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Chitra Karanam – Ph.D. Student in Communications and Signal Processing

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: The friendly faculty and students, who are always ready to help and chat. Also, the location of the department, and a view of the ocean from my desk in lab!
  • UCSB: It’s a beautiful campus, with a diverse community and a variety of events and talks that interest many students
  • Santa Barbara: The wonderful weather all year long and the scenic location of the city

Tell us about your research

Our lab works on problems at the intersection of communication and robotics. My research is in the field of RF Sensing and Imaging with robots. RF signals are present everywhere these days, and they carry a lot of information about our surroundings. Signals like WiFi can even pass through walls and reflect off people and other objects present in any area. Broadly, I work on using RF signals like WiFi to see through walls and image the area located on the other side of the wall. I use unmanned ground vehicles and octo-copters to collect wireless measurements outside an unknown area. Then, through an extensive modeling of the interaction of such signals with the area of interest, I reconstruct an image of the unknown area. In the past, there has been a lot of work in our lab on reconstructing a 2D image of the unknown area, and I am currently working on 3D image reconstructions, through walls, using drones with WiFi.

How and why did you get into your area of research which is offbeat and unconventional?

At an internship during my undergrad, I worked in the field of array signal processing, and I found the related algorithms and ideas very interesting. Later in grad school, when I got a chance to work on RF sensing and robotics, I realized that this would be a great opportunity to explore more avenues along the lines of my undergrad internship.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

The ECE department at UCSB has a great reputation. I first applied for the Masters program, and after arriving here, I liked the atmosphere at the department, and the research in my advisor Professor Yasamin Mostofi’s group. I then decided to pursue my Ph.D. here as well.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

When our proposed methodology and design works well in practice in our experiments.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

Some or the other form of collaboration is essential for research. In our group, we frequently discuss and collaborate on various ideas and projects, and I feel this helps immensely whenever anyone feels stuck in a problem. We regularly meet with our advisor to discuss research. Other faculty in the department are also always easily approachable, whenever we want to discuss any topic or problem.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

When working on a research problem, it helps a lot to be able to discuss it with others in the research group. I am glad to be working in a group where we constantly discuss and help each other with various aspects of research. I have also had a great experience working with my advisor. She is always supportive and meets with us regularly to discuss progress on research.

Where will your research take you next?

In the future, I would like to be working in the industry, on RF sensing related applications.

Chitra’s thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The diverse research fields and associated faculty, the various research groups, and how everyone is easily approachable to discuss various ideas or problems.

Experience with the graduate exams

The screening exam can be a bit stressful. It is the first major exam during the Ph.D. program and tests the basic knowledge of various undergrad and initial graduate courses. Having a plan for a systematic preparation helped reduce some of the stress. The qualification exam was less stressful, since it is a presentation on our research, and I had a stronger grasp on the material I had to present.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and GSR

I have mostly been a GSR. I was a TA for an undergrad course – Probability and Statistics. I had to conduct discussion sessions where I go over the topics and examples taught by the professor that week. It was a great learning experience for me, to read up about the topics and be ready to answer the various questions that the students might have.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

Overall, I think the quality of life is good here at UCSB. Research takes up a lot of my time, and sometimes it gets challenging to balance work and personal life. During deadlines, it is difficult to set time apart for any other activities. But then, at other times, it’s not so hectic and I try to plan a few fun activities and relax.

What is your social life like and where have you lived?

I live at San Clemente Villages – the grad student on-campus housing. I like living at San Clemente because of the proximity to the campus and the facilities that are available. It is pretty convenient since most graduate students stay at the grad housing.

What will you be doing over summer break?

I will be staying at UCSB and working on research this summer.

Advice to prospective graduate students

There are a lot of opportunities to learn, through courses, interaction with faculty, interesting talks and seminars – try to make the best use of everything.