Aban Husain started her PhD studies at LiU in February 2022. After her master's studies, she worked for 18 months as a machine learning engineer at a small AI start-up company.

Photo credit Karin Johansson

Why did you decide to do a PhD?

I really like math and I want to build a career out of it. Doing a PhD gives me the opportunity to focus on learning. It is in my actual job to learn things, study and develop my skills. Now I can focus 100 per cent on learning new things and learn how to do research.When I finished my master’s degree I started working because I was not 100 per cent certain if I wanted to do a PhD. It is a very big commitment and I wanted to be certain. I liked working but it felt that I was not doing what I am most passionate about.

Can you explain what your research is about?

The research group is developing optimization algorithms for machine learning. Optimization has many applications, but machine learning is big now. A lot of work has been done to improve current algorithms developing them further, making them more efficient and more robust.

What do you do as a PhD?

20 per cent of my time is spent teaching, I generally do tutorials and help students with problem-solving. I also take classes both here at LiU and other universities in Sweden. I am also working one and one with my advisor. I read papers and discuss them with him. He guides me how to do research. That is another way of learning outside coursework. I also tend to seminars and conferences.

What do you enjoy most being a PhD?

There are lots of opportunities to meet people. When you go to conferences you meet people from different universities and countries. You get the opportunity to talk to and learn from people from all walks of life. And within the department it is very good environment. There is also a lot of variety, you never doing just one thing. You go from teaching a basic class to a seminar where someone is talking about high-level research. You do not get bored ever.

What is the most challenging thing about being a PhD-student?

You must take lots of personal responsibility. No one is going to hold your hand, you do have to take a lot of initiative, you must be self-disciplined, and you constantly must challenge yourself.

What qualities do you need to do a PhD?

Independence, creativity, passion, patience and self-discipline.

If someone is interested in doing a PhD, can you give some tips?

If you are a student and you are really interested what you did in your master thesis you should make use of your thesis advisor and other people in the department. Even if there is no position available at the department, they can point you where to go. That is the best place to start. If you are not a student and you have not been for a while just keep a look-out for positions that are interesting. And when you do find one, it never hurts to contact the advisors and they are always listed on the advertisement. When looking for a PhD-position the university is not the most important thing, it is the research group and the department you should look at. Is the research group doing the research you are really interested in?

You worked before you started your PhD. What is the biggest difference between working and doing a PhD?

It is not nine to five-job. You work a lot, but you also get more freedom. You have the freedom to build a decent schedule if it works with your advisor and with the rest of the department. So, I would say you get more freedom what you would get in a normal job.

What do you want to do when you finish your PhD?

I am strongly considering staying in Academia but that is four years away. There are also lot of opportunities to do research in industry .