Anthony Haynes writes: On this blog we’ve had an ambivalent relationship to International Women’s Day (IWD): on the one hand, we’ve often marked it; on the other hand, we’ve questioned the appropriateness of designating a single day. It prompts the question, what about all the other days? To whom do they belong?
On IWD this year we took the decision to commission a number of interviews with women, to be published at various points through the rest of the year. Each interviewee is a highly enterprising and articulate female leader, with an inspiring personal story to tell.
For the first in the series, we welcome NAKITA HARI to the blog.
I met Nikita in relation to her scientific research, which she outlines at the start of this interview — but then discovered her other achievements in the fields of enterprise and social impact, which she expands on below.
Q. You’ve worked as a researcher, most recently as a doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge. What are your main research interests?
My main research interests are in the area of power electronics, machine learning for power device modelling, organ-on-chip, and science and technology policy.
The world deals day in and day out with electrical power conversion — trillions of adjustments are made every second to deliver electricity from wall outlets to power any electronic device.
These are made possible by systems that do the converting – called ‘Power Electronic Converters’, conventionally built using silicon. On average, these converters are only 90 percent energy-efficient and the rest is lost as heat, costing us billions every year. So there has been a big push for the development of new material-based devices to meet these challenging demands of 21st century.
My doctoral research work aimed to address this problem by exploring a better way of converting this power using devices made of the novel material Gallium Nitride. These devices are expected to jump-start the next generation of smaller, faster, denser, cheaper and hence, efficient power converters.
I employed machine learning techniques to better understand and work with these devices, thus enabling innovation and commercialisation.
Q. You have two start-ups: Wudi and Favalley. Could you tell us what Wudi involves?
India with its huge number of unskilled graduates, rising student suicide and depression rates, led us to take another look at our educational system.
The root cause of all this lies in the fact that no focus is being given to an individual’s interests: rather the focus is being imposed on an individual. This eventually leads to mounting pressures, discontent, and unending struggle to fit in the stereotypical engineering, medical or management world.
This is particularly dangerous considering the dynamic and challenging nature of careers in the future.
I and my bother Arjun co-founded Wudi as an answer to solve this chaos amongst students. Wudi’s aim is to help students identify their innate skills and talents to enable them to make informed career decisions.
Wudi is an AI-driven talent and skill discovery platform to help students discover and maximize their true potential.
It captures the educational journey of individuals from kindergarden to graduate level to help make better-informed decisions about one’s future development. This will be based on a continuous, accurate and timely assessment of the students with insights into their skills, talents, aptitude and mental well-being.
The system uses machine learning algorithms to process educational data such as grades, performance data, and activities.
The platform is primarily focused on the students themselves but can also be used in conjunction with stakeholders such as educators, consultants and educational institutions to manage their education processes in the most effective, highly affordable, and least intrusive manner.
Wudi is currently being piloted in India and has gained appreciation in the educational community. We received some grants and awards to pilot the project.
Q. And Favalley?
Favalley was founded with three other doctoral students from Cambridge — Paulo, Stefano, and Martin. It was started with the mission to convert slums into the next silicon valleys by engaging, training, and matching marginalised youth in slums to coding jobs.
According to UNESCO, around 750 million people do not have digital literacy. As digital skills become necessary life skills, we need to connect the socially and economically marginalized sections of society to the digital world.
Countries like India going digital and cashless when 70% of population are without access to the internet is an astronomical problem.
We wanted to change this scenario by using the disruptive power of technology to impart digital literacy and skills to the vast majority of the population who are completely disconnected from the digital world.
As doctoral students, we couldn’t give a full-time commitment, so we were forced to shelve it for a while.
Though my father and brother are entrepreneurs, I never imagined myself becoming an entrepreneur too and venturing into the start-up world. My entrepreneurial journey started off accidently though Favalley — though it probably is embedded in my DNA!
Q. You have been selected and awarded by a number of schemes – for example the Top 50 Women in Engineering Award. You’re an invited ambassador for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. And you gained the DevelopHER Women in Tech Award. What are the main things you’ve learnt from such opportunities?
I felt incredibly humbled and honoured to have made it into this prestigious list of 50 amazing women engineers in the UK.
For me, it was a proud privilege to be the first student from the University of Cambridge and the first Indian citizen to have made it into this list of rising female star engineers.
Coming from a conventional background, I’m delighted to be represented as a global role model for young girls, which I understand is a great responsibility as well.
Breaking stereotypes to engineer my own destiny will, I hope, inspire many girls, especially in developing countries like India, to take up this exciting field of engineering and research.
These awards and the recognition offered me a great platform to engage with the public, share my research, and learn from the experts.
Being involved with government, industry, and academia educated me about the significance of having an effective science and technology policy and the critical need for engineers and scientists to be involved in policy making.
Advocacy beyond the (lab)bench sparked my interest in science and technology policy.
Q. You’re clearly a highly enterprising and energetic person: what motivates you?
Over the years, I have realised that our passion is worthwhile only if we can use it to help others and to be part of a bigger mission to change the world for the better!
I’ve been able to use my education, experience and skills to find my passion. With time, I converted my passion into a purpose and this motivates me and keeps me going!
Q. How do you see your career developing?
I will be continuing to work on all things I love, as a scientist, engineer, social tech entrepreneur, and science communicator!
In the future, I see myself drawing from my expertise and experience to evolve as a science and technology policy maker, influencer, and mentor.
Nikita’s TEDx, ‘Making or breaking education’ is available here.