Whew! Just realized that it has been 1 year since I last wrote something here (for some reason I lost the momentum to write). Here you go, in rough chronological order.
Fall 2020 – Internship with Enlighted
My job titled was ML engineering internship, and I was working mainly on crowd counting in an enclosed space (basically a computer vision problem). There had been a lot of exploration going on in setting up code, debugging, tuning parameter, trying to reproduce some past experimental success that was some how lost.
I eventually noticed that multi-column CNN could work well if your samples come from a fixed background (e.g. collecting data from the same room), and compared it against other algorithms I have surveyed and implemented. One close contender to this was the You-Only-Look-Once algorithm (though more work was required to label the training data). I then delivered a presentation on my findings which attracted attention from some senior employees. That felt pretty good. 🙂
Fall 2020 – #gradapps
Fall 2020 was also the busy time with me devoting most of my spare time to graduate application. I have my resume from job applications that I could just tweak around, there were still a lot more to do:
- My Statement of Purpose took me around 2-3 months to write (and still, if I look back now I might still find places for criticism)
- Looking for a potential advisor also took a lot of research, when there were so many of them and I’d need to narrow down to a few that I think that’s a close research interest match
It really doesn’t help that I was applying for one of the most competitive programs which is CS/ML, where people rate admission into PhD at the top schools as “nearly impossible”. Luckily, the three professors from Waterloo whom I asked for recommendation letters were very helpful and prompt, and I was grateful for that.
Winter 2021 – Online Classes
My Winter 2021 term was my final term of studies at Waterloo, which was also my first and only term of having classes that are completely online. The classes I took were 3 CS (computer vision, AI, concurrent programming), Stats (Applied Linear Model), Econ, and French 101.
That’s also the time I appreciated people’s comment saying “online classes are tough”, mainly because not having classmates / profs around you kinda made you feel like you lost your morale (slightly). The change of grading scheme also made the workload a bit heavier (e.g. the change from final exam to final project, where the latter is substantially more time consuming). Despite being accustomed to taking 6 courses per term, in hindsight I wished I only took 5 in the term.
On the flip side, I can now speak a little French (Je parle un peu français) so my 5 years stay in Canada was no longer a complete waste 😉
April 23, 2021 was the day I submitted my last deliverable for the term, and therefore completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo. Relieved as I was, I had a rather unusual way of ‘celebrating’ (since we can’t go out…quite yet).
Winter 2021 – Graduate Applications Revealed
I started getting invitation to speak with profs about 2-3 weeks after submitting my applications (a.k.a. ‘interviews’), and had a few interviews scheduled throughout January. February was the time where most of my admissions decisions were rolled out. A summary of my admission decisions:
- accepted: MIT, Toronto, Waterloo, UBC, Alberta, UCLA, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin
- rejected: McGill, Stanford, CMU, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Washington, Cornell, Georgia Tech
I was particularly elated when receiving admission notification from MIT (literally had my mouth opening big and my left hand covering my mouth — don’t worry I did not go out that day so it’s COVID-safe), considering that the admission cycle has been unusually tough given the pandemic, and MIT’s competition was already extremely competitive. I eventually chose MIT’s offer after a few weeks of deliberation. 🙂
Summer 2021 – Internship at Waterfront
It’s summer time and graduate program doesn’t start that soon, so time for another internship! I returned to a former employer, Waterfront International (albeit virtually this time), when I had some fun time setting up my equipment (with a display monitor, a CPU, a modem and a phone!)
I worked on correlation estimation on high frequency intraday returns, and it’s pretty exciting to explore different correlation estimation algorithms from research papers! The discovery on how Kalman Filtering can rectify the problem of underestimation still feels amazing to me (though Kalman filtering was not without its own shortcomings).
Summer 2021 – COVID Injections, Vacation
Everyone hates COVID. Fortunately, I had my two Pfizer doses done by June 2021, and became fully vaccinated come early July.
Ontario opened up in July and my roommates and I travelled to Toronto 2 times for vacation, ranging from going for bicycle trip to spending almost $100 on food over two (high-end) meals in a day. We were happy that we could finally dine in and get out of our home once again.
(I hope this sentiment is not short-lived though, considering that new COVID variants are circulating and we cannot get our guard down yet. I still wear mask regularly now).
Winter / Summer 2021 – Genshin Impact
Okay something not-so-proud to talk about: I was introduced to a game named Genshin Impact during 2020 Christmas, and had been playing that for 8 months (my mum asked me jokingly if I got into any bad activities and I guess gaming was my only answer to that, sorry mum 🙈 jkjk).
I’ll cover more details in a YouTube video (coming very soon!), but it’s definitely well-developed, and it’s addictive. In fact, the way I celebrated my end of school (mentioned earlier) was to spend USD 10 to purchase Battle Pass (a way for you to get more in-game resources). (More like, a #yolo way of rewarding myself after going through 5 years of academic struggle).
All good things must come to an end — I’m at the verge of quitting. I haven’t uninstalled the app only because my friends and I are planning to take an in-game photo together before I leave the game.
Summer 2021 – Time to Say Goodbye!
Finally, it’s end of August and also the time I moved from Waterloo to Boston.
First, taking a flight nowadays was made extra tricky, no thanks to COVID. Taking a COVID test within 3 days of departure (and show the proof that I’m negative) wasn’t a problem, but it still bothers me that I was in an area of high exposure risk (i.e. airports and airplanes), where I was physically with people who could be from everywhere (and the airplane was operating at full capacity 🤦♂️). I vividly remembered my mum describing my journey as a war — this description couldn’t have been more appropriate at this time.
Second, the process of moving itself was also somewhat onerous. I have moved a few times, but thanks to storage services (e.g. Youpackwestore) and that I was only moving between Toronto and Waterloo at most, things were easier. The fact that I was moving everything from Waterloo to Boston made this task significantly harder, especially given the airline baggage restrictions (I weighed my luggages at least 10 times at home, I swear). I ended up discarding around 35% of my belongings (mainly old clothes and items that I donated into a Diabetes Canada donation box). Fun fact: this is also the time I first experienced shipping a box internationally where I need to beware of custom regulations.
Rant aside, I was grateful that the whole moving process went rather smoothly (and my COVID tests after landing at MIT were all negative!)
Summer / Fall 2021 – A New Chapter
Nothing much to say yet, but the orientation program was pretty enjoyable overall. It blew my mind that we can have dinner together in a big group outdoors when I have been extremely cautious about having meals together with friends of different households in the past. I have also been exploring the Boston/Cambridge area…before the real work (as a graduate student) starts soon.