Karishma Reddy KhanAugust 24, 2016

By Simon Goodacre | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Karishma Reddy Khan realized that she had an interest in computer science towards the end of her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College. She grew up in Bangladesh and moved to Bangkok for high school. A couple of her relatives had attended Mount Holyoke, so she decided to pursue her undergraduate major there before moving to Brandeis for graduate study. 

“I was building microcontroller robots and became interested in coding through that,” she says. Having majored in physics and theater arts, she realized that she needed to start from scratch if she was going to pursue a computer science degree. Towards the end of her studies, she received an email from Brandeis about the two-year master’s program in computer science for students who majored in other subjects. After having a conversation with Jordan Pollack, the department chair, she decided it was the right fit.

“You’re playing catch up,” she says about the program. “The two-year master’s degree works as an accelerated undergraduate program with three courses a semester. It starts off as a very regimented program to make sure that you have the right training.” She feels that Brandeis offers a good range of courses on data structures, operating systems, databases, Java, functional programming languages, software engineering, scalability etc., which helps master’s students become great generalists. She also notes that the graduate students in the department are a very tight-knit group that hangs out every Wednesday in the Computer Science lounge.

As she has progressed through the program, Karishma has noticed that the classes have gotten smaller and that she is collaborating more with other students. Classes like Software Engineering are very project driven and much of the work is performed in groups. “It’s nice when you get to explain things to other students in your group because to explain something, you really have to know it,” she says.

After working with Harry Mairson for a semester as a teaching assistant, Karishma was asked if she would be interested in transitioning to the doctoral program to collaborate on his research projects. “Harry is an amateur violin and cello builder,” she says. “He is working with a programming language called ‘Scheme’ to write a program that will enable other craftsmen to see the dimensions of the instruments they make.” Sharing designs is difficult because most of these instruments are made by hand, so this program could make the process much easier.  Eventually they would love to be able to put it into a CNC builder that would be able to shape the wood for instruments. 

Over the summer, Karishma has had an opportunity to return to her physics background by working in the high-energy physics lab with Hermann Wellenstein. They are trying to map the human eye for prosthetic lenses. An undergraduate double major in physics and computer science knew that Karishma was looking for summer work and made the connection for her. She’s doing coding, image stitching and simulations for the team. “It’s great to be able to see how they do physics at Brandeis,” she says. “The other PhD students in computer science always want to look at the project and learn about the physics aspect of what I’m doing.”

When asked for words of advice for prospective students, Karishma did not hesitate. “Your whole life will be computer science, which is a bit of a transition if you are coming straight from an undergraduate degree” she says. “I spent the morning doing physics, and the afternoon doing theater at Mount Holyoke, and I had friends in other majors and from extra-curricular activities.” She notes that the graduate school experience is much more intense and everything is focused on one subject. “That was something that took me by surprise at first, but I have started to see how beneficial it is.” Although she has not decided what her plans will be after graduation, Karishma is enjoying the depth of engagement with different areas of computer science. “It’s a wonderfully welcoming department, and you feel right at home immediately,” she says.