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Rajavi Mishra on becoming a computer science researcher

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Rajavi Mishra first knew she wanted to become a computer science (CS) researcher when she was a high school junior in Delhi, India. After studying electricity in her physics class, she was hooked on learning even more about the field. Rajavi spent her summer interning with a lab supervisor to design experiments that studied the mechanical life deterioration of electrical contractors, and then expanded that work into a research paper that was published during her senior year of high school.

Today, Rajavi is a senior studying CS at the University of California, Berkeley, and is one of the most recent graduates of Google’s CS Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP). Growing up in India, Rajavi felt like her dream of completing a computer science internship as a high school student and pursuing a career in computer science would be daunting and difficult to achieve. But, thanks in part to the relationships she built during CSRMP, she’s enjoyed every bit of it.

Started in 2018, CSRMP provides mentorship, networking and career exploration to undergraduate and graduate students from historically marginalized groups (HMGs) who are interested in pursuing computing research. The program’s fifth class of students — which included Rajavi — graduated in December 2021, adding 201 students from 109 institutions across the United States and Canada to an alumni community of more than 500 CS researchers. Here’s what Rajavi had to say about her CSRMP and computing research experience:

How has CSRMP impacted your research journey?

I gained insight into a breadth of research domains during speaker series and hands-on workshops. One of our small-group pod sessions had panels with researchers from various Human and Computer Interaction (HCI) sub-domains, which helped me get a taste of different skills, roles and projects in the space.Our pod sessions were real-world learning-focused, and explored different research tools and methodologies in HCI, interesting case studies of projects, and what life as a researcher at Google is like.

What was the highlight of CSRMP?

One-on-one sessions with my mentor were the highlight of my experience. Through discussions with my mentor, I was able to gain solid feedback on my work — from grad school applications and industry research experiences to my current research project at Berkeley. I have a much better understanding of computer science industry research positions and future opportunities for the role.

What were some challenges you had to overcome during the program?

The biggest challenge was letting go of my internal inhibitions and taking the initiative to connect with peers and mentors. To make the most of the program, I had to communicate expectations with my mentor and not feel ashamed for not knowing something. In the end, being a curious learner helped me broaden my horizons and network.

What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

As part of my EECS honors thesis, I have been working with Professor Chasins to study how people interact with digital assistants, which we hypothesize do not sufficiently fulfill all possible user queries. While the current research focuses on what people ask their assistants, we wanted to explore how people want to be able to express themselves to their voice assistants. With this in mind, we designed a seven-day in-situ diary study where we asked people with no voice assistant experience to record requests they would ask their assistants. I am using open-coding and language processing techniques to analyze study data, categorize diverse user needs and build an ecologically valid benchmark suite of queries that current voice assistants fail to fulfill. As I wrap up my senior honors thesis, I’m excited to see how my skills have grown since I published my first paper as a high school senior. I'm also thrilled about graduating next semester and joining graduate school as a master’s student to further explore the research area of HCI.

What advice do you have for students like you who are curious about becoming a researcher in computing?

A mentor who can help you identify, shape and strengthen your interests in computer science is pivotal. Learning from my mentors has been invaluable to my progress as a learner, researcher, problem solver and human being.

Congratulations to all of the students who graduated from the CS Research Mentorship Program in the second half of 2021! If you’re interested in joining students like Rajavi Mishra to explore what the world of CS research has to offer, then be sure to apply for the September 2022 mentorship cycle in July when applications open.

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