Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Ranai Srivastav

January 23, 2024

Meet Ranai Srivastav, a senior computer science student.

“I really enjoyed coding since it is a very different kind of thinking and problem-solving from anything I had seen until then.”

Why did you choose to attend Iowa State University?

I applied to a lot of universities right after high school. ISU had the best possible mix of proximity to home, accessibility to high-quality research in the fields I was interested in, and access to scholarships for international students.

What is your favorite thing about Iowa State?

I love ISU's campus! It's very walking-friendly and especially at this time of the year, walking anywhere on Campus is an absolute pleasure. I spend a lot of time in the library as well during the day and with all the resources there, it is one of the best places on campus to study.

How did you become interested in computer science?

I was a big part of robotics in High School through FIRST. During that, I learned a lot about the basics of robots and it really interested me. So that was something I really wanted to do. In general, I really enjoyed coding since it is a very different kind of thinking and problem-solving from anything I had seen until then. For example, we rarely think about sorting numbers but in CS, it's one of the most fundamental problems and there are scores of ways of accomplishing the same task.

You are currently working on research. Can you tell us about your area of focus?

Currently, I am developing the full autonomy stack on a robot to verify the theoretical findings in a paper. Typically, Autonomous Systems have modules that help the robot perceive its surroundings through sensors (perception), make decisions based on these observations (planning) and execute these decisions (control). However, since autonomous systems are safety-critical, it is crucial to ensure they abide by certain rules (eg: don't collide with pedestrians). This is hard to accomplish because of the uncertainty that comes with using machine learning models. Along with a PhD student, I am helping quantify the uncertainty in the behavior of an autonomous system. For example, a misclassification between a tree and a pole is not worrisome; however, mistaking the back of a blue truck for the sky can be very harmful.

Are you involved with any student groups?

I am a part of the Photography Club, and the Indian Student Association on Campus. I am the president of the Autonomous Robotics Club as well. 

What do you like to do for fun?

I love playing soccer, playing the guitar, and going to the Gym. My friends and I have also gone on a few trekking and hiking trips, some through ISU outdoor rec services!

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Computer Science is a vast field. It can be used in conjunction with almost any other major on campus. Do not be afraid to reach out and email professors visit presentations and explore your options.