This article was originally published at Julie Taeko.
Niyati Rawal is one of the most inspiring and intelligent young women that I know. Not only did she move to Japan at the age of 19 to spend one year studying Japanese intensively before pursuing a Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Engineering degree at Osaka University, but she also published articles and conducted presentations about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Needless to say, Niyati is a high achieving, intriguing, and most importantly, warm-hearted person with a bright future.
In this first article, learn about Niyati’s application process for the Japanese MEXT Scholarship for the Undergraduate Program in India.
The Process of Applying to the Japanese MEXT Scholarship Program for the Undergraduate Program in India
While Niyati was in high school in India, she developed a strong passion for robotics. And since Japan was one of the most advanced nations in terms of robotic technology, she decided to research programs in Japan. Unfortunately, she was a bit disheartened when she learned how expensive it would be to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Japan.
Fortunately, through a friend, she learned about the Japanese MEXT Scholarship Program right before graduating and decided to apply. But little did she know that the entire application process would take over a year — from the time of application to the time of acceptance or rejection.
Besides the Japanese MEXT Scholarship Program, Niyati applied for a few other programs at the same time, so she felt a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work that she had to do. But she kept up the work. And in particular, the Japanese MEXT Scholarship Program application was full of detailed, minute work. For example, I recall having to make sure my photos that I attached to my application were exactly 3.5 x 4.5 cm, as nothing less and nothing more, was acceptable.
Luckily, the entire process was worthwhile for both Niyati and I, as were accepted as MEXT Scholars. Unlike Niyati, I applied for the MEXT Research Scholarship that could evolve into a Masters Degree Scholarship as well as a PhD Scholarship. In Niyati’s case, she applied and received the Japanese MEXT Scholarship Program for Undergraduate Students, which is a more rigorous process, since the students are much younger, and generally need to speak Japanese.
From the time of application to the time of receiving the acceptance year, one year had passed. So at the age of 19 in 2013, Niyati Rawal arrived in Japan, ready to launch her studies. In the next article, learn more about Niyati’s experience of transitioning from India to Japan, as well as some of the challenges she had to overcome.
Niyati’s Transition from a Protective Environment in India to an Unknown Country and Brand New Culture
In India, Niyati grew up in a very protective environment. Not only were there many rules and regulations in her high school, but also her parents did everything for her and her sister, so that they could focus on their studies. Because her mother was focused on her children’s education, she would often help Niyati with her homework and studying for exams. Also, she never hosted dinners during exams, so that her children could focus on studying.
Coming from this type of protective environment to a brand new country with a unique culture, was jolting.
Niyati’s Major Challenges Upon Arrival in Japan
When she moved to Japan, she no longer had the support of her family and community, so she had to start doing everything on her own like moving into her new housing, buying groceries, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc. To make matters more challenging, she was the only Indian student in the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies out of approximately 50 students.
As a result, she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to make friends, as she was in a brand new country, with new foods, culture, history, and language. However, her worries were unnecessary, as she quickly became friends with the other students, who were in the exact same situation as her — confused, a bit of culture shock, lonely at times, and also, very excited to explore their new home.
Having these challenges made Niyati more empathetic, appreciative, and strong. In Japan, she gained a deeper appreciation for her mother, who was always so caring and supportive. And while she used to be very quiet and shy in high school, she quickly learned that she needed to reach out for help when needed, and be vocal in order to have a successful 5 years in Japan.
Niyati’s First Year in Japan in a Japanese Intensive Training Program for 1 Year
When Niyati first arrived in Japan at the age of 19, she only knew a few words in Japanese. But by the end of 2 weeks of living in Japan, she had increased her knowledge to about 10% proficiency rate for Japanese.
As part of the Japanese MEXT Undergraduate Scholarship Program, Niyati spent 10+ hours per day studying Japanese, and had multiple quizzes or tests per week. Basically, the program at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, was training her to become skilled in daily conversations for living in Japan comfortably. But most importantly, it was training her to be able to pursue an undergraduate degree at a top-level national university in Japanese with native Japanese speakers.
As such, it was an incredibly challenging, yet fruitful program. Towards the end of the Intensive Year of Japanese Language Training, Niyati had to take university entrance exams in Japanese in subjects such as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, etc., entirely in Japanese. Furthermore, there was a lot of pressure to do well on these exams, as it would determine which universities she could attend in Japan.
Based on her grades at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and her university entrance exam results, Niyati was placed at Osaka University after one year of studying Japanese intensively.
All of her studying and hard work paid off. By her second year in Japan, she was already reading Japanese textbooks!
The Beginnings at Osaka University as a Mechanical Engineering Major
At Osaka University, Niyati decided to pursue a technical major — Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Engineering B.E. There, she chose to apply to the lab of a famous professor — Professor Asada. And he and Professor Nagai supervised her research and provided her with countless opportunities to research on some of the very latest AI topics, as well as present at conferences.
Niyati’s Papers, Publications, and Presentations
At the Human Agent Interaction Conference in 2017, Niyati presented about neural networks and pattern recognition. Specifically, she shared how when we are born, we only focus on individual parts of the face, and begin to look at the face in a triangular manner as we grow old.
Niyati studied these phenomena through computational modeling of neural networks to explain the underlying mechanisms behind patterns that develop over time. Basically, she wanted to know what part of the face is important to understand emotions, and what specifically is important with recognizing head orientation.
Niyati developed a deep passion for engineering and math in grade 6 due to the influence of an amazing teacher in India, who encouraged her to follow her innate passion and skills for math and science. She specifically gave her extra textbooks to study, offered her advice along the way, and continually encouraged her innate interest in the math and sciences. Through her positive influence, Niyati decided to pursue this career path.
And Niyati specifically enjoys computer science and engineering, because it’s based on logic and math. Instead of rote memorization, Niyati enjoys the process of learning the logic behind the numbers and understanding the core systems in order to produce new data and insight.
Based on the positive influence of her teachers and the logical thinking behind the sciences, Niyati decided that she wanted to contribute to the safety and security of AI and robotics.
AI and robotics are the future of technology. But little do we know if these emerging sectors of technology will have a positive impact upon the world or be a threat. Niyati would like to ensure the safety and security of AI and robotics, so that they have a positive impact.
By thinking about the possible ramifications of certain technologies before creating them, and also contributing towards creating a more security-minded technology world, Niyati has a unique career vision and very important mission for society.