From Master's to Machine Learning Engineer
Meet Debangsha Sarkar, a former M.Sc. Computer Science student from The University of British Columbia (UBC.) Cybernews Academy spoke to this aspiring CEO about his experience at UBC, the opportunities he was afforded at his university, and how he navigated his master’s studies.
Originally from India, Debangsha moved to Canada to study for his initial master’s degree in Data Science. He had no trouble assimilating into this new environment, as the atmosphere was welcoming, the people were friendly, and the country was picturesque (although a bit cold). “Coming to Canada was an interesting journey. British Columbia is charming, which I didn’t consider before choosing my university, and it turned out to be good.” Debangsha spoke on the kindness of his colleagues and fellow students: “I made friends as although I’m kind of an introvert, I enjoy interacting with people.” He particularly enjoyed engaging with the tight-knit community in the small town of Kelowna. “Everyone’s down to earth. They’re all very good people.” He knew Canada was the place for him, but how would he choose which university he wanted to attend?
Discovering machine learning
Debangsha sifted through various factors that contributed to his choice of university. However, everything changed when he unlocked the beauty of his soon-to-be specialization in 2015. “I started hearing all these buzzwords surrounding machine learning, data science, and artificial intelligence, but I didn’t know what it was. Then, I started taking independent courses and taught myself. It was so much fun. Then I thought it was time to get a “proper degree,” and that’s where he landed in Canada. Dabangsha observed that Canada was doing a lot of excellent research at the time on artificial intelligence. After researching, he was instantly hooked and couldn’t wait to get on board with his new specialization. He just needed to figure out which university he would be applying to.
We at Cybernews Academy asked Debangsha how he chose his university: “I made a list of the top 10 universities in Canada, and then I thought about where my application will be accepted.” Debangsha assessed which universities he saw himself at and which universities would accept him with his grades and other requirements. “I made a short list of universities, and realistically, the University of British Columbia was one of the universities where my application would be accepted.” Setting expectations and being realistic is of paramount importance when choosing your university. Debangsha detailed some of the main components you must consider when applying for your dream university. Your economic position and grades are important factors when applying to university. “Finances are something to look into. Your financial situation is always something to consider depending on where the university is located and in what country you intend to travel to.” We recommend researching the area and determining which university or campus fits your budget.
Finding your professor
Another critical factor is pre-requisites, which is a thing that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen. Debangsha gave a few examples of necessary prerequisites to apply for graduate programs. “You may need certain grade predictions before you apply to grad studies. Perhaps you require a background in a certain field, or you need to contact a supervisor who will interview you before you even apply.” During our interview, Debangsha commented on the importance of contacting your lecturer and chatting with them regarding the course. “For international students who don’t have a rapport with the professor, they have to reach out and talk to them about their research interests, whether they have experience in research, and all other criteria required before applying for that particular course.” As you spend most of your master’s degree researching, your professor's research interests must align with yours. Most importantly, you must assess whether a research-oriented approach suits you, as this is what you will do throughout your graduate degree.
This former student told us about his research and how he came to find this research project. Debangsha explained that his research topic was active learning and artificial intelligence. “There’s a theory in machine learning that even machines can learn faster. If it's inquiries about certain things. That is sort of the underlying theory of active learning. The benefit of that is you can train a machine learning model with less data and wish you spend less time and money labeling your data or collecting your data.” An innovative professor and guest lecturer helped Debangsha discover this incredibly complex topic. First, “my professor asked me to make a list of ten problems that needed to be solved.” Then the following questions arise, “do you have the skills to solve this problem?” From there, a guest lecturer came to talk about active learning, and Debangsha immediately took to the topic. However, he did mention that, much like his academic journey, some changes occurred throughout his research. “My exploration of the topic went through many iterations, as I started it by doing one thing, and it turned out to be something completely different.” This resilient researcher highlights the beauty of education, as you never know what is around the corner, nothing is predictable, and all situations are unique.
Debangsha depicted how his degree and specialization changed over time. “I originally studied electronics engineering, which has almost nothing to do with machine learning and artificial intelligence” (despite all the maths involved.) Despite this change, he was able to complete his degree and find something he was interested in. Dabangsha’s story exemplifies how excellent and variable higher education is. Even if you change the trajectory of your course, this transition will surely benefit you in the long run. At this time, Debangsha felt that artificial intelligence would become extremely important and decided to pursue this new and exciting field of study. Debangsha discovered what he was interested in and sought to specialize in artificial intelligence.
Competitive, rewarding, and hectic
Some distinct words came to Debangsha’s mind when describing his course: competitive, rewarding, and hectic. “A lot of people apply every year, so it’s competitive. It’s essential to make sure that you have your letter of recommendation and statement of purpose ready before you apply,” Debangsha said, as this will give you an apparent direction of what and where you want to research. Computer Science was a hectic course as Debangsha had a heavy workload while juggling a teaching assistantship. “It adds a little bit of extra workload as you are both a student and an employee at the university.” Debangsha mentioned that he was thrilled to be a part of the faculty at UBC because “interacting with students was a new and exciting experience.” One of Debangsha’s most significant achievements (apart from writing his thesis) was embarking on the teaching assistant program at the University of British Columbia. He told us that at UBC, you can work at the university or go for a teaching assistantship “where you can become a teaching assistant, and you can work with an instructor, take their labs, or sometimes teach provisionally, which is an enriching experience.”
Exploration and travel
Debangsha was allowed to travel, meet new people, and showcase his achievements at the University of British Columbia. During his studies, Debangsha traveled to the Technical University of Vienna to attend Math Mod, a mathematical modeling conference in 2022. While staying in the city, Debangsha met many European students working on machine learning and mathematical modeling algorithms. “It was an outstanding experience, interacting with foreign students and talking to them about their research.”
Throughout our interview, Debangsha discussed various clubs that are a part of the university and the social events he participated in. He told us of the highs of finishing his thesis and the lows of completing it. Debangsha discussed how enjoyable the learning and research process was while navigating his work and social life. He explained that he was most satisfied with the teaching assistantship that he worked on for almost three years. Now, Debangsha is taking a break to construct his own AI company, where he is working on artificial intelligence in medicine. Debangsha also started his own AI podcast, discussing artificial intelligence. For now, this future CEO has left our readers with some words of encouragement, quoting the famous Dr. Richard Feynman: “If you want to master something, teach it.” Debangsha learned a lot from his learning and teaching experience at university, ultimately making him a better educator, learner, and researcher.