I am a PhD graduate student in computer science at the University of Kentucky. My current role is a research assistant in the lab of my doctoral advisor, Dr. Hana Khamfroush. I essentially work on research under the direction of my doctoral advisor. That work consists of a large variety of tasks: writing papers, running experiments, designing new models/algorithms, implementing models and algorithms using code, data analysis, drafting grant proposals, etc.
Additionally, this summer I had the opportunity to lightly work alongside two undergraduate assistants who worked in our lab on two projects pertaining to research projects we have in the pipeline. I served in a leadership position ensuring they understood how to complete certain tasks, install the necessary software in compliance with our IT department, etc. Previously, I have served as a teaching assistant for two years. That role largely consisted of grading, holding office hours, meeting with students, teaching, and sometimes even designing the large projects students would have to work on.
Going Back to School
Through NKU, I was granted many opportunities to partake in undergraduate research and teaching. Starting my freshman year, I began working with Dr. Maureen Doyle, Dr. Kristi Haik, and Dr. Madhura Kulkarni on a transdisciplinary study of undergraduate retention. I stumbled upon the opportunity in a very organic way, with no idea of what to expect, but I loved the experience. Further, I got to present findings of our research in a poster presentation at the 2014 AAC&U conference in Atlanta, GA. That was life-changing.
Being able to speak with academics about something you committed so much time and energy to and be the expert on the material was gratifying and fulfilling. However, I think the thing that really made it click for me was falling in love with teaching. I served for three years as an academic tutor at Learning PLUS at NKU. Additionally, I was able to serve as a TA for several courses and a peer mentor for the Honors Program in 2015. All of those experiences really made it clear to me that my passion was in teaching.
I really enjoy the impact you can have on a student's life. And, even simpler than that, just that moment of when a concept finally makes sense to a student and you see that lightbulb go off is euphoric. With a love for both research and teaching, the obvious route was to pursue a PhD. Going into my undergraduate education, this was never the path I had imagined for myself. I'm relieved to say that I know I made the right choice and I have NKU to thank for that.
Why a Doctorate in Computer Science?
I am studying computer science. However, that's not super helpful because it's an increasingly overwhelming field in terms of size. More specifically, I study online social networks and interdependent systems — with emphasis on how machine learning can be applied to study problems in these domains. In the area of online social networks, I am heavily motivated in understanding how information spreads on these platforms.
I'm interested in studying how to maximize or minimize the spread of certain information in an algorithmic fashion. As for interdependent systems, I find the relationships between two (or more) seemingly unrelated systems (such as power grid networks and water filtration systems) interact with one another through ways of interdependency.
I spend a lot of time following what is being done in the realm of machine learning so that those findings can be incorporated to solve problems these domains. More broadly, I am largely attracted to anything that deals with graph theory in some way; it's one of my favorite areas of computer science.
I try to give back to NKU and the Northern Kentucky area as best as I can given the limited time that I have as a PhD student. While at NKU, I began to be a volunteer for the Kenton Informatics Academy program. Each fall and spring, I would serve as an advisor that gave feedback to students working on an informatics/computer science project for the first time. I have maintained my participation in that role. I have kept in contact with faculty members on-campus to help out in whatever way I can. Of course, I can always do more to give back and I look forward to doing so in the future.
Favorite NKU Memory
Honestly, it is very difficult for me to narrow it down to one single memory. I had the pleasure of having countless fond memories at NKU that I will carry with me forever. However, there is one moment that does stand out to me. My freshman year, I was honored to be selected to participate in the "Outstanding Freshman Projects" seminar series (forgive me if I have gotten the title wrong) for the year of 2014. Me and roughly ten other freshman Honors students would present their final projects from the Fall 2013 semester. My project was entitled, "The Link Between Resilience and Optimism" and it was a small study that correlated survey responses to index scores that measure resilience based on a well-studied test used by social scientists.
Overall, in reflection, I think the project was cool and had interesting results. But, my parents were both able to make it to the showcase to see me present. Not to brag too much about myself, but I did a pretty solid job presenting my project. My parents were floored with my presentation and were stunned to see me do so well in an academic setting. This meant the world to me simply because it was not until high school where I began to really do well academically, but my parents never got the opportunity to see me do well in school. They saw my grades, of course, but they never got the chance to see me do "my thing" and that was just a great opportunity for me. It is something that sticks with me forever now because my parents always remind me of what I am capable of when I'm feeling discouraged. All of that is because NKU provided accessible opportunities for them to see me in action.
This is going to sound incredibly generic, but enjoy your time in college. My time in graduate school has been thrilling. I now have two papers published, with more already prepared to be submitted for publication, and I'm getting closer to my dream profession of being a future faculty member. However, I will forever miss my time at NKU. I will miss all of my friends living right next to me (which is why I often refer to my college life as feeling "like a sitcom"). I will miss the faculty members that really took the time to get to know me; I still maintain strong relationships with several of them. I miss the freedom that came along with being a college student, in an environment where you can learn new things daily and engage with people of different backgrounds easily.
It is very difficult to replicate the college experience once you're graduated. So, please, take advantage of the opportunities NKU offers you. Go to the after-school dodgeball events, the student theatre productions, and anything else you think you might enjoy. There are a whole litany of pieces of advice I can provide. But, I think that undergraduate students (or at least some that I knew) get so caught up in a fantasy for life after college that they miss what's in front of them. Life after college can be great, but it's hard and probably not as romantic as it is in your head. So, just enjoy college and take advantage of this time because it's very possible you'll never be an environment quite like it again.