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Medical, engineering, coding…she has seen them all

- By Pankhuri Bhatnagar

What's so special about Pankhuri's story and what makes her unique? Her thoughts and ideas. She is a trained Kathak dancer, has a Black Belt, 1st Dan holder in MMA Taekwondo, an anchor and a calligraphist. She has also been a medal winner in chess for three consecutive years in her school. She doesn't believe in the rules and regulations of the society's idea of the path to success.

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While studying in Class X, she aspired to be a neurosurgeon. Her parents are doctors. In fact, she comes from a family full of doctors specialized in different domains. And as you can predict, she was a PCMB student. Two years down the lane, she ended up opting for Electrical and Electronics Engineering.

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First-year into her B.Tech, Pankhuri was even skeptical of her stream. She had a notion that coding was not her cup of tea. And hence, she worked hard to switch her branch to ECE, but not Computer Science. As time passed by, she did internships in Radar, Aircraft Interrogation and Asynchronous Communication which ultimately drew her towards coding and the logic behind it. She was consistent with her extra-curricular activities, societies, leadership, academics and maintaining a good GPA of 9. Still, she felt something was missing. Everyone used to tell her about how perfect her life seemed to be. But inside, she knew she was not in peace with her plans. .

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It was at this stage, she decided to give her best shot in learning the latest technologies and enter the programming field. She started coding, practised a lot. And no, it was not easy. It was certainly not an easy period.

Talking about that period, she said, "I came across a lot of profiles on LinkedIn, saw a lot of people doing amazing projects and met some inspiring friends. They motivated me and I found the guidance I was looking for. A lot of my doubts got cleared when I started to take action on them. One should always seek answers to their curiosity."

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"Learning to code seemed difficult at first, but taking her first step was the turning stone. A lot of people just never take their first step, and which is why a part of them is never satisfied. It is never too late to start," she said.

Pankhuri started competitive programming at the end of the third year. She joined IEEE and served as the Vice-Chairperson for Women In Engineering affinity group of her college. She learnt a lot about people and managing situations. She encouraged students to take charge of their lives right from their first year at college. She has been a part of the organizing team for the technical fests and Hackathons. She has been motivating girls to pursue a career in tech.

"Like any other person, my journey also has peaks and valleys. One should never leave a task in the middle. Getting discouraged and hopeless is natural for humans; but one should keep moving forward, no matter what," she says.

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She says, “It’s always an exhilarating experience to learn from our peers and professionals. You always figure out something new every day.”

Her journey, from being a medical student to working as an engineer in the medical field, is fascinating. Her interests in neuroscience intrigued her to enter the field of EEG Signal Processing. She started to study neurological brain waves to predict seizures in the medical condition known as Epilepsy.

While bridging a gap between medical and engineering seems fascinating, it also requires patience. The projects she chose always demanded a great deal of knowledge and perseverance. She says, "I'll continue to challenge myself because that's what sparks me up. People often ask me what's the purpose of switching between various kinds of projects, to which my answer is, I like doing it. Simple."

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Harvard College Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) 2020 has been a defining moment for Pankhuri. "It was a random day when I came across the application deadline and I started to write for it three hours before the portal was closed. I mentioned about my projects and eventually got an interview call. I remember I was returning from my semester exam and I had 15 minutes to get ready for the interview call. And yes, I got the admit a week later.”

Besides having cracked a lot of job offers, she narrates about the rejections she faced which made her evolve as a stronger person. “There have been many regret emails in my inbox. But, had they been not there, I wouldn’t have got the push to try harder. Recently, I had applied for the position of Software Dveloper at Google. Unfortunately, I could not make to the final stage. But the failure taught me about my mistakes and pushed me to walk the extra mile to practise more," says she.

"My major source of motivation is my parents. My close friends know how they have been present at each of my exam centers. Both of them accompany me wherever possible. The undying love and support have been an inspiration for me to stay consistent with my work. It’s always good to be surrounded by encouraging friends and family," says Pankhuri.

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You have dabbled in medical and engineering streams, two of the all-time favorite streams for a student growing up in India. How has the journey been?

It was initially uncomfortable to step into something I didn't know about. I was more inclined towards medical, but here I am. I went with the flow and kept learning at every step. Eventually, I developed my own interests and engineering pushed me to explore more.

Switching to coding is tough even for techies, but to do it, having come from a medical background is mind-boggling. What was the trigger?

Honestly, coding has nothing to do with the background. It's all about developing logic and solving problems. We often solve real-life puzzles manually and coding just simplifies that manual effort. You just have to get a command on one programming language, the rest is logic and designing.

How crucial was the role of Hackathons in the whole journey? Was that something made you fall in love more with coding and tech?

Hackathons are real eye-openers. You see and meet so many people having similar goals and plan to create innovative projects. These events motivate us to extend our limits and think out of the box.

For students who want to make it big in tech or students who want to make a switch of streams, what would be your advice?

Making a switch may seem difficult and risky. Coming out of your comfort zone is always tough. And once you cross the threshold, it’s easier than what you earlier thought. Sometimes, even I contemplate about my decisions. But, things will work out for better. Just go ahead with whatever you feel right.

Tell us more about Harvard College Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) 2020? How is the selection process and what would be your role?

Cracking HPAIR seems to be a heavy task. But it isn't if your profile speaks for you. Your work and projects must be unique and innovative. They have six tracks ranging from Science & Technology to Global Markets & Economy.

Selection Procedure:
1. Essay
2. Interview
You should be real with what you say in your essay.

What are your career plans? Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years or so?

My journey has always been unpredictable. I plan to do Masters in some time. One can probably find me doing research in the medical field or be associated with a quirky startup of my own.

Finally, tell us five of your habits which you think helped you achieve success?

I won't really call myself a highly successful person. I just worked hard to build an identity and make a place for myself in the technological world. I like to challenge myself and once I decide upon something, I want perfection in that. This can be counted as a habit, I guess. Rest, it is hard work, time management, honesty, dedication and self-motivation.

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