Master's Degree Studies at TSI – A Successful Start into Scientific Life!
Aleksejs Tarasovs, Leonids Aleksandrovs and Tatjana Endrjukaite are among the graduates who Transport and Telecommunication Institute (TSI) may rightfully be proud of. Behind the young scientists there are master's degree studies at TSI. Today they are PhDs, successful researchers and skilled specialists.
In our interview, they told us about their professional pathway, master's degree studies at TSI and many other things.
- We all know that a good start is important for a successful professional and scientific activity. Why back in the day did you choose the master's degree studies at Transport and Telecommunication Institute?
In the second year of studies at TSI under the Bachelor's programme on Computer Sciences, I got interested in artificial intellect and machine learning. As a result, my Bachelor's thesis was dedicated to the diagnostics of aircraft engines with the help of intellectual systems. I wanted to continue working on this theme further on and this could be a problem in any other higher education institution. Furthermore, I wanted to keep learning in the familiar environment and within the dear walls.
- For me, studying in the native language was one of the deciding factors. Moreover, because of the need to work, I had to choose studying the Bachelor's programme by correspondence and at that moment TSI had the best offer.
It had turned out that with the specific number of credits it was possible to enrol for the TSI master's degree studies in the Management Science with a Bachelor's diploma in Computer Sciences of TSI and this way obtain two higher education degrees.
- I was always interested in programming; even at school programming was my profession-oriented subject. At TSI, I found an ideal programme on Computer Sciences for me. The recommendations of my sister who had also graduated from TSI did the trick too.
- Were the master's degree studies difficult for you?
- During the master's degree studies in the field of Computer Sciences I was working as an editor of the newspaper Digital Times existing then and was simultaneously a part-time teacher at TSI. There were frequently times when after a 10-hour working day in the editors office I had to go to the Institute to read a lecture to night-school students sometimes at the expense of the lecture which I had to attend myself as a master's degree student. Therefore, I had to study the learning material independently. And I succeeded in that.
- My situation was non-standard. Having a Bachelor's degree in Computer Sciences of TSI, I had enrolled for the master's degree studies in the field of Management Science, and for me said studies were not difficult at all in many respects due the fact that I was lucky to have the group of colleagues which I had back then. We had met on a regular basis and solved the tasks, shared our knowledge. It was the case when we all helped each other.
- For me, studies were complicated and I had to sweat over some subjects.
- All of you chose to further study for a doctor's degree. Who of the teachers had the greatest influence on your further professional fate?
- I suppose that most of all my professional fate was influenced by the supervisors of my doctoral thesis, i.e. Dr. Sarah Jane Delany and Dr. Brian Mac Namee from the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am still surprised that they were not afraid to invite to work someone who they had never seen from a country which they had never been to on the basis of the results of a non-formal conversation on Skype which lasted only half an hour.
I would also like to mention the teachers of TSI who helped me make a decision to connect my life with machine learning and artificial intellect. First of all, those were the supervisors of my B.Sc. and M.Sc. theses Prof. Jevgenijs Kopitovs and Prof. Vladimirs Labendiks. They helped me write my first articles and participate in my first conferences. I am very grateful to them for the possibility to engage in science already in my second year of the bachelor's degree studies; usually such experience may be acquired only in one's master's degree or even PhD studies. I would like to particularly mention Prof. Arkadijs Borisovs and Prof. Irina Jackiva. They were the supervisors of the courses "machine learning" and "statistical analysis", i.e. the things I deal with on a day-to-day basis.
And, probably, as nearly any graduate of the Computer Sciences programme at TSI, I will say that my programming skills were greatly impacted by Anatolijs Resins, a remarkable teacher and programmer.
- My professional fate was determined by several people: Prof. Irina Jackiva who helped me acquire a serious teaching practice; Aleksejs Tarasovs who taught a course on IT in business during our master's degree studies in Management. Now Aleksejs is my friend. That was he who helped me find a grant for research and gave me many valuable pieces of advice.
And, of course, the supervisors of my PhD, i.e. Prof. Peter Goos from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Prof. Nathalie Dens and Prof. Patrick De Pelsmacker from the Universiteit Antwerpen who often had to help me in my work.
- For me, such a person was Sharif Guseynov, Professor of Mathematics and my teacher from the 2nd year of the bachelor's degree studies. He advised me to enrol for PhD and rendered the invaluable support during the process of document submission.
