Student Media Body of IIT Kgp


Jewels of KGP : Mr. Sikhar Patranabis

Posted on August 08, 2017

What do most of us expect in our lives? A happy family, a luxury car, a colossal home and finally, a well settled life? Basically, to be honest, most of the times, it all boils down to one most crucial factor - a well-paying job! Who wouldn’t want to live his/her dream of having a lucrative job offer from a dream company? Well, the answer is quite natural and obvious. Isn’t it?

But for some people, passion is what matters the most! Presenting before you, in the continuation of our series “Jewels of KGP”, Mr. Sikhar Patranabis - the one who pursued his dream!

Rejecting an offer from one of the world’s technical giants- Microsoft, when one was one of the worthiest students to be offered a job, seems like the toughest decision of one’s life. But when it came to choose between his passion and the current job offer, there was nothing that could have stopped Mr. Patranabis from going for his passion. His views echo the same- “There should be nothing greater than your passion”

Currently positioned at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, as Research Assistant Intern, Mr. Patranabis has many feathers in his cap. Being the Institute Topper and President of India Gold Medallist for the year 2015, he had the opportunity to work with one of the world’s biggest IT company, Microsoft which he rejected to march ahead on his path of academics and research. It was his genuine interest in research that motivated him to pursue research after completion of his graduation.

Sikhar Patranabis

Securing the highest CGPA i.e., 9.87 in the batch is not an easy task and majority of the high scorers of the institute have been seen going for a well-paid corporate job. However, having keen interest in research, Mr. Patranabis continued to contribute to research and academics at IIT Kharagpur, continuing currently as Junior Research Fellow at Secured Embedded Architecture Laboratory, IIT Kharagpur which he joined in the year 2014. He is also pursuing his Ph.D. from the Institute. He also had his internships at prestigious organizations like Microsoft India Development Centre and IBM India Research Laboratory (IRL). In addition to having the highest CGPA, he also actively participated in various extracurricular and co-curricular activities like dramatics, elocution, music, etc.

We, Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur, got a chance to interact with him and know a bit about his own side of story and ideas that motivated him to pursue his dreams.

Awaaz: Getting into IIT KGP in CSE department- Is that exactly what you had aimed for? How did you feel after getting into IIT KGP?

Mr. Sikhar: Well, to be honest, I did not know for sure that I was getting into this very department and my JEE rank did give me other options, including CSE at other IITs. Having said that, I feel lucky that I chose CSE at KGP.

Awaaz: Achieving a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 9.87 is not everyone’s cup of tea. How did you manage it? Did you get any time for extra-curricular activities?

Mr. Sikhar: I am not sure myself about the CGPA. Perhaps, attending classes helped. We had a lot of assignment based courses and labs in CSE. I guess, I just tried to finish them off in time. I am thankful to some friends in the department with whom I had studied and discussed. I was really serious about my BTP, though it was perhaps the only academic aspect of my final year that I enjoyed.

I was a member of Bengali Technology Dramatics Society (Druheen) during my undergraduate years and I was the Governor of the society in my final year. I had a wonderful time learning the fine points of acting and organizing productions. The society was the cornerstone of my friend circle at IIT Kharagpur.

I was also an active member of the Bengali Dramatics and Bengali Elocution Team at Azad Hall of Residence and was the captain in my final year. I was also a member of the entertainment team where I was a percussionist. So, yes! I was an active participant in the Social and Cultural events. One of my finest moments came in my 3rd year when we won a gold in Bengali drams and Azad Hall clinched the Soc-Cult General Championship cup. I was honoured to receive the "Hall Blue" for my extra-curricular involvement and it still remains one of the finest phases of my life.

Awaaz: During your course of study, did you feel anything that needed to be changed in the teaching system or something in any other aspect?

Mr. Sikhar: I felt and still feel that there is a dearth of good postgraduate courses in the department, particularly while taking electives. Rather than taking a lot of introductory courses, a student should have the option to take a lot of courses on a specific topic with increasing rigor. This is particularly essential for the dual degree, M. Tech and Ph.D. students. There are a number of technical changes that I feel should be incorporated in the CSE curriculum to help the students gain a stronger foundation in computational theory.

Awaaz: How was your internship experience at IBM IRL and Microsoft India Development Center? Please tell us something about the work you did there.

Mr. Sikhar: They were two very different internship experiences. MSIDC is one of Microsoft’s largest development centers with a lot of emphasis on product development, deployment and shipping. I was lucky to be part of a project that had a direct deployment goal from the outset and we worked on a fairly tight deadline. I learned a lot about virtual storage and a bunch of technical stuff. Overall, it was a very good exposure as a developer in the software industry.

IBM IRL was, on the other hand, a purely research-oriented internship, where I worked on encrypted analytics. The approach there was to try and come up with innovative ideas to solve one of the toughest problems i.e., pushing the limits of secure cloud-based services. It is an ongoing collaboration during the course of my Ph.D. I am currently an IBM fellow and it offers me a great opportunity to work with one of the industrial giants working on data security.

Awaaz: Rejecting job offer from a corporate giant like Microsoft is a big deal. What was going through your mind at that time? How supportive were your family, friends and teachers while taking this decision?

Mr. Sikhar: I was very clear about the choice I was making. While life at IDC had its share of perks and attractions, I was driven towards research in cryptography and hardware security during my BTP. This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to take their BTP seriously because it potentially exposes you to a much wider range of research than any amount of coursework or internships can. It was during my BTP that I found my path intuitive and I have never regretted following the path I chose.

