Graduate Profiles

Benji Lampel - Graduate Student, Computer Science Department

photo of Benji Lampel in the UCSB RaceLab
photo of Benji Lampel in the Eng II Courtyard

About Benji:

Hometown: Granada Hills, CA
Previous Degrees: B.S., Computer Science, UCSB in 2015
Degree Sought from UCSB: Master's degree (2nd year student) – B.S. / M.S. program
Graduate Study Area: Computer Systems
Group / Advisor: UCSB RaceLab – Professors Chandra Krintz and Rich Wolski

Research Interests: Internet of Things (IoT), networking, embedded systems, cloud computing
Master's Topic: SmartFarm Sensor Network
What types of Financial Assistance have you received? Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)
UCSB Student Organizations: SB Hacks, Laughology
Hobbies: Reading, Stand Up Comedy (performance and consumption), Critically Analyzing TV and movies, Board Games, Writing (fiction and nonfiction), getting in arguments in the comments section
Interesting aside about you: I founded the hackathon SB Hacks with two of my friends, Trevor and AJ, two years ago. I am also very political, involving myself in community issues such as student-police interactions and the Isla Vista Community Service District

Favorite things about

UCSB: The sunshine! The beach! Besides the obvious, the social climate at the campus is very unique. The chill vibes of UCSB are a great contrast to the overly competitive atmospheres at other top universities

Computer Science program: Many of the professors are also great teachers. Research opportunities are plentiful. There is tremendous enthusiasm for learning without the nuisance of impeding egos

Santa Barbara: Microbreweries everywhere! Amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a growing tech scene, many of my friends still live here

Benji and his research

Tell us about your research

My research is a part of the SmartFarm project, which combines cloud computing, IoT, AI and more in an effort to bring the 21st century to farmers. My part of the project involves a lot of pieces, and several areas of computer science/engineering: IoT, cloud, full stack web development, soldering circuits and embedded systems. Using all of these areas together, I am engineering a rugged sensor made from off-the-shelf parts for long term deployment in agricultural fields to measure soil moisture and temperature (with more features available). The data is sent through an “intercessor” node that does mild data processing and then forwards data to a private cloud running a LAMP stack. A farmer can access their data directly on the cloud through a simple web interface. You can check out my current data at 169.231.235.13.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

I wanted to do systems research when I started my Master's but I didn't have much of an idea beyond that. I had taken a couple classes with Prof. Wolski and knew he ran a systems lab, so I asked about what research RaceLab was working on. In a meeting with Profs. Wolski and Krintz, I was introduced to the SmartFarm project. Getting to work on Internet of Things and cloud computing really appealed to me – little did I know the project would be much more comprehensive!

Why did you select UCSB and the Computer Science Department in regards to your research?

I did my undergrad at UCSB as well (BS/MS program), so researching at UCSB was a very logical next step. Part of the reason I chose the BS/MS program was the flexibility it would offer me in finishing my undergrad degree, and part of my choice was also because I knew many professors and students doing research here and I wanted to be a part of that community.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

Besides the feeling of accomplishment when I get something to finally work, I think the most rewarding part of my research is knowing that I am building a tool that can realistically help farmers manage their water. In California, saving water is an important goal considering the drought, and as someone who is deeply concerned about the environment and global warming, knowing that my research can contribute to sustainable farming practices makes me feel that I am not standing idly by while our planet heats to dangerous levels.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

As a part of a larger project, there's a team specifically for SmartFarm in RaceLab. During the school year we have weekly meetings where everyone gets updates on all aspects of the project. RaceLab isn't the only group working on the project, though. Through an NSF grant, we are collaborating with teams at Cal Poly SLO and Fresno State to engineer and calibrate different sensors, design more robust and tailored microcontroller boards for our specific application, and develop a wireless protocol to communicate data from the field to the intercessor.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

Group research is fantastic. Science is not an individual endeavor, and being able to work on a team with around a dozen very smart, capable, and fun people has been a reward in itself. My advisors in particular have been very patient with me, as my project entailed a much steeper learning curve on the physical end than I anticipated. They have also taught me methods of inquiry to efficiently identify my actual problems, and move towards the best solutions. Overall my experience having advisors has been very positive.

Where will your research take you next?

My next step right now is to move into industry by starting a company around my research. Before I even got on the SmartFarm team, the direction of the project was already aimed toward eventually becoming a product. Now I want to start realizing this idea and get useful technology to the farmers who can benefit from it.

Benji's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The program offers three tracks: Applications, Systems and Foundations, so there's something for everyone. The department is really diverse in the areas of research, and that diversity is only growing as the department expands. In terms of classes, one of the biggest strengths of the department is offering the 290 series, which are research-focused classes whose syllabi change quarterly. These classes are run differently than most of the grad level courses because they focus on the instructor's research area, so you are not learning the established, text-book knowledge, but the new and cutting edge.

