[July 02, 2020] Hello, Dr. Liu!

Today I passed my dissertation defense with no condition and become a doctor of applied mathematics. 🥳🎉

Looking back, I have been studying, researching and teaching math for almost 10 years.

Over the 10 years, I never changed my enthusiasm in math, but math has totally changed me.

I used to be a girl who is only good and interested in math, but that is not the case today.

For realizing math algorithms, I learned programming and found myself good at it.

For writing thesis and publishing math papers, I honed my writing skills and started publishing both technical and nontechnical articles.

For teaching math, I overcome the nervous of speaking in public. Now I can teach 4 classes a day with different "scripts" I designed for different audiences(students).

For reading classic math papers, I learned French.

For accomplishing large projects, I learned team work, good communication skills and management.

I was impressed by the story that Turing plays the role of CPU for his AI algorithm in 1949, so I learned machine learning and become a data scientist.

Most importantly, I got the confidence to say that, now I know everything about something. 😉

[June 05, 2020] 8 Practical Tips for Succeeding in a Remote Internship

Last Friday, I completed my remote spring internship as a Data Scientist Intern at iRobot. I am honored to work at the leading global consumer robot company, to learn and work with those who design and build robots that empower people to do more and make the world a better place. At the same time, I wish to share my experiences and feelings as the first group of people who have had a fully remote internship due to the impact of COVID-19.


12 weeks ago, 12 hours before my planning time of departure (driving from Michigan to Massachusetts), I received a phone call from HR saying that I will be starting my internship remotely from home and my working computer will be shipped to me in the next day. Knowing the importance of social distancing, I quickly accepted the truth and started setting up a working place and a Zoom meeting spot at home.

Now I have gone through the unexpected yet amazing journey, in which I had the chance to learn about consumer robotics and built an end-to-end solution to bring new features to future iRobot products. Because of the work from home constrains, I got the chance to redesign the project plan to make the best use of limited resources. I was also fortunate to work directly with the software team, participate in the model implementation, help with the pipeline maintenance and, most excitingly, test the newly developed models on a real robot running in my home!

As the first group of people who have had a fully remote internship due to the impact of COVID-19, I wish to share my experiences and feelings, in the form of 8 practical tips. I hope some of them could be helpful for those of you who are about to start or just started a remote internship but are concerned about your performance or work experience.

1. Work Productively

I have to admit that the project I worked on during my internship is interesting and exciting enough for me to stay focused and productive all the time. I hope you could also work on something that you are truly enthusiastic about since that will solve most of the problems, haha. In order to push my production possibility boundary even forward, I did the following two things and found them extremely helpful.

Write a daily work log

Starting a new job remotely may make you feel isolated or even a bit anxious in the beginning due to two major reasons:

1. You are expecting more to happen, your brain may be prepared for an on-site internship, which means exploring an entirely new environment, meeting and chatting with new colleagues all the time. However, what you actually got, is the sudden silence after a Zoom meeting and the same wall of your room.

2. You are not observed by anyone, so that things like getting familiar with collaboration tools, setting up computers, and reading documentation do not feels like you did some real work because there are no visible contributions.

To overcome the anxious mood and stay focused, I started writing a daily work log. Unlike a work schedule, I not only recorded what I had done but also briefly described what I had learned, what difficulties I had encountered, and what I had done to overcome them. Then on each Friday, I summarized them into a weekly report (with 3 sections: major contributions, weekly work summary, and daily work log) and sent it to my mentor and manager.

Doing this greatly increased my productivity not only for the first few weeks but also for the whole internship. I worked my best to make every second productive and meaningful because I knew they all would be recorded into my log.

Note: This is not a substitution of your daily progress report to your mentor. You should always stay connected.

Make a long-term plan and update it frequently to fit the latest circumstance

Not every position is suitable for working from home, depending on the accessibility of necessary resources. Things you could achieve at the end of a remote internship may be different from what you originally expected from an on-site internship. In this case, having a long-term plan and being flexible is crucial. Spend some time to list out what resources you have and what is the best you can do with them. More importantly, list out what resources you don't have, how and when can you possibly get them and how the current plan may be changed with more resources. Doing so may help you make the uncertainty under control, have a clearer vision of your target, stay more focused on making the best use of limited resources, and switch to a new plan in the shortest time when more resources are available.

