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Ada Ma: Graduate Student

What are you studying?

I’m studying computer science. There are a lot of different paths you can take in the department. I chose natural language processing. Some of my classmates that I know focus on other things, like databases. I’m doing my Master’s project right now, which sort of qualifies as research, and that’s being done through Professor Walker’s lab. In this field, you have to do an experiment and then collect the data, analyze it, and do it fast enough to publish papers before others with similar ideas do. Luckily, right now I’m not a PhD student so it’s not as stressful, but it’s still good to be a part of.

How has your experience at UC Santa Cruz been?

I’ve really enjoyed my experience at UCSC, and I’ve met a lot of good people here. I especially enjoy the dining halls, they’re the best I’ve ever had! Especially those few that have ocean views too, like Carson or Stevenson. It’s also by the sea so you can take courses for activities like surfing here. I haven’t been able to yet, but I plan to, and the opportunity is great!

Are you planning on going beyond a Master’s degree?

I’m not sure yet, because currently I have an internship for a company. So, probably, if things are going well and I receive a return offer, I may just work there after completing my studies. At the same time, I still think it would be nice to return to UC Santa Cruz eventually to do more research. It’s a good place! You can just enjoy life, and there are so many beautiful places like the forest with our banana slugs—I’ll miss it when I graduate.

Has the fast pace of research helped prepare you for jobs?

Oh, definitely, because especially for software engineers, you have to do a lot of coding and I feel that the research in our department with Professor Walker allows us to do a lot of coding to find important results. People in the lab are very helpful, too, giving pointers on where I could improve in my work. In our lab, I believe most of our papers are written by several people who all collaborate. This structure helps our research because it creates an open environment where you can ask questions and see the work styles of different people. I feel more connected with this department, because if a class is cancelled you don’t see each other, but with this lab they are just always there and this keeps you in contact. On any day you can ask them questions, and I think that’s important.

Does Baskin Engineering foster this feeling of connectedness?

Many of my connections at UCSC are through engineering since many of the departments naturally overlap. Next quarter I’m looking to take courses in other departments in order to expand these connections.  People here are so friendly, and I prefer this kind of environment. People in general are very kind whenever I’m on the bus and when I see someone with a banana slug shirt I feel connected to them in some way.

How did you choose computer science?

When I was an undergraduate my major was English Literature. It was interesting, but it made me aware of so many problems in our world. That led me to science and engineering to try and find these solutions. You can find something in STEM that fits with something in literature and bring them together to find that perfect place where you know how to find and help stop the problems. When you are really learning a new field, your brain just feels totally restructured, as if a whole new world has been revealed to you. That’s something you’d never know about if you never tried to discover more.

Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
Master of Science, Computer Science
Undergraduate Institution: 
Peking University
Marilyn Walker