Women in STEM: Krittika D’Silva

Krittika D’Silva is a PhD candidate in the Department of Computer Science and Technology, a Gates Cambridge Scholar and a member of Jesus College. Alongside her academic research in AI and machine learning, she has worked for NASA on monitoring astronaut health with AI and wearable devices, and for the UN in using data science to inform public policy. Here, she tells us about her motivation, goals, and how she ended up playing a tennis match against HRH Prince Edward.

My PhD research focuses on using machine learning algorithms and network metrics to model urban cities worldwide. A project I led examined the role of network and transport metrics to predict whether a business will survive or fail.

My work at the NASA Frontier Development Lab focused on space medicine. As we send astronauts on longer missions into deep space, they are exposed for longer periods of time to radiation and microgravity both of which create numerous physiological changes.

We’re only just starting to understand these changes, but harnessing AI and wearable devices to monitor astronaut health in space and build autonomous systems of healthcare in space is imperative. I think it’s really exciting work and isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should be since it’s important for all of our future missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond!

The Pulse Lab is an innovation lab formed within the UN to harness data science insights for policy. I worked on modeling internal migration in Vanuatu to support future national resource allocation. The experience with the Global Pulse lab taught me about the importance of translating research insights into practice. It provided me with exposure to public policy which was work I found interesting and impactful.

On a daily basis my research primarily involves me reading papers or coding at my computer from the Department of Computer Science and Technology, in West Cambridge.

The most interesting day I’ve had so far in academia was when I was invited to travel to the UN office in New Delhi, India to help lead and present at a workshop on the potential for machine learning in the public sector. It was an opportunity to meet with those outside my field and share current machine learning research that I found exciting!

Last year, I was invited to a private estate in Kent, for a day of tennis with HRH Prince Edward, the son of Queen Elizabeth II. I played in a doubles match against HRH and although I lost, it was a unique opportunity and one I’ll never forget!

I hope my work can utilise machine learning to have a positive impact on the world. The private sector has harnessed machine learning to support products, advertisements, and services. However, the public sector has been slower to use the potential of machine learning to support government decision making and inform policy. In the future, I expect technology to play a larger role in development efforts worldwide. After my studies, I hope to support this work using my background in technology.

Cambridge has been a fantastic place to do my PhD research. The professors, peers, and resources are world-class. I’ve been given funding to travel and present my work at top-tier conferences worldwide as well as to work on international collaborations. I have also had the flexibility and exposure to internship opportunities which have enabled me to work in new countries, fields, and projects.

My advice for women considering a career in a STEM field is to find role models in the field who can support and guide you over the course of your career. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of mentors who have helped to find opportunities, think through career decisions, and network with others in the field. This mentorship has been priceless.

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