An Unforgettable Experience: Summer at USC

This summer (May 2018 – July 2018), I (Saksham Suri, B.Tech. IIITD, Class of 2019) was at Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, USA. I worked under the guidance of Prof. C.-C. Jay Kuo in the Media and Communications Lab (MCL). The lab had quite a few PhD students, RA’s and even a couple of interns like me.

So to start, I would go chronologically from applications, to acceptance, to my time there and lastly the farewell.

For the application part, the internship was under the IUSSTF-Viterbi program which is a collaboration between Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and Viterbi School of Engineering. It’s deadline is around mid November each year. The application process is quite exhaustive and requires you to describe in detail your research experience and why you are the right candidate for the program as well as the professor you are applying to. In addition, it requires LOR’s hence it is of great importance that you have done some research with the faculty, for them to write strong recommendations. Your application in total should reflect you well and should stand out given that they go through a raft of applications yet only select around 20 students each year.

The waiting time after applying is quite long and it was in start of February I got the decision for selection. I was on cloud nine as soon as I saw my result. That day the smile I had on my face reflected my internal feelings quite well (at least that’s what everyone I met told me). On the same day we had a WhatsUp (weekly group update meeting at Precog) too and I think all fellow labmates and even PK can vouch for my elation. Soon I got a mail from professor Kuo too, who congratulated me and also gave me some papers to read which would would help me gain the specific knowledge I needed for the project which I would be doing there.

Then came my first day at USC. As soon as I entered the university I was completely in awe of the whole layout, design, architecture and beauty of the campus. Well this picture might help you understanding what I am talking about.

Same day I met my team whom I worked with for the summer. Below is a picture of my team From L-to-R: Yao (Master’s@USC); Myself; Pranav (undergraduate@IIT-Bombay); Professor Kuo; Jiali (PhD@MCL,USC).

My work at USC consisted of image synthesis, something like what Generative adversarial networks (GAN’s) do. We had to synthesize new images without using any deep learning methodology, using just concepts and tools from probability, statistics and linear algebra. At MCL we had weekly one on one meeting with professor Kuo. The night before the meeting we had to submit a report with weekly updates and the most fundamental part of the report was that we had to analyse the results we had got and come up with suitable suggestions to overcome the problems we faced. The meetings were really informative and it was good to have a lively discussion with professor Kuo who heard all our ideas and gave his valuable input. He always told us to focus on interpretability of what we are doing. He believed in using mathematics as a tool in order to create a sound and mathematically explainable approach unlike deep learning which mostly he said worked like a black box making it difficult to explain. In addition to these one on ones, we even had a weekly seminar. The seminar started with an informal lunch (which was quite a relief for me 😛 given that I cooked my meals and trust me cooking is one of the most exhilarating tasks) where we interacted with the rest of the members other than our project team, followed by an address from professor Kuo and at the end a presentation by one of the lab residents about their work which they have been doing. The seminars were quite enriching as post every seminar, I had learnt about the research problem of one of the PhD’s/RA’s and the techniques they were using to solve it.

Well this was the work part of my internship, but I can assure you it was mostly limited to weekdays. Weekends were mostly reserved for fun and travel. I explored the whole of Los Angeles, from Hollywood to Beverly hills to Griffith. I went to Disneyland, Universal Studios and every other touristy place in Los Angeles you can think of. I also traveled out of town to San Francisco and Las Vegas. San Francisco, well, is the city of dreams for me with all the tech giants over there and also one of the most famous bridges in the world, ‘The Golden Gate Bridge’.

           

Further to complete the feeling of being in the “land of the free” we went to a Dodgers vs. Angels baseball match, although it took me first 20 minutes to understand what the rules were.

Amidst all this work and fun professor Kuo constantly guided me and I thank him for teaching me some of the core values. He always spoke about integrity and doing the right thing. The way he conveyed it and the impact it had on me is something I will never forget and will try to imbibe it as a part of my personality. I hope I can have the same level of integrity as he did and although the seminars helped me gain technical knowledge too, but his talks were one of the most important part for me.

On the last day all IUSSTF interns had a poster presentation in the morning. In the evening professor Kuo planned a potluck as a MCL farewell to me and Pranav. We had cooked idlis, rajma and rice for the whole group to introduce them to the Indian cuisine. Although I did not want to bid adieu, I was not regretful of leaving as I knew that I will never forget all the wonderful people at MCL, especially my team members who were like a family to me. We worked together, ate together and even traveled together.

  Dishes at the Potluck.

Some more pictures from my travels:

Clockwise: Google Mountain View, Biking trip, some food delights.

Lastly from Madame Tussaud, Hollywood.

“My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” – Forrest Gump

The whole experience was very enriching and truly like a box of assorted chocolates which included friends who became family and project mentors who became life guides.

And as anyone who has been to USC will say, FIGHT ON!!