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From university to industry and back again

Avi Vatsa points to a photo on a computer screen.

Avi Vatsa, a doctoral student in computer science, points out the lesion on a high resolution image of a close-up section of maize plant leaf. These images are used to develop the computational model that Vatsa’s research team hopes will make maize genotyping easier and quicker.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Avimanyou “Avi” Kumar Vatsa took a job in the private sector but eventually returned to university to pursue his master’s degree and become an assistant professor. He then returned to student life in the University of Missouri College of Engineering’s Computer Science Department where he joined a research team and began to work on his doctorate.

Vatsa completed his two degrees at universities in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, his home country. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2001 from Veer Bahadur Singh Purvanchal University in Jaunpur, India, and his master’s degree in computer engineering in 2009 from Shobhit University, which is located in Meerut.

After graduation, Vatsa joined industry for a year before returning to school at Shobhit University to complete his first graduate degree and, later, become an assistant professor. He also assumed the role of mentor and adviser for incoming graduate students.

But research called to him and in 2012 after eight years of teaching either as a graduate assistant or a faculty member, he answered.

“I came into contact with Yi Shang [a professor of computer science] and contacted him about joining his research group,” Vatsa said. “He and Jodie [Lenser, CS Department graduate adviser] convinced me to apply for the Ph.D. program.”

Excited by the chance for interdisciplinary research, Vatsa joined Associate Professor Toni Kazic’s research group on maize phenotypes. His goal is to develop an algorithmic model that would analyze phenotypic data of lesions found on maize plant leaves and simplify the computation of turning phenotypic data into genotypic data. He processes images taken of each leaf, which is organized into quantitative data that is used in the algorithim to understand the different possible genotypic characteristics.

Working with Kazic at times feels very similar to how he felt working with his advisees as a faculty member in India.

“I supervised about 35 students as an assistant professor, but working alongside them, I never thought of myself as their teacher,” he said. “Here, I have a great supervisor, and it feels much the same. I’m working with the teacher, but I’m also working with other students.”

Kazic commended Vatsa’s work ethic.

“I really enjoy working with Avi,” Kazic said. “His mind is syncretic, and he synthesizes ideas from many disciplines for himself. This is a real strength in our interdisciplinary research. He works very hard, and no matter what challenge I throw him, he’s always patient, optimistic and gets the job done.”

Active in student organizations as an undergraduate, becoming a doctoral student at Mizzou allowed Vast another chance to take up student activities. He currently serves as president of the Computer Science Graduate Student Council.after serving as vice president of CSGSC in 2012. He said he has worked to make it a more active organization, adding more industry speakers each semester and inviting undergraduates and those in other disciplines to attend

“In India, I wasn’t just a professor,” he said. “I did research, advised students, and served as my department’s coordinator. I applied to be a CSGSC officer because I was already used to wearing many hats.”

On track to complete his doctorate in the fall 2015 semester, Vatsa said he plans to rejoin industry. But he hasn’t ruled out returning to university as a teacher.