Vasisht's Alma Mater Honors Him as a Graduate of the Last Decade

11/2/2021 9:25:58 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

When Illinois CS professor Deepak Vasisht first found out that he earned an award from his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, he encountered a mixture of emotions – first, surprise, followed by happiness and validation.

Illinois CS professor Deepak Vasisht earned the GOLD Award from his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, which reflects his success in both research and teaching.
Illinois CS professor Deepak Vasisht earned the GOLD Award from his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, which reflects his success in both research and teaching.

The Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award from IIT Delhi honored Vasisht for his teaching and research.

He couldn’t help but feel a bit surprised, considering he joined the faculty at Illinois CS faculty in 2020. While new to the department, though, he has already established a track-record of success through research and instruction focused on wireless networks and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As he thought back on his past decade’s worth of work in academia, and the meaning of this GOLD Award, Vasisht then allowed himself the opportunity to reflect on how far he has come.

He also thought about the training, the mentors and the friendships at IIT Delhi that all led to his early career success.

“When I first felt surprised, it was solely because the people who have received the GOLD Award from IIT Delhi before me have done such phenomenal things in their careers,” Vasisht said. “But then I quickly felt happy to earn this award, because I began thinking back on my time and my influences during my years at IIT Delhi. Perhaps most importantly, though, I felt validated.

“In research, validation is very important, because we’re pursuing new ideas that we just don’t know how others will perceive.”

Vasisht’s work has indeed received a positive impression following his undergraduate studies at IIT Delhi – where he earned a 2013 bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Since then, he has received a master’s and PhD in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Vasisht was also the inaugural Industry Research Fellow at Microsoft from 2019-2021, continuing a working relationship with mentors and peers at Microsoft since 2015. As a research fellow, his focus on data-driven agriculture contributed to an idea he called FarmBeats. Now publicly available as a Microsoft product offering called Azure Farmbeats, this idea became “an end-to-end data-driven agricultural platform that can collect and analyze data from farms in remote rural areas at a very low cost compared to existing solutions.”

He’s also earned the ACM SIGCOMM Doctoral Dissertation Award in 2019, and an ACM SIGCOMM Best Paper Award in 2016.

Calling his undergraduate studies “transformational,” Vasisht believes that his success is a direct result of his time at IIT Delhi.

“There’s a couple reasons why that time in my life was so important,” he said. “First of all, I was a first-generation college student. I had no experience or prior understanding of what college was like, so I encountered these inspirational professors who all practiced amazing research. This broadened my worldview about what these people could achieve in computer science. For the first time, I thought about becoming a professor myself.”

It’s been quite the transformation for Vasisht in a relatively brief period of time.

Prior to attending IIT Delhi, he hadn’t even used a computer until the 11th grade. But he had a keen interest in mathematics. Then he tested into the top-tier of technology institutes in India, because of his strength in mathematics.

Vasisht said he could choose between attending the two best – IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay – and he picked Delhi because it was only two hours from his home and family.

“At IIT Delhi, I discovered a different kind of math that applied to computer science,” Vasisht said. “This was a bit more abstract, and, while different than what I was used to, I still liked it. I felt very comfortable studying computer science, and the more I understood it, the more I wanted to keep studying it.”

That baseline served him well at MIT, and formed the basis of his research and instruction that he is looking forward to further developing here at Illinois CS.

In November, IIT Delhi will celebrate the GOLD Award, along with other alumni awards, at its commencement. Vasisht is uncertain if he will be able to travel to his home country and celebrate the achievement, though.

Regardless, he will take that moment, either in-person or remotely, to reconnect with his alma mater and the others being honored.

“They will also celebrate a lifetime achievement award, so I do hope to meet the others being honored,” Vasisht said. “It will be inspirational, because they have all done such amazing things.”