Katrina is an alum of the CDS MS program and a current PhD student. We talk with Katrina about her experience in both the MS and PhD program, life in NYC and at CDS, we discuss her research as well as an exciting internship opportunity that she had.
November 25, 2019 | 14:17
Tim Baker (host) [0:00] Welcome to the Center for Data Science Admissions Podcast. I’m your host, Tim Baker. This week I’ll be speaking with second-year PhD student, Katrina Evtimova.
Katrina Evtimova [0:13] Hi, everyone. I’m Katrina. I’m a second year PhD student at the Center for Data Science and also an alumnus from the master’s program. I started the PhD in 2018 and graduated from the Masters in 2017.
Tim Baker [0:32] Entering the PhD, was that your first time applying for the PhD program?
Katrina Evtimova [0:36] Actually, it was the second.
Tim Baker [0:38] Okay. So that’s good, because you’re the first person that we’ve had that that situation with. So what do you think that you did different applying the second time?
Katrina Evtimova [0:48] Ah, that’s a good question. Um, I think it mostly comes down to showing more research experience and maybe presenting my recent agenda in a more structured way. The first time I applied, I was still in the master’s program and I feel like I was still figuring things out. At the final Spring of my master’s program, I got involved more closely in research, which I think played a role in having a more successful application the second time around.
Tim Baker [1:24] And so you had a bit of an interesting journey because you graduated. And correct me if I’m wrong – you graduated and then you went into industry and then you came back?
Katrina Evtimova [1:30] That’s correct.
Tim Baker [1:36] So how did you find the process of going from industry back into a PhD program? Or I guess into a PhD program back into academia?
Katrina Evtimova [1:44] Yeah I mean industry and academia bit different. Like, when I was working in industry, I had like a research engineer position, and I still had it in the back of my mind that eventually I wanted to enter a PhD program and start working towards my doctoral degree. But, I think the experience I got working in the industry was valuable to give me a perspective on how data science is applied in the wild. As I came back to the PhD program, I think one thing I’ve tried to keep going from having worked in the industry is to keep a schedule from nine to five, to be in the office early in the morning, etc.
Tim Baker [2:39] So you’ve been able to, like strike a work/life balance, basically by having that sort of a schedule?
Katrina Evtimova [2:44] Um, I’m trying to.
Tim Baker [2:46] Yeah well, I guess it’s difficult, right. It’s a lot of work.
Katrina Evtimova [2:51] Yeah a PhD is a commitment.
Tim Baker [2:54] Yeah, definitely. So when you’re putting your application together, how did you reach out to people for letters? Like what was your process of contacting people?
Katrina Evtimova [3:06] So, I initially thought of a list of people that I thought would be suitable and provide a good recommendation letter and people who know me well. And I basically sent a bunch of emails and I found that people usually respond very quickly to those kinds of requests, especially if you’re close to them.
Tim Baker [3:29] So usually, you’d recommend going with people that you’re close to and as much as possible?
Katrina Evtimova [3:33] Yes, like people who know you well and can speak well of your like abilities.
Tim Baker [3:38] But did you like build relationships with CDS faculty and let them know that you are going to be applying? How did that work for you?
Katrina Evtimova [3:45] Yes, I actually did. So I worked closely with one of the professors at the CDS. I did an independent study with them and then during the application process, I asked them for a recommendation.
Tim Baker [4:01] And then prior to submitting your application for the PhD program, did you reach out to see the faculty that you were interested in working with?
Katrina Evtimova [4:10] Yes. In fact, I did. I had some conversations before I applied. I think it was helpful to get a sense of like, what the research environment is like and like what I would be doing.
Tim Baker [4:23] You already lived in New York for a while, when you came to the PhD program, but did you live in New York before you started the MS program?
Katrina Evtimova [4:31] Yes, I was already in New York. I moved to New York right after college after college. Okay, um, then work for two years and then applied for the masters.
Tim Baker [4:41] Okay. And where were you coming from when you move to New York?
Katrina Evtimova [4:45] I was coming from Boston.
Tim Baker [4:47] Ok, but it was your first time in New York?
Katrina Evtimova [4:48] First time living full time.
Tim Baker [4:51] How did you find that transition from living in a city like Boston and coming to a bigger city like New York?
Katrina Evtimova [5:00] Boston is great. Yeah, but I also love New York. New York is a pretty unique place. Yeah, it has its own particularities but I was able to find housing through friends. So I certainly recommend accessing your network like asking friends of friends, someone might know someone is looking for a roommate. I think it’s more like a quick market but you need word of mouth.
Tim Baker [5:39] Yeah, definitely. It’s a tough city to break into. It feels intimidating.
Katrina Evtimova [5:45] Yeah it feels intimidating. But I like living here. I love it. It’s so diverse and it can be so impactful both professionally and personally. Like there’s so many things to do.
Tim Baker [6:00] Yeah, cool. So once you were here, were you able to , through CDS, get all the equipment you needed to get set up for your research? How does that process work?
