Meet Asheesh Sharma

  • Project: Harnessing depth and RGB camera technology for cattle welfare – Standard studentship with associate partner (joint project based a tUWE and Bristol)
  • Past/current DTP student roles: International Student Representative, Student Representative for students based at Bristol, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Champion

Tell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to the SWBio DTP?

I did a BTech in Electronics and Communications at Rajasthan Technical University (India) with my final work on a planetary Rover project, this got me into machine learning and artificial Intelligence (AI). I did my MSc at Bristol and honed my skills in soft robotics and agricultural automation.

During the time I was doing my MSc, I joined a start-up company, One Dot Automation, founded by my cohort friends. After graduating, I developed a sensor, which can be used for indoor localisation to detect behavioural anomaly in patients with learning disability.

While working on a similar project, I came in contact with Estrotell (India), a company developing a smart tag for detecting lameness and onset of calving in cattle. As I was always interested in developing solutions for the agricultural sector, this opportunity proved to be a perfect one. In collaboration with Estrotell and with a goal of environmental sustainability, I founded a new company in Bristol – Four Valent Pvt Ltd (2020) where we develop robotic, AI, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for the sector. While working on this project I realised the need for fundamental research in precision livestock farming and started looking for academics working on similar problems.

It was while I was working that I became aware of a knowledge gap – I had no idea about biology! It was then that I discovered SWBio DTP. It was exactly what I was looking for.   This is when I found Prof Andrew Dowsey’s research and excitingly a PhD opportunity in exactly the same field I was working on.

What has your experience been like so far?

The entire thing has been fun, SWBio DTP have made it so engaging. Some students had a background in biology, so they got upskilled on the computational side, I got upskilled in biology. The taught year makes you work together with your cohort which is engaging and inspires new ideas.  For example, for the Data Science unit, we did a mini project on predicting Tsunami epicentres using publicly available datasets and machine learning tools, marrying AI with current problems in biosciences.

The whole taught year journey so far has been fun, engaging, and creative and I’m working with likeminded people. I’m now looking forward to the PIPS placement as it gives you a broader career perspective, and I’m hoping to get a research publication out of my rotation project from the taught first year.

SWBio DTP provides opportunities in variety of disciplines. So, if you are like me, who want to do something in biosciences, but have little to no experience but lots in your own field such as AI, SWBio DTP is an exciting opportunity. They make sure that everybody has the same level of expertise in key skills by the end of the taught year, you will never feel out of place.

What about the social side of being a PhD student?

I already had some friends here because I did my MSc at Bristol, but I have made new ones in my research group. My supervisor is a Dirt Bike enthusiast and some people are into low light photography, they have taken some great shots of the night sky!

Within the DTP cohort itself, we arrange activities. I am on the organising team for the Student-led Retreat, which will include a workshop on combating climate change (students in groups come up with a product idea to address an assigned climate problem), and a mindfulness/wellbeing workshop. Other activities during the 3 day event might include water sports, yoga sessions, museum/Art gallery visits etc to help to get to know your cohort and some down time from your research.

We’re very aware of the importance of ensuring everyone can take part and so look explicitly at Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) issues to ensure that we support student’s needs for events. The student cohort is quite diverse, with people from different backgrounds and stages of life.

What would you say to others who are thinking of applying?

I would definitely recommend doing a PhD with SWBio DTP if you come from my background. My research project involves a good understanding of cattle behavioural studies and machine vision. The problem with such interdisciplinary research is the communication gap between the experts from different fields which SWBio DTP address in a really flexible way.

SWBio DTP also had an emphasis on cohort activities and active interdisciplinary engagement between the biosciences and other technical fields such as data-science and machine learning. As soon as I saw this project, I thought this is what I’m going to apply for. I was smiling the whole day of the interview! The supervisors have created a really wonderful environment.

What support do you have as an international student?

The SWBio DTP and Bristol pay special attention to international student needs and their wellbeing. This was my experience during the MSc and continues to evolve with the responsibility of being the SWBio DTP International Student Representative.

To new international students, culture shock is a big thing and I have seen some of my cohort friends (during the MSc and now) go through a similar thing. Overall SWBio DTP does a lot of things to build a good support group for international students. So, if any aspiring international students are worrying about such things, they should know that its just an act of reaching out, support is there.

What are your future plans?

I will either do a Post Doc and stay in academia, or go into the private sector, but staying within agriculture. This might be developing robots that can farm or developing geo-information systems which look at land use.