Statement of Purpose for my PhD


My life in Harbin Institute of Technology started on the September of 2010.

I chose to study Electric Engineering when I entered university. But as time goes by, I find that what I am more interested in is actually Computer Science.

The first semester of University does include a lot of study on math. I knew little about what Computer Science actually is at that time. At the end of the semester, I got the 1st place in my major and ranked 4th in my department (school) which has more than 200 students.

In 2011, the second semester of my freshman year, I took the course C programming language given by our university’s CS department. It was the first time that I knew anything about Computer Science. I spent much more time than other students on learning C programming Language and got 95/100 in the final.

This is the beginning of the story between Computer Science and me. I still thought Computer Science and Electric Engineering is about the same thing at that time.

In 2012, my sophomore year, I learned assembly language through MCS-51, and implemented a dialing function using MT8880 chip on it. In the second semester of my sophomore, I learned java by myself. When I grew into junior year, I completed an android app that can display a map on my mobile phone.

The more I learned about Electric Engineering and Computer Science, the more difference I found between them. I started to think about changing my major, but unfortunately we are not allowed to switch on subject as we grew into sophomores. However, I can still choose on how to spend my time. Much time are spent on learning computer science, while I still maintained my major’s rank between 20% ~ 30% .

Between Feb. 2013 ~ June. 2013, the second semester of my junior year. I got a chance to National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan as an exchange student in its department of computer science.

This was one of the precious times during my university life, as I could learn as a normal CS student for their courses without worrying about my own major’s grade. What’s better, NCTU is one of the best universities in Taiwan, and especially famous for its Electronics and Computer Science.

The course image processing in NCTU that I took is one worth mention, which is known for its hard projects. Four projects in one semester in total accounts for 80% of the final score, while the exam only makes up 20% of it. One of the most difficult projects is embedding data into a picture reversibly using difference expansion, about half of students withdrew this course because it is too hard to complete.

Indeed, algorithm in this project is not very complicated, but mistakes are easily made because of many boundary classification it involves. There was even an error related to boundary delimitation in one of the reference essay. I spent two weeks writing and testing the program. When the program finally worked successfully, I was as happy as winning a great award. I got to know with many concepts of image processing after the course.

I also taught myself Python that semester. And I undertook a project on automatic word filling in the summer holiday after the semester. I also learned Ruby on Rails systematically that holiday. After that, I have been building and maintaining a website with rails till now.

All in all, I learned much computer knowledge apart from courses of my original major. I learned Data structure, Formal language and Automata on the theoretical facet. On the other hand, I learned a lot of programming language, and learned how to use Linux system as well as Web developing. I created my own blog and I am maintaining a website.

PART II: Research Interest

What makes me the person I am? It is these experiences. This is the story between me and Computer Science.

“Computer scientist” and “hacker” now have special meaning for me. Different from other scientists, computer scientists are creators or crafters in some way. Their researches are generated from real world problems rather than bunches of obscure theories.

Diversity of the Computer Science and the culture inside of it are two features which attract me most.

Computer influences nearly all the modern sciences. In the domain of mathematics, the famous four-color theorem is proved on the basis of computer’s powerful computing ability. As for the field of linguistics, the introducing of computer made it possible for language analysis from statistical angle by counting the frequency of every single word. In the industrial world, computer increases the automation level of assembly lines which contributes greatly to productivity.

Real world problems are always complicated. Regarding computer science as a multi-layered building, we have mathematicians live in the bottom of the building. They are dedicated to all sorts of mathematical theories, who do really important works, and without them the building will be unable to build. In the middle part of the building live the “classical scientists” who study traditional problems such as algorithms, Turing machine and so on. As for others, they live on the very top of the building, they do really interesting coding, build bridges between computers and people, analyze data generated by Internet, realize AI which we have dreamed for such long time and hope to change our life eventually.

I once saw a sentence on the school’s website, ‘No other subject will open as many doors in the 21st Century, regardless of a student’s ultimate field of study or occupation, as computer science.’

