What is Honors? Is it the right choice for me?
“IIIT Hyderabad is first and foremost a research institute.” You may have heard this statement a countless number of times from faculty and students alike. We don’t disagree with this statement at all as we excel in a number of fields including but not limited to Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Robotics. But how is this beneficial to us students?
Beginning from the summer of second year, students are allowed to opt for the Honors program. This program lasts for four semesters and can serve as a test as to whether or not you want to dive into research. In case you are interested in pursuing higher studies, honors can provide you with an edge in terms of research experience including publications, projects and a good letter of recommendation from your professor.
You may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of labs and professors to choose from. The first step in this process is to select a lab based on your areas of interest. One possible method is to choose based on the courses which you took and found interesting. Another method could be looking through various ongoing projects in different labs on their websites. After you have shortlisted the fields, talk to the respective professors and the students working under them to decide whether or not the research in the lab meets your expectations. Before finalizing a lab, do ensure that you have satisfactory answers to most of the following questions. We have tried to generalize them as much as possible but your mileage may vary:
- Does the current research work align with your career goals? What are the possible career options in that field?
- Are you compatible with the professor based on the feedback provided by the students?
- In case you wish to pursue industrial internships, will your professor allow it?
- Are research internship opportunities provided by the professor to the students?
- How does the professor manage their students? Are meetings held weekly or barely? Pick the professor which you are most comfortable with. How involved is the professor in your research?
- How is the workload? Will you be able to manage it along with your academics? Is it compatible with your schedule?
- What will be your contribution to the project? What can you expect out of it after 2 to 3 years?
- Can you choose your own project?
The list expands based on the specifics of the field which you are interested in.
BTP vs Honors
Even if research isn’t your forte, IIIT ensures that you contribute to the labs in some manner. The alternative to taking honors (for single degrees) is taking a BTP (in 6th and 7th semesters). We will present to you some differences between these two programmes.
The main differences between the two are the focus on research. As you may already know, honors trumps BTP in this regard. Most BTPs focus on the implementation of lab projects rather than contributing to new research. This is also apparent in the duration of these 2 programmes. Honors takes a whopping 4 semesters (sometimes including summers) to complete. This makes sense because research is a time-consuming process.
Some professors do not opt for BTP since they are more research oriented. Make sure that your potential professor takes BTPs in case you are interested in the same. Honors projects are also more flexible and malleable than BTPs with regards to change in topic.
The grading scheme of honors is definitely more beneficial to students. The final grade is decided solely by your advisor and is not influenced at all by external professors. The cumulative honors grade over four semesters cannot be less than 8. In contrast to this, for BTP 1, the grading scheme is 80:20 (in favour of external professors over your advisor). For BTP 2, it is 62:38 (again in favour of external professors over your advisor). As you can see, external professors have tremendous influence over your BTP grades.
Honors students also get a higher preference in seat allocation for a few popular courses which are available in both the semesters (eg. SMAI, distributed systems, database systems). You can also ask your professor to recommend you for specific courses so as to get higher on the priority list. You will also be required to take at least three courses related to your project/lab which are recommended by your honors advisor.
We hope the number of students dropping honors after the fifth semester decreases if people think this through.
A BTP in MLL
I joined MLL because I found the AI course interesting. The project I work on is “Reinforcement Learning in Product Delivery” which deals with how to make various delivery trucks cooperate with one another to stock up shops. Parameters to optimize include minimizing fuel consumption and ensuring that customers don’t show up to an empty shop.
Honours in RRC
I was working under Dr. Madhava Krishnan for an international competition ABU ROBOCON 2018. During this period, I was really drawn to work which was happening in the lab. Therefore I joined RRC as an honors student and currently, I am working on an unsupervised algorithm for finding object key points using a monocular camera for the task of pose and trajectory estimation. Some of the other projects taken up by other students include planner for self-driving cars, visual servoing, and dense map creation, collision avoidance algorithms, SLAM frameworks etc.