Advices for Computer Science Researchers

The following speech is an extract from the speech delivered at "SIGCOMM 2009", the most prestigious conference in networking. The speaker is Meeyong Cha, a very efficient network researcher currently doing her post-doc at MPI-SWS in Germany. The speech contains a useful piece of advice for those wanting to do research in Computer Science:

"Hi, I am Mia. I'm honored to be invited to speak along with Sue, Dina, and Anja, who are fantastic researchers and have been in networking research for many more years than me. So I'll be your amuse bouche appetizer today. The main course speakers will follow shortly.

Let me tell you a bit about my background. I received my PhD from KAIST in Korea last year--Sue was my advisor and I take great pride in being her first PhD student. After I graduated, I moved to MPI in Germany as a post-doc to work with Krishna Gummadi. Now I live in a small city called Saarbruecken. It's on the border between France and Germany and my favorite shopping places are hours away. You'll see my publication list doubled since I moved to Germany.

I work on online social networks. My recent research topic is focused on understanding how information propagates in online social networks, particularly on the role of "word of mouth"-based propagation. I studied this phenomenon by analyzing data on how photos propagate in the website. I coined a term "social cascade"--which I hope will become popular--to describe the type of information propagation that happens through online friendship. For example, we get exposed to the photos, text updates, web links our friends share online. These exposures are what I mean by social cascades. Everyday, tremendous amount of data flows through social links, which means that social cascade is playing a big role on our online experience.

For me, social cascade is a fascinating research topic, not only because it is an entirely new way that connects people, but also because it has consequences beyond the online world. In the recent Iran election, we saw how the use of Twitter lead to some of the rallies and protests in the streets of Teheran. One of my recent projects is on investigating the role Twitter played in the Iran election. Back in my office in Germany, I parse terabytes of data to understand how millions of users in Twitter collaboratively spread messages among themselves. I am also interested in knowing how such collaborative action translates into innovations and challenges in the networking and systems area.

The Internet is a network of computers, but behind computers, there are people. As more of people's offline relationships get translated online, the Internet becomes more social. Social networks therefore have big consequences on the Internet. Just like when peer-to-peer came out and it had a great impact on the Internet, social cascade will dramatically affect a lot of things we know about the Internet, such as the type of content that is available, new infrastructures that are needed, and even people's view on the Internet itself. My research vision is to understand how social cascade is re-shaping the Internet and build network systems that better support this new social interactions.

Lastly, to all the PhD students, I'd like to share one message. Do the type of research that excites you and do not hesitate to change topics if you have to. Before I fell in love with online social networks, I worked on lower layers of the network stack: including backbone designs, IP networks, peer-to-peer systems, television viewing habits, YouTube video popularity. All of these topics are interesting on their own, but they lead me to recognize that workloads in these systems are ultimately determined by humans. Now I am very happy to work on social networks.

If you fancy a career as a researcher, you'll spend tens of thousands of hours on work over the next 10 years. The only way you're ever gonna spend 10,000 hours on research is only when you truly deeply love it. If something really engages you and makes you happy, then you will put in the kind of energy and time necessary to become an expert at it.

So, besides being ambitious, disciplined, and smart and all that, I hope you find a research topic that excites you and makes you have a lot of fun during your remaining years of your PhD. Thank you and now on to the rest of the -- menu."