Favorite courses

This is a really, really hard one for me, as I've taken a few classes that have stood out. But if I had to choose one, I'd say CS160 Translation of Programming Languages (aka compilers) with Prof. Tim Sherwood. It was a hard class with a lot of material and a big project, but understanding how a machine takes apart a program and actually runs it changed the way I thought about computers and how I code.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA)

As a TA for CS 64, I ran a lab with Michael, another TA, graded homeworks and exams, held office hours, and even gave a lecture! The instructor was 5th year(?) PhD student Kyle Dewey, who worked closely with Michael and me in revamping the course materials to include more digital design elements. Running the labs was not too much work, mostly consisting of 10 minute mini lectures and answering questions about the lab assignment. Office hours were sometimes more work, and when they were it proved more rewarding work. Having one on one time with students catalyzed the “ah ha!” moments of learning. I really appreciate my time as a TA; I view teaching as a responsibility that comes with getting an education, as well as a way to hone your own skills and prove you really know what you're talking about.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

For the past several years, balancing school and a social life posed quite the challenge. Aside from averaging 16-18 units a quarter, I was an integral member of SB Hacks, UCSB's annual 36 hour hackathon, an active member of the stand up comedy group Laughology, and a very social person trying to keep up with multiple friend groups. My days were largely spent working for classes, my nights a mix of open mics, comedy shows, parties, and relaxing with house mates – and planning for SB Hacks constituted a 24/7 job on top of it all. Working hard and smart helped me stay on top of classes and on the right side of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Slack helped me communicate with the SB Hacks team remotely, while I did anything and everything else. I ran on two schedules: one was the strict schedule of my class times and open mic times, which happened regardless of my presence. Socializing and SB Hacks ran on looser schedules, where socializing occurred whenever my other responsibilities waned, and SB Hacks work took priority on an as-needed basis.

What's your social life and housing like?

I have a social life! Which is amazing, considering the tropes about the grad students whose lives are work. I've lived in Isla Vista for 3 years, going on 4 now. For two years I lived with College of Creative Studies friends in the unofficial CCS house “Pendolaplex” - the frat house of nerds. This last year I lived on Sabado Tarde right by the beach. The downsize of housing from a 4 house complex of 30+ people to a 3 person house came with a drastic change in how I socialized. I definitely had to make much more of an effort to see friends, but this effort also helped me develop friendships with all the people I didn't live with. This year I'm living in a studio apartment, so my socializing will change again, but now I finally have a large coffee table, so I look forward to hosting board game nights. In general, living in Santa Barbara has been great. Living on campus without a car, you don't really get a feel for the area. Since I've moved into IV and had a car, exploring Goleta and Downtown has made me really feel like a local. There's so much Goleta and Downtown have to offer that you miss by restricting your world to campus and IV.

What did you do over the summers?

This past summer I spent my time researching. I started my lab work in January of 2016, and I haven't stopped. Last summer I traveled Europe for just over two months with a friend from UCSB, exploring over 20 cities! Summers don't have to be for work and internships. Life has so much to offer outside of academia, sometimes it's nice to take a short break.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Find your balance. Everyone has such a different schedule, it doesn't make sense to prescribe a single way to prioritize everything you have to do. Spend a few weeks with too much to do, find what you really like, and stick with that. Get involved with something other than research. If nothing else, activities beyond research provide a context switch that will help keep you sane, and keep you from hating your work. Lastly, have a healthy way to relieve stress. If you're particularly bad at stress management, UCSB CAPS (Counseling & Psychological Services) is an incredible resource.

Ping Chi - Graduate Student, Electrical & Computer Engineering Department

photo of ping chi in the lab
photo of ping chi

About Ping:

Hometown: Jilin, China
Degrees: B.E. (2008) and M.S.E. (2011) in Electronic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
Degree Sought from UCSB: Ph.D. in Computer Engineering (final year)
Graduate Study Area: Computer Architecture, Electronic Design Automation
Group / Advisor: Professor Yuan Xie / SEAL Lab
Research Interests
: Memory Systems, High-Performance Computing, and Energy-Efficient System Architecture
Important Conferences Attended: International Symposium on High Performance Computer Architecture (HPCA'13, 14, 15), Design Automation Conference (DAC'14, 15), International Conference on Computer Aided Design (ICCAD'14)
Financial Assistance Received: Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)
Hobbies: pingpong, bowling, badminton, hiking, reading
Interesting Aside about You: Jane Austen is my favorite novelist

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: Brilliant faculty and students, super helpful staff, positive atmosphere
  • UCSB: Beautiful campus with its own beach, cultural diversity
  • Santa Barbara: Fantastic weather (most days are sunny and warm), beautiful beaches, Spanish architecture

Ping and her research

Tell us about your research

My research interests include Computer Architecture and Electronic Design Automation, with a particular emphasis on memory systems, high-performance computing, and energy-efficient system architecture. Specifically, I have been working on cache and memory system design with emerging non-volatile memories (NVMs), including spin-transfer torque magnetic RAM (STT-RAM), phase change memory (PCM), and metal-oxide resistive RAM (ReRAM). As technology scales, conventional memory technologies, such as SRAM and DRAM, face several challenges like increasing leakage power and degrading reliability. Emerging NVMs have been widely studied to overcome those challenges and considered as promising alternatives to build next-generation memory systems.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

My previous research topic was signal processing when I was a master student. I would like to go from software to hardware and understand the whole stack of computer system during my Ph.D. study. Being a computer architect is cool. Also, my advisor is well-known in the computer architecture community. I applied for the graduate school, and fortunately became a Ph.D. student in his group.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE?

