As professionals we have the luxury of discussing our opinions and strategies to tackle global warming in the long-term. But there is a specific segment of our population that needs to fight global warming on a daily basis, countering the effects of unpredictable climate, floods, insufficient water supply and hot weather, to feed themselves and ensure a sustainable food pipeline for the world, our farmers.

Parmita Ghosh, our next pathbreaker, Remote Sensing Data Scientist, develops algorithms based on applications of remote sensing which assist farmers and policy makers in taking better decisions and reduce losses due to crop failure.

Parmita talks to  Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about how her real-world experiences were like pieces of a puzzle that have come together now while working currently as Remote Sensing Data Scientist with Corteva Agriscience™.

For students, any degree, whether it is engineering or research, needs to reach the hands of people who need it to make a livelihood. Agricultural Engineering makes that happen!

Parmita, tell us about your background?

I am Parmita Ghosh. I grew up in a small town named Teliamura in the magnificent North Eastern state of Tripura, India. My father is a businessman and mother is a teacher. Both have sheer enthusiasm for education which was passed on to me. I was a very sincere and studious kid throughout my childhood and in my teen years. My grandmother had a keen interest in cultural activities and she encouraged me to take part in extracurricular activities during my school days and accompanied me to all the functions where I performed. I have a professional degree “Bisharad” in Bengali poem recitation. I was a more than pampered granddaughter of my grandfather. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my graduation in Agricultural Engineering from College of Agricultural Engineering and Post Harvest Technology (Central Agricultural University), Sikkim (2013-17).

I did my post graduation in Geoinformatics and Natural Resources Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (2017-19).

I was also an exchange student of Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany. I did my bi-nationally supervised masters thesis work in Germany as a part of the DAAD IIT Master Sandwich Programme 2018 fellowship(2018-19)

I was a visiting researcher in HESSISCHES STATISTISCHES LANDESAMT,Hesse,Germany. (Jan’19-Mar’19)

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?

I had participated in “Children Science Congress” when I was in 8th standard. For that competition I did a project on “The effect of chemical pesticides on farming system”. During that project I did a survey of farmers in my locality. That was my first glimpse of the Indian agricultural system. I wanted to know more about agriculture. After 10th board exam, I received a brochure of a college and came to know that there is a branch of engineering named Agricultural Engineering. But in the hassle and madness of JEE preparation I forgot about agriculture. I didn’t score well enough in JEE to get admission into the institutes I was looking for. This was an initial setback because I wanted to join one of the esteemed institutes of India. During that time i got an opportunity to take up Agricultural Engineering based on my scores in the state level engineering entrance examinations. That was the time when I connected the dots and took a call to immediately join BTech in Agricultural Engineering. During my BTech days I came in close contact with farmers again through different training programs and workshops. I conducted Participatory Rural Appraisal for farmers. It was one of those events where I felt that there was a huge gap in technology adoption by our farmers. I wanted to dedicate my knowledge and skills for improvement of the Indian agricultural scenario. I had chosen Geoinformatics and Natural Resources engineering for my post graduation. During my MTech I learnt about satellite remote sensing images and data science (Machine learning, deep learning). These learnings stirred my thoughts and I was overwhelmed with ideas to leverage these technologies to enable farmers and help them in digital farming. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I attended two training programmes during my BTech. The first one was in the Farm Machinery domain, which helped me understand the challenges of farm mechanization in our country. The second one was in the Water Resources domain, a high value domain in agriculture. This training exposed me to the challenges in water conservation and how agricultural engineering technologies can help conserve water.

I cracked the GATE exam and got admitted to MTech at IIT Bombay. During my Mtech I saw some wonderful projects of my seniors and professors in remote sensing and data science. This made me realize the potential of these technologies in improving our agricultural system. I started my journey in designing solutions for agriculture by harnessing the knowledge of remote sensing and data science.

I went to Germany for my master thesis work and got in touch with the global research community. I learnt a lot from them, and their work motivated me as well.

The DAAD fellowship that I was awarded, was only for IIT Masters students to pursue their Master Thesis project at any of the 9 Technical Universities (TU) of Germany, commonly known as TU9. The eligibility criteria for this scholarship were, a minimum 8.5 GPA, detailed project proposal, a consent letter from a professor from any of the TUs to supervise project work. The final selection was based on the quality of research proposal and candidate’s resume (to be precise, research profile). This program covered health insurance, monthly stipend of 859€, housing rent subsidy etc., tickets were not sponsored (2019 onwards travel allowance is also provided under this program). There are lots of DAAD short-term, long-terms scholarships available where any student or researcher can apply.

I worked as a visiting researcher at HESSISCHES STATISTISCHES LANDESAMT, that position gave me a chance to understand the challenges faced by the farming community there and how the administrators were planning to tackle these issues.

I developed a machine learning pipeline based on fusion of multi-spectral and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite images for crop yield prediction at field level. This pipeline can predict crop yield at an early stage, which will help farmers and policy makers plan better marketing strategies for crops.

I was also selected for Google Summer of Earth Engine program launched by Google Earth engine India team. I worked in a research project with ICRISAT for digital agriculture.

