During the summer of 2015, I was given a research placement in the Department of Computer Science and Technology in Tsinghua University, Beijing. I just happened to be placed in a top research group consisting of extremely successful and award winning students. I also gained a huge amount of confidence and cultural awareness from going somewhere so vastly different to the UK.
I was required to conduct research about methods for large scale machine learning. I was in a research group, who were experts in their field. This of course was rather intimidating at first, but luckily everyone was very easy to get on with. A positive aspect to the placement is that I was given free choice over what area I could dive further into, which was initially daunting given the scale of
the research area and my very limited knowledge of machine learning at the time. I spent the first few weeks doing a lot of background reading on the topic, which involved reading some graduate-level textbooks and many academic papers. This had quite a steep learning curve compared to what I was used to as a second-year Imperial undergraduate, but the students in my research group were incredibly supportive, always willing to help me to grasp difficult concepts. After grappling with the mathematics, everything started to become clearer in my mind.
Like many things in Beijing, the university campus of Tsinghua is incredibly beautiful and vast. It is impossible to get around without a bicycle! There was a vast array of amazing cafeterias to eat at, with most serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at very reasonable prices. Most dishes were prepared freshly and were of great quality. The cuisine ranged from Eastern to Western cuisine, to suit all tastes. After arriving in China, the difficulty of getting around without knowing any Mandarin was a great cultural shock. By the end of the trip I was able to recognise a few Chinese characters and grasped a bit of the language, which was highly beneficial. I was eventually able to partake in very basic conversations with locals.
Every weekend, and during my days off, I was able to travel around Beijing and surrounding cities. Among many other incredible locations, I climbed the Great Wall, visited the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the National Museum, a Confucian Temple, the Temple of Heaven and Houhai park. Along with this I was able to visit a friend who was my previous roommate at Imperial in his hometown and also see the very modern Shanghai. Visiting these places was like a crash course in exploring some of China's rich history. China is a very fast-developing country and it was incredibly exciting to be in the centre of it all.
I am hugely grateful for being given the opportunity to do a placement abroad. I gained valuable experience in a research environment, which will definitely help me in my third and fourth years at Imperial. Due to the amount of motivated PhD students I worked with, many insights were gained into what life as a research student may be like if I do consider pursuing a PhD. Along with this, the confidence and cultural sensitivity that was strengthened from being continually placed outside of my comfort zone will undoubtedly have a long-lasting impression on my life.
Like many things in Beijing, the university campus of Tsinghua is incredibly beautiful and vast"