Ankur's diary entry - Autumn 2011

Ankur talks about his summer internship in Singapore and finally finding an industrial placement. He's enjoying working life and all that comes with it and is gaining many new skills.

Ankur in Singapore (front row - white t-shirt) My last diary entry left me with good news in the form of a summer internship to extend my stay in Singapore by two months, and desperately looking for an industrial placement to do as part of my degree. To say that I was scared and apprehensive of what lay in store would be an understatement. Much has happened since then that I find it hard to think of where to begin, so I rewind to the start of summer.

Summer research project in Singapore

My research internship in Singapore was in Nanyang Technological University's Information Engineering and Media department, in a large research team working on a next-generation touch computing interface with the intent of transforming every day household/work surfaces into touch computers. The group I was assigned to was tackling the issue of making a robust speech recognition system to make the user experience of our system more intuitive.

I had been expecting to work on how microphone arrays could be used to improve accuracy but I took on a different tack: researching recognition accuracy for Asian-accented English. My main tasks were analysing speech data samples recorded in our labs, using Cambridge University's Hidden Markov Model Toolkit (HTK) project software to create an automated speech recognition (ASR) system, and then looking at ways of improving the ASR models I generated.

Opening my eyes to life as a graduate research student

To be fair, myself and the other researchers on NTU's Summer Research Internship programme were only around for just two months and not expected to work miracles. But this was an interesting experience inasmuch as it taught me how to go about 'doing research' and what exactly the life and tasks of a graduate research student are. Until now, I had not given much thought to what or even whether I wanted to do a Masters or PhD or dive straight into the industry. This research internship has got me thinking of those as viable possibilities.

Falling in love with Singapore

At the same time, this Summer Research Internship Programme was an opportunity for the Singapore government to showcase its knowledge economy strengths to us. Over the last two months in Singapore, I gained a much better understanding of exactly how much effort is being put into attracting researchers from around the world to Singapore, and what exactly makes its economy tick.

It is amazing to see how a tiny island with next to no natural resources has carved such a niche out for itself. Singapore's plan for keeping itself competitive in science and engineering sounds meticulously well-planned and if I do plan to take up research, I am giving serious thought to going back to Singapore for it. You can obviously figure out I am quite enamoured by the country at this point.

Finally getting an industrial placement

Looking for an industrial placement was not easy. Days rolled by in July without any progress on that front. As I mentioned in my last diary entry, my toughest challenge was to find a company even willing to offer me an interview when I was in not able to be present for them!

At the time, I felt clueless as to whether I would get a placement or have to go back to university and start my final year. This was a daunting prospect because I had not given much thought to what I would be doing for my final year project or more practical concerns such as sorting out university housing. I almost gave up on this at one point.

But then everything fell into place. With less than three days left of my internship in Singapore, I was offered an interview (over Skype, thankfully!) with an electronic design automation company based in Fareham. This was only the third or fourth company to have interviewed me this year, so it was a nerve-wracking experience but I got the job in the end.

Right after I left Singapore, I took a week off travelling in Taiwan before I joined my work placement. One of the reasons I wanted to visit it was because it is undoubtedly one of the top electronics manufacturing hubs in the world.

I visited Taipei's Neihu and Nangang districts, where much of its electronics manufacturing industry is based. I got to hear first-hand accounts from engineers whom I met - some of them who went to University of Surrey and are IET members - about life working there. I even got to see the Taiwanese consumer electronics industry out in full force at the Taipei Computer Applications Show 2011.

The perfect work placement

I have been working here for about two months now, and it has been a challenging learning curve in some aspects - for instance, my course did not make me familiar with IC fabrication technologies which a lot of my tasks revolve around - and some areas such as coding new design kits where I have eased in relatively easily.

I am delighted about this opportunity because as it is an electronic design automation company, I will get exposure to working on both analog and digital electronic design, with a good measure of coding thrown in too. It is a perfect fit for the degree I am pursuing, which is electronics and computer engineering.

Around three-quarters of the students in my year were successful getting a work placement - much higher than previous years - with the rest opting to continue the final year of their degree directly. This certainly sounds like good news for our industry after a couple of less-than-stellar years during the global financial downturn. Additionally, I think, this year's statistics show how much more importance engineering students, and perhaps companies, too, are assigning to practical work experience gained from a year in the industry.

I expect to learn a lot from this work placement, and hope to contribute in equal measure too. After university life, it is refreshing to have some semblance of a rigorous schedule at work. An important part of this process would be recording what technical and professional skills I learn over the months to come for my IET Chartered Engineer application, which I have only just begun planning towards.