[Feature photo: Jiali Du graduated from SMU PhD in Information Systems Programme in 2017.]
By the SMU Postgraduate Research Programmes Team
From self-driving cars to smart homes, the world is now in our pocket. There is no denying or escaping the fact that technology has made a great impact to our lives and the society-at-large. For this, we have Computer Science to thank, as it has played a large part in the design, development and management of the software algorithms and hardware devices that have vastly altered and improved our daily routines.
According to Jiali Du, an SMU PhD in Information Systems graduate, Mathematics is fundamental in Computer Science as it helps to bridge the theoretical understanding of the principles to its application. “With strong mathematical foundation, one could improve the efficiency of the algorithm to streamline the software which could then simplify processes for users.”
Apart from Mathematics, Jiali also feels that programming knowledge is essential for those who are thinking of crafting a niche in Computer Science. “Computer Science has such an extensive reach and it can be applied to many facets of society that could innovate and improve the way we live,” Jiali added. As the human race continues to make boundless strides toward a technologically-centred future, Computer Science has positioned itself as an invaluable driving force behind the development of economies and societies in this digital age.
On the topic of innovation, Jiali is an example of one who does not take knowledge for granted. In fact, she was driven to pursue a PhD because of her fear of idleness. She could not tolerate the thought of not learning and thus, set out pursuing a PhD, which she felt, was the ideal way to satisfy her need for progression and knowledge advancement. “Pursuing a PhD gave me the necessary skills to understand and study the subjects of my interest at a deeper level. It also opened doors for me to be acquainted with newer, cutting-edge techniques and technologies,” she added, elated that SMU had provided her with a conducive environment and ample resources so that she was able to be fully immersed in her studies and research.
However, doing a PhD comes with its own set of challenges. Unlike an undergraduate curriculum where students have textbooks to refer to, research work involves creating new point of views and challenging the existing parameters. It requires a lot of brainstorming, discussion with peers, data research and referencing varying point of views of researchers through research papers. As such, Jiali found herself presented with multiple opinions and ideas, some of which contradict her own. “The influx of different opinions and ideas can be confusing and I started doubting myself,” she shared. This was a struggle that Jiali found hard to overcome.
With the support of her supervisors, professors and peers, she persevered and learnt how to objectively evaluate different opinions and eventually, defend her ideas. “Apart from honing my research skills, I also participated in trainings that SMU conducts, such as the Scientific Writing and Presentation workshops, which I found extremely beneficial and is still applicable in my job today.” She added that these trainings not only helped to improve her soft skills but it had also boosted her confidence and added value to her research work.
Jiali advocates that self-assurance, hard work and the drive to look beyond the ordinary is extremely important in research. “To push boundaries, you need to be open to receiving new ideas and different opinions, but, ultimately, you have to trust your judgment and put in the work to justify your ideas and decisions.”
Jiali is currently working in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), applying AI approaches to solve business problems as a Data Scientist at Booking.com (Amsterdam).