Professor Profile

Exclusive: Tête-à-Tête with Dr. Srini Devadas

By Archita Goyal, Batch of 2017; and Ashish Kothari, Batch of 2016

Having completed his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT Madras, and Ph.D at University of California, Berkeley, Professor Srinivas Devadas joined MIT in 1988 and has been associated with it since then. He is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. His research interests include computer security, computer architecture, computer-aided-design of VLSI circuits, formal verification and computational biology. Known for his famous lecture series on ‘Introduction to Algorithms on the MIT Open Course Ware’, Professor Devadas is also one of the founders of Verayo and has won many awards for his technical achievements.

Professor Srinivas Devadas
Prof. Srini Devadas in conversation with the students after the lecture.

The one-hour lecture organized by Accenture was a brief yet absolutely informative session on the Past, Present and Future of Computer Programming. Starting with the primeval machines to the modern computers, he touched upon how the face of programming has changed down the line. Concepts such as parallel programming were also introduced, along with the efficiency of different approaches adopted to code a given problem (Matrix multiplication).

The Alliance brings to you an exclusive tête-à-tête with the distinguished professor.

Q. What chances do non-domestic students have, of getting into the prestigious MIT?

A: MIT unlike other American universities offers a Ph.D program rather than a master’s degree. Indians among other non-domestic students have great chances in getting an admission at MIT, for there is a dearth of students in the US, who want to pursue a Ph.D degree, constrained mainly to the field of research.

Q. How can one get a summer internship or get himself enrolled in one of the summer courses offered at MIT?

A: A summer internship is somewhat different from the regular further studies programs for the former is more about a point-to-point interaction between the student and the professor. A graduation or a post-graduation program is a many-to-many process, a university gets many applications and the student applies to many of them. A summer internship involves aiming at the bull’s eye, probability of which would be obviously less.

The student should not only pick his area of interest, but should also know what he is actually supposed to do, logistically as well. One has to hit the ground running, with respect to professors, have the ground laid and have an exhaustive interaction with the concerned professor. A clarity in the mindset is the foremost thing.

Q. How should one approach a professor to get involved into research projects?

A: Before contacting the concerned professor, the student must be absolutely clear in mind. The only e-mails which are keenly replied are of those who underwent considerable trouble in writing them. The e-mail must be a reflection of the knowledge of the student. An e-mail broadcasted to a list of professors, just gets the professor to think, ‘why should I put five minutes into this, if the student hasn’t’! The thumb rule is that the professor only spends a fraction of the time you have put in writing the e-mail. The e-mail should hence be really  specific.

Q. After having taught students at MIT and taken lectures at various colleges in India, what differences do you observe in the temperament of the students in India and at MIT w.r.t engineering and computer science?

A: A couple of skills are really important for a person to have in his personality. The most important thing to have in your character is courage. There’s no hope whatsoever for a person who is afraid of trying new things. Indian students in general, lack this trait of accepting new challenges and working on them. The key to learning is not to be afraid of the unknown. One must have the quality of experimenting with new things.

Persistence is another important skill that one must inculcate in oneself, an ability that most Indians don’t have. The process of learning  may not be accompanied with instant gratification. It’s always about enjoying the process, a recreational course which goes on, like an intangible thing. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you will end up abandoning it in the middle. Research is like a game, even if you lose, you still have the enjoyment you had while playing it.