I came to Simon Fraser University to pursue studies in actuarial science and quickly developed a curiosity for cryptography during my first computing science course. Thankfully at SFU, I am able to pursue both subjects for my degree at the same time.
I was lucky to receive an NSERC USRA, after only my second year, to study algorithms for the minimum distance linear codes under the supervision of Dr. Petr Lisonek. At first I was not completely convinced I was cut out for this kind of work. I had lots of programming experience from my coursework and was eager to see what research would be like in a field that interests me, but I really had no background in what I was researching – coding theory.
After deciphering some literature on the topic and receiving guidance from my supervisor, I was left to start making my own observations. After the initial hump, things started to come more easily. I began making my own discoveries and forming my own ideas and before I knew it I was writing my own proofs! Normally proof-writing is not my favourite thing in class but now that I had the chance to use those skills to prove my own theorems it was much more rewarding. I enjoyed problem solving in this capacity because I was not studying someone else’s thought process. I was researching a problem that did not already have an answer and was able to discuss my own ideas. It felt like I was experiencing everything I like about school and without the homework!
During the four-month work term, I had opportunities to share what I was working on with others. Dr. Paul Tupper organized a lunch for all the math summer research students where we each give a five-minute talk about our project. I also presented a research poster at the SFU Symposium on Mathematics and Computation where I shared my research with students and professors alike.
My research term was an invaluable experience. I greatly improved my problem solving skills and this has already helped me in my other coursework. I got to see what research is like and learn what I am capable of. Not only is an NSERC USRA a prestigious award, it provides undergraduates the opportunity to follow their interests and work alongside excellent professors.
Following the work term, my supervisor and I co-wrote an academic paper which has been accepted by the 4th International Castle Meeting on Coding Theory and Applications in Palmela, Portugal, and a journal version of the paper is currently in preparation. I was also honoured to receive one of two 2013 Undergraduate Research Prizes from the department recognizing research achievement and potential.
I never imagined so many good things would come out of this opportunity. I wish other students the best of luck in their endeavors and hope they have a positive research experience like myself.