Please tell us about yourself

The story of Nikita Hari from Pazhankavu in Vadakara is an inspiration to many. Nikita, born to a small-scale industrialist, aspired big and reached there with hard work and determination. On Thursday, she will fly to London to take up her chosen calling.

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Ms. Nikita is the only Indian candidate who has qualified for research in Cambridge University, U.K. this year. An electronics and instrumentation engineer from CUSAT who completed her postgraduation from the SRM University in Chennai, Nikita was working as a lecturer at the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode, when she applied for research abroad. Her brilliant academic background got her admission into Harvard and Oxford Universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology besides Cambridge. But she chose the latter for the better functioning department of Electronics there along with the chance to work under the Head of the Department. To top it all, the university granted her a scholarship of Rs.50 lakh, which would cover half her fee.

The research topic Nikita had selected was to develop instruments that would reduce transmission loss while connecting non-conventional energy sources to electric grids. She aspires to become a scientist and in future help, inspire, and promote girls who are bright, but economically backward, to take up scientific research.

A big fan of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, Nikita is the daughter of Haridas, who own Intec Industries in Vadakara and Geetha. Nikita was accorded a warm send-off and felicitation by the local people of Pazhankavu as well as many organisations recently.

Can you tell us about your background?

Nikita joined Churchill College in 2013 to study Electrical Engineering. Originally from Pazhankavu in Vadakara, India, Nikita graduated with a Masters of Technology from SRM University in Chennai in first place, winning a University gold medal. Going on to work as a lecturer and electronics and instrumentation engineer at the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode, Nikita aspired to expand her academic career by studying abroad. Having received offers from Oxford, Harvard and MIT, Nikita chose to take up anoffer from Cambridge to work with world-leading researchers in her field.

Why did you choose electrical engineering?

“I wanted to be a scientist …an independent woman who wanted to explore this beautiful world.

The intrigue, fascination and excitement to fathom the unexplained ‘electric shock’ I received as a kid motivated me to take up electrical engineering as my specialisation; starting off with an undergraduate degree, then moving on to do a Masters and now pursuing a PhD in the same area.

I’m excited about my work as it has the potential to influence the world and our way of life, as electric power is ubiquitous.”

Nikita, how did you get to your current position?

NH: My interest in academia dates back to my school years, where I became the first student in my district to win the CBSE citation award in my A-levels. Since then it has been a very fulfilling educational journey, becoming a Gold medalist in both my undergraduate and masters degrees for academic excellence. My masters, however, was the turning point of my life, when I developed a special interest in research, and this encouraged me to continue my pursuit of knowledge by doing PhD in the field of electric power. I applied to universities that were doing great work in my area and chose Cambridge due to its rich legacy of culture, heritage and tradition of academic excellence which I hoped would provide me with the right international platform to work with the brightest people.

What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

NH: Being in love with physics, and mathematics being a good friend of mine, engineering came as an obvious choice to me after my A-levels. The intrigue, fascination and excitement to fathom the unexplained ‘electric shock’ I received as a kid motivated me to take up electrical engineering as my specialization; starting off with an undergraduate degree, then moving on to a masters and now pursuing a PhD in the same area. A career path in science I believe, has helped me in uncovering principles that change the world, extending my intellectual capabilities and thereby helping me engage, educate and innovate in my own small ways.

What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

NH: The world deals day in and day out with electrical power conversion— trillions of adjustments in voltage, frequency, and current is made daily to deliver electricity from wall outlets to virtually any electronic device. And I work on the power converters which are very inefficient, costing us billions every year. This problem, though astronomical, remains invisible to the common man! So through my research, I’m on a quest to explore a better way of converting this ‘power’ through Gallium Nitride (2014 Nobel Prize!), which is poised to jumpstart the next generation of smaller, faster, denser and efficient power converters.

In simple words, I work on improving the way ‘electric power’ is used by the world! And I research the systems that do this converting –called ‘Power Electronic Converters’, mostly built using silicon. On average, these converters are only 90 percent energy-efficient and the rest is lost as heat between a plug and whatever a converter is powering. These losses cost us billions every year and this problem, though astronomical, remains invisible to the common man.

I’m passionate about my work as it directly influences the world and our way of life, as electric power is everywhere. Thus, if successful, I can make a tangible contribution to advancement of science and sustainability of the world.

Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

NH: Excited to share my journey as a Woman in Electrical engineering which is actually cool, exciting and rewarding!!

If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

NH: The perception that a STEM career is for the special few and women are not designed to stand its requirements, cope with the pressure or so on. I want to emphasise that ‘Science knows no gender, electric power knows no gender!’

What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

NH: A PhD is a very lonely and painful yet highly rewarding journey. Embark on it if you’re dedicated and passionate about your subject and sincerely wish to contribute to the scientific community though your work. Your destiny is your decision! Do not allow the societal stereotypes to stop you from pursuing your passion. Let nothing stop you from doing what you love most. Let your wings of dreams fly high…!