Nihar Garg

Mechanical Engineering, MS’22

Columbia engineer Nihar Garg MS’22 is an engineer’s engineer, solving problems in mechatronics and for his fellow students. Not only is he following through on his pursuit to expand his knowledge of robotics, but he’s also been working to ensure his contemporaries are ready to apply for competitive internship and job placements.

Garg works as the career development and alumni relations lead for the Columbia Robotics Club, a position he created himself. Over the past year or so, he’s established several classes and workshops to help his peers craft effective resumes, communicate personal brands through LinkedIn profiles, and prepare to ace their first-round interviews.

“Each of us has a responsibility toward society and our communities,” Garg said. “Just knowing that I impacted even one student’s career by helping them land a job or internship is rewarding for me. I hope to continue hosting such workshops and seeing my mentees grow and thrive in the long run.” 

After graduating from Purdue University with his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 2016, Garg worked first as a systems analyst in fintech, then as a project engineer. Wanting to learn more about the field of robotics and leverage his background in providing hardware and software solutions, he enrolled in Columbia Engineering for his master’s degree. In fall 2020, he decided to defer his classroom enrollment to the spring semester due to the COVID pandemic. While waiting to join his classmates in-person, he joined the Robotics Club as a way to get involved with campus life and make some new friends. Seeing a need for student growth opportunities, he approached the club at the end of the semester about creating the new career development position for the following academic year.

Now, Garg is excited by the idea of designing for humanity, making further innovations that transform lives for the better, such as with his work at the Robotics and Rehabilitation Lab (RoAR) headed by Professor Sunil Agrawal. We reached out to Garg to ask his thoughts on the engineering field, some common mistakes students make with applying to jobs, as well as how he interprets social responsibility in designing technology.

What’s the most fascinating aspect of the engineering field to you?

When I was younger, I was always trying to figure out how things work and why they were designed in the way they were. When I was originally deciding where to go to college and what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to go with mechanical engineering, where you can pretty much work in any field that you want to.

I went to Purdue for my bachelor’s, and after that I worked for about five years. But during all this, I also gained a real sense of wanting to do something important for other people. I pledged to incorporate social responsibility into everything I do and felt I could make my biggest impact through science and technology. This then led me to pursue my master’s degree in a technical field such as robotics because of how broad the field is and how the same technology can be applied to so many different applications.

I’m a strong believer in paying it forward, and just doing good. I feel like when I was an undergrad, a lot of people helped me, both professors and other university people. This idea of innovating to transform the lives of others is really intrinsic to what I believe engineering is all about. 

What kind of advice do you offer young engineers looking to get noticed?

I used to recruit interns and new graduates at my old jobs, and so I try to offer young engineers  feedback from the perspective of a recruiter. Students may think they need to talk heavily about their technical skills to impress the person on the other side of the table, but in reality, a recruiter who is most likely non-technical would not understand any of it. They would want to see how well the student can work in diverse teams, take ownership of problems, their problem-solving process, and stuff like that.

Another big aspect of the advice I usually give is the importance of building a professional network and how to do it constructively. While one student is creating a LinkedIn profile to apply for any job they come across, another is using it to establish a network and build  relationships with employers directly. I teach how a lot of it comes down to reaching out to industry professionals or anybody in the field and actively listening to people’s journeys, asking for career advice, and constructively taking feedback. 

I think companies value people who can do more than just one thing. I’ve always encouraged students who are, for example, studying computer science to learn about the mechanical and electronics side of engineering in addition to their regular work, and vice versa. I also push students who join the Robotics Club to join a team different from what they are good at already because they may never have another opportunity to learn new skills by actually doing it and making mistakes. There will be a lot more resources available to you in a club versus at an internship or a job, and it will help you much more in the long run.

How has your RoAR Lab work informed how you see engineering?

After contributing to some really cool, cutting-edge projects in some other labs, I wanted to work on a project  that was more impactful from a human perspective. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a sit-to-stand assistive device in the Robotics and Rehabilitation Lab with Professor Sunil Agrawal. He quickly made me feel very included in his lab, and I was able to come up with my own mini project that was a unique and innovative robotic fall prevention and rehabilitation device that I conceptualized.  

The project, which was a kind of exoskeleton that would actually attach to the human leg, was able to catch mobility-challenged users as they lose balance and provide forces to boost their effort to stand.  

I was very passionate about the success of this project because it allowed me to directly interact with data from elderly patients who were working with other PhD students. Professor Agrawal has been a great mentor, and the students in our lab also find him very welcoming and very respectful. 

Student Spotlight

When I was younger, I was always trying to figure out how things work and why they were designed in the way they were. I decided to go with mechanical engineering, where you can pretty much work in any field that you want to.

Nihar Garg
Mechanical Engineering, MS’22