Alice Zhang’s STA299 Journey

Hi friends! My name is Alice Zhang. I am finishing my third year of undergrad pursuing a
statistical science specialist with a focus on genetics and biotechnology, as well as a biology minor. It was a blessing to take part in STA299Y ROP with Professor Tyrrell and his MiDATA lab. As this experience comes to an end, I would like to share about my incredible journey.

Coming into the lab, I held great interest but zero research experience and zero knowledge about machine learning. I remember being completely lost and worried in my very first lab meeting. Looking back, I’m actually quite proud of how far I’ve come. My project was to compare multiple-instance classifiers and single-instance classifiers for diagnosing knee recess distension ultrasounds. I also explored factors that may influence multiple-instance model training.

The start of my project was rather smooth compared to others since it was more application-based than theoretical. I was able to grasp key concepts through literature searches and gather usable models and datasets (thanks to Mauro) needed to begin the project. However, with a lack of research experience and weak background in programming, I soon faced obstacles, confusion, panic and doubts. I had the tools in hand, but the hard part was designing, running and interpreting appropriate experiments. How do I modify and apply the code to my ultrasound data? How do I fairly compare two dissimilar algorithms? How do I unbiasedly alter and compare training factors? How do I give rational interpretations of the outcomes and unusual observations?

As the project progressed, I constantly felt that I was falling behind; I was still doubting and
modifying my experiments while my peers obtained results, I was still training my models while others were starting the write-up. To be honest, I panicked in every ROP meeting, but I was supported by Professor Tyrrell, lab members and my peers. I was able to power through. I am so grateful for having Professor Tyrrell as my guide through the first doorstep of research. He taught me that research isn’t about finding and reporting a standard answer, it is a process of discovering and then solving problems, and there’s no template for it. I was constantly encouraged to reflect on the “what”, “how” and “why” of the process. I also greatly appreciate the help from Mauro, who prepared the dataset and spent many hours guiding me through programming and model training.

Progressing through the project, I was later able to solve problems and modify bugs
independently. I started from zero to now completing my very first research project in machine learning. It feels like I’ve raised my first “research baby”! I would like to once again thank Professor Tyrrell and the lab members for their support, I couldn’t have gained this marvellous learning experience without them.

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