Subscribe Here

In the final year of my undergrad, I was totally engrossed in thesis and research

Created on: 2012-12-14

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed

PhD Student, Department of Information Science
Cornell University:CU

Sharing experiences on studying CSE...

At first I found it kind of hostile. There was not anyone guiding us toward any particular direction. The only obvious choice was to run after CGPA, which essentially I did. But I wish I could be introduced with many more interesting features of Computer Science right at the beginning.

I can mention the culture of programming contests. Although there is no structured discourse for this, a well-established tradition has always been there in BUET. But there is no definite way to reach the newcomers and tell them about these. This situation has been improving over the time and now most of the students can hear of these in their first semester.

Designing algorithm, solving problems and developing software are not the all we can have from CSE. We can also learn how to use our expertise in different other fields.

Activities you were engaged with in your undergraduate life...

I was engaged in Programming Contests till my third year of undergraduation. Then I became more interested in software development and freelancing. In the final year of my undergrad, I was totally engrossed in thesis and research.

Besides, I have always enjoyed reading books. I think that is one practice that teachers should encourage the students to have. I would also attend the sports and cultural programs.

While being a Masters student (and simultaneously as a faculty member), I started a research group called Human-Technology Interaction, which formally introduced HCI in BUET. We started the first official Open Source Digital map making campaign in Bangladesh (OpenStreetMap). It was a lot of fun to work for the autistic kids and illiterate people of the rural areas.

Participation in local/international competitions...

Quite a good number, I guess. There was a number of programming contests including the ICPC regionals. Then the conferences: ICCIT, WALCOM, OSM, etc. I delivered a number of invited talks after my graduation. I talked in National Young Researchers Meeting in 2009.

Preparations for higher studies...

First, you should not opt to go for higher studies because you want to leave your country and live in a developed country. You should not also go to higher studies (especially PhD) because you want to work in an industry where people with undergraduate degrees also work. Your sole motivation should be to contribute to the particular research area, where you want to work on.

You have to read. There is no other way you can learn. Your engineering skills will not be of much use if you are not a very good reader. You have to figure out the problems by reading the state of the art literatures. So, my suggestion would be to start building up the habit of reading if you already do not have one. When you start reading academic books and papers, it will tell you which are the topics you would like to work on. If you do not read, you have to depend on other people's choice (who actually read!).

Publish! Yes, you should try to have an intention to publish your research work from the day 1. At this point you might have no idea how this whole thing is being done. Don't worry. There are people who can help you. Use Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc. extensively to enhance your knowledge in your research area. Make sure, you are prepared to answer all the question that relates to your research. See in TED and YouTube how other researchers handle these. This will make you prepared for digging deeper.

Write. Start with writing blogs. Try to be formal and academic for now. That will help you in your future endeavor. Try to post your ideas in the relevant forums where other young researchers like you are also involved. Try to make your own international community in this way. Do not do anything ridiculous before this community. They are the people who are going to be your colleagues for the rest of your life if you stick to a research oriented career.

Follow! Yes, follow the top people in your research area. Try to keep a pace with the cutting edge research in your field. Try to know which are the schools doing excellent in that area and how. Which are the top journals and conferences in your field. Which are the papers that are being published in there. Follow those, read those, talk about those and write about those. These are the additional research practice that will take you deeper into the research. You will be engaged in intelligent discussion with other people by doing this. Keeping things inside you never helps.

And yes, bear some pain with GRE and TOEFL. If you are writing in international forums, you are already making progress in English. Just try to see the whole thing as a process of improving your communication skills, which is something necessary once you get into the academia.

Scholarship, your approach and your current school...

I got Fulbright Science and Technology Fellowship from USA Government. I heard about this from the senior people who got this before. I would encourage people to be in a close touch with the department of cultural affairs of the embassies of the countries they want to go to. They provide people with relevant information.

There were definite guidelines for the application for Fulbright. I just followed those. There were a number of phases in the selection process. Once you pass those, you are in!

My choice was completely research-based. I was more interested in engaging human sciences in my research. So, top engineering schools like MIT or GATech looked less attractive to me than the Ivy League ones. On the top, Cornell has one of the top CS programs in the world. More importantly, Cornell is all about building theories; let those be in math, CS or human sciences. This is just like the sort of things I love to do. So, I rejected quite a few offers from some of the very top schools of USA and picked Cornell.

However, the situation is not the same for other people. For example, many of them prefer to be in a big city and they might not like living in a place like Ithaca, which is incredibly beautiful but is not a big busy metro. There are weather concerns, too. Some people just do not like snows and love to bask themselves in the sun. There are family issues as well. If you have a spouse or children who love a big Bangladeshi social community, you might look for a place where there are many Bangladeshis. These are some of the issues that I have seen motivating many people while selecting the universities. Thanks Almighty, I did not get any of those issues and I just followed the way I best understand, research!

Your subject field for PhD...

I work in a cross disciplinary area. It is an intersection between Computer Science and Human Sciences. I basically look at the changes that technology brings to peoples life. Being critical to those, I try to make design implications for sustainable development.

Prospects and current trends of research areas...

HCI is a rapidly growing field and it is ever expanding. Especially people who wish to go to the academia should consider this. Because if you look at the recent history of the top universities around the world, they all are opening HCI Departments. So, there is a big demand of HCI people in academia.

In industry, people are now more concerned about the psychology of the users. Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are now recruiting HCI designers and engineers at a very high rate.

Besides, HCI is something that helps you complete the story. You can see the both sides of the coin, both the technical and the human sides. You can come close to people and understand them. Your research directly impacts millions of people around the world. This feeling is more satisfying for many than earning a lot of money.

Words of suggestion for this department...

We should have a Departmental library that should be open for all undergraduate students. There should also be readily available online libraries and the teachers should encourage the students to use those.

I would also emphasize on the practice of homework in our Department. At present, we do not have this culture much in work. The reason might be the smaller scope in marks distribution of the grade. I think these regulations should be lifted off and the faculty should be given more power to design each of the courses and grade accordingly.