In this project I got an opportunity to design a machine learning framework in Google Earth Engine platform for identifying crop types along with their watering method (irrigated, rainfed) using satellite images. The maps generated by this machine learning framework will help in water resource planning. 

If I look back at my life, I feel all these experiences were like pieces of puzzle that have come together now when I am working as Remote Sensing Data Scientist with Corteva Agriscience™.

I am also DAAD Young Ambassador. I have gained lots of wisdom and important experience from Germany, now I have taken up the responsibility to spread awareness of the German research culture among the student community in India 

How did you get your first break?

When I was finishing my Mtech I wanted to work in India in the digital agriculture sector to leverage my learnings for improvement of agriculture. I happened to get connected with professionals of this sector and after few rounds of interviews I was selected for my First job as a Remote Sensing Data Scientist at Corteva Agriscience™.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: During my school days, in my locality, there were challenges in having access to good quality science education. My parents left no stone unturned to give me exposure to good education.    

Challenge 2: I faced a major emotional challenge during the admission process of my MTech. My grandfather’s sudden demise left me in deep grief, and it was difficult for me to accept it. I was in my BTech final year and staying in the college hostel at Sikkim far away from my home town. I couldn’t see my grandfather for the last time. I had to appear for the admission test and interview at IIT Bombay when the last rituals were happening at home. I travelled from Sikkim to Mumbai all alone with a broken heart. It was a very tough time for me and my family. With the support of my grandmother, parents, dearest friend and professors, I could get through this time. I cracked the GATE exam and the interview!!

Challenge 3: One more challenge I encountered was when I was opted to pursue my bi-nationally supervised master thesis work from Germany. Staying in Germany during the peak of placement season at IIT Bombay imposed a tough challenge. I was not able to appear for many of the placement activities and tests, it was difficult to be in sync with the process given the time difference between two countries. I had a hard time doing placement preparation in isolation. I was completely aware that I will encounter these difficulties if I stay out of campus during placement season, but the urge to do research in Germany was so strong that I took this decision keeping placement at stake. Ultimately, I came to India in December for attending the placement process and I was able to secure a job in my targeted industry. It was difficult to manage research work and course work at Germany and at the same time preparing for placement tests and interviews, missing lots of tests etc. , but at the end I was happy that with proper planning and time management, I was able to manage everything without compromising with quality of work. 

Where do you work now? 

I work at Corteva Agriscience™ – Agriculture Division of Dow Dupont as a Remote Sensing Data Scientist.

I develop algorithms which can assist farmers and policy makers take better decisions and reduce losses due to crop failure.

My work requires good knowledge of Agricultural science, Satellite Remote Sensing, Geographical Information Sytem(GIS), Data Science and computer programming.

I have learnt all these skills during my graduation and post graduation. I also learn from my peers at workplace. I get mentored by my peers to further improve my skills and learn new skills. 

A typical day is like talking to the agriculture scientists, understanding the challenges in agriculture, brainstorming on how to resolve issues through remote sensing, data science and finally writing code for generating solutions. 

The products I develop are driven by “Farmer Value mindset” and bold innovation. This is perfectly aligned with my desire to leverage my knowledge for digital data driven farming.  

e.g: I develop applications from satellite images for crop monitoring, crop protection etc. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

My work enables farmers to mitigate the risk of crop damage and take better data driven decisions about choosing farming method, crop. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

As a part of experiential learning during BTech I took part in Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). In that curriculum, we (a group of final year BTech students) helped the farmers of a village in Sikkim to identify sustainable solutions for farm water management. Interacting with the farmers, their welcoming nature, listening to them share their farming challenges and the farmers eagerly listening to us about the possible solutions, all these were very enriching and very memorable learning experiences for me. I was very happy that we could help them in tackling one of their most challenging problems.   

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Listen to people, get inspired by people but don’t get influenced or dominated by people. Choose your path based on your passion and work hard by giving more than your best to work. Everything is possible to accomplish if YOU are determined to accomplish it. Don’t let any fear of failure to bring your moral down. Success and failure, sorrow and happiness, fear and excitement- all these are part of our life and are momentary. They will come and pass by, but you must be ready to positively and boldly handle all of these.

It is not always necessary to choose a subject or career according to its value in the “Job Market”. Don’t hesitate to pursue a career that you are passionate about. A dedicated work ethic will turn everything into your favor.

I was a Bengali medium student throughout my school life. I have heard a lot about the difficulty non English medium students face during higher studies. Believe me! I never had such issues because I had a good understanding of the subjects that I learnt in Bengali in school. More than the language medium, the knowledge is important. Language is not a barrier; our own inner fear is.

If any non-English medium student is reading this, I would suggest that you should be confident about your learning, and not feel inferior about the language. You have acquired your knowledge. 

Now I can read, write and speak German too!! 

In short, I will suggest the students to do what you are passionate about or develop passion for what you are doing. The work driven by passion will always turn out into your favor. 

 Future Plans?

I aspire to leverage my knowledge for better data driven agricultural practices and continuously improve my skills. I wish that the solutions I develop will reach farmers across the globe and digitally empower them.