Specifically, my research interest is Human computer interface. The important thing here is Human. I have mentioned in the beginning that most software is intended for human audience. It is very important for the machine and humans to have the ‘communication’. Human computer interface gives us a systematical way to study this - how to make the communication more efficiently and how to make it more natural for a better user experience.

On the one hand, I have passion for computer science, I am fancied by the great possibility of the renewing of technology which always brings us surprise. Hundred of years ago, it is beyond human’s imagination that information can be transmitted between Asia and America, but look at what we have achieved now, it can be easily done within a few millisecond. On the other hand, I value those warm human touches in this world, human help and pass encouragements to each other, these things are encouraging and makes you feel hopeful.

Human computer interface gives us the way to bring two opposite sides together. As for “computer” in “Human computer interface”, many subjects are involved, such as computer graphics, operation systems, programming languages, etc. While for its “human” side, industrial design, cognitive psychology and social science are involved. Due to it’s interdisciplinary feature, people of various backgrounds are together contributing to its development.

Further more, human computer interface has another feature: being cool. Traditional studies such as operating system, database, programming language, and pattern recognition are full of monotonous and tedious issues, while human computer interface has more visual stuffs. It also has cool branches like virtual reality and visual enhancement. Of course, it is based on those fundamental researches of other subjects. I guess these are reasons why I would like to spend 5 years and more to dive into this area.

PART III: Why I choose SUTD?

There is a “design” in SUTD from which shows it’s unique position.

There are many schools having a “technology” in their names, these schools may have outstanding research works, such as CIT, MIT etc. However, few engineering colleges have “design” in their names. SUTD is thus different from many universities. And this unique feature attracts me.

Design and Research are different. Design doesn’t have to be new, but it has to be good. Research doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be new. However, their ultimate goal seems to be the same: the best design uses new as well as good ideas, and the best research solves problems that are not only new, but worth solving. So ultimately design and research are aiming for the same destination, just approaching it from different directions.

Therefore, SUTD’s focus on both the creativeness and practicability attracts so many scholars and students.

PART IV: My Enthusiasm

In the culture of computer science, hackers are enthusiastic about new things. They work as intensely as play and they play as intensely as work. It is the same for me sometimes, the boundaries between “play”, “work”, “science” and “art” all tend to disappear, or to merge into a high-level creative playfulness.

This hacker culture is the second reason why computer science attracts me. This culture was born from a group of computer scientists. It’s history can be traced back to the first time-sharing computer tens of years ago. At that time, ARPAnet, the prototype of internet has just started. These experts who love to share formed the culture and it then get prospered along with the development of Internet.

There are several great features of hacker culture, that hackers considering work as play is one important feature of it. Besides, freedom and sharing were right inside of hacker culture when it was born, which attract me mostly.

Actually, this culture not only exist in the area of computer science. Its influence has been everywhere, say electronics and music. Actually, people who has achieved the highest levels of any subjects, has the similar spirits shared by this culture. The willingness to share, the enthusiasm in working and so on are all in this kind of spirits.

Though most hackers self-describe as programmers, they are very likely to be more than competent in several related skills. A hacker who’s a system administrator, on the other hand, is likely to be quite skilled at music or painting.

It is somehow weird to compare hackers to painters, many think there is no relevance between these two people. However, they do share many same features.

Painters(or any other artists) create works for people (no matter others or themselves) to appreciate. At this point, hackers do exactly the same thing, for all the software are made for people. Inspirations and enthusiasm are needed for both painters and hackers to create great works. If some one desire to program very well, he or she is required to undergo generous, painstaking, and repeated practice. This is similar for painters if they hope to command brilliant painting skills. Moreover, both painters and hacker are not afraid of failures for they deeply know that failure is where success comes.

The founder of Y-combinator(silicon valley’s biggest incubator) Paul Graham learned painting in Rhodes College of Art after he got his PhD in Havard. According to him, painters and hackers share the most similarities.

Same for me, I won’t be content with a narrow range of skills. I’m not a good painter, but I’m good at playing musical instrument. I know how to play Clarinet and I could play it well. I’m a piano player as well and I love the pieces by Joe Hisaishi.

I do this because I love it from inside my heart, and when I love it from heart I would not feel tired or hard, instead I am enjoying the best of my life.