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  • Student Spotlight: Dan Zhang

  • Posted in Articles : Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Give us your background as a person and a student and how you eventually came to work on your Ph.D\u2026.what sticks out in your mind as big influences or important events that got you to this point?

    I was born and raised in China, where I got my bachelor\u2019s and master\u2019s degrees. The main reason why I came to work on my Ph.D. is that I think it is necessary for me to get the highest degree when I am still young such that I will not be regretful after ten or twenty years. And I believe it will take me much more efforts to get this degree when I was over 40 or 50 than I do now. Also, I think my family has a big influence on getting me to the current point. My father is a professor in math. Because of this, I am also very interested in math related subjects. Doing research in Computer Science, especially machine learning, has a lot to do with math, and is tightly linked with people\u2019s lives. So, I became very fascinated in this area and made the determination in getting a Ph.D.\u2019s degree in this area.

    Describe the field you work in.

    I mainly work on Data Mining, Information Retrieval and Machine Learning. As the names suggest, data mining is mainly for digging knowledge out of the data, and information retrieval is more related to search engines, web intelligence, etc. Machine Learning can be considered as a general type of methods that can be applied to both data mining and information retrieval. I like these areas, because they are playing very important roles in our lives, and changing our life styles to a large extent. For example, I believe 20 years ago, nobody has ever considered to use Google to find the desired information. But now, it becomes extremely successful in facilitating our lives.

    Tell us about the recent fellowships you were awarded and a finalist for (IBM / Facebook - and talk about your past internship with IBM and what you foresee in your upcoming efforts working with topics that are of interest to IBM and others)

    Recently I was awarded the IBM Ph.D. fellowship as well as the Facebook fellowship finalist. I did my internship at IBM in 2010 summer. At that time, they were working on a project related to Twitter. Based on this project, I proposed method for Twitter categorization and filed a patent. They like my works over there. So, I think this is one of the reasons why they give me the fellowship this year. But I cannot foresee which topics they may be interested in now. It highly depends on what project that group gets.

    and then how does your research further the knowledge of those fields, and the potential applications for society, business, etc?

    I am very interested in applying machine learning methods to solve some real world problems, such as webpage clustering, market targeting, document retrieval. For example, in one of my recent works, I improved the hashing algorithm for document retrieval. Also, in IBM, I designed an algorithm to automatically find potential company partners. I believe these topics are very useful for society and business.

    Tell us about your experience as a graduate student \u2013 what have you enjoyed, what have you found challenging, and what advice would you give to undergraduates considering graduate school, especially those interested in going into science or engineering fields.

    Understanding the outside world is an eternal topic for human beings. I enjoyed the feeling that I am pushing this understanding forward, and contributing to make the computers and webs smarter. There are too many challenges in doing research, especially when you came across a novel application. You may totally have no idea what you can do in that direction. These challenges will knock you down, but may also arouse your interests. When coming across challenges, talk to your advisors, your collaborators, and try to find the answers in previous papers. This process could be tough. But giving up easily is never a good option.

    For undergraduates, I would suggest you to ask yourselves if you truly like doing research or not before deciding to go to a graduate school. If you like it, then, you can consider to pursue a Ph.D.\u2019s degree. If you are not sure about that, you can first go to a graduate school and work on some specific research areas for a couple of years to see if you become interested in that or not and decide whether you should continue your studies for the Ph.D.\u2019s degree. When choosing graduate schools and advisors, several factors, such as good discussion environments, supportive advisors, reputations of the program, are all very important for making the decision.