Part 1 - Summer Experiences Helped Me Decide

By Mandy Korpusik '13


Mandy1.jpg

In front of the Empire State Building while "on
top of the Rock."


Why I Decided to
Apply for a PhD

The number one reason I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in
Computer Science was because I enjoyed all three of my undergraduate research experiences
and want to continue doing research in grad school. I feel incredibly lucky to
have been given these opportunities and believe the recommendation letters I
received from my research advisors were the most important factor in my acceptance
into grad school.

 

The
first step I took toward preparing myself for grad school was deciding to try
research for the first time. The summer after my freshman year, I decided to
relax at home.   So I figured I'd better find an internship for
the next summer. I attended the Olin career fair, submitted applications, and
interviewed with NI, Intuit, Microsoft, and Formspring. I also applied for a
few REUs and research with Professor Oscar Mur-Miranda at Olin. Although I was
given offers at both Intuit and Formspring, my advisor Professor Helen
Donis-Keller
(and
Olin's PGP office) advised me to participate in
an REU because
of my interest in grad school.

 

REUs and
Learning to Code

Thus,
I spent the summer doing research on security for cloud storage at the
University of Connecticut. I did so much that summer! I enjoyed my research, learned
to program in C++, made great friends (both with other undergrads and UConn
grad students whom I exercised with daily), learned about the PhD application
process for the first time, attended a hardware security and trust conference
in San Diego, and went on a field trip to Akamai and RSA. I had the opportunity
to meet individually and correspond with my advisor Professor John Chandy on a regular
basis. Since then, he has written me REU and grad school recommendation
letters, and provided feedback on my statement of purpose without my even
asking! Not only do REUs provide research experience, but they also are
difficult to get accepted into and include giving a formal presentation on your
research at the end, all of which are favorable to grad schools.

After my UConn experience, I knew I wanted to go to
grad school, but I still didn't have enough research experience to know what
area interested me most.

Although
I am majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering, I began to realize that I
enjoyed computer science much more than electrical engineering. While
satisfying my ECE degree requirements, I also took as many computer science
courses as possible, including Software Design, Computational Probability and
Statistics, Software Engineering in Java, Computational Modeling, Foundations
of Computer Science, Software Systems, Computer Graphics, Artificial
Intelligence, and Javascript (plus my SCOPE team is developing an app for iOS).
In order to get more research experience in computer science, I asked Professor
Mark Chang if I could join his research project
(in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab) on
crowdsourcing for disaster response during my second semester junior year. There, I worked on using machine learning to classify tweets as calls to action during
emergencies, and I enjoyed this project even more than my security research at
UConn.

 

Finding My Passion! Natural
Language Processing/NYC

My final undergrad research experience was a
distributed REU at Columbia University the summer before my
senior year.  There, I finally discovered the
research area I am passionate about. I worked with Professor Julia Hirschberg
and her grad student Bob Coyne on his WordsEye project, which generates 3D
scenes from text. Once again, I worked with Twitter, but this time I was doing
natural language processing to transform the ungrammatical tweets into grammatically
correct sentences that could be put into WordsEye to generate scenes. After
working in Julia's lab and seeing all the cool projects her students were
working on, I realized I was interested in natural language processing. I have
always enjoyed reading, writing, and learning different languages. In addition,
I had fun learning about parsing and grammars in Foundations of Computer
Science, so using natural language processing for tasks such as extracting the
structure and meaning of text seemed like the perfect area of computer science
for me.

I
had tons of fun living in New York for the summer, and my advisor was so sweet
and supportive. I got to see her again at the Grace Hopper Conference, and she
continues to advise me. I would have loved to continue working with her in grad
school, but she recently became head of Columbia's computer science department,
so she's busier now and does not have enough funding to take on more students.
This is the website I created as part of the DREU:
https://parasol.tamu.edu/dreu2012/Korpusik/.
Through the DREU program, I even had the opportunity to present my summer
research at the 2012 Grace Hopper Conference in Baltimore.


Mandy_Conference.jpg

At the Grace Hopper
Conference with a friend from the DREU.


In addition to enjoying
all of my undergrad research experiences, another reason I decided to pursue a
PhD is because I enjoy teaching and may want to become a professor someday. The
same semester I was doing research with Professor Mark Chang, I worked as a teaching
assistant for the Software Design course at Olin. I enjoyed answering students'
questions during my weekly office hours, and explaining topics such as
recursion as clearly as possible. Finally, all of my research advisors, and
many of my Olin professors, have been a huge inspiration for me.
 

Posted in: Graduate School, Research