My family has supported my decision right from the beginning. My parents, my uncle and my girlfriend are the people I am hugely indebted to for helping me in making the right choices with the clarity of thought and purpose. I was and am still lucky to have them consistently backing my decision to stay back at KGP and actively pursuing my passion for research.

Awaaz: In India or even in IITs, the culture of Research and Development is not so overwhelming? What steps should government and autonomous institutes take to change the mindset of students?

Mr. Sikhar: I think making a generic statement like ‘Research at IITs sucks’ is misleading and not a correct reflection of the current status. There are some fairly established research groups in IITs and I am lucky to be the part of one of them. I think as we will have more funding and better infrastructure from government ventures as well as industry collaborations, we will be able to achieve the excellence in research and technology transfer that we are currently aiming for.

However, there are definitely certain drawbacks in the system that we need to address. First and foremost, research needs to be made a more lucrative career prospect as it’s the case outside India. Ph.D. scholars are needed to be provided with better compensation and exposure to industrial collaborations. I find a lot of exchange programs for undergraduate students being proposed which is very important. But I think such exchange programs and collaborative ties with foreign institutes should directly benefit our research scholars with priority. Only then our researchers will gain exposure and achieve holistic growth. Finally, quality of research today seems to be judged way too much by publication volumes. Publications are definitely a yardstick but the focus has to be on the work that solves the most challenging problems and offers solutions with societal and financial impact.

Finally and most importantly, research has to be made our priority at all levels. Most internationally reputed research centers and universities judge faculty and students based on their research output. For too long, IITs have focused purely on undergraduate teaching and research seems to be an add-on. IITs were never meant to be teaching institutes. They were envisioned to hold the banner of our technological progress. And every member of the IIT community needs to take up their own share of accountability towards making sure that progress is achieved and sustained over time.

Awaaz: Please tell us about your present field of research “Hardware security for embedded systems”.

Mr. Sikhar: I work in the Secured Embedded Architecture Lab (SEAL) in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Our lab is the pioneer in the field of hardware security and embedded security in India. We work on a variety of topics ranging from the design of secure on-chip systems and physically ‘can’t be cloned’ objects, side-channel and fault attack resistant design of cryptosystems and its automation, lightweight and hardware-efficient designs for symmetric and public-key cryptography, design of secure cryptosystems for cloud applications, lightweight security protocols for Internet of Things, micro-architectural security against side channels and malware, as well as some theoretical aspects of cryptography such as design of new crypto-primitives such as block ciphers and functional encryption systems for encrypted analytics. We have a wide range of industrial collaborations, consultancy projects and university relations with major players such as DRDO, BHEL, DST, Intel USA, Intel India, Synopsis, IBM IRL, NTT Labs (Japan). Our university collaborators include Telecom Paris Tech, NTU Singapore, IIT Bombay and ISI Kolkata. I am currently involved in a couple of industrial collaborations- with Intel Labs, Oregon on the design of ultra-lightweight cryptosystems for IoT, and with IBM on encrypted analytics for cloud applications. My own research interests include public-key cryptography for the cloud, encrypted analytics, side channel and fault attack resistant designs and lightweight cryptography.

Awaaz: What are the recent developments in this area and how it can be utilized in our day to day life? In future, what more can be expected from this area of research?

Mr. Sikhar: Two of the major areas where hardware security is expected to play a major role today is the cloud and the Internet of Things. With the advent of pervasive and embedded technology, in almost every device surrounding and connecting us, security aware designs are the need of the hour. A new direction that we are also looking to venture into is smart-grid security and automotive security. We believe that these ventures will have a significant societal impact in India and also contribute towards developing a strong foundation for cyber security in India.

Awaaz: Please share the experience of being a research assistant at NTU, Singapore.

Mr. Sikhar: I am currently interning with the cyber security group at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, NTU, Singapore. My work there deals with malware detection for embedded platforms using hardware performance counters. I am really excited to be working with an international team in one of Asia’s leading universities. I am also collaborating with the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences on automation of algebraic fault attacks using machine learning. Overall, it has been a great learning curve for me so far.

Awaaz: How is your research work going presently at IIT KGP? What are your future plans?

Mr. Sikhar: I am presently working on a couple of problems in theoretical cryptography and encrypted analytics that are really fun and challenging. We are interested in reaching out to the undergraduate and postgraduate community for potential participation in our ongoing work in the form of summer internships and short-term projects. It would be great if interested and motivated people reach out to us.

I am not a big fan of planning too far ahead. Right now, my plate is full of problems to solve and I am trying my best to empty it

Awaaz: Could you please share any nostalgic story while being a student at IIT KGP?

Mr. Sikhar: I think my undergraduate life at KGP was marked by beautiful and enriching friendships, society activities and productions at BTDS, and hall activities. One of my finest moments at Kharagpur was being a member of the Gold Winning Bengali Dramatics Teams in consecutive General Championships (2012-13 and 2013-14), the latter being instrumental in Azad Hall of Residence lifting the Social and Cultural General Championship Cup. It was a memorable experience. My current life as a Research Scholar is beautiful in a different way altogether and I have probably become a much more frequent consumer of the Tikka tea than I was before. The fact is that I am still very much a part of KGP and KGP is still very much a part of me and when I look back once this phase comes to an end, I will probably have a lifetime of nostalgic moments to choose from.

Awaaz: Finally, any message for the students of IIT Kharagpur?

Mr. Sikhar: Engage in the pursuit of excellence. Break stereotypes. Aim for the best. Help your friends and peers at every possible opportunity. Be passionate about the things you love. Never compromise on your values. And say “NO” to the malady of suicide. It’s human to get depressed. It’s natural to fail. It’s okay to get defeated. What matters the most is how strongly you lift yourself from such situations.

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