Rohith and Roshan Venkatakrishnan were born five minutes apart, and they have been nearly inseparable ever since.
The 29-year-old identical twins will mark a major milestone on August 10 when they march together into the doctoral hooding ceremony at Clemson University’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. The event will cap a remarkable journey that transformed two athletes who had dreams of playing professional soccer into doctors of human-centered computing.
“It’s a proud moment because we never saw ourselves as academics in the beginning,” Rohith said. “We were mostly athletes, but after our ACL injuries we decided to nerd up.”
That’s right. These twins are so much alike, they even tore their ACLs in soccer matches just one week apart when they were undergraduates at Anna University in Chennai, India. But the sporting world’s loss was Clemson’s gain, and the twins now have aspirations to improve the user experience in the fast-growing field of virtual-, augmented- and mixed-reality.
The twins said their graduation sends the message that if they can earn doctorates, anyone can. They said their main occupation before graduate school was goofing around and having fun, but it’s hard to tell from their stellar academic records, which are nearly identical.
Rohith and Roshan arrived at Clemson in 2016 to pursue their Master of Science degrees in computer science under Associate Professor Mark K. Smotherman. Both received their diplomas in May 2018 with 4.0 grade-point averages.
The twins decided to stay in Clemson for their doctorates and studied under Associate Professor Sabarish Babu. Both are graduating with 3.94 grade point averages. Each has authored or co-authored nine journal publications and eight conference papers, all at top venues for virtual- and augmented-reality, and they frequently appear as co-authors on the same papers.
Babu said Rohith and Roshan feed off each other’s energy, inspiring and motivating each other, and would make a great joint-hire on a university faculty.
“I’ve had some great students, and the twins are among the best,” Babu said. “They are excellent researchers and problem-solvers. They are self-motivated and have been leaders in my group. I’m so blessed because they want my group as a whole to do well. The twins would be an asset to any employer that hires them.”
Challenging themselves. Challenging each other
Rohith and Roshan said that after having spent the better part of three decades together, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, fully trust each other and aren’t afraid to challenge each other’s ideas.
“To put it succinctly, he’s my ‘reviewer 2,'” Rohith said with his brother at his side. “In academia, that is the hardest reviewer. So whenever I’m pushing out a publication or whenever we’re doing some work, it’s almost like I have this devil’s advocate who’s like, ‘Wait, is what you’re doing actually right? How would another person see this?'”
Roshan said he likes having someone to challenge his views because it helps him think differently.
“I’m extremely glad that Rohith is just as curious as I am, questioning my thoughts on many occasions,” Roshan said. “This allows me to solidify, adapt, or completely change my positions and opinions on things as a result. What’s great for us is that we know that these questions and criticisms of each other’s ideas come from a place of genuine curiosity rather than anything else.”
Rohith and Roshan did separate dissertations, but they have worked so closely together, they feel they have mastery in each area. Rohith focused on developing guidelines to reduce motion sickness in virtual reality, and Roshan’s dissertation helps designers and developers to improve interactions by accurately representing users’ hands in virtual-, augmented- and mixed-reality.
The twins share the spotlight, too. They won best paper awards at the ACM Symposium on Applied Perception in 2020 and 2022. Roshan was first author and Rohith was co-author on another study that won a highly competitive best paper award at the IEEE VR conference in 2023.
Next step: research careers
With graduation nearing, the Venkatakrishnans were applying for post-doctoral fellowships and aiming for careers in research. They said they could take their next steps together, or part ways if it makes more sense.
Don’t think for a second that graduate school has sapped their playful spirit. They have a golden sense of humor they put on display when they tell how they arrived at Clemson.
The twins said they selected the University in part because they heard it was a big football school. They remember going to their first game in 2016 at Memorial Stadium and the field looking different than they expected.
Then the players did the unthinkable: They threw the ball with their hands.
It was an unexpected lesson in American football for two former soccer standouts, but they are quick studies and have become huge Tigers fans.
Is it any coincidence, they ask, that the team won an NCAA National Championship in 2016, the year they started their master’s program? Or that the Tigers won another championship the year they began pursuing doctorates?
The twins think not.
Now that they are about to embark on another journey, will the pattern hold?
We’ll let you know in January.
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