I transferred to the UCSB ECE Department with my advisor when I finished my first three years at Penn State. There must be good reasons for my advisor to move our group here.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

My research provides the industry with novel ideas that apply the emerging nonvolatile memories to next-generation memory system design.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

UCSB has a great collaborative atmosphere. Inside our group, I work closely with my advisor and my colleagues. My advisor is always helpful, guiding my research work and giving me expert feedback on my idea, writing, presentation, and so on. I collaborate research projects with my colleagues who have different expertise from mine. For example, in a recent project of a system design, my teammate works on the circuit-level design while I focus on the architecture-level design. Also, as a senior student in our group, I serve as a "mentor" of junior students. Outside our group, I collaborate with other universities and industry partners, e.g., Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and Qualcomm. We have weekly meetings, discussing ideas and updating progress.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

Working in a group brings great benefits for our research progress. With different expertise, we can learn from each other and collaborate with each other. New research ideas usually come out of casual conversations. Also, senior students can help junior students a lot. My advisor works very closely with us. He is always ready to provide useful advice and even hands-on help.

Where will your research take you next?

With my intensive research interest and experience, I plan to pursue a faculty position and continue my research work in future.

Ping's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

I think that the major strengths of our department's graduate program include our brilliant faculty, supportive staff, and positive research atmosphere. Our faculty are outstanding researchers in their respective fields. They conduct cutting edge research and publish at the top venues of their research areas. Our staff are super helpful and friendly. They are always ready to answer your questions and help you solve your problems efficiently. The research atmosphere is pleasing and encouraging. People like to provide help and talk and collaborate with each other.

Favorite courses

I have taken only a few courses here, and my favorite course was Advanced Computer Architecture: Processor Design (ECE 254A). During the lectures, the instructor discusses various topics of processor design, which lets us know the details about how a multi-core processor with multi-level caches works. The course projects are Verilog implementations of processor design, which greatly improves our programming skills with Verilog. Thanks to the programming training of this course, many graduate students find their job and intern opportunities as hardware engineers.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

I have been a GSR every quarter since I transferred to UCSB. I do not have TA experience here because I am spending only two years here before graduation and have been focused on my research projects. As a GSR, I spend a lot of time at the lab, doing research projects, writing papers, and discussing research problems with my advisor and labmates.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

The balance between work and life is very important. I work very hard, and also live a healthy life. Usually, my working hours are from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays. I go to the recreation center twice a week, and sometimes play tennis with my friends on weekends.

Where have you lived while at UCSB?

I live in Goleta, sharing a two-bedroom and two-bathroom apartment with my roommate. It is very close to the beach. I usually take a walk to the beach after work and before the sunset. I believe Santa Barbara will be the most beautiful place with the best weather I will ever live in during my life. I play tennis, go to cinema, and have dinner together with my friends on weekends. We also get together to celebrate festivals and birthdays.

What do you do over the summers?

I had an internship at HP Labs in Palo Alto last summer. I will graduate this summer.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Explore various research topics before find your favorite one. Talk with the faculty and the peer students often for advice and information. Study at the newly renovated UCSB library. Enjoy the beautiful beach and the pleasant weather here. Try surfing. Explore those hiking trails nearby.

Carrie Segal – Graduate Student, Electrical & Computer Engineering

photo of XXFIRST LAST
photo of carrie segal

About Carrie:

Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Degrees: B.S. Physics, Stonybrook University; B.S. Economics & Management, Empire State University; A.A.S. Jewelry Design, Fashion Institute of Technology
Degree Sought from UCSB: Computer Engineering – 3rd Year M.S./Ph.D.
Graduate Study Area: High level system design
Group / Advisor: Professor Forrest Brewer

Research Interests: Hardware/Software interfaces, VLSI, Community Definitions, Systems Design, Natural Language Specifications
Important Conferences Attended: Womens Entrepreneurship Festival
Financial Assistance Received: Teaching Assistant (TA) & Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)
Hobbies: Entrepreneurship
Interesting Aside about You: Inspired by Issac Asimov – I tried to read all of the books in my local library

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: The ECE department is active within the local start-up community. Graduate students are encouraged to start companies. Professors are leading research teams and working with industry to bring their inventions to the public. In general the ECE department works to actually implement their research out in the world.
  • UCSB: The beautiful location and the diverse student body. There are also fun facts, like UCSB was one of the first four nodes in the early web, and six faculty members are Nobel Laureates.
  • Santa Barbara: The sunlight, eucalyptus trees, butterflies, hummingbirds and beaches

Why UCSB and CE?

