Monday, 20 January 2014

This Sharmili Ain't Shy

Sharmili Roy’s favourite local foods are Yong Tau Foo and Kaya Toast. The fourth year CS PhD student doesn’t think she’s made for routine, repetitive jobs, having previously worked in MNCs and government bodies, and instead prefers to work independently and on new problems (which research and academia will allow). Sharmili already has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Engineering and won The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship in July last year. Also, ‘Sharmili’ means ‘someone who is shy’ in Hindi, but she assures us that she is not.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up all across India. I was born in the eastern part of India, in the oldest metro city, Calcutta. After living in Calcutta for about 3 years we moved south for a brief stint in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam (nick‐named, Vizag). My next home after Vizag was up in the north, the hilly and then laid back small town of Dehradun. My school was next door to my house and we could see the Garhwal Himalayas from our back yard. While still in primary school my father's job took us back to our home town Calcutta where I finished my primary school. I finished high school and college in the capital of India, New Delhi.

Describe your experience as an SoC student:
Working with my academic supervisor (Associate Professor Michael Brown) is the best thing about doing a PhD in SoC. I thing he is the best supervisor I have ever had. Apart from being very supportive academically, he has always been there for his students. He is very understanding and there has never been any communication gap with him, which I think is the most important part of a student-supervisor relationship. I don't think my research would have been as enjoyable had I been working with someone else. 
I have done a number of internships during my PhD and hence I have been exposed to a lot of new problems and new people in my field. Also, my supervisor has always been keen on sending his students to conferences and summer schools so that we are aware of what is happening in our field and what other people are working on. This gives us a chance to network with like-minded people. I think not all students in SoC and in NUS in general get this opportunity. I feel special to have had so many opportunities to interact with experts in my field. 
I think the biggest challenge I face is to convince people that simple practical problems are important and deserve equal and sometimes more time and effort as complex technical problems that may or may not end up being used in practice. Research is not always about solving technically involved problems using complex algorithms. If we can find solutions to simple day to day problems that can be used in daily practice, research can be more fruitful.
I am working on developing next generation reporting and diagnostic tools for healthcare and biomedical applications. The problems that I work on are faced by radiologists, doctors and biomedical experts in their day to day work life. My goal is to design computational assistants to make their life easier and more efficient. As an example, the aim of one of my project is to address the limitations in the current radiological imaging and reporting workflow, in particular the out-dated reliance of physicians on text-only radiological reports. To this end, we have designed a reporting framework that enables radiologists to augment their text reports with an autogenerated visual summary of the clinical findings. The visual summary is computed as an animated 3D volume where the radiologists’ annotations are clearly highlighted as the volume spins to provide a comprehensive summary of the important clinical content. We have proved that our 3D visual summaries enhance communication between radiologists, physicians and their patients as opposed to the text-based reports currently used in radiology via a user satisfaction study with physicians in Singapore.  
We have exhibited our visual summary framework, called VITA, to senior radiologists in Cornell University and also at the Annual meetings of the Radiological Society of North America. VITA has been appreciated by senior members of the radiology community and has even been predicted as the system that may completely replace radiological text reporting. We believe that our VITA system can have immediate impact on clinical reporting practices and will empower patients with a deeper understanding of their report results

Which faculty members made impressions on you?
Dr. Michael S. Brown and Dr. Mohan Kankanhalli have been very supportive throughout my PhD. Though Dr. Mohan is not my supervisor but he has always lent a patient ear to my concerns and guided me throughout my stay in SoC.

What is the craziest thing that you did here? 
The craziest thing that I can think of is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with the Mountaineering Club of NUS last year. We, a group of 20 people led by members of the NUS Mountaineering club successfully reached the summit of the highest peak of Africa, Kilimanjaro, after a long and tedious climb of 7 days through the tropical forests, moorland, desert and snow. It will remain as one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

If there is one thing you would change about SoC, what would it be?
I feel that social interaction between SoC students is very limited. Probably because we all are always under pressure to perform better. We hardly know what students in other labs are working on. I think I would have preferred more informal activities being organized in SoC for a socially healthier work environment.

Best song on air now?
I love Bollywood music (and dancing!) - current favourites are songs from the movie "Ramleela"

Pet peeve?
Cupboards with doors left open

Guilty pleasure?
Creme Brulee Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Got ideas about questions we should be asking or people we should be chatting with? Email

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