Student Focus: Shikha Singh

First Computer Science John Marburger III Fellowship Awardee

Shikha Singh loves Tina Fey. She also enjoys the work of Samantha Bee and Sarah Key.

But there is another love in Singh’s life, and that is computation.

Originally, Singh wanted to pursue a PhD in mathematics. But while attending an undergraduate course, she came across professor Steven Skiena’s book, the Algorithm Design Manual, making her want to take a deeper look at Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science.

Singh, a PhD candidate within the Department of Computer Science, came to Stony Brook in 2013 after completing her master’s degree at the Indian Institute of Technology.

Now, as she nears completion of her PhD, Singh was named the 2017 winner of the John Marburger III Fellowship for Science, Engineering and Mathematics! She is the first Department of Computer Science student to win this award since it started in 2013.

“I was extremely thrilled and honored to receive the award,” Singh said. “I am grateful to my advisors Michael Bender and Jing Chen for their continued support and encouragement, and for writing me wonderful letters of recommendation. I am also grateful to our graduate program director CR Ramakrishnan, who put in a lot of time and effort to put together the application materials for my nomination.”

Singh’s dissertation is entitled, The Mechanism Design Approach to Interactive Proofs. It focuses on efficient verification of computation that is outsourced to external service providers. This is important because most computation today is not done locally but is outsourced, usually in exchange for money.

While the traditional approach of interactive proofs to verify outsourced computation assumes that the external servers can be arbitrarily malicious, Singh's work on profit-driven service providers. In her work, she designs payment-based mechanisms that incentivize service providers to perform the computation correctly and are simple and efficient.

She also works in the area of external algorithms and data structures that are tailored to minimize block transfers from remote storage to RAM, when computing on data that is too big to be stored locally.

This all came about as she recognized that a majority of computation on big data is either outsourced to external service providers or is performed locally, while the data itself is stored on external devices. Because of this, computers experience difficulty in locally storing or computing massive data.

Prof. Michael Bender and Shikha confer about her doctoral defense.

Away from the classroom, Singh is the president of Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE). The group’s mission is to promote diversity and inclusion in science, and that is something very close to her heart.

“During my tenure as president of GWISE, I, in collaboration with (undergraduate) WISE, and the Center of Inclusive Education, launched a mentorship program,” Singh said. “The program connects undergraduate women at Stony Brook with graduate women mentors in their discipline who share with them their unique perspective.”

With 50 students signed up for the mentorship program, she hopes that number will double during the spring semester. Even while creating this opportunity for undergraduate students to work with their elder peers, Singh’s work with GWISE doesn’t end there.

Shikha works with her advisor Prof. Jing Chen on an upcoming conference presentation.

“As president of GWISE, I have organized workshops on salary negotiation, career advancement and talks by distinguished women in science on how to advance and retain women in STEM,” she said. “Next semester, we are collaborating with WISE and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science to run a leadership workshop series for all graduate women in STEM at Stony Brook.

“I am a strong believer that true diversity and inclusion requires allies from the majority white and male community. Under my leadership, we at GWISE, which is open to all genders and departments, shifted our focus to actively engaging men in our conversations about gender inequality in STEM.”

The John Marburger III Fellowship is an endowment made in the memory of the late former Stony Brook University president, who also served as the director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory and was the science advisor to President George W. Bush. This fellowship focuses on providing “funding support for women undertaking advanced graduate study in the physical sciences, engineering, or mathematics.”

Singh is co-advised by professors Michael Bender and Jing Chen. Her husband, Samuel McCauley, also studied at Stony Brook, earning his PhD in computer science in 2016.


  • Joseph Wolkin
  • Photos: Haireti Hairoula