Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Kristina Egorova can’t stand uncertainty and noisy construction work but can’t live without friends, wifi, and her ultimate guilty pleasure, travelling over the weekend! She’s currently in the third year of her PhD programme and is the graduate student representative for the Department of Information Systems.

Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in a very small, but interesting place – a tiny small town of Visaginas, Lithuania. Back in the days, the town had just 30,000 inhabitants, there were people from about 10 different nationalities working and living together. So from the very young age, I was exposed to the multicultural and multi-religious society. We had to learn Russian, Lithuanian and English or German, and some of us could choose Polish or Tatar, based on family background and preferences. We celebrated Christmas twice – first, we did it in December with Catholics, and second – in January with Orthodox people. I believe it shaped my future since it is relatively easy for me to pick up some words from new languages and I am very curious about different cultural traditions.
When I was 17, my family moved to Russia, and I discovered that even though I was Russian, I spoke with a funny “Baltic” accent and used slightly different expressions, but it disappeared in 4 months. After graduating from high school I moved again to Saint Petersburg for my undergraduate studies. In “classic” Russian universities, there are no bachelor and master degrees; instead, we have a “specialist” diploma and to get it, you have to study for five and half years and write a substantial final year project. I graduated with a degree in Information Security and, for the project, I focused on extending the software cost model COCOMO in order to fit in the security requirements of one of the Russian state security standards.
Three months after graduating from University, I got to know about National University of Singapore and research scholarships and opportunities from a Russian social networking site, which looks very similar to Facebook. It caught my attention and I dropped a long email with questions to Pavel Korshunov, who was a PhD candidate at the department of Computer Science at the time. He answered all the questions, and encouraged me to apply and pursue a degree from School of Computing. It took me almost a year to get to Singapore, and… 

What are you studying at SoC?
…here at SoC I continue the exploration of various aspects of Information Security – currently I am a PhD student at the Department of Information Systems and I have just started my 3rd year of study. My research interest is in the individual decision making in the context of Information Security and Privacy, and I seek the answers for the questions like: “Why do we violate security rules and regulations, even being aware about the consequences?” or “Why do our good intentions rarely lead to actions: e.g. why do we think about being careful online, but rarely do it, and click on suspicious links?”, and, on another hand, I’m interested in the criminological aspects of information related offences. With the answers, I hope to make our world a bit safer, especially given the persuasion of information technology and early age of exposure to it.

Why are you doing a PhD?
I have decided to apply for PhD because at some point I discovered that my current job and future career opportunities were not challenging anymore: I used to work as a technical writer, business analyst and project manager for several small and medium IT companies in Saint Petersburg, and it was a bit predictable and started to get boring. My last job was a bit more exciting, since we were creating a large-scale e-learning system, which had social networking sites features and was used by 30,000 schools, 5,000,000 school kids, 600,000 teachers and 2,000,000 parents in different regions in Russia. I had developed a reporting subsystem before joining the IS department in January 2013.
After two years of studies, reading and struggling, I realize I made the right choice, since I really enjoy thinking about research questions, looking for another angle, reading the literature and discussing the matter with colleagues and professors. After taking one of the NUS PhD-level courses, I learned about one very exciting thing – neuroplasticity: our brain physically changes with the changes in environment, behavior, thinking, and emotions. I believe it is amazing, and I feel I have changed a lot thanks to PhD training and exposure to the Singaporean mix of cultures, and food of course. The most important skill I have (almost) pursued is patience: in research, everything takes time, and you have to be patient and continue doing the subject you truly enjoy.
But to be honest, my first experience of Singapore was shocking: at the queue to Passport Check, I’ve discovered that I did not have the address of the hostel I had booked and asked my parents to send it to me over SMS. They sent a wrong address, and after climbing up and down the stairs of two wrong hostels I checked the emails and arrived to the right place, which was at Geylang area, and I did not know a single thing about it! In few days, I had to move to the Campus and a nice taxi driver did not how to get to College Avenue East and have never heard about University Town. Over time, I’ve learned how to get around with mobile apps for everything, and a Singlish dictionary book made my life much easier. Highly recommended to new students!
Anyway, this year I am a graduate student representative for the Information Systems department. Apart from the Welcome tea, which was held on January 8th, my task is to serve as an intermediary between students and the department, and I am willing to take questions, comments and suggestions from students and translate them as summarized opinion to the department. Privacy is guaranteed, as a researcher of privacy and security, I know it is important. So you can find me at Information Systems Research Lab 3, Facebook or drop me an email at kristina@comp.nus.edu.sg - please don’t be shy!
Outside of School of Computing, I love travelling (I actively participate at Couchsurfing and once hiked down the Grand Canyon), sending and receiving paper postcards (using www.postcrossing.com) and Brazilian martial art of Capoeira and social dancing.
I would like to use this opportunity to invite everyone for 2 dancing classes of Brazilian Forro, which I and dancing partner will be teaching this 2nd & 9th February at the PGPR Multipurpose Hall as part of the 100MIN Enrichment series of workshops.