UCSB has a strong reputation at my undergraduate university, and the physics professors would talk about it around me. I chose to apply for CE because, from what I could tell, the only major that actually gets to build computers are computer engineers.

Carrie and her research

Tell us about your research

The lab I am part of designs and tests VLSI chips. Sometimes I write C programs to study how a particular algorithm would operate as a ASIC. Other days are for probing our fabricated chips to characterize their performance limits under different scenarios.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

As an undergraduate I was interested in building quantum computers.

Why did you select UCSB and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in regards to your research?

Computer Engineering is directly related to physically building computers, and that appealed to me.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

Rewarding about my research... It is really interesting to think of how to use our current technology in new ways. My personal career goals are to eventually found a company which builds integrated circuits for new types of applications.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

My lab builds things which rely on the prior work of our graduate students. While I am part of Professor Brewers lab, I regularly attend meetings with the Four Eyes lab in computer science. Attending Four Eyes lab meetings provides interesting perspective into challenges not directly related to my main research and gives me new ideas. Professor Brewer is working on a project for CERN and because of this we work with the UCSB physics department and a collaboration of scientists across the world.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

Labmates who work nearby are very helpful for solving problems. An advisor is helpful, but I like the advice one of the retiring ECE professors gave me. Which was to talk with my advisor about whatever I want too not just their interests.

Where will your research take you next?

It is my goal to start a company which implements the things I am learning about the future of the semiconductor industry. 

Carrie's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The Computer engineering graduate program has three distinct areas which means a student is able to really explore different aspects of computer engineering. The fact that it is possible to register for classes which explore the clean room, to design a VLSI chip or study robotics controls provide plenty of opportunities.

Favorite courses

CS 240A (Applied Parallel Programming) and CS 254 (Advanced Computer Architecture) are two courses I remember particularly enjoying. CS 254 answered several of my burning questions about why computers today are constructed the way they are. CS 240A was very helpful for my own programming skills and in general the things I learned in the course are helpful to the progress I make in my own research.

Experience with the screening exam

The screening exam is concerned with topics an undergraduate in computer engineering needs to know, and since I was not a CE undergraduate it took extra work to prepare. I studied by reading the undergrad text books at UCSB and it was actually much less intimidating than I thought it would be. By the time I took screening exam I had already TAed for 3 quarters, and the professors who are interviewing are really no worse than answering student questions. Being a TA made it easier to complete the screening exam.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

I have worked as a teaching assistant every quarter. For the past two years I have taught lab for Hardware/Software Interfaces/Embedded Systems (ECE153A/253) and another related course, Sensor and Peripheral Interface Design (ECE153B). Both courses are about using electronics to interact with the real world and since many students take both classes I see the same students twice in a row which is fun. Since these two classes are about building things it is rewarding to see the student projects blinking lights, running LCD screens and controlling motors the last week of the quarter. Another class I like to TA for is ECE 152A (Digital Logic Design) because once again it has fun lab projects. Over the summers I work as a GSR, which is much different than my usual routine (teaching assistant who also has a research project to work on). As a GSR it is much easier to become lost in thought and I can easily spend hours writing notes or reading.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

I always choose family over school. Early in my TA career, I formed a close group of graduate student friends and we still socialize on weekends.

Where have you lived while at UCSB?

When I moved to Santa Barbara my husband and I bought a spot in a trailer park near the butterfly grove in Goleta. We live there with our dog and 2 cats. Living in Santa Barbara is hard to figure out, but once you find a place the city is lovely to be a citizen of.

What do you do over the summers?

The summers are for focusing on my research. Last year I worked at UCSB in the lab building the test bench for our most recent chip, and next summer I will do the same for the next generation chip design.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Advice for prospective graduate students would be to make sure you know what you what to accomplish in graduate school, but be open to redefining the meaning of success at accomplishing your original goal.

Gang Wang - Graduate Student, Computer Science

photo of gang wang
photo of gang wangAbout Gang:

Hometown: Shandong, China
Personal Website
Degrees: B.E. in Electronic Engineering, Tsinghua University, China (2010)
Degree sought from UCSB: Ph.D. in Computer Science (final year)
Important Awards and Honors: Graduate Division Dissertation Fellowship (2015); Best Practical Paper Award in SIGMETRICS (2013)
Graduate Study Area: Data Mining and Security
Group / Advisor: Professors Ben Y. Zhao and Heather Zheng / SAND Lab
Research Interests: Security and Privacy, Big Data Analytics, Online Social Networks, Crowdsourcing
Hobbies: Basketball, Hiking, Photography

Favorite things about

  • CS department: Great faculty and research environment
  • UCSB: Beautiful campus, friendly people, great recreation center
  • Santa Barbara: Best weather; The ocean and mountains are just within a small distance

Why Electrical & Computer Engineering and UCSB?

