Aishni grew up in India wanting to be an engineer and studying math and sciences. At the time she was the only girl enrolled in STEM classes at her high school.
Her interest in engineering was inspired by the complexity of an unmanned rover negotiating the surface of Mars, and the simplicity of the value predictive search algorithms Google and YouTube brought to daily online experiences. She received her undergraduate degree in Computer Science from UC Santa Cruz and then joined MIT’s Human-Centered AI group and Media Lab to work on deep learning problems as a research engineer. The DeepMind Scholarship has allowed her to now pursue a Masters degree in Computer Science at UCLA where she is researching the symbiosis of human cognition and artificial intelligence.
Don’t doubt yourself or think you don’t deserve this opportunity. It’s a chance, like flipping a coin; if you take it, it will change your life forever. That’s what it did for me.”
In conversation with Aishni
Explain the path you’re on, and your experience as a DeepMind scholar.
The DeepMind Scholarship has helped me in two major ways. First, it allowed me to pursue my academic goals without taking on further financial loan debt. Many people don't know this but, in the US, as an international student, you are not eligible for most of the financial aid programs available to resident students. I had to take loans to pursue engineering here and had almost $145,000 of student loan debt when I graduated. I wanted to study further but knew I couldn’t take on any more debt! When I saw the DeepMind scholarship wasn’t limited to US citizens*, I jumped at the opportunity.
Secondly, even more valuable is the mentorship I am receiving. I am so excited to learn from the greatest minds in the industry and explore various topics in artificial intelligence.
*Scholarships at UCLA are currently awarded to scholars who reside in the United States, with those from underrepresented backgrounds encouraged to participate.
How has the scholarship programme been beneficial to your studies?
Given that everything about the Masters so far has been remote because of the pandemic, the scholarship has been the most tangible aspect of my grad experience so far. DeepMind was very thoughtful to pair me up with a mentor who shares my interests in the areas I want to research. My mentor, Peter, is a research scientist at DeepMind and an expert in the area of artificial intelligence and cognitive science. He is very supportive of my goals and has opened my mind to new areas of research problems that I am now considering. I look forward to meeting him every month!
What intrigued you about the DeepMind scholarship programme?
I was very inspired that the scholarship encouraged applications specially from women and students from underrepresented populations who would not otherwise have the opportunity to study AI or even pursue a graduate degree. I’ve always had this uncomfortable memory from my high school days of being singled out as the only girl in the physics class or the math class, and hearing teachers say, "maybe you should consider switching to a higher-level English or art or something like that". There were many moments when I felt I didn’t deserve to be in that classroom, and that STEM was not where I was supposed to be. No child should think they don’t deserve to pursue knowledge or an opportunity they are interested in because of their gender, race, sexuality, age or ability. The opportunity to apply to the scholarship was critical in boosting my confidence to not give up on a graduate education in computer science.
Why does representation matter to you?
There are very few people of colour and even fewer women of colour in computer science and AI. It is very important for young students aspiring to pursue a career in these fields to see someone like themselves in the community. Representation matters a lot, and I strongly believe that the innovations in technology cannot be pushed forward by a single race or gender. In the area I am researching, I am inspired by “common-sense” human intelligence, prevalent in humans as a species, that does not discriminate across individuals. The solutions we build are also for all humankind, so we should all be allowed to come together and contribute a diverse set of perspectives.
Did you have any hesitation about applying for the scholarship?
It was a little intimidating to think that, whatever you’ve done, you deserve to receive a prestigious award like the scholarship from DeepMind. But at the same time, it was encouraging to understand that the intent of the scholarship was to help students like me pursue advanced education and a career path in AI.