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Sabrina Tsui: Alumna

Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
Computer Science and Engineering
Cupertino, California
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Barbara
Alumna Sabrina Tsui

Sabrina Tsui is an alumna (’19) of the Computer Science and Engineering department at UC Santa Cruz, and is currently in her first year of a master’s program at UC Santa Barbara. She spoke with us about what she valued about her time at UCSC, how it inspired her to pursue an advanced degree in computer science, and her advice for current undergraduates. 

How did you first become interested in computer science? 

I started programming in high school, but I didn’t really enjoy it until I got to UCSC. I took an AP computer science class in high school, but it was just another class to me. I didn’t even go into UCSC as a computer science major. I actually applied and got in as a bioinformatics major, but then I went to the Hackathon at UCSC. It was one of their first years, so it was a pretty small, tight-knit environment. It got me to see how creative computer science was, and that made me more excited about it and made me want to pursue it as my major. 

Can you tell us about an experience you had with a professor at UCSC that was particularly meaningful?

She’s actually retired now, but when Professor Linda Warner was at UCSC in my first year, I had the chance to be a teaching assistant under her for the Girls in Engineering summer program. I got to work closely with her and a couple of other teaching assistants, and we formed quite a strong bond. Those four years I was at UCSC, even though she retired, she continued to mentor me, and it made my undergrad experience more rich. She actually came to my graduation and I got to hug her when I walked across the stage, and that was really special to me. 

Tell us about your experience with the Girls in Engineering program. 

The Girls in Engineering program is a program that Baskin Engineering offers to middle school students from some of the more underrepresented minorities in Watsonville and Santa Cruz County. I know that BSOE has a lot of outreach programs to expand into the community, and this is one of the bigger ones they do. For many of the girls, it is their first time learning how to code, so we do a lot of fun projects with Lego Robotics and Scratch. On the last day they can invite their parents, and they are really proud to show off all of their projects.  I TAed for the program my first year and then helped with a follow-up study based on the program.

What motivated you to go to graduate school?

I was curious about research and wanted to do more of it. I had some experience at UC Santa Cruz participating in research and supporting some graduate students, but I didn't really have a project of my own. I was looking over graduate student grant proposals, and I sat in on some of the seminars in Professor Derrell Long’s group in the Storage Systems Research Center. They have a seminar every week, and I came and listened to all the grad students talk about how they were progressing on their research projects, and that made me want to pursue graduate school. I also took one grad course, Professor Peter Alvero’s distributed systems class, which I really enjoyed, and that got me interested in studying distributed systems. 

What are you working on now? 

Master’s students here don’t typically start on a project until they have taken a class with their faculty. I am trying to pursue research at the Distributed Systems Lab, and I talked to the two heads of that lab, but I am still in the introductory stages to try to get up to speed and learn about the field and what the current or previous work has been.

What are you most looking forward to for coming year?

My goal is to publish, because that is always the ultimate goal in research- to publish something new and go to a conference and be able to present it. I think that would be a special experience. At UCSC I did a poster session for the Girls in Engineering study at ACM SIGSCE and I had a couple of good conversations there.  

What is your advice to undergraduates who think that they might be interested in a graduate degree? 

I think the biggest thing is, and I know this is easier said than done, not feeling intimidated when working with graduate students. When I was sitting in on the seminars at UCSC, I did not have enough background information to be able to understand everything, but I think learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is an important skill, and I am still learning how to do that as I do research as a graduate student too.  

What do you most miss about UCSC? 

I miss that I had a really strong community at UCSC. I was not even consciously working toward building that community, but as I got more involved, I got to know people more and it kind of just naturally happened for me, and I thought that was super special. I don’t think I could have gotten that anywhere else. I miss UCSC a lot. I think I am always going to be a Banana Slug and I am proud to be a Banana Slug.