Great faculty and research environment. People are passionate about what they are doing.

More about Gang and his research

  • Important conferences attended: ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC) — 2014; USENIX Security — 2014 & 2013; Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) — 2013; World Wide Web (WWW) — 2013 & 2012; Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) — 2015; MobiCom — 2011
  • Gang's Publication List
  • Most important publication to date: "Serf and Turf: Crowdturfing for Fun and Profit" (pdf)
  • Types of financial assistance received: Teaching Assistant (TA), Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), Dissertation Fellowship

Tell us about your research

My research primarily focuses on privacy and security of online communities such as online social networks and crowdsourcing systems. The goal is to use measurements and empirical study to gain a deep understanding of emerging threats faced by online communities today. For example, to understand malicious spam campaigns in social networks, we collect large-scale datasets from Twitter and Facebook and analyze real attack events. With lessons learned from measurements and analysis, I build practical security systems to identify malicious behaviors and protect the web and users.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

When I was an undergraduate, I took a class of Computer Networking and I absolutely loved it. Since then I got more and more interested in Internet Measurements and Data-driven analysis. So at the time when I applied for graduate school, I switched my major from Electronic Engineering to Computer Science to pursue this type of research.

Why did you select UCSB and the Computer Science Department in regards to your research?

The primary reason is that I want to work with my current advisor as his Ph.D. student. I met my advisor when he was giving a talk at my undergraduate school. I really liked his research direction and the way he approached real-world problems on the Internet. So, without hesitation, I applied to the UCSB Ph.D. program.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

The most rewarding part is solving real-world problems that impact millions or even billions of Internet users. Working closely with our industry partners, we often get to see our research ideas come to life. For example, our security mechanism adopted by large online social networks (e.g., Renren, LinkedIn) is projecting millions of their users.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

In most of my research projects, I work closely with my advisors Professors Ben Y. Zhao and Heather Zheng who have been providing me with great advice and guidance. Within our lab, we have a nice tradition for students to collaborate with each other on research. Outside of the lab, I have worked with many excellent researchers at Microsoft Research (Redmond) during summer internships. Finally, we often collaborate with industry partners (e.g., Google, LinkedIn, Whisper, Renren), and use real-world data to evaluate software prototypes, and eventually transfer the techniques to production systems.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

I have benefited a lot from the supportive environment in our lab. People in the lab are my colleagues and also my friends. We often collaborate with each other, which truly enables rapid and meaningful research progress. Also, senior students usually serve as student-mentors for the newcomers and help them to get on track quickly. My advisors also work closely with students to provide helpful advice. I really appreciate their hands-on help with my research during my early Ph.D. years and giving me the freedom to work more independently in my senior years.

Where will your research take you next?

I have had a great experience doing research at UCSB. Currently, I am preparing my job application for a faculty position in academia.

Gang's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

I think the main strength is the outstanding faculty in the department. As researchers, they set the standards high by tackling word-class research problems, publishing at the top venues of their respective fields, and making positive impact to the whole research community. In the meantime, they are friendly and easy to talk to. Often times I need help from faculty members outside of my lab on certain research problems. They are always glad to set up meetings with me to discuss my research, and provide super helpful feedbacks.

Favorite course

Among the graduate-level classes, my favorite is the CS 290 Special Topics course series. This class is about the most recent development in a given research area and hosted by different professors. So far, I have taken three different CS 290 classes on topics of Mobile Networks, Machine Learning and Social Computing. Each one is equally exciting and highly rewarding. We read key papers in these fields and discuss them with professors and peer students. It is a great opportunity to learn about a research field and also think about how it would move forward. There are often interesting new ideas coming out of the intensive class discussions. These turn out to be extremely helpful for my own research.

Experience with the graduate exams

I want to share some tips about the Major Area Exam (MAE) in the CS department. MAE is the first Ph.D. milestone. In the exam, a student presents a talk in front of the Ph.D. committees and fellow students to give an in-depth overview about a single research area. One thing to keep in mind is that MAE is about understanding the research problem, not about the specific papers. Instead of spending 30 minutes talking about the technical details of one or two papers, focus more on the key research problems they solved, and what direction is likely to be the next step. Another suggestion is to be prepared to think “outside of the box”. In often cases, the questions are focused on seeing how you think about an old system in new scenarios or how you think on the fly about new research problems.

