Informal PhD Statement

If you are reading this, chances are you’ve probably read or will read Statement of Purpose. What’s written below is by no means a formally written, well-structured essay about why I’m the most suitable candidate for a PhD position. I’m only taking this chance to express my truthful thoughts on the decision of applying for Grad school.  

Why PhD:

As an Undergrad, I had plenty of things I’m craving to delve into but was too engaged in course work and extra-curriculum activities. For example, in one of the seminars I attended last summer, a group member talked about his project in TensorFlow. I was really interested in its application with MNIST since I’ve done a Naive Bayes version of digit recognition project in my AI class. But at Emory, I had to deal with courses for two majors and time commitments for 2 clubs that I was in leadership positions. The idea had to be moved to the “to-do list” and every now and then it came back to keep me awake at night.

Meanwhile, I’m constantly maintaining the balance between GPA, demands from clubs and team, and research. The thing I was embarrassed the most, was to tell professors during our weekly meetings that I was too occupied to make a lot of progress, it made me feel like I was wasting their time. Same reasoning goes for why I’m not seeking a job opportunity right after College: Undergrad education has given me some very broad knowledge about data science and the skills I’ve acquired made me quite suitable for a “full stack data analyst/developer”. However, I have a lot of unfinished thoughts that I would like to work on but lack the time commitment to fully work them out. I fear that if I go into the industry, I would never have the chance to turn these ideas in to something tangible. A PhD would allow me to explore my area of interests without being distracted.

On the other hand, I do enjoy doing research and the purpose behind it. I’ve always liked to see myself as an economist before I’m a programmer or a data scientist, and by seeing through the lens of Economics, I was able to obtain a deeper understanding of human emotions and motives. Everything we do, whether intentional or not, is a form of maximizing our own utility (happiness), and the world as a collective whole, maintains its equilibrium in an almost magical way. However, the real world we live in is far from efficient. For instance, we have self-driving cars and GPS systems accurate to a feet, yet people are still stuck in Atlanta traffic for hours every single day. I firmly believe that everything we’ve built can be designed in a smarter and more productive way. Pursing a PhD provides me with the hope that, perhaps one day I would be able to make the world just a tiny little bit more efficient 🙂

In addition to the knowledge and skills I acquired from Undergrad research projects, I learned more valuable lessons about time management and dealing with frustrations. I also discovered what I’m good at and how to utilize these strengths:

My Liabilities:

  • I’m applying as an Undergrad, which means I’m 2 years short on experience compared to a lot of my competitors.

My Assets:

  • Research experience: I have plenty of research experiences, and I’m excited to talk about them.
  • SDL(Self-Directed Learning): Since College, I’ve been making learning plans and practicing self-diagnosed learning for almost every aspect of my life. I taught myself all the skills needed for research the same way I learned cooking or boxing.
  • Communication skills: I learned a lot about how to be persuasive by being on the communication/recruitment team of a fraternity.
  • Interdisciplinary background: allowing me to perceive things from a wider perspective.
  • and most importantly, 慎独(Shen Du): a Chinese word that literally translates to “being prudent even when one’s alone”. To me it means being self-driven and resilient at all times.

My Research:

I’m generally interested in the application of Data Mining & ML/AI in various settings (Economics, Database, Finance, Optimization, Healthcare, etc). In addition, I’m eager to learn more about Information Retrieval, NLP and Social Network and I’m planing to take at least one class on these topics. Coming from an interdisciplinary background, I’m fortunate enough to work with professors from the departments of Computer Science, Economics and Information Systems (Goizueta Business School). Interestingly, all three professors I worked on research with happened to be assistant professors who recently just started their careers at Emory. The plus side of this is that I get to spend a LOT of exciting time working alongside with them. Through them, I was able to learn about what research is actually like, and what it takes to complete a PhD.

Here’s my research page, where I summarized each of my research project.