Putting your best foot forward into physics and computer science research

Jessica Bohm standing in front of staircase smiling with two of her edited avatars on either sideThe Co-op Student of the Year for the Faculty of Mathematics is Jessica Bohm (she/her). Jessica combined her passion for computer science and curiosity for physics at TRIUMF. During her work term she enhanced her already sharp critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She discusses pursuing a career in research and getting to work with complex machinery.

Jessica Bohm smiling headshot

As a research assistant at TRIUMF, Jessica had the exceptional opportunity to analyze the data collected from the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator. She worked on part of the ATLAS collision reconstruction process, primarily in image segmentation by applying a machine learning model to the data.

“I was always in awe of the big detectors, especially having read about them in the news and in papers it felt all the more special being able to be a part of this experience.”

Jessica’s research findings are expected to be used in the ATLAS reconstruction software; this shows how impactful her work has been.


How was your experience working at TRIUMF?

“This co-op term had such a big impact on me and my supervisor has been my biggest mentor. He taught me so much about the field of high energy physics and got me interested in and excited about it. He has also really helped guide me for the next steps of my academic journey, giving me advice on graduate studies and connecting me to potential supervisors. This co-op term has definitely been very pivotal in my academic career.”

Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?

“I was really drawn to Waterloo because of the exceptional Computer Science program, as well as the co-op program. I had heard lots of stories of people having great experiences working all over the world for different companies and learning a lot through their work terms as well as applying that back to their education. All of this really appealed to me.”

How would you describe to an employer what you bring to an organization?

“I believe the main thing I bring to an organization is curiosity and drive. I'm an extremely curious person and if I'm passionate about the work I'm doing, like I was at my previous workplace, it won't feel like work. I'm just excited by it. I want to see the new developments; I want to see how the machine learning models work and I really throw myself into it. With all of this I can deliver results.”

How do you harness your curiosity into something that makes an impact?

“I feel like curiosity is one of the most important elements of data analysis, especially since often you get results that you don’t expect. Data analysis is all about seeing a piece of analysis and having that lead to further questions. So, if you find out this one thing, what does it mean for the next thing. It's kind of like this chain of questions that's pretty much never ending until you solve that overall goal you were approaching.”

How does it feel when so many people take interest in your research?

“It feels surreal to be able to contribute to a large project that I've always had so much respect for at such an early stage in my career. It really excites me when people take an interest in my research. I've done some poster conferences where I talk to people about my work and I can just get lost in the enjoyment of explaining my research to others. I could talk continuously about what I've learned and what people are still trying to learn in this field.”

What are your thoughts on working in places that may not be the best fit for you?

“Even if a workplace isn't a perfect fit for you, there's still so much you can learn from it. That's one of the most important things I've learned from co-op is that even if a place isn’t a perfect fit, it doesn't mean it's a terrible fit and that brought me a lot of peace. You can still make an impact; you just have to put your best foot forward and you'll get an equal amount out of it as you put into it.”

“I've found I could learn a lot through each co-op experience along the way.”

Jessica Bohm smiling in front of a pink colour background

“I was quite curious about every position and I did put my best foot forward, which made me feel I had a pretty reasonable impact at each company along the way. I was really grateful to be ranked outstanding by all my employers throughout my time here at Waterloo.”

What’s next for you?

“Having had so many experiences in different workplaces has made me confident in my next steps. After graduating, I am applying to graduate studies. That was motivated by my time at TRIUMF. I'm actually applying to research positions in the intersection of physics and computer science.”

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