Alex, Jennifer and Alan stand together in boardroom

Meet Alex, the latest RoS-sponsored postgraduate student

Regular readers of our blog may know that in the past we’ve sponsored postgraduate degrees in areas that influence the work we do. It means we can continue to foster the next generation of our industry, while also learning new ideas and approaches.

We’ve continued this into the new academic year, and we’re delighted to introduce Alex Riepenhausen, who was selected to complete an MSc in Data Science sponsored by RoS and mentored by our own data guru Alan Howie. He’s now a couple of months into his year-long degree, so we caught up with Alex to find out a bit more about him, and what he hopes to achieve during and after his studies.

Tell us a bit about yourself – what’s your background?

I was born in Russia in 1995 and spent the first six years of my life there. My family then moved to Germany, where I lived for about 12 years. When I was 16, I did an exchange year in China to learn Mandarin, which led to all sorts of opportunities later on. For instance, I worked as a translator (German to Chinese) for a German manufacturer of firefighting vehicles, and also did an internship in Shanghai.

    

In 2014, I started studying Business & Management with Japanese at the University of Manchester. However, I only spent one year doing so; the internship experience in Shanghai convinced me that I would be better off studying a technical subject and use my language skills on the side. I therefore completed a degree in Computer Science with Business. Right now, I am doing my master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in HPC (High Performance Computing & Data Science).

What attracted you to the programme?

Part of the reason why I decided to study HPC with Data Science lies within my internship in Cambridge with Carl Zeiss Ltd back in summer 2016. I was asked to sift through the company’s transactional data and produce some useful statistics regarding variables such as field service engineer performance and spare part usage. While I was bound to using Visual Basic for Applications (a programming tool) to come up with a solution for those problems, the experience with VBA made me very curious about more efficient ways of retrieving statistical information from data.   Thus, my undergraduate dissertation was more focused on hardware and getting the best possible performance; the idea being that when I work with large data sets in the future I know how to write my code in such a way that I don’t have to wait for long periods of time until execution finishes. In more simple terms, HPC is crucial when it comes to providing the infrastructure for processing large scale data volumes.

 

My own personal interest and background aside, there is a vast number of job opportunities out there for people specialising in this area, so it will set me in good stead for my future career.

Alan and Alex sit across from each other at boardroom table looking at screen

What are you hoping to gain from your MSc and working in tandem with RoS?

There were several main reasons as to why the scholarship programme with RoS appealed to me:

  • It offers an opportunity to apply what you learned in the real world (valuable experience)
  • I can work with highly interesting data sets and use my creativity to find solutions to challenging problems
  • Doing public-related work improves my online presence, which matters a lot when it comes to one’s position in the job market

Overall, the scholarship programme is a magnificent stepping stone for starting a career in a field that I really enjoy.

What are your interests outside of your studies?

I make videos that encompass a wide range of topics and upload them to YouTube. This year, I did a video series on Japan, and I also accompanied a Russian painter for about a month and recorded his painting process. Another video that I made was about my undergraduate dissertation.

 

I enjoy learning foreign languages and experiencing different cultures as well. I found my time in China immensely rewarding, and right after my graduation this year, I spent my summer in Japan studying the language there too.

 

There are also other things that I have done, but it all varies according to the environment I’m in and how much time I have outside of my studies – this past year has been a busy one with my studies, so I’ve had absolutely no time whatsoever outside of university. When I do have the time, there are a few activities I enjoy. I’m a keen cyclist for example – in 2017 I was doing 100km cycling trips almost every weekend. I also used to play piano during my school days, but sadly during my studies I’m currently lacking the critical ingredient – the piano!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

While I was in Japan, I managed to get a job interview with Sony CSL (Computer Science Laboratories) in Tokyo, so I’ll be doing a six-month internship with them after I graduate from the University of Edinburgh. The internship will evolve around extracting structured information from scientific papers, a topic that ties in very well with my work at RoS. Once that internship is complete, getting the right job in my field of expertise is my number one priority.

In five years, I would like to:

  • have paid back my tuition fees from my undergraduate degree
  • have become a specialist in natural language processing through work experience or by doing a PhD (an option I would only consider if sponsored by a company)
  • speak Japanese on the same level of fluency as my Chinese
  • have a thriving YouTube channel (I only have 42 subscribers and 17 videos at the moment)
  • have an income that more or less allows me to afford a small flat of my own

Thanks for your time Alex – we’ll catch up with you again in the New Year, to learn more about his studies and how his degree is shaping up.

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