Describe your experience as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and/or Teaching Assistant (TA)

I have worked as TA for multiple Computer Science course of different levels, from introductory course like Foundations of Computer Science (CS40), Computer Organization (CS64), to more advanced undergraduate class Networking Programming (CS176B), to Graduate Networking (CS276). Working with students of different background and knowledge levels is both challenges and rewarding. I find that demonstrating practical examples is very useful to convey complex ideas and principles.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

The balance between work and life is important. I don’t mind working really hard because I like what I do. At the same time, I want to live healthily. One thing I like to do after work is to go to the recreation center on campus to play some basketball and lift weights. I usually go there twice a week with my lab mates. It is fantastic opportunity to relax and recharge the body.

Where have you lived while at UCSB?

I live in the Family House with my wife. Our neighbors are mostly graduate students from UCSB. People are nice and friendly. We often invite each other for dinners during the weekend.

What did you do this summer or plan to do next summer?

During summer, I usually travel to other cities for internships. In the past few years, I spent the summer twice in Seattle and once in the Bay Area. These were great opportunities to explore new cities and meet interesting people.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Enjoy UCSB and Santa Barbara. I will miss the beautiful ocean, mountains and the lovely people here when I graduate.

Sebastian Siatkowski - Graduate Student, Electrical & Computer Engineering

photo of Sebastian Siatkowski
photo of sebastian siatkowski in lab

About Sebastian:

  • Hometown: Wyszkow, Poland and Los Angeles, California
  • Degrees: B.S. in Computer Engineering and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, UCSB
  • Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: third year Ph.D. candidate
  • Graduate Study Area in CE: Data Mining in Test


  • Advisor / Group: Professor Li-C. Wang / Mining Test and Verification (MTV Lab) data for EDA & Test applications
  • Research Interests: Adaptive Test, Failure Analysis, Yield Optimization, Big Data
  • Hobbies: soccer, hiking, mixed martial arts, running, video games

Favorite things about

  • ECE department: brilliant and easily approachable professors, ocean view from our lab
  • UCSB: beautiful campus, friendly people, great recreation center
  • Santa Barbara: perfect weather year round, relaxed culture, tons of breathtaking hiking trails

Why Electrical & Computer Engineering and UCSB?

My fascination with computers began at an early age. The more I learned, the more complex and intriguing further learning became. As a high school student, I chose UCSB for the location and its prominent social scene. What got me to stay for grad school were UCSB's excellent academic standings and the beautiful campus which provides a relaxing atmosphere.

More about Sebastian and his research

  • Important Conferences Attended: the International Test Conference (ITC) and the International Conference on Computer-Aided Design (ICCAD)
  • Most important publication to date: "Yield Optimization Using Advanced Statistical Correlation Methods"
  • Master’s Thesis: "Abnormality Search for Predicting the Screenability of Customer Returns "
  • Types of financial assistance received: Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and Teaching Assistant (TA)

Tell us about your research

Very large amounts of data are produced during manufacture and test of semiconductors, but analysis techniques applied in practice do not utilize all the information available in that data. Our research focuses on applying state-of-the-art approaches from the machine learning field to advance semiconductor testing, as well as developing novel techniques suited for the specific problems at hand. The goal of test data analysis is to find the right balance while attempting to improve quality, reduce test cost, and increase yield.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

I took Professor Li-C. Wang's courses as an undergraduate and was quickly captivated by his way of thinking and approaching problems. I reached out to him to learn about his group's research and was so fascinated by it that I eagerly decided to try to join the group and help move the research forward. I think what persuaded me the most was how clear the application of the research was to real problems.

Why did you select UCSB and the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department in regards to your research?

Doing my undergrad at UCSB exposed me to our phenomenal faculty. The professors in our ECE department are great mentors and are some of the top experts in their fields. I also looked at PhD program rankings in ECE across the country, and at the time UCSB was ranked 5th so that was a huge plus.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

Since we work closely with industry, we actually get to see our methodologies applied in practice. It's very exciting to see our ideas come to life, and getting praise from engineers for helping them solve critical problems is very rewarding. This close industry partnership is rather unique for academic research groups, which pushes us to do our best to maintain it.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

From what I've seen so far, collaboration is the single most important element of successful research. The atmosphere in the ECE department is always very encouraging towards collaborating with peers and faculty. I feel very comfortable discussing my research with students from other groups, and I also find it interesting to hear about the research they are working on. Such discussions often lead to exchanges of ideas which help to uncover new perspectives of the problem at hand.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

The collaborative aspect of research is what truly enables rapid and meaningful progress. I consider every single one of my group mates a good friend. We often spend time together in all kinds of social situations, and new research ideas sometimes spring up at the most unexpected times. Our advisor, Li-C. Wang, is very hands on with all our research. He is always very closely involved with all the little details of our projects and is available for consultation at virtually all times.

Where will your research take you next?

Throughout my research, I've had the privilege of working with companies which are considered technology leaders in semiconductor manufacturing. This experience has opened many doors for jobs in the industry. As of now, I believe after graduation I will go directly into industry, and I will choose the company where I feel I can make the biggest contribution.