- How do you now evaluate the education acquired at TSI from the point of view of your professional experience?
- When I was studying at TSI, in the educational programme there were several subjects which were directly or indirectly related to Mathematics. And now, looking back, I understand that they had built a solid foundation which in my research career allowed me to rather rapidly learn various contemporary statistical methods and models. It seems to me that in terms of such fundamental disciplines TSI may quite successfully compete with the leading higher education institutions in Europe.
- You are the graduates who maintain relationships with TSI. We know that at the beginning of June Tatjana arrived with the teachers and students of her university to conduct environmental studies in Latvia. Tatjana, can you please briefly tell us about this and a little about your plans for the future?
- Yes, that's true. I proposed to Yasushi Kiyoki, Professor and Dean of KEIO University, to go to Riga to conduct a seminar and get acquainted with the scientific researches of TSI. We had been discussing this possibility for a long time. And since environmental studies are the priority of KEIO University, I proposed to organise joint experiments in Latvia, too.
Management of my native institute TSI, the Faculty of Computer Sciences had kindly agreed to accept students and professors from Japan and conduct a joint TSI-KEIO Joint Workshop.
It was the possibility for the students of both universities to share their researches. It was remarkable that at that event future programmers and electronic engineers (TSI students), future biologists, managers and environmental specialists got together. The Japanese colleagues liked this interdisciplinary seminar very much!
In future I plan to bring the Japanese-European conference Information Modelling and Knowledge Bases to Riga. Our joint workshop was the first step towards conducting the conference at TSI. I hope that we will succeed in that.
- Leonids, Aleksejs, what projects are you involved into?
- At present I am working on IBM Watson, the system which in 2011 won the America's Quiz Show Jeopardy! playing against two champions of this game. Since then the project has become commercial and consists of many small solutions which can ‘read’ and ‘understand’ large collections of data (for instance, text documents) and analyse them, including answer different questions asked in the natural language. One of such programs, i.e. IBM Watson for Oncology, analyses case records of oncology patients and proposes a list of possible drugs together with a complete description of the ‘cognitive process’. I develop different mathematical models which lie at the kernel of such systems.
- I am currently a project analyst and manager in the company Becton Dickinson; I am working on the business data flow cytometry of devices (microbiological analysis). I deal with optimisation, forecasts of profit and expenditures in the field of service, logistics, employment, as well as help determine strategies to invest into resources. At the same time, my scientific articles are being reviewed by two scientific journals.
– What, to your mind, do present TSI students should pay their attention to? What advice would you give them?
- In Latvia, I have frequently come across people who treat doctoral studies as some sort of a hobby. Someone wants to do something interesting in their free time, someone needs a degree only for the sake of career advancement while someone believes that the prefix Dr will add authority in their daily life. I have always treated doctoral studies as the possibility to learn something interesting to the smallest detail in the course of four years without attending lectures and complying with a tight programme; instead, I was working independently with a rather high degree of freedom. By the way, out of ten of my doctoral colleagues only one decided to work in the academic environment and the rest chose large or small companies, and now deal with something at the intersection of programming, statistics and data mining.
Choosing an urgent field for research may frequently open doors into many European universities, and, for instance, the theme of the master's or bachelor's thesis which is interesting to continue and in relation to which a grant at some university may be announced may be the determining factor.
- I would advise not to dwell on the grades, and in the process of study to learn additional packets, methods, languages, attend additional courses, not to limit knowledge acquisition by one educational programme. At TSI, there are many additional courses and they are rather qualitative (in my study years I had probably attended up to ten of those). I was 'pushed' into PhD studies by the additional student conferences and teaching practice rather than grades.
The title of my PhD theses - "Design and validation of models for media mix investment optimization". From the very beginning I treated PhD studies as work, was searching only for the finished projects with financing. I went to the university as to work and was working usual workdays in the office (although at first the task seemed rather exotic). I did not even have to read lectures; I just had to pass examinations in two mandatory subjects. By local standards, my salary was moderately high. I think that there is no need to treat PhD studies as ‘education’ or ‘training course’ and a PhD candidate as a student. The whole process, in fact, looks like a long-term working project with a work contract.
Thank you very much for your time and interesting conversation!