Quick-Fire! Best movie you’ve seen this year?
Night at Museum 3

Worst experience with public transportation?
Public Bus ride from Probolingo to Surabaya – 4 hours in smoking (!) non-aircon bus with friendly curious locals, some random people selling food and playing guitar for money

Best hawker stall in Singapore?
Al Amaan @Clementi Road

If you could eat only three food items for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Young Tau Fou Laksa, Malay Cofta and Laban

Three ultimate dinner party guests? 
Dan Ariely, Heng Swee Keat and James Hetfield

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


Dr. Steven Halim grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to Singapore to do his undergraduate degree in Computer Science at SoC. When that wasn’t quite enough, he stayed on to do his PhD, got his doctoral degree in 2010 and then landed a job here. He still looks young enough to be mistaken for one of the (postgraduate) students here and when he isn’t working, he enjoys ‘revisiting’ his childhood toys – Lego Technic and Mindstorms.

Steven and his family at Legoland, Malaysia

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?
Currently, visualgo.net, which is a tool I built to help with the visualisation of data structures and algorithms through animation. It combines my passion of teaching algorithms and the visualization work that I did back in my PhD days. When more and more CS-based Universities pick up visualgo.net, I think it should reduce the usage of static PowerPoint (or even manual hand-drawn explanations) to explain the operations of basic data structures/algorithms. The online quiz side will also eliminate the need to ask trivial questions in final examinations anymore.
Describe your SoC experience. 
[The part I enjoy the most is] when I can make my student's jaw drops after explaining a certain cool concepts in class. [But the part I find the most challenging is] marking... I hate marking so much that I tried to write programs to automate the process :O.
I have been in SoC for 14 years now so there are many [people who have made impressions on me]. But if I have to choose one, I pick Associate Professor Tan Sun Teck who took me as part-time TAs for his CS1102 module in 2005-2008 period, collaborated in ICPC and IOI activities, and recommended me to stay on as Lecturer here.
I like computing so much and being in SoC is a natural fit. I’d probably suffer if I had picked another course of study for my Undergraduate degree.

What do you count as your most significant achievements to date? 
Before 2008, I thought training a team that can qualify to ACM ICPC World Finals or get Gold medal in IOI was a super achievement (because I had never done so before as a student). Fast forward 6 years later, I have been to ACM ICPC World Finals 3 times (with our team), prepared a team that won an ACM ICPC Regional Contest 2 times, trained Singaporeans who brought home 4 IOI Gold medals, and all these are still ongoing. The core achievement is a system of training that ensures continuity of these (good) results. 
Currently my competitive programming training schedule is like this:
Jan-Apr: CS3233
Mar: National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI)
May: Asia Pacific Informatics Olympiad (APIO); ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals with NUS team 1
Jun: Singapore (SG) International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) Team Intensive Training
Jul: IOI with SG IOI team
Aug-Sep: Train and select new team members for NUS ICPC teams
Oct-Nov: Typical ACM ICPC Regional Season
Dec: SG NOI training
Then repeat for another year…
[I pursued all this] because I had never won any programming competition during my student days. The turning point seems to be 2011, when SoC decided to keep me as Lecturer here. With more job stability, I can setup that system of training. [It was] heavy work at the beginning to train the first few students. The senior ICPC+IOI students from 2008-2013 era now help me train the current batch of competitors (2014-15). The system is now good enough that I can step to the side and watch it run (and still produce good results).

What did you want to be when you were younger and is that still an interest of yours?
My childhood dream was to be someone who speaks in front of many people and those people listen attentively to me. There are not many jobs in the world where I can do that. Being a lecturer is one such job and yes it is still my interest :).

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
NUS SoC will host the ACM ICPC Programming Regional Contest in Singapore in Sep and Dec 2015. I encourage SoCians, especially CS students [I am planning to have prizes for teams with female member(s)], to form teams of three and join this prestigious programming competition right here in NUS.

Quick-fire! New Year’s resolution?
Do some exercise each week.

Worst fear?

Guilty pleasure?

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg