AlAmmouri and Hoffmann Win 2020 WNCG Student Leadership Award

Monday, June 08, 2020

Each year, WNCG presents the Student Leadership Award to an outstanding student—or students—who not only displays excellence in research and academic activities, but also embodies the spirit of the group’s mission to create a collaborative research environment. This year, the award goes to two students: Ahmad AlAmmouri and Jessica Hoffmann.

Ahmad AlAmmouri joined WNCG after completing the B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Jordan and the M.S. in Electrical Engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). He is co-advised for his Ph.D. by Prof. Jeffrey Andrews and Prof. Francois Baccelli. AlAmmouri's research focuses on statistical modeling, performance analysis, and dynamics of wireless networks. Most recently, he won the Chateaubriand Fellowship and has been participating as a visiting researcher at INRIA in Paris, France.

Jessica Hoffmann is a Computer Science Ph.D. student advised by Prof. Constantine Caramanis. Prior to joining WNCG, Hoffmann obtained the M.Sc. in Mathematics/Vision and Machine Learning from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan in France. Her research interests include epidemic processes, graph theory, high-dimensional statistics, machine learning, and applications to large-scale networks. Her paper “Learning Graphs from Noisy Epidemic Cascades” recently won second place in the INFORMS Nicholson Student Paper competition.

Each WNCG faