Saurabh Mirani – Intelligent Systems, Robotics & Control

Moving forward with the Core vs Non-Core Series, we have with us Saurabh Mirani, a Robotics Engineer (Human-Robot Interaction), currently working at Flexiv Ltd. Saurabh did his Masters from the University of California San Diego, while having completed B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 2019.

1. What prompted you to go to graduate school after your final year as opposed to a job? How has your experience been until now?

During my final year, even after working on numerous robotics projects, I still felt that I lacked enough knowledge to call myself an expert in robotics. This prompted me to go to graduate school as opposed to a job. My experience has been great so far. There are definitely more opportunities if you specialize in a particular field, be it at your university or outside your university.

2. What were the various options available to you while choosing a career path? How and why did you decide to pursue a career in the field of Intelligent Systems, Robotics & Control?

Job, starting a startup, MS/PhD were some of the options available to me. I decided to go to graduate school after my 3rd-year summer internship ended. My internship experience was really good, but it was more on the implementation side than on the R&D side. After researching a bit, I figured out that if I want to enter the R&D sector, I need more knowledge and hence my decision for doing Masters.

3. How important is a Letter of Recommendation (LoR) while applying to learn at universities abroad? What role does it play?

It is definitely important but not the most important, at least for Masters. The Statement of Purpose and your Curriculum Vitae are much more important because that’s the only way they’ll get to know about your background in detail. LoR is more like an endorsement that this student is worthy.

4. When and how did you build the required skillsets for getting into the University of California? Did you do any internships? Any resources you used to prepare?

I worked on a lot of projects related to robotics during my undergrad. I also did some Robotics related courses on Coursera, edX, etc. I did two internships, one in 3rd-year winter (1 month) and another in 3rd-year summer (3 months). I wasn’t planning any of this explicitly targeting any university or program; it was just my hunger for knowledge. But yes, it helped to build a really good profile.

5. What changes did you observe between IIT Kharagpur and the University of California with respect to the education system, campus environment, research facilities, students’ lifestyle, etc.?

The education system is more inclined to exams at IIT Kharagpur than the University of California, where it’s primarily based on projects/weekly assignments. The campus environment of IIT Kharagpur is one of a kind. There wasn’t a boundary wall campus at UC San Diego; it was more like living independently.

The research facilities are good at UC San Diego. They have a good hardware setup for robots, plus the projects are well funded, so getting the equipment you need is convenient, whereas, at IIT Kharagpur, you usually have to go through the tender process, which can take some time.

6. How are the growth opportunities in your field? Could you tell us about your day-to-day job?

Right now, the robotics field is booming. Almost everything comes with some degree of automation and AI, which will increase in the coming years. There are a lot of jobs/research labs related to robotics. My day-to-day job involves going through research papers, figuring out the best takeaways from all, thinking about how that could be useful for our company, and implementing it.

7. Do you plan to pursue academic research, or are there research opportunities in corporate as well related to your field? What do you think are the major differences between academic research and corporate research jobs?

Since robotics is still a developing field, there are a lot of research opportunities in corporate as well as academic. I think the major difference is that academic is more towards philosophy, and corporate is more towards practical implementation. In corporate, you are trying to sell your product, and hence it needs to be failproof. The testing is more rigid as compared to academics, where you try to find novel approaches as long as they are able to pass certain tests.

8. What advice/message would you like to give to a student interested to pursue a course similar to yours? Looking back, what would you have done differently?

I would say that try to gain as much knowledge as you can, especially the fundamentals. If your fundamentals are really strong, it will enable you to make a ground-breaking contribution for the betterment of society. I don’t think I would have done anything differently. There were some mistakes I made, but they taught me some lessons which were essential for who I am today.