Huai Has Earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science

Q: Looking back to the time when you applied to UVA Engineering, why did you choose this school?

A: UVA Engineering has a great reputation in the world and invests in great facilities and resources to support the community’s research and innovation. Students can benefit from working with different researchers and scientists who are making contributions to the advancement of fundamental research across broad areas. Besides, UVA Engineering provides plenty of opportunities for the students’ personal growth and career development.

After your time here, how are you different now – how have you grown as a person?

I have grown both personally and professionally during my time here. I have become more open-minded, and more confident speaking in public. I have grown from the experience of learning so many new things, and working through challenging situations.

What was your favorite or most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering, and why? Was there someone who helped you along your journey?

The most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering was when I attended the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Seminar at UVA. The UVA AIML seminar provides a communication platform for researchers who are working in artificial intelligence, machine learning and related fields. I have benefited a lot from attending this seminar, e.g., by gaining expert knowledge, networking with others, improving communication skills and renewing motivation.

I would like to thank my advisor, professor Aidong Zhang, for her continuous support and invaluable supervision along the way. She has guided me into the fascinating world of scientific research, and helped me at every stage during my Ph.D. studies. She taught me not only the way to do excellent research, but also how to write high-quality research papers, mentor students and find the good things in life. When I was in trouble, she was always there to provide help and support.

What’s next for you?

I will start my academic career in August as a tenure-track assistant professor in the computer science department at Iowa State University.

What positive impact do you hope to make in the future? Is there a big societal challenge you’d like to help solve?

I hope I can use my knowledge to solve practical problems and change people’s lives for the better. My current research mainly focuses on developing novel techniques to make machine learning more trustworthy. Machine learning has been applied widely to build intelligent systems, such as self-driving cars, intelligent recommendation systems and clinical decision support systems. However, in the real world, these systems suffer from a trust crisis due to the lack of transparency behind their behaviors. The concern about the “black box” nature of machine learning models makes decision-makers reluctant to trust the predicted results, especially when the models are used for making critical decisions. In the future, I hope I can address this challenge and help people benefit from machine learning-based intelligent systems.

How has UVA Engineering prepared you for your future, for following your dreams or personal mission?

After joining UVA Engineering, I have learned a lot of practical skills and knowledge that prepared me for my future career. For example, doing different research projects has made me more structured in expressing or documenting the problem and reporting the findings in a relevant way. Furthermore, I learned how to look at all sides of a problem.

What advice would you give to engineering students who are just starting out?

I think the first important thing is that you need to think about why you want to pursue a graduate degree. Think about what you want to do after graduation. No matter what you want to do after graduation, you need to decide on your goal as early as possible. Although your plans can change later, a clear goal will help you to maintain focus.

After deciding your goal, you need to make plans for your graduate study. Between taking courses, doing research projects and, for some students, working as a teaching assistant, you have a lot of things to do. Clear plans can prevent you from being discouraged. In addition, it is also important to improve your critical thinking skills and communication skills, including conversation, presentation and writing.

Class of 2022: Mengdi Huai

Mengdi Huai has earned a Ph.D. in computer science.