Juhua Hu, PhD candidate 


Despite publishing complex academic papers at some of the world’s top data mining conferences, busy PhD candidate Juhua Hu’s work – and life – is fully grounded in the real world. 

“My research is very practical,” she says, explaining one of its user-friendly applications. “We’re making digital photo indexing much more effective so you can search more easily and then share them more efficiently with your friends.”

It’s a simple explanation belying the multifaceted challenges of a PhD research drive that delves deeply into automatic information organization – including multi-clustering, automatic hierarchy construction and similarity learning.

“The biggest challenge of this work is the information itself. With large-scale amounts of data like this, you can’t handle it quickly or easily,” says Hu, adding that her work – supervised by Jian Pei in SFU’s Database and Data Mining Laboratory focuses on automatic information organization by feature engineering.

But complicated research isn’t the only challenge Hu successfully manages. Alongside her PhD studies, she’s also been raising a child. “It was very hard in the beginning when he was young and he would wake up during the night. But, with some maternity leave and the help of my parents, it’s worked out really well. I was also full of energy when I became a mother – and that helped, too.”

It’s this positive approach that’s served Hu well over the years, including the time she transitioned from university in China – she gained her Nanjing University B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in quick succession – to a largely unfamiliar education system in Canada. “It was difficult in the beginning. I had been mainly working on artificial intelligence in China but here I work on data mining. I’ve had a lot to learn but it’s been very exciting.”

It’s not the only difference she has encountered. “Everything feels much faster here and the projects at SFU are much more related to industry,” she observes, adding that she has also had to adjust to three-semester academic years after becoming used to China’s two-semester approach.

For now, Hu is thoroughly enjoying the final stages of her productive PhD while also looking towards the next stages of her research career, which she predicts will include some elements of artificial intelligence. It’s an area of growing interest, she says, among many companies.

“Computing science is a great area for a career – especially if you like studying hard and working hard,” she concludes, adding that she has also noticed many more women moving into the field in the years she’s been a student. “There are definitely now more opportunities for women in computing than there have ever been.”