After travelling more than 11,000 kilometres from her home in India to Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in the summer of 2021, Master of Science in Data Science (MScDS) student Bhavithry Sen Puliparambil couldn’t imagine what the next year would bring, including receiving the Governor General’s Academic Medal (Gold).
Created in 1873 to encourage academic excellence across Canada, the medal is the most prestigious award students can receive. The gold medal is awarded to the student who achieves the highest academic standing at the graduate level.
“I never imagined this would happen,” says Sen Puliparambil, who was part of the first cohort of students to graduate from the MScDS program on June 9. “It’s an unexpected blessing.”
Arriving in a new city, surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape, can be daunting for anyone — especially when your new home is threatened by fires.
“When I came to Kamloops, there were wildfires everywhere,” says Sen Puliparambil, who arrived without the familiarity of her family by her side. “The only fires I had seen were campfires. Because of the smoke, I had to use my asthma inhaler to help me breathe. And of course, we were living through a pandemic.”
The master’s student was also facing a shorter timeline to complete her degree.
“We started the program remotely in January 2021, but we had some COVID-related issues, so we had to complete it in one year,” says Sen Puliparambil. “Because of the delayed start date, we didn’t get a summer break, so we, my seven classmates and I, finished it in one year instead of two, which is normally how long the program would take. We took the courses sequentially and not in a parallel format over the summer semester. So, one course at a time. Every week we had classes for that course, an exam, an assignment and a project due. So, there wasn’t a single day without a deadline.”
It takes a village
When reflecting on all the important work she’s done, Sen Puliparambil recognizes how pivotal her support system was to her success.
“Without the support from my husband (Jose Mathews Kanjooparambil), family and faculty, this wouldn’t have been possible. At TRU, I was fortunate to meet and work alongside two incredible supervisors, Dr. Jabed Tomal, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Dr. Yan Yan, from the Department of Computing Science, who shared their expertise and provided great support. They also nominated me for the Governor General’s Academic Medal.”
“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” says Tomal, whose student award recommendation letter recognized Sen Puliparambil’s outstanding academic achievements while praising her leadership, dedication and peer support.
“Bhavithry is probably one of the most talented students I’ve seen over the years,” says Dr. Yan Yan. “To complete six courses, plus her thesis, in a short period of time, is exceptional. She has contributed new knowledge to the field of data science and is truly a role model for all students.”
During her year at TRU, Sen Puliparambil also founded the Data Science Club, worked as a graduate research and teaching assistant, created the first open graduate thesis template for TRU on Overleaf, presented her research on single cell RNA sequencing at the Research in Computational Molecular Biology Conference in May 2022 and was invited to include her research in a special issue of the international, peer-reviewed, open access journal, Biology, next month. Over the next year, Sen Puliparambil will be working as a research associate with the Integrated Planning and Effectiveness division at TRU. She will receive her medal this fall.