My experience taking part in the Singapore Science & Engineering Fair and A*STAR Talent Search

Girish Kumar is the First Prize Winner of the A*STAR Talent Search (ATS) 2015. He has written this blog post to share his experience taking part in the Singapore Science & Engineering Fair (SSEF) and the ATS.

Once in a while, we see mobile phone apps go viral and one of these, beginning of last year, was “Quiz Up”. Basically, people could challenge friends to trivia questions. Pretty fun actually. However, I found that the questions kept repeating themselves and this was because actual people were drafting the questions. That got me thinking: if we could somehow automatically generate questions, we could get a much greater variety of questions. I got hooked. Thereafter, my friend joked one day that if “Quiz Up” was used for class, he would top Biology with great ease. Biology is an extremely knowledge-driven and content-driven subject in my school and asking quiz questions helped a lot to reinforce concepts and memory. That comment struck me and I decided to “pivot” my idea to one that suits education. This was where my project, “RevUP”, started. “RevUP” automatically generates gap-fill multiple choice question from online texts such as Wikipedia.

The entire process, I have to admit, was not easy. I have pulled so many all-nighters, fuelled by caffeine and red bull shots, trying to fix some bug in my code or trying to figure out what’s wrong with my algorithm.

Honestly, in these exasperating moments, I feel like shouting out loud that I absolutely hate what I am doing and that I will never ever code for the rest of my life. But even in these moments, I knew deep down within that this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After all, just like any endeavour, research is all about experiencing and overcoming failure.  Soon, after continued failure, I had the classic “Eureka!” moment. I came up with algorithms that performed competently, even outperforming state-of-the-art methods at times.

My project would not have been made possible without the support of great mentors. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Dr. Rafael Banchs & Dr Luis D’Haro from ASTAR and Dr. Chiam Sher-yi & Mr. Ng Chee Loong from NUS High School.

Girish (centre) in the centre of the photo holding up his trophy

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