Sara Ahmadian

Sara Ahmadian, PhD candidate 
Sara Ahmadian

Degrees: BSc, Computer Engineering, MMath, Combinatorics and Optimization

Supervisor: Chaitanya Swamy

What program are you in? What is your research area?

I am in Combinatorics and Optimization. My research area is Approximation Algorithm.

Why did you choose to study in the Faculty of Mathematics? Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?

I was always passionate about Math/Theoretical Computer Science, and it always has been one of my strongest suits. I enjoy learning Math, and I enjoy it even more when I utilize my knowledge to solve a Math problem. I chose University of Waterloo to pursue my Master’s because of its high reputation and large number of well-published faculties. During my Master’s, I realized that the professors in Waterloo are actually very considerate and they truly care about their students. My relationship with my supervisor and his constant support, persuade me to stay in Waterloo for my PhD as well.   

What are your career goals?

I would like to become a research scientist.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your graduate career so far?

There have been several rewarding moments so far. Completing my first and second stage exams, winning NSERC postgraduate award, and receiving acceptance notices from conferences are some examples.

What has been the most challenging part of life as a graduate student?

Time management is the most challenging part of my life as a graduate student. I am in theoretical computer science and for many projects when we start them, we don’t really know the scope of the project, i.e., how hard it is, and how much time it will take. It is very important to be able to prioritize the tasks, break big tasks, set deadlines, and actually meet the deadlines.

What has been your favourite course or project so far in grad school?

It is hard to name one as I don’t have just one favourite course. I liked the two Approximation Algorithm courses that I took, and they are definitely helping me a lot in my research. I was always passionate about Game Theory, and I enjoyed Algorithmic Game Theory and Introduction to Game Theory courses a lot. I absolutely love Computational Discrete Optimization course that I am taking this semester. It reminds me of programming challenges that I had in my undergrad.   

Can you describe any practical or hands-on experience you’ve had during your studies?

I have earned valuable practical experience in communicating with students as teaching assistant. I gradually improved myself in managing a large class and tutoring students. Given various opportunities in presenting ideas, I developed a good set of presentation skills as well.

How do you describe Combinatorics and Optimization to your friends and family?

I usually tell them that I work on the problems that we are not able to solve in a reasonable time, so instead we design efficient algorithms for finding approximate solutions that might not be optimal but they are not very far from optimal either.

How do you spend your time outside of school?

After school, I usually go to gym. I am taking Tennis classes this semester. I am also learning how to play violin. On weekends, I spend time with my family and friends.    

Do you have any words of advice for people considering or planning graduate studies at the University of Waterloo? What about for people who may be interested in C&O?

An important point about graduate study is that it is actually a full-time job, and I strongly believe in “Love what you do, do what you love”. So I advise people to become familiar with the type of expertise that would be required through talking, reading up and work experience, before deciding to make the big investment and commitment needed. Make sure that PhD is really what you want!!!