Wei Wang graduated with a Ph.D. in computer science in 2017 and joined the Language and Information Technology (LIT) group at Microsoft Research, Redmond, Washington, as an applied scientist. Recently, he was promoted to senior applied scientist.
Did transitioning from academia to industry hold any real surprises for you?
For the most part, problems that we try to solve as Ph.D. students are well-defined and have benchmarks. We just need to propose novel approaches to push the-state-of-the-art. The problems I face now often require much more effort to build an end-to-end solution.
What are your responsibilities at Microsoft Research?
I mainly work in the area of natural language understanding and user behavior modeling. I also collaborate with the product team to transfer state-of-the-art technique to the product.
Do you use what you learned at DAC?
While the approach to problems might be somewhat different, my current lab environment is not that much different from an academic research lab. So what I learned at DAC is useful in my job — things like how to form the right research questions, how to plan and execute a project to meet a deadline, and how to write a paper.
About the time you moved from Blacksburg to Redmond there was another big change in your life, right?
Yes, two and a half years ago, my wife Ying and I welcomed our first child, Aaron. We now have a second son, Aiden, who is nine months old. Ying and I met while we were both students. She earned a master’s degree in computer science from Virginia Tech.
You earned a bachelor’s degree in applied science from Shanghai University in 2007. How did you wind up at DAC?
After graduating I worked in Shanghai City as a software engineer for four years. From this experience, I saw the great potential for applying data mining in business and that motivated me to learn more about data mining. I decided to apply for a master’s program in the United States and while I had several choices, I decided on Virginia Tech and, because of my research area, DAC was a natural choice for me.
Did you have a mentor at DAC?
I joined DAC as a master’s student and transferred to the Ph.D. program after working with my advisor, Dr. Naren Ramakrishnan, for two years. He definitely had the largest impact on me. He provided me with tremendous freedom and showed great patience as I explored different research ideas. At the same time, he made sure I was always on the right track.
Are internships important?
I would advise current DAC students to intern in at least one industry research lab as it helps you get a sense of the difference between research in academia and industry and choose the career path that suits you best.
Any other advice for current Ph.D. students?
Be self-motived and proactive. Take advantage of opportunities to talk to students and professors from different fields because many good ideas come out of cross-field collaboration.