29th July 2021

ISSAI Summer Research Program’21 graduates share their experience

This summer ISSAI has provided an opportunity for students of Kazakhstani and foreign universities to enroll in a special Summer Research Program (SRP). The main goal was to provide students with an opportunity to gain a hands-on experience on contributing to the AI projects, acquire knowledge and skills related to the AI area, and have a real-life experience of working with data scientists. The Program lasted for 2 months, from the end of May to the end of July 2021.

Students from various Kazakhstani and foreign universities have initially applied to the Program. In order to be admitted, applicants had to go through the selection process. Students with the best results and academic achievements were then selected.

We have taken interviews from four graduates of the Summer Research Program’21 who come from different universities: Almas Alzhanov – from the Eurasian National University; Adilbek Karmanov – from the Suleyman Demirel University; Shyryn Ospanova – an incoming freshman this fall at the University of Pennsylvania; and Aidar Myrzakhan – from the Nazarbayev University.

1. Hello! Congratulations on completing our ISSAI Summer Research Program 2021! Please tell us, why have you initially decided to apply? What was the main reason?

  • Shyryn: Prior to SRP, I was engaged in research work connected with metabolic activity and medical imaging. This experience played a key role in my growth. That’s why, later, I looked for the similar roles, and found about ISSAI. The main reason why I applied was that I was intrigued by ISSAI’s research output. I could find projects on medical imaging, camera placement, or Kazakh text-to-speech conversion project. I was confident that I would try myself in a new field.
  • Almas: The main reason I applied for this program was that I wanted to get real-world experience and improve my skills as well as make my own contribution to the development of this field. Summer Research Program is a great opportunity for this.
  • Aidar: I found out about ISSAI when I saw an article about Kazakh Speech Corpus. I was impressed after finding out more information about other innovation and developments made in ISSAI. Therefore, I saw this opportunity as a way to learn and contribute to exciting projects.
  • Adilbek: The main reason was to gain research experience in the field of AI, since NU is known for its high research output, then I started looking for a suitable laboratory for me and saw that you offer SRP and I applied for it.

2. Which University are you coming from? And what do you study there?

  • Shyryn: I’m an incoming freshman this fall at the University of Pennsylvania. Hopefully, I’ll be studying Systems Engineering.
  • Almas: I am a Computer Science major at the Eurasian National University.
  • Aidar: I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at NU.
  • Adilbek: I’ve completed my Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems at the Suleyman Demirel University and am now going to study Master’s degree in Computer Vision at Mohamed bin Zayed University of AI.

3. Now that the Program is coming to its end, are you happy with the results, with what you’ve achieved and learned?

  • Shyryn: Without any doubt, I’m more than happy about the results, especially, that I could finish all the work before the end of the SRP. Of course, it would be a waste if I didn’t mention that I have gained skills that will serve me in long term perspective.
  • Almas: Yes, it was a very good experience, and I am grateful for this opportunity.
  • Aidar: Yes, I am happy with what I have learned and achieved so far. It was a great experience.
  • Adilbek: Yes, with the results that we’ve got, my supervisor can now see in which direction he should go further in his research work. So, I am very happy with our results and am grateful for the knowledge that I gained during the internship.

4. What was the project that you worked on? And who was your supervisor?

  • Shyryn: I worked on particle based COVID-19 simulator under the guidance of Ms. Aknur Karabay.
  • Almas: I worked on facial landmarks detection from event-based cameras under the supervision of Dr. Daulet Kenzhebalin.
  • Aidar: I have worked on WiFi based localization and indoor navigation project under the supervision of Mr. Mukhamet Nurpeiissov.
  • Adilbek: My supervisor was Mr. Askat Kuzdeuov. He instructed me to work on a research project about Thermal-Visible face verification using a Siamese Network.