Sebastian's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The main strength has to be attributed to the outstanding faculty. The research conducted by all of their groups is cutting edge and they strive to always be the leading researchers in their fields with their continuous involvement in global research communities.

Favorite courses

Having taken most of the offered undergrad and grad courses related to Computer Engineering, it is very difficult to single one out as the favorite. I think an honorable mention definitely has to go to the CE Senior Capstone project (ECE 189B) that I took with Professor Steve Butner. That course really helped tie together a lot of the concepts learned throughout my first four years, but also made me realize how much I still didn't know which contributed to my decision to continue on to grad school.

Experience with the graduate exams

The screening exam sounded very scary at first. The idea of being orally examined by five professors sounded more stressful than any exam I had taken in the past. However, I found that with thorough preparation it was not as bad as I anticipated.

Describe your experience as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and/or Teaching Assistant (TA)

I have been a GSR for almost every quarter, and I was a TA for two courses (Digital Design with VHDL & Synthesis — ECE 156A and Computer-Aided Design of VLSI Circuits — ECE 156B). The GSR experience can sometimes truly push you to your limits. It taught me a lot about self-motivation and organization, both of which are absolutely necessary to make it as a GSR. The TA experience, on the other hand, was less hectic but just as rewarding. Although I did get overwhelmed with questions at times, especially near project deadlines, the experience was always positive. It is a great feeling to have students look up to you and to be able to help them truly grasp the concepts taught in class.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

Work-life balance does get out of hand at times, but usually only around important deadlines. During those times, it may feel like every waking hour is spent on research. However, when there are no imminent deadlines, even as a grad student I get plenty of time to socialize and take part in fun activities. Getting the most out of life may require slightly better time management skills than back during undergrad, but it's definitely achievable.

Where have you lived while at UCSB?

I lived in IV for a while and enjoyed my stay there, but after becoming a grad student and focusing more on my work I moved to Family Housing, which is probably the best housing deal available in the area.

What will you do this summer?

This summer I will go to Phoenix, AZ for an internship. My advisor's close relationship with industry has made finding internships every summer very easy. This will be my third summer interning for research related work and I did not have to interview for any of them.

Advice to prospective graduate students

Don't get consumed by research and academics. Try surfing, check out the many hiking trails, see a movie at the drive-in theater, go wine tasting, join an adult sports league, or just try something new. Venturing beyond what you're normally comfortable with can really help with personal development which ultimately reflects back on your research.

Ivan Bocić - Graduate Student, Computer Science

photo of Ivan Bocic
photo of Ivan Bocic

About Ivan:

  • Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
  • Degrees: B.S. in Computer Science, Union University
  • Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: 4th year Ph.D.
  • Graduate Study Area: Automated software verification
  • Group / Advisor: Professor Tevfik Bultan / VLab

  • Personal website: http://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~bo
  • Important Awards and Honors: Computer Science 2011 Outstanding Teaching Assistant (TA) and Best Paper runner-up at Computer Science 2014 Graduate Student Workshop
  • Hobbies: bass guitars & music, board games, cycling
  • Interesting aside/fact/information about you: I have a passion for boutique guitars and station wagons

Favorite things about

  • CS department: interesting research, casual atmosphere, and my peers
  • UCSB: the gym, lounging at the University Center (UCEN)
  • Santa Barbara: Everything. I don't want to leave.

Why CS and UCSB?

I decided to join the CS department at UCSB because the techniques I wanted to develop and the tools I wanted to build are a perfect match with VLab's recent work at UCSB. It made a lot of sense to me. Furthermore, if I were to spend five years of my life anywhere, Santa Barbara is the best choice, bar none. I really do not think there was much choice to the matter. To me, enrolling in any other university would have been compromise.

More about Ivan and his research

  • Important conferences attended: Was scheduled but unable to give a talk at ICSE 14. Will have a chance at ICSE 15 again :)
  • Publication list: http://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~bo/#publications
  • Dissertation topic: Verification of Data Models
  • Types of financial assistance received: Teaching Assistant (TA), Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), UCSB CS Merit Fellowship

Tell us about your research

Web applications are difficult to develop and maintain. In today's internet focused society, our most vital data is stored and maintained by web applications. It is imperative to ensure that all code that stores and manipulates this data (the data model) does so in a way that will not erase, invalidate, or expose our data to unwanted third parties. My research is about automatic verification of data models of web applications, focusing on behaviors in data models. The techniques I develop ultimately serve to not only find bugs in data models, but also conclude that there exist no bugs in data models.

How and why did you get into your area of research?

I was always interested in building tools and frameworks for other developers to use. Web applications, in particular, are lacking in these. Most of their tools and frameworks are built ad-hoc to serve an immediate purpose, and are lacking in many ways. There is so much room for improvement. PhD studies allow me to work on something I would have worked on anyway, but with full dedication and financial support. There are few better things.

Why did you select UCSB and the Computer Science Department in regards to your research?

