National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes

Jakub Szefer, Taiwan 2009

During the summer of 2009 I took part in the EAPSI program and traveled to Taiwan to work with a professor at the National Taiwan University (NTU), which is located in the capital city of Taipei.  As a Ph.D. graduate student in computer engineering, a possibility to travel and perform research abroad during the summer is not something that I thought I would be able to do.  Most of my work is done on a computer; at many times it does not matter where it it performed as long as my computer is with me and I have an internet connection.  On the flip side, this means I also have no good reason to travel outside of my university to perform the research as all I need, after all, is just a computer.  Contrary to traveling abroad, I feel most students in my field either choose to go for an industry internship or stay at their home university over the summers.  Before hearing about the EAPSI program I did not realize the many implicit benefits of working abroad during the summer.

In summer of 2009 I was at the end of my second year and have just completed my oral general exam.  By chance, the previous fall I saw an e-mail advertisement about the EAPSI program; and my Taiwanese friends encouraged me to apply for the fellowship - the destination country was obviously already selected for me.  I've never given much thought about traveling to Taiwan, but I've previously been very lucky to take part in two REU programs, also sponsored by NSF, and decided that this NSF supported program looked very good as well.  Through the spring semester I did not give much thought to my application.  The spring semester passed, my general oral exam passed and (it seemed so suddenly) I was standing in the middle of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, half way around the world from my home university, literally.

At the time of the application, I was a second year PhD student in Electrical Engineering (EE) department at Princeton University. I was (and still am) advised by Prof. Ruby B. Lee with whom I conduct my research at the intersection of computer architecture and computer security areas.  During the summer, I was fortunate to work with Prof. Cheng Chen-Mou in the EE department at NTU, who also performs research in computer security and related areas.  Prof. Cheng has extensive mathematical background and I hoped to learn more about the mathematics of the different cryptographic algorithms while at the same time sharing my knowledge about computer engineering.  As the summer program is 8 weeks long (7 weeks of research time plus 1 week of orientation and cultural activities) we decided on a project that involved designing and implementing a CPU simulator.  I collaborated with other students in the group and we worked on writing a CPU simulator; a simulator which could be used to investigate new CPU instructions that could be useful in accelerating cryptographic applications.  I was able to complete the project in time and we still keep in touch and hope to further collaborate as the school year proceeds.  In addition to working with Prof. Cheng and his group, I had a chance to take part in numerous workshop classes organized by my summer adviser and his collaborator, Prof. Yang.  Thanks to the program I was able to meet many excellent researchers and hope to return to Taiwan in the, hopefully, near future.

While the EAPSI fellowship was meant to enable us enjoy work and collaboration with our summer hosts, we were also encouraged to, and fully took advantage of, exploring around the island nation in our spare free time on the weekends.  I was housed in a brand new dorm at NTU along with few other EAPIS fellows who also worked at NTU.  From this home base, I was able to explore much of the capital city thanks to excellent MRT (metro) and bus lines.  While I do not speak but five words of Mandarin (and none in Taiwanese), I was able to get around with little trouble (although some help from my Chinese-speaking friends was needed at times).  I explored numerous museums and temples in Taipei.  We were also able to explore nearby cities of Danshuei, Keelung and I also made a trip to the middle of the island to explore the beautiful Taroko gorge.

The research work combined with the various trip around Taiwan made for a very productive summer. During the summer I was able to complete my project, establish connections with my host collaborators and get a glimpse of how research as it is conducted in Taiwan.  Thanks to the EAPSI fellowship I experienced many of the benefits of performing research abroad and feel the experience has already enriched my career.

Last Updated: July 15, 2010 02:47 PM


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