5. What did you have to do exactly (in terms of your tasks) when working on your projects?

  • Shyryn: Particle based COVID-19 simulator had only MATLAB version, and my supervisor asked me to code the simulator in Python. I had to code the transitions based on SEIR model, and then add modules like vaccination and sterilizing vaccination.
  • Almas: I created a dataset consisting of event frames using different event simulation methods and compared the results. Also, I implemented facial landmarks detection using computer vision algorithms trained on event frames.
  • Aidar: Most of the time I spent with the implementation of different models from papers that Mr. Nurpeiissov provided for me to study.
  • Adilbek: My supervisor put forward various hypotheses to me about how the model would work on our data, after which I tested them and informed him about the results, if the results were unsuccessful, we went on to the next method and so on every time. For example, when we couldn’t get good results using a regular Siamese network, we decided to transform our face images to face encodings using the face recognition model and train our model on such data after what we got pretty good results.

6. Did your supervisor help you along the way? If so, how?

  • Shyryn: My mentor guided me throughout the whole process. We frequently had daily meetings to debug the code; discussed further advances. In any case, we could make twitches to the project and keep ourselves updated via Telegram chat.
  • Almas: Yes, we had several meetings a week, but apart from that I also could contact him whenever if I had questions.
  • Aidar: Yes, we had web-meetings when it got tough to make improvements or I couldn’t understand something. These calls were great to solve major problems. Also, we communicated through Telegram a lot.
  • Adilbek: Yes, every time I had questions, I always wrote to him and he answered immediately. Also, we always had a meeting every day at which we discussed the results and further steps for the study.

7. While working on the project did you learn new things/gain new knowledge? Or maybe enhanced your level of knowledge in a specific area? If yes, what was it?

  • Shyryn: Working with simulators, in general, was already a new experience for me. I enhanced my knowledge about COVID-19, a hot topic this and past years; learned about stochastic nature of data and finetuned models according to parameters. All personal milestones were achieved using Python and a bit of MATLAB. Also, now I prefer Spyder IDE over PyCharm.
  • Almas: I learned a lot about computer vision, more specifically facial landmarks detection and event-based cameras. Also, I enhanced my skills in working with image data.
  • Aidar: I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to do an internship and have received so much value from what I learned. I have greatly enhanced my skills in programming with Python. Also, I learned how to efficiently implement Machine/Deep Learning models. Working with a supervisor helped me to learn how to receive professional feedback.
  • Adilbek: Yes, I got a lot of experience in working with face images. Before that, I had experience with face recognition, but during the internship I gained knowledge that will be useful to me in the future: the ability to work with thermal images, be able to correctly build a research plan, understand how the model will behave with a specific dataset and structure and the correct ability to process facial images for further better training of the model.

8. Do you think SRP was beneficial for you? What did you like about this Program?

  • Shyryn: SRP was especially beneficial. I neither felt it was easy nor hard – the work I’ve done was immensely interesting, at the same time a challenging enough for me. I’m satisfied by the fact that every mentee can adjust the work to their own paces and mentors correspondingly were welcome and reassuring about it.
  • Almas: What I liked about this program is that we are working on real projects and can really contribute to the research.
  • Aidar: Participating in SRP was a great experience, where I applied my theoretical knowledge into real-world problems. Mostly, I liked working with a supervisor who is always eager to help to solve your problems. 
  • Adilbek: I like the fact that, as an intern, you are entrusted with your own research project on which you are working, and you are supervised by experienced workers, which gives you a lot of experience.

9. Are there any areas where you think ISSAI SRP needs improvement? If yes, please tell us what exactly?

  • Shyryn: My only suggestion would be if interns could have more challenges to solve together or have more teamwork with other SRP participants. 
  • Almas: I was completely satisfied with the program.
  • Aidar: Due to quarantine it was hard to get to know other interns and communicate with them. Hopefully, next year participants will not encounter this problem.
  • Adilbek: Not really. Program has provided all the conditions for a comfortable experience and work.

10. Would you recommend your fellow classmates and friends the ISSAI Summer Research Program?

  • Shyryn: Yes, absolutely.
  • Almas: Definitely yes.
  • Aidar: Of course, I will recommend to my friends who start their path in the world of Data Science to participate in SRP.
  • Adilbek: Of course, I’ve already told a few friends who are interested in the research field of AI.

Thank you!