I chose to work with Tevfik Bultan and on data model verification because I believe it has the most potential of actually working. Data models are over engineered, with even the best tools out there being overly complicated and crude. The research focus of his lab exactly overlaps with mine, so it was a natural choice for me. The weather helps too. A PhD is not a small commitment, and if nothing else, 5 years living in heaven is 5 years well spent.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

Sometimes you end up finding out things that no one else in the world knows. Sometimes you create a solution to a problem that not only no one else solved, but where most people were skeptical about the viability of a solution. Pushing these boundaries is engaging, rewarding, and most of all, fun.

UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate

My research branched off from a collaboration with Jaideep Nijjar, another student from my lab that has since graduated. I closely work with Tevfik Bultan, my advisor, who I consider to be a well-indexed library in human form. I also talk with peers from the Programming Languages lab and the Database Systems lab in order to keep track of related state-of-the-art research.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor

The best way to refine ideas is to present them to peers and expect a challenge. So many times I had an idea that was, unknown to me, either tried before or a known dead end. The group-focused research environment at UCSB fosters this to its ultimate. As for my advisor, I don't think I could have ended up with a better one. No offense to other faculty reading this. Not only is he able to lead me to state of the art research on any topic or about any idea I have, but he is also understanding, smart, creative, and beams passion.

Where will your research take you next?

As late in my studies it is, I don't know yet. I love teaching and I love independent research, but I also love writing code, making tools, working closely with the end user. Regardless of which side of the fence I end up on, I will try to stay in touch with the other side. Why can't it be both? :)

Ivan's thoughts on the academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program

The CS department is very research focused. Given that my passion is to create something big, to make it count, I am certainly at the right place. Not only do I get to work on cutting edge research, but I also get access to top-tier publication venues and even got a few papers published. The visibility this provides is invaluable. The coursework required by my department is minimal. It really serves only to straighten the fundamentals of a student's knowledge, and hardly gets in the way of independent research. Also, PhD students have guaranteed funding, meaning that we can focus on research without doing menial tasks on the side.

Favorite courses

Probably cs263, a course on runtime systems. Virtual machines for languages, memory management that happens underneath, low level stuff like that. Besides my personal interest in the topic, Chandra Krintz is an amazing professor and made that course a joy.

Experience with the graduate exams

To date, I only did my Major Area Exam. MAE at the CS department are about proving to a committee that you are up to date with state of the art research around your chosen field. It takes a lot (a LOT!) of reading papers to learn it all, plus a lot of work and practice to be able to present this knowledge during the exam itself. But I do not consider this to be a chore. If anything, I believe all students should go through it with full devotion and as early as possible. My understanding of the field and productivity as a researcher skyrocketed after preparing for the exam.

Describe your experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and/or Graduate Student Researcher

I was a TA for the first two quarters, then switching to a GSR position that I hold today. Most people have the same story. Most new PhD students start off as TAs. Being a TA gives you an opportunity to work with a potential advisor, and for an advisor to work with a potential GSR. Eventually you get promoted, so to speak, and that is all there is to it. I was the teaching assistant for CS160, an upper division compilers course. As such, I didn't work with too many people, and most of them were interested in the topic at hand, making my job much easier and more pleasurable. I enjoyed it a lot. Seeing that 'aha' moment in a student's eyes is so rewarding.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life

It is a constant balancing act. I balance between my work, the gym, biking, spending time with friends, and music. It is hard to do it all. I am certainly busier than I've ever been in my life. On the other hand, this is a problem of deciding what I want to do more at any given moment, as opposed to trying to squeeze a few fun bits in a boring life. It is a good problem to have. Plus, not being stuck with a 9-to-5 schedule is great. You can take a Tuesday off if you want to. I think I will miss that the most when I graduate.

Tell us about your social life as a graduate student and where you lived while at UCSB

Originally I moved into Grad Student Housing, where I spent a year. I lived in various private households since. I prefer it that way, you have more choice in where you want to live, and it is about as expensive. Nowadays I mostly spend time with Santa Barbara locals. I met most of them over various board gaming groups and we see each other a few times a week, over board games or just to chat. Living in Santa Barbara is a dream come true. I did not expect to be as happy as I am. Being able to go on an afternoon bike ride any time of year, sunshine without scorching heat all year long, it is just perfect. Some might expect it gets boring after a while but not me.

What do you do over the summer?

I interned during my first summer, and ever since, I stayed in the lab researching. Santa Barbara over summer is wonderful, the extra time in the lab lets me get more stuff done, and there's a pay incentive too. Why leave?

Advice to prospective graduate students

That's a tough one. Make sure to work on something you wouldn't think about if you hadn't enrolled, it will make research easy. Make sure to be responsible, rational and critical of your work, it will make your research productive. Make sure to take a break sometimes and "smell the roses", it will keep you rested. And, if you come here, make sure to wear sunscreen.