Ma Has Earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering
Activities at UVA: IEEE Signal Processing Society student chapter at UVA
Q: Looking back to the time when you applied to UVA Engineering, why did you choose this school?
A: The first reason is the excellent faculty members of the UVA Engineering school. One senior member from my undergraduate lab, Yusheng Wei, had joined professor Zongli Lin’s group to pursue his Ph.D. From him, I learned about the inspirational faculty members and their superb research projects. Without much hesitation, I made up my mind to join the UVA Engineering School. As a public flagship research university, the strong positive reputation is the second reason for me to choose UVA. Besides, Charlottesville is a lovely place and it provides a conducive environment for academic research.
I chose electrical engineering because it gives me the opportunity to improve the devices and systems that we use every day. For my dissertation, I worked with both professor Zongli Lin and professor Scott T. Acton, focusing on developing robust and accurate tracking algorithms to search and analyze video databases.
After your time here, how are you different now – how have you grown as a person?
I have become a more resilient person and learned how to deal with my failures properly. Pursuing a Ph.D. is a long intellectual journey and challenges usually occur unexpectedly. On several occasions, I worked on some preliminary ideas for a month but only received trivial results. During these difficult times, I began losing faith in my research and questioned my capabilities as a Ph.D. candidate. With the enlightening guidance from my advisors and the generous emotional support afforded by my cohort, I eventually came through and became more resilient to handle future challenges.
What was your favorite or most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering, and why? Was there someone who helped you along your journey?
One of my favorite memories is being the co-instructor for the Digital Signal Processing course with professor Nikos Sidiropoulos. It is a challenging task to give lectures even though I think I know the concept well enough. The first lecture did not go very well and I was too nervous. I really appreciated professor Sidiropoulos as he told me that “as long as your derivates are positive, you will be good.” During the remainder of the semester, I learned how to explain a complicated concept with simple language and appropriate examples. My aim was to help high school students with some basic knowledge in the field grapple with the basics of my lecture. Such a practice helped me a lot with my presentation skills. When the course ended, I received positive feedback from my students and I am quite happy that my ratings are above the department average and the Engineering School average.
In addition to professor Sidiropoulos, I’d like to express my gratitude to my advisors professors Lin and Acton. Professor Lin guided me with patience and provided continuous support throughout my Ph.D. program. I learned so much from him not only as an excellent researcher, but also as an inspiring mentor. Professor Acton led me into the field of image processing. His insightful feedback always inspires me to sharpen my thinking and hone my research skills. Professor Acton has a strong sense of humor and always cheers me up whenever I am depressed.
Lastly, I would like to thank my fiancée, who has provided me with unconditional support and love that sustained me through the most desperate days amid the pandemic. Without her, there was no way I could have successfully obtained a Ph.D. from UVA.
What’s next for you?
I have accepted a position with Meta as a research scientist. I will start this August in Seattle, working on research in machine learning.
What positive impact do you hope to make in the future? Is there a big societal challenge you’d like to help solve?
I wish to apply my research to real-world applications. Particularly, I would like to help people communicate better. Many people feel depressed and are forcibly separated from their loved ones amid the pandemic. I sincerely hope my research will facilitate better communications for people around the world.
How has UVA Engineering prepared you for your future, for following your dreams or personal mission?
The graduate school training equips me with both the basics and the cutting-edge skillsets. Besides, I benefit a lot from working with different professors in the Engineering School. They usually see my research from a higher perspective and never hesitated to give suggestions to improve my research skills.
What advice would you give to engineering students who are just starting out?
Stay curious and keep exploring different areas. Then follow your passions to choose the one that interests you the most. Without passion, you cannot make it.