Isha - SURP

I am Isha Mukherjee, a third year B.Tech student at the Department of Aerospace Engineering. This summer of 2022, was the second time for me to take part and register for Summer Undergraduate Research Program, the first time being i-SURP 2021. My experience with i-SURP 2021 was wonderful as I got an excellent guide, Professor Dhwanil Shukla, an awesome senior student working on the same project and an interesting experimental project problem statement on flow visualization. So, being a core aerospace research enthusiast, with the same motivation, I registered for SURP 2022. The project on “Identification of Propulsion System Performance Requirements of an Aircraft” was a project on Aircraft Propulsion, whose course I had completed just the previous semester. In order to apply the theoretical knowledge for practical real-world application, I applied for this project along with two other projects on fluid mechanics. I was lucky enough to get shortlisted for the interview. As propulsion is not my major specialization, I was not too anxious or enthusiastic about the interview. The main aim of the project was to explore the field. Anyways, fast-forward to the interview day, it was an MS Teams Online interview in which each candidate had slots. Just happening to wake up 10 minutes before my interview slot, I hurriedly brushed, cleared my table, opened my laptop and started waiting for my turn. As I was confident enough, my interview went well with basic questions on Turbofans which was taught to us in the previous semester.

About a week later when I was interning at DRDO, Hyderabad, I was contacted by DRC that I was waitlisted. After some days, I was selected. Already having too much on my plate in the upcoming semester, I was in a dilemma whether to accept the project or not as initially I was not sure to take it as SLP and I was not confident if I would be able to manage time. It was my best friend who gave me confidence and motivated me to accept the offer. With this began the saga of research in flight mechanics.

In the first meeting with the professor, I was kinda overwhelmed with too many new technical terms being talked about that I had never heard before. The ultimate aim of the project was difficult to achieve but it was a completely novel idea for the industry. Being excited about the overall scope of the research, I decided to start from the very scratch of the subject. Realizing that the project would extend in-semester and would require an amount of time commitment, I requested my guide, Prof. T Chandra Sekar to allow me to take the project as a Supervised Learning Project (tagged as Department Elective). Thankfully Professor agreed and we started the hustle.

Research is about reading completely new course content on NPTEL, searching for flight data on all available web pages, reading many research papers to find relevant content and whatnot!

There were many challenges. Time Management was one of the biggest challenges.The schedule of meetings with the guide was not pre-decided. Being a pro-procrastinator, I could not manage to devote more than 3-4 hours per week to the project and sometimes even less. The blame also owes to the peak apping season, TAship duties, quizzes, assignments, projects and whatnot! (Anyways, I survived the sem with not-so-bad SPI :) ) Coming back to SURP, apart from time management, one thing that is always challenging about research is that there is no clear path. Research is exploration. It is carving your own way through the dark woods. Research is diving deep into a field and unraveling its secrets. One can’t be spoon-fed by the guide. I read many research papers (a few suggested by my guide), found a lot many of them useless for my research and ended up wasting time studying what wasn’t necessary.

This challenge developed a skill in me to quickly skim through the papers and find out what is relevant. Yet another challenge was finding the relevant data. Since the project was a practical one, I needed real aerospace flight data which was hardly available. After weeks of surfing the web, I managed to find a few relevant research papers and some useful spreadsheets of data. Although I must admit that I enjoyed the process of internet surfing a lot and discovered many interesting things in the field of flight mechanics of which I was totally unaware. Overall this learning experience taught me the value of standing on one’s own feet, being independent and making decisions as well as sense of things myself. The final SLP presentation was quite challenging, with a lot of cross-questions but the overall result was satisfactory. We may not have reached final results, but my overall efforts helped us achieve significant milestones.
I suggest all the young research enthusiasts who are reading this blog to manage their time properly in order to enjoy the research you are doing. After all, any field is a fathomless sea of knowledge and being a researcher is like being a sailor in search of treasure. The end result does not matter as much as your findings and efforts which will provide some direction and carve the path by providing some light to other members of your research community. Your research would be literature for them to rely upon. Make sure you document your work in a proper way.

Another piece of advice is to have a proper schedule for meetings with guides and take deadlines seriously. Don’t procrastinate. Having a schedule helps a lot. Lastly, I would say my SURP experience was great and it taught me a lot of interesting things and concepts. Throughout your insti life, try doing at least one project under the guidance of a professor to discover your interest and knack for research.

Kudos to all the researchers out there!