other. One positive aspect of the online arrangement during the pandemic was that students were able to network remotely with like-minded people and made professional acquaintances from across the world through webinars and online meet ups organised by our institute, which helped us significantly going forward.
How were the student’s practical classes (lab sessions) managed during the pandemic?
We did not face many difficulties with our lab sessions for software-based courses as all the lab work was to be done on a computer. As far as hands-on lab sessions are concerned, the use of virtual labs and online simulators helped us to understand the concepts and their related processes in a more comprehensive manner.
There have been last-minute changes in exam patterns, evaluation criteria etc. How have you and other students dealt with these changes?
The online teaching was very detailed and we had access to other study materials too, therefore, changes in the exam pattern, criteria, etc., had little effect on our exam preparations. Most of us had to only manage our time better to be able to meet all the deadlines.
Do you think you have missed out on knowing the latest career options or higher education prospects available to you in the absence of in-person interaction with teachers?
I have had the opportunity to intern at the Symbiosis Centre for Applied AI (SCAAI), the artificial intelligence research organization associated with our University. I have been working on my area of interest and have been developing relevant skills which will help me going forward. Apart from this, I have opted for the optional minors programme at my institute in the domain of artificial intelligence. As part of this programme, interactions with the professors has made it remarkably convenient to keep up with the latest trends in the field of AI.
How have you coped with exam stress? Did you have access to a counselor who could help you through difficult times?
My institution has a mentor-mentee programme with a faculty member assigned to individual students. Students reach out to them for help with all kinds of issues, exam stress being one of them.
How are you preparing for competitive exams? Are you attending any online tutorials?
I wish to pursue higher education in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and have been preparing for the same. I have not yet enrolled in any programme and instead have been preparing for the same myself. Working remotely, I’ve joined a few communities online on platforms like Discord, Telegram and Reddit where I can study and prepare along with people having similar goals as mine.
Have you understood the National Education Policy 2020? What is your take on it?
Yes, I have closely followed the latest developments in the field of education and also read through the proposed NEP 2020. I think many of the proposed changes and new additions have been much needed. The proposed establishment of an Academic Bank of Credit along with the multiple exit-entry system will make education easier for a lot of people. Also, having no rigid separation between the arts and science curriculum will grant students more flexibility in terms of deciding their future choices. Also having a single common entrance test for colleges will facilitate this further.
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