2. Work Efficiently

As an intern, you are naturally to have a lot of questions every day. However, unlike an on-site internship where you could absorb information and ask questions through varied ways, there are only three major communication channels for a remote internship: email, a chatting tools like Slack, and video meeting tools like Zoom. Thus, optimizing the way of leveraging collaboration tools is the key to improve your working efficiency.

Label your questions

During a remote internship, you have a limited chance to ask "unlimited" questions. In such a case, not only minimizing the opportunity cost is important (prioritize your questions), but also minimizing the communication cost (prioritize the collaboration tools) is crucial. Labeling your questions can help you quickly decide what is the best way and when is the best time to ask a question. Here is a general example:

Quick & Urgent : Slack

Complicated & Urgent : Zoom

Quick & not Urgent : Write down and ask at once on Slack or leave to the end of Zoom chats

Complicated & not Urgent : Break them down into quick questions

Complicated & Formal : Email

Use the virtual background to show your ideas or topics you want to discuss

As an intern, you may have some new ideas or findings but you are not sure if you will have the chance to bring them up in a meeting (because meeting time is limited and is already packed with important things). In such cases, you can try to set the virtual background to a related figure (e.g. distribution plots, comparison results, etc.). It is much easier for you to address your new idea with something visible. Once others are interested to know more, you may get some time to share your screen and explain the details.

Don't forget to un-mirror your video in the settings and practice pointing different directions.

Explore the Slack channels

The IT help channel is not the only place to ask questions. There are many Slack channels and there is always one for your question. Make sure to search the right channel before asking a question and work with the experts in that field.

3. Work Creatively

There are many articles on the internet sharing tips about working from home. They are all great, but everyone's home is different. So you want to be creative about your own home and utilizing what you have. Below are three things I did in my home for creating a better working environment.

Use your screen as a fill light

During a remote internship, you will be E meeting with everyone on Zoom. So if you are someone who cares a lot about your appearance (like I do 😄), then besides checking "Touch up my appearance" in the Zoom settings, you also want to control the light in your room and make sure it's in the right angle, right color, and right intensity. I bought a ring light before the internship and placed it right on top of the laptop's camera. However, I quickly found another way to control the light more conveniently, which is to use my monitor. Basically, if you also have a monitor connected to your laptop, you want to leave your screen on a page with a warm and light background (e.g. Jupyter notebook) and avoid page with cold or dark backgrounds (e.g. a black terminal).

Use a big mirror to create a working environment

Many interns are students who leave in rental apartments or dorms, which means it is very unlikely for them to have an individual room for working. Working next to your comfortable bed or in a living room with an open kitchen (and your roommate love singing songs while cooking...) could kill your productivity. To create a better working environment from home, I placed a standing mirror behind my working spot, so that I feel like "someone else" is also working in this room, at the same time, on the same type of job. When I start my work in the morning, I see "someone else" also sits down and starts "her" job, which helps me quickly get into a working mode. When I am having a Zoom meeting, I could see that "someone" again is also having a meeting and that keeps me inside the working mode and feels like I am working in an office.

Put some fitness equipment around you

Another disadvantage of working from home is lacking movements and break time between tasks. Exercises can help you to stay sharp throughout a busy day, but it's not easy to stick to a regular workout schedule at home. If you have room at home to build a running machine workspace (link) I recommend it. If you don't have extra space for a treadmill, placing some small fitness equipment around your working seat is also a great way to balance work and exercise. It is also a fun way because you can design different gaming rules. For example, whenever you want to leave your seat (and you don't have something urgent to do next), choose one way to "escape", grab the equipment on that way, use it to do some exercise for about 3-5 minutes and put it away. Your goal is to clean all the equipment by the end of your day. This way is great because it saves your time from planing an exercise, hesitant to start and find equipment.