Ruidi Wei and Ava Pun receive Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Awards

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Congratulations to Ruidi Wei and Ava Pun, this year’s recipients of the Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. The award, created by Computer Science professor Ming Li and his family in honour of his late wife Jessie Wenhui Zou, recognizes excellence in undergraduate research. It comes with a prize of $1000.  

Headshot of Ruidi Wei

Ruidi Wei

Ruidi Wei is a final year Computer Science major. He received the award in recognition of the research paper “Cryptographically Secure Private Record Linkage Using Locality-Sensitive Hashing,” which he co-authored under the supervision of Professor Florian Kerschbaum during the course of several undergraduate research projects.

“I am honored to win this award,” Wei says. “I feel that I am recognized for my research, and it is great motivation to do more research in the future.”

Wei points to the warmth and enthusiasm of his peers and mentors as the reason he was able to succeed doing undergraduate research. “I’ve heard many of my fellow students talk about feeling ‘intimidated’ about research,” he says, “but my experience has been that while research cannot be described as easy, neither is it as scary as we may imagine. I would say rather than remain afraid of unknown research, don’t hesitate to apply and just give it a try.”

After graduation, Wei will continue his studies at Waterloo with a master’s in computer science focusing on cryptography. “I am very grateful to Professor Kerschbaum for all his encouragement and support during my research,” he says. “He not only guided me from an academic point of view, but also provided significant spiritual support when I felt lost during my research.”

Ava Pun

Pun is a final year Computer Science and Combinatorics & Optimization major. She received the award in recognition of her research on simulating virtual training environments for autonomous vehicles, which she conducted at the start-up Waabi.

“I feel incredibly happy and grateful to win this award, and I feel honoured that my research has been recognized,” Pun says.

Pun points to her involvement in undergraduate research, both during co-ops and in URAs, as essential to her career development. “If you’re interested in grad school, start doing research early,” she says. “Admissions committees care much more about your research than your grades.” She also recommends students use note-taking apps like Obsidian and citation managers like Zotero to consistently organize their research.

This fall, Pun will begin a computer science PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, studying generative models. “I’m thankful to my supervisor Jingkang Wang, Prof. Raquel Urtasun, and the rest of the Waabi team for giving me the amazing opportunity to do cutting-edge research as an undergrad,” Pun says. “Thanks to their guidance and mentorship, I feel prepared to enter grad school and continue doing the research I love. I would also like to thank my family and friends for supporting me and brightening my university life over the past five years.”

You can learn more about the Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Award, and see a full list of past winners, on the Mathematics website.

Headshot of Ava Pun