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Interview with Trung Nguyen: A Student Success Story

Published on March 14, 2017 by Faith Singer-Villalobos

Ritu Arora, a research associate in TACC's HPC group, and Trung Nguyen, a TACC summer worker and former industry relations intern. Photo taken in TACC's Advanced Computing Building (ACB).

You received your bachelor's degree in Computer Science. What inspired you to choose this major?

Trung Nguyen: I have been fascinated with computer since I was a child. I used to play a lot of computer games. When I was a little older in high school, I was curious about how a game or software was made and this is when I decided to choose computer science as my major.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a researcher?

Trung Nguyen: No, actually I didn't think about doing research until my appointment with TACC in my 3rd year of college. At first I wanted to become a software engineer after graduating. However, after working at TACC, I realized that there are more things involved in computer science than developing products. Since I am always interested in why and how things work, I found that doing research is fun and more related to my way of thinking.

When were you a STAR (Science and Technology Affiliates for Research) intern at TACC? What was the primary project you worked on?

Trung Nguyen: The first project that I worked on at TACC was research on how to process and classify a large set of images. The problem we faced was how to compare and contrast 4 terabytes of images, detect similar images, and put them into separate collections. This was a project that I worked on with Dr. Ritu Arora. We worked in collaboration with the Institute of Classical Archaeology. The result — we wrote a chapter about this project in the book "Conquering Big Data with High Performance Computing-Springer."

What skills did you take away from this internship, and how are they helping you now?

Trung Nguyen: There are a lot of skills that I took away from the STAR internship; however, I think there are three that are most important. First, I learned the skill of reading and analyzing research papers. This will help me to become a better researcher now and in future. Secondly, I improved significantly during the internship in programming and debugging. This is a very significant skill as I am a computer science major and my job involves a lot of programming. The third skill is communicating. As an international student, it is not always easy for me to communicate and express my ideas and thoughts to people and the internship helped me a lot in improving this skill.

You were able to mentor two Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) at TACC last summer? Explain how you felt about being in a leadership role.

Trung Nguyen: I think it was very fun and interesting, but also challenging and frustrating at times. It was a great feeling to help the other students to solve the problems that they were facing and to be more responsible. It was also challenging since there were times that we couldn't solve the issues or my advice ended up not working as expected. In addition, there were frustrating moments in which I was not able to communicate and express my thoughts to the students. I felt like I was letting everyone down when that happened.

Have you won any awards from UT Austin?

Trung Nguyen: I won the CNS Book Award for academic excellence in Spring 2016 for my performance on a research project course and the course on "Introduction to Scientific Programming."

How do you think TACC has helped you on your academic journey thus far?

Trung Nguyen: TACC has helped me a lot in my academic journey. Without working at TACC I might not have realized my interest in research. For this, I want to thank to my supervisor and mentor, Dr Ritu Arora, for advising me through the time I worked as an intern.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students pursuing a degree in research?

Trung Nguyen: Doing research requires commitment and endurance. Things will not always go as expected so be prepared for when that happens. Also, don't choose your focus too early. It is fun to explore things, especially in research. Finally, listen and talk to your advisors, they know a lot and are willing to help you.

What will you be doing in Fall 2017?

Trung Nguyen: I will attend a PhD program this Fall. I have been accepted to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Currently, I am still waiting for decisions from a few other schools to make a final decision on where I want to go.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Trung Nguyen: As I am planning to attend a PhD program, I see myself in the last stage of my PhD degree. I think in five years I will be ready and confident to defend my thesis.


Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor | 512-475-9411