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"I find SFU as one of the most prestigious universities in Canada, reputed by the research strength in science, decent faculty, and laboratory facilities."
Student Profile: Vahideh Shirmohammadli
Mechatronic Systems Engineering doctoral student in the Faculty of Applied Sciences
I’m already a Ph.D. candidate at Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE), Intelligent Sensing Laboratory (ISL). I came a long way up to here but in a short form I would say: I was born and raised in a quite small city in the northern part of Iran. I am the eldest one in a family of the minor race, Turkmen. As a child, I was responsible for my siblings and thus invented many fun games to entertain them. While playing, I was the leader and kept looking for the gaps/issues to be addressed intuitively throughout the game. This was carried with me through life, where I mostly like creating things, either in my research career or daily life.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?
Looking for a Ph.D. position, I came across my supervisor’s website, Dr. Behraad Bahreyni. I found his research versatile, interdisciplinary, and exciting. On top of that, I find SFU as one of the most prestigious universities in Canada, reputed by the research strength in science, decent faculty, and laboratory facilities. So, I applied for a Ph.D. position at SFU, got my admission, and entered SFU with a major award (GDES 84,000 CAD for 4 years).
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH OR YOUR PROGRAM TO A FAMILY MEMBER?
Generally, sensors are used for sensing the environment, for example, to detect a fire. What I am carrying out throughout my research is to make these sensors not only sense the environment but also add a capability to the sensors so that they conduct some computations to understand what’s happening in the environment. I’m developing a novel physical computer using sensors, which eliminates the demand for digital computers in cognizant sensing applications.
WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?
I mostly like various entertaining and training workshops, mentoring, and networking opportunities along with the chance of being heard as a grad student through different associations. Besides that, we’re conducting research that will shift the general understanding in the field of computing for sensing applications. This keeps me excited all the way up to the end. More importantly, the highly multicultural environment of SFU gives you a sense of belonging and acceptance, empowering you with better emotional connections.
HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR-FUNDED AWARDS? IF SO, PLEASE TELL US WHICH ONES AND A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE AWARDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR STUDIES AND/OR RESEARCH.
I have received many major and minor awards and scholarships including "Graduate Dean Entrance Scholarship, Simon Fraser University, 2019 ($84000 for 4 years)", "Van Pykstra Graduate Scholarship- 2021 Spring Ebco Eppich Competition on Intelligent Systems", multiple "Graduate Fellowships", "Helmut & Hugo Eppich Family Graduate Scholarship", and "Minor Research Award". These scholarships have boosted my quality of life, where I can spend my entire time on my research and studies without any financial concerns. More importantly, minor awards throughout this journey keep me motivated and give me a sense of being admired for what I am doing in my studies and research.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROGRAM/POSTDOC POSITION TO SOMEONE STILL SEARCHING FOR A PROGRAM OR POSTDOC POSITION?
I would say, a Ph.D. student deals with lots of uncertainties in their research. I am doing my studies while I have no concerns about the living expenses thanks to the support from my supervisor, the department, and the university with the major and minor funds available for me, along with the teaching and research assistant positions provided for us. Besides that, I’m working in a laboratory where almost every piece of equipment I need for my research is already there or provided quickly. On top of that, I, as a student, have a great connection with the department graduate program committee. The committee is there for all the students and they help out students with all the power they have. All in all, I feel a strong connection with the university and the people around me. So, I can recommend others to look for the positions available for them, select the one they are the most comfortable with and aligned with their expectations from an ideal Ph.D. program.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
I would like to mention that graduate studies might be stressful and hectic enough. One way to tackle it though is to be engaged with your community. For me, it was by joining Engineering Graduate Student Association (EGSA) as a co-chair and serving there for 2 consecutive years. Afterwards, I started my role as the chair at IEEE SFU Student Branch in 2021. I like feeling connected, infinite learning and creating networks while doing my research. It helps me with approaching the problems/gaps I notice in student-faculty relationships, the well-being of grad students, etc. in innovative ways. Moreover, I would like to highlight the importance of keeping your supervisor-student relationship safe and clear. Talk to your supervisor should you have any doubts or concerns about your research, tasks/responsibilities, or your funding situation. S/he is the first and best person to share your concerns with.
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