Convocation ‘22: Md Solimul Chowdhury, PhD Computing Science

The U of A’s “vibrant research culture” sparks passion for pure scientific inquiry.

Donna McKinnon - 6 June 2022

Throughout his graduate degrees at the University of Alberta, Md Solimul Chowdhury has been an advocate for pure scientific inquiry. Drawn to the U of A for its ‘vibrant research culture’, Solimul fell in love with the city and its people, using his passion for science and community building to overcome challenges and forge new scientific insight.

Now working as a postdoctoral research associate at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, Solimul is focused on advancing his research capacity.

Congratulations Solimul!

What led you to pick the U of A for your studies?
My connection with the U of A began over a decade ago, when I started my master’s degree in the Department of Computing Science back in 2009. Among admission offers from six North American universities, I accepted the admission offer from the U of A primarily because of the high reputation of its computing science department.

After my master’s degree, I worked at an Edmonton-based start-up as a software developer for almost five years and fell in love with this city, which is very peaceful and welcoming to new immigrants. At that stage, I became more aware of the vibrant research culture of the computing science department and U of A as a whole. Having lived and worked in the wonderful city of Edmonton, and being more aware of the vibrant research culture on campus, the decision of pursuing a PhD at UAlberta seemed to be the right one.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
Graduate research work can be frustrating at times. My experience is not different.

During the earlier years of my PhD study (thesis: Empirical Insights Driven CDCL SAT Algorithms), the algorithms I was developing were not demonstrating any significant results for months. Though I was getting frustrated, I remained persistent. Suddenly, I found some interesting insights, which led to the development of algorithms that showed some promising results. The moments when I conceived those insights were truly euphoric and I consider memories of those moments as my favourite.

At that time, I also realized the importance of persistence in pursuing scientific inquiry and the reward it could bring, which is perhaps elegantly expressed in the following quote from the famous cosmologist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

“You may want to climb a mountain. You don't climb Everest; your sights are not so ambitious. But when you do reach the top of the mountain, you see the valley below; and that gives you a sense of contentment. One can perceive science that way.”

I also consider some of my hard-earned achievements, such as the receptions of my NSERC PGSD and Alberta Innovates Graduate Student Scholarships, winning medals in the International SAT Solver Competitions: and acceptance of my papers in premier venues as my favourite memories.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student?
For the academic year of 2020-2021, I served as an elected Councillor-at-Large (CAL) for the Graduate Student Association (GSA). As a CAL, I represent the interest of the graduate student population. In the summer of 2020, I served as a committee member at Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) for the event Relay at Home, an annual event organized by CCS. My responsibilities were to raise funding for the event and to advertise for the event in social media. Both of these were fun experiences.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
Like most of us, COVID-19 pandemic has been unsettling for me. Until I got fully vaccinated last summer, I stayed home most of the time. At the beginning, it was challenging to focus on my thesis work. The loss of focus originated partly from the lack of separation of workplace and home, and partly from pandemic related anxiety. It was a very tough time to remain productive.
Though it was not easy initially, I got used to the new normal mode of work and life, and moved on.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
You should choose to do what intrigues you. Stay passionate and work reasonably hard. Keeping a sound physical and mental health is very important for students. Find time for physical activities when you can, because it likely will keep both types of your health in check.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
I plan to celebrate my convocation with my friends and family and lots of food and drinks.

What's next after graduation?
Since February 2022, I have been working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), USA, where I am partially supported by my NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship (PDF) from Canada. In my current position, I am focusing on becoming a more mature researcher.