Katrina Evtimova [6:16] Um, so thankfully the CDS provided a generous stipend and a generous initiation package, which provided for basically like getting a computer and like all the equipment that I needed.
Tim Baker [6:32] Okay, cool. So what is life like for a PhD student at CDS? I mean, you’ve kind of touched on it a little bit, but you know, what is your day to day like?
Katrina Evtimova [6:42] Well, as I said earlier, I try to keep a regular work schedule, like being in the office early in the morning. Personally, I find myself like most productive in the morning, and getting some work done before all the meetings come into place. Like I usually have a bunch of meetings with my collaborators or like other students. And I attend some of the CDS events. Like there are a lot of like guest speakers who come to talk here, which is super interesting. I participate in some reading groups where people read on a particular topic and they present some like, recent papers from different disciplines.
Tim Baker [7:39] Okay, and then you’ve been on the leadership circle, you’ve been the president of the leadership circle. Can you speak a little bit about the leadership circle and what it means to CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [7:51] I am really fond of the leadership circle. It’s a student organization, which organizes events for the CDS community. It helps students engage with each other, get to know each other, interact with faculty. I think it’s a great way for people to feel more part of a community. And like one of my favorite events that we organize is the CDS Academy Awards, where students can get recognized for the work and the projects that we that they do during their studies.
Tim Baker [8:30] It’s a good event. I enjoyed that last year. What’s one thing that you would recommend everybody do when they get to New York City?
Katrina Evtimova [8:39] There are so many things to do. I mean, I love exploring New York on foot just walking around different neighborhoods. Like, NYU is so strategically located in such a nice part of the city. Like sometimes I just take a walk into West Village and it’s super relaxing and super interesting to see all the different businesses there, the atmosphere…
Tim Baker [9:12] It’s fun, right? There’s all these weird little crannies, tucked away streets that you don’t even know exists.
Katrina Evtimova [9:16] And another thing is I like comedy a lot. So there’s a big comedy scene in New York and I really recommend going to the Comedy Cellar, which is very close to Washington Square Park. Like I’ve seen like great shows there with some world famous comedians. And you never know who will you’ll get.
Tim Baker [9:41] People always drop in.
Katrina Evtimova [9:42] Yeah they just drop in.
Tim Baker [9:44] So can you tell us a little bit about the research that you’re doing? You know, you don’t have to go in depth, just like an overview.
Katrina Evtimova [9:58] Sure. Generally speaking I work in representation learning. And it deals with learning representations of data. In my case, it’s visual data. And the goal is to use large amounts of unlabeled data and extract like some structure or like a representation of that data that can be useful in downstream tasks, such as classification.
Tim Baker [10:25] Do you find that you have a lot of interaction with your faculty advisors while you’re working on the research?
Katrina Evtimova [10:31] Oh, certainly. I have regular meetings with my advisor, and he has like a bigger group of postdocs and students so I interact with the group a lot.
Tim Baker [10:48] Great. And what are some of the benefits of doing research at CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [10:54] I think it’s the fact that like CDS has attracted really top faculty and students, people who are really the top of their field of research. Also the fact that CDS is so interdisciplinary and allows for ideas to flow from one field to another.
Tim Baker [11:21] I guess ultimately, why did you choose CDS?
Katrina Evtimova [11:26] Back in the day when I was applying for the master’s program, I was really impressed with the whole philosophy behind the master’s program, the way it was designed. First, it’s really cool that it was the first data science program ever. And second, it had some really prominent researchers who were involved with the program, like Yann LeCun being the founding director of the program. Also the Center for Data Science received support from the Moore Sloan Foundation, which I thought was a very positive sign. And the fact that it’s in New York.
Tim Baker [12:17] This wasn’t on the original list of questions I sent you. So if you don’t want to answer you don’t have to. But you had a real interesting internship this summer. Do you want to talk about that at all?
Katrina Evtimova [12:26] Sure. This summer, I interned at Facebook AI research, which is a special department at Facebook so it feels like an academic department. Like the people who work there are involved with just academic research, they publish papers. So I basically moved like my current office to the office Facebook, but I was doing the same work that I’m doing here but for Facebook.
Tim Baker [13:04] That’s awesome. Last question. If you could go back in time and talk to yourself as you’re doing your application, what’s the one bit of advice, the thing that you know now that you wish you could have told yourself back then?
Katrina Evtimova [13:15] Maybe not to overthink things. Just to keep a positive attitude, and don’t feel overwhelmed, just try to speak about your strengths and have a clear view of why you want to be here.
Tim Baker [13:40] Okay. Awesome. Great. Thank you so much.
Tim Baker [13:42] Thank you for listening to the Center for Data Science Admissions podcast. If you have any questions regarding the admission process, please email us at email@example.com. The music for this podcast was composed by the instrumental artist Cryptic One. You can find his work on his bandcamp profile.