Aida Miralaei – Computer Science & Music

My first acquaintance with computer science was during my first year in high school, where I participated in the RoboCup Olympiad. I found it a perfect match for my enthusiasm for solving maths problems.

Since then, I have followed my passion through university and into the computing industry. After completing my undergraduate degree and a Masters in computer engineering in Tehran (Iran), I started working on Big Data projects in a company called Digikala, an online retailer in Iran. Working there for two years convinced me that applying machine-learning algorithms such as convolutional neural networks to large datasets is a powerful way of finding a solution to some challenging questions such as image recognition, speech recognition and natural language processing. However, to achieve accuracy, these methods require significant computational and memory resources, which can make them unsuitable for mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) end-node devices.

In October 2017, with generous help from my funders, including Emma, I came to Cambridge to start working on my PhD, which is an attempt to target this challenge, to make binary convolutional neural networks (BCNNs) more energy-efficient with the help of in-memory processing. Moving computations out of the processor into the main memory allows us to run BCNNs with significant efficiency as it skips a major energy bottleneck of data movement between the main memory and the processor.

Over the last two years, besides the purely research part of my PhD, I have enjoyed giving supervisions to undergraduates, going on photography walks in early mornings, helping with scheduling and organising inter-college events as a member of the MCR’s committee and participating as an active member of the ‘women@CL’ society in my department, of which I am deputy chair and treasurer. The ‘women@CL’ society is a network for women working in computing research and has a particular focus on  encouraging them to undertake interdisciplinary research, and have positions of leadership.

Last but not least, one of the most exciting parts of my college life is taking piano lessons under the kind supervision of John Bryden, an Emma member, with help from the college’s Burnaby Fund. Back in Iran, music lessons are unfortunately not a part of our school schedules and despite the growing passion I had for music, I didn’t manage to have private classes until I came to Cambridge. Now, I find it a blessing to have during the ups and downs of my PhD life. Cambridge was and always will be my dream
university, but when it comes to the colleges, to me Emmanuel is home. Here, I have got to know many amazing people from all around the world, made valuable friendships and had the great opportunity of experiencing the college life that my beloved late sister, Negar, lived and loved.