PhD graduate from Waterford Institute of Technology discusses how the CONNECT Research Centre supported his studies in data science
Mohit Taneja recently completed his PhD as a part of the Science Foundation Ireland funded CONNECT Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications; working at the Emerging Networks Lab (ENL) in the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG), Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland.
- Can you tell us a bit about your recent PhD research project?
My PhD research lies in the subject areas of Internet of Things (IoT), fog computing and data analytics. The title of my dissertation was ‘Fog Computing Support for Internet of Things Applications’. The work involved efficient design and deployment of IoT services into the Fog/Cloud computing environment, and was validated through a real-world deployment within the Smart Agriculture vertical. The selected use-case and application objective was early lameness detection in dairy cattle using locomotion data, which also required designing efficient data analytics strategies leveraging the fog computing paradigm.
The research project was termed SmartHerd, and involved working with a local farmer and IBM as co-sponsor of the work via the SFI funded CONNECT Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications. The SmartHerd solution utilizes the emerging fog computing paradigm to handle the network connectivity constraints posed by a farm environment, and the modular-microservices based application design and development methodology proposed is one of the first inline to combine the approaches effectively to deliver an IoT based solution.
- What is fog computing, and what do you like most about working with data science?
Fog computing is a new distributed architecture, one that allows the distribution of critical core functions of compute, communication, storage, control and decision making closer to where data is originated. The advantages include lower cost, faster service delivery and improved data protection to name but a few. However, this paradigm shift from beyond the ‘cloud’ and into the ‘fog’ requires a fundamental rethink as to how Internet services are deployed and operated. And this is where the research conducted comes as a small contribution in the fog computing ecosystem.
Data science enables the extraction of insightful information from a sea of raw data. This helps to develop and deliver something that helps society tackle some of its prime challenges in a sustainable and insightful way— one day, one step, one small finding and one small contribution at a time.
- Can you tell us a bit about your engaged research project working to address lameness in cows?
Dairy farms have all the constraints of a modern business — they have a fixed production capacity, a herd to manage, expensive farm labour and other varied farm-related processes to take care of. In this technology-driven era farmers look for assistance from smart solutions to increase profitability and to help manage their farms well. Lameness ranks third in terms of economic impact for diseases in dairy cows, and timely lameness detection is a particularly complex challenge which farmers and practitioners have yet to address adequately. Human observation-based solutions which rely on visual inspections are prone to late detection with possible human error and are not scalable. To tackle this, we have developed an end-to-end IoT application that leverages advanced machine learning and data analytics techniques to monitor the cattle in real-time and identify lameness at an early stage, 3 days before it’s visually observable (with an 87% accuracy).
- What prompted your decision to begin your research journey in Ireland?
Language is an important factor when it comes to moving abroad for higher education. In that sense, Ireland stood out as a great option within the EU. Its rich culture, openness, and more importantly the friendly and helpful nature of people is something that enables a smooth transition to make you feel it’s ‘a home away from home’.
Further, Ireland enjoys natural beauty and scenic views at its core— the vast green landscapes, the beaches, and being so close to nature acts as a big plus once you start experiencing it. The research journey with its up and downs is quite unpredictable, and it’s good to have ‘the luck of Irish’ with you through this, and also be able to have a good ‘craic’ along the way!
Another primary reason for me personally to choose Ireland was the financial support provided for the research by SFI-CONNECT Centre at TSSG, WIT. The studentship provided gives you a certain degree of financial independence and a peace of mind, and this certainly does play out as a critical factor, especially when one is beginning the journey.
- How did the CONNECT SFI Research Centre for Future Networks & Communications support you on your career path?
First of all, a big thanks to CONNECT SFI Research Centre for the support throughout these years, and to TSSG, WIT for making me a part of it. It’s not only the funding support that matters, but it’s also the peer-support, the opportunities, and enabling one to see the bigger picture through this comprehensive end-to-end support system. There is a lot that helped in this journey— the public outreach events, plenary meets, summer school, workshops, and training sessions; it all kind of works together, empowering you to get through to crossing the last mile. Moreover, encouraging and enabling participation in programmes such as the pre-commercialization training with National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) has been indirectly helpful at maximizing the output of research, both in terms of communication and diversifying the line of thought.
Through CONNECT, one is able to see kind of an all-encompassing picture of research in different Irish institutes at both national and international level. It’s easy to network within the centre, and colleagues at all levels are quite approachable. It certainly does help to know that someone with a vast experience is just an email away, and would be open to helping you when at research cross-roads.
- Were there any challenges you faced throughout your research journey? What keeps you motivated to overcome these?
There were a number of challenges faced in the research journey, and I believe everyone involved in research would have been through a similar experience. It is a roller coaster ride with ups and downs, but as rightly penned by a wise soul— it’s about the journey, and not the destination. It’s tough, but the small wins keep you going.
Motivation is something that has to come from within, and everyone has their own approach towards it. For me, this involves the support from my partner, peers, family, my supervisor, and friends. We are formed as an average of the people we share our experiences with. I am lucky to have found a really good support system here in TSSG, WIT that enabled me to successfully sail through this journey. All of this combined together helps you cross the bridge when you get there.
In addition to the entire academic research and resource ecosystem, the WIT Arena has been a massive help. The exercise and fitness activities it facilitates have been an integral part of keeping through the mental and physical balance. Stress busting is essential to stay motivated!
- What advice would you give to yourself ten years ago starting off your career in tech?
I would advise myself to be agile, and always maintain a great enthusiasm and energy for learning. To be even more unafraid, and go beyond yourself; it takes courage, but you need to take those risks. However bad situations seem to be sometimes, things play themselves out for the better eventually; so you shouldn’t worry so much about the future, and enjoy the present. Trying, learning, gaining experience, and collecting lessons learned— now that’s an investment with a real-return!
Also focus on nurturing your soft skills— empathy, compassion, and the ability to communicate effectively; these will help yourself become better at reaching out to others, reacting to feedback, explaining your ideas, giving talks, and ultimately becoming a better researcher and human being.
Off track and on a lighter note, I would advise my younger self to keep taking small breaks to probably travel more when possible, for there’d be a global pandemic looming over us in the next ten years!