Protégé Mentorship: Quantum Computing

In today’s blog TEAM ARP interviewed Natansh Mathur, a 2021 CSE graduate about his story of venturing and taking deep strides into the field of quantum computing.


How did you found about your initial interests in this field?

It so happened that in my freshman year, some seniors suggested me to approach, Prof Sugata Gangopadhyay, if I wished to do some summer project in cryptography. I went on with their suggestion since I was interested in its mathematical tools. Prof. Gangopadhyay happily agreed and taught me various things including linear algebraic stuff which was closely related to quantum computing. On his suggestion, I started reading more about this relatively new field from various sources on the internet and was charmed by its novelty.

What were your starting steps towards pursuing this field?

Initially, I would say I was ignorant even of my ignorance. Thinking of QC as a field of Computer Science. I started with various introductory blogs and the standard textbook by Nielsen & Chuang. There are plenty of resources online about a lot of text/video explanations on any topic in QC which made it equally arduous for me to find suitable resources. With the fervour of an explorer, I read from myriads of resources be it books or online lectures or blogs or lecture notes. By the September of my Sophomore year, I had acquired enough knowledge of the field which is usually taught in a standard undergraduate course and now I was looking at the various domains of research in it.

What was your procedural roadway of bagging a research internship and how did you finalize the field of work?

A3. Upon exploring quite a few research domains in the field of QC, I settled upon Quantum Communications and Cryptography and audited for a MOOC on it. Once I got the basics of the field, I briefly went through various research papers of professors working in that field to identify the professors with whom my interests align. This was indeed the part that brought me face-to-face with the real research work going on in the field. I expanded my breadth of understanding and applied for an internship under those professors whose work was intriguing and comprehensible to me. Since it was my 3rd semester, I was not much worried about getting an offer and kept GSoC as a backup plan to work on if this doesn’t work. My arrow struck straight at my aim and I got the opportunity to work under Prof.Elham Kashefi in LIP6, CNRS, Paris on the topic of my interest.


How can one prepare and strengthen a research-oriented resumed?

Resumes are not built overnight, nor are there any parameters for an ideal resume. Being said that, the one thing consistent in undergraduate academic research resumes is your grades, essentially your CGPA, which serves as the first parameter to mark your impression. Your research experience, most importantly your publications, is of the highest importance and overshadows all your other honours or blunders. Therefore, to develop a research-focused resume, small self projects, contributions to related open source projects or projects under professors working in that field, be they of anywhere, are the stepping stones to develop a fine resume substantially. Projects under professors are often given a priority over others since they bring with them an added advantage of future connections and recommendations required later.

Can you briefly describe the selection procedure for the same? What upper hand did you have in comparison to your others, that gave you an edge over applicants?

For my internship under Prof Kashefi in Paris, the selection procedure was an informal one. She liked my academic profile and my background knowledge visible from the mail I had sent her, followed by a general interview to verify my knowledge.

It was primarily for my next internship (the pre-final year internship) for which I had to apply and prepare at a lot of the esteemed ones. Due to the lack of official internship programs in QC, I was already at a disadvantage. This time I applied through both ways, informally with professors and formally in programs like MITACS and URA. The selection procedure in the case of research internships in QC hardly consists of any tests or so, due to the wide variety in applicant’s backgrounds. Hence it is necessary to have either prior experience in a related research field (which gave me an edge over others) or something demonstrable, something that shows that you have a firm grip in the field. Other than your resume, a cover letter or a statement of purpose/motivation is often asked by such programs which is the place to describe why you are the best fit for the opportunity.

I was shortlisted for three interviews in MITACS and received an offer from the professor who was my first priority in the program. However, I declined the offer upon receiving another offer from another highly acclaimed professor, Prof. Norbert Lutkenhaus from arguably the best university in QC and, hence, chose to continue with the latter.

How should one carry on their preparations for tests and interviews, what reference material should normally be preferred for such research programs?

As I previously mentioned, there were no ‘tests’. It is your resume, your statement of purpose and your recommendation letters that are really taken into account. The interviews are often fairly informal, based primarily on how can you contribute to their project. An inside fact which I got to know is that some of the interviewers also check the applicant’s communication skills in such interviews and not just their academic suitability. It often happens that if you have a different academic background or unrelated research experience, the interview might take a more technical turn for the interviewer to ensure that you have the prerequisite knowledge for working with them.

As for the material, a general tip for an interview with a professor is to do a proper homework on the professor’s research interests and recent works which are easily available from various sources like their own websites and blogs/tweets, their recent talks on Youtube, and study their recent papers from Google Scholar.

Experience Buzz

What challenges did you encounter throughout the journey? How would you advise our readers to fight against them?

Oh, there have been challenges too numerous to keep track of. Right from the challenge of deciding the specific field to pursue my career to this day’s challenge of giving the right advice to the readers, I owe it to the challenges to have shaped me and carve myself into me.

However, to honor your question, let me mention one administrative challenge I faced while getting my BTP from abroad approved. I had to get my two courses shifted from my 7th semester to my 6th and 8th semester each. It was then against the rules of the institute to take any course from your next academic year in the current one. After scores of visits, applications, and requests to the administration, the institute amended its rules, allowing me to do what I wanted to. What I learned from this, and would like the readers to know too, is that you have to be persistent, convincing, and be in good faith. The administration has its limitations, rules, and regulations which might not always make sense. However, if you have a strong case, which benefits not only you but also the institution’s reputation, you are likely to prevail even if it takes a lot of frustrating time and efforts.

What’s the best advice you can give to help plan a career rather than simply work to keep a job?

I am quite underqualified to give such great advice, but I feel honored to be asked this by your team. Still, given that I can claim to have spent some significant time in the campus with quite a variety of brilliant minds, I am certain that this is the time when you can best explore as many fields possible and receive guidance in any of them from someone who has more experience in it, that too over a chapo! It is a tragedy that a lot of people waste their time doing nothing, not even having fun and making memories. I owe most of my guidance to chapos from seniors where I got to learn a lot, not just about career but also life in general. I am sure that my readers have an amazing mental capacity and just working to keep a job would never give them the satisfaction they seek. The question is not about if you should plan your career, but about when should you plan your career. There is no wrong career choice if it actually is an informed choice of free will.


In case one’s interest doesn’t match with his/her branch of study, how should one manage to pursue the same under the constant pressure of maintaining a good CGPA?

This is quite a usual case when one’s majors and interest does not align. It then boils down to your determination of what you actually want to pursue. Reiterating one of my previous points, your research experience, and your publications, something tangible to demonstrate your excellence in your field of interest overshadows your low GPA, different academic background or any such point. The beginning is the only tough part since you have nothing tangible to display and that is when you have to play your cards right. There is no standard procedure.

What is your take on ‘CGPA matters despite not pursuing one’s branch as a Career’?

To have a good CGPA is always an advantage, irrespective of what you choose to pursue as a career. Since it is considered an indicator of one’s academic excellence in the courses taken by the student, it represents the efforts and intelligence of the student in his academics, not his interest. It is hard to say if it is a fair judgment, but it is the norm for sure. Needless to say, it can always be explained in your SoP or cover letter that your interests are what you devote most of your time to and not academics. However, no professor would reject a 5-pointer student who has two excellent papers published in Nature.

What are your future plans in this field & other prospects?

I aim to pursue graduate studies in my field, preferably a doctorate to become a researcher at the forefront. I feel that I still possess an almost empty cup of knowledge which needs to be filled, perseverantly and with determination. I wish to become a researcher, either in academia, industry or both, and contribute substantially to push the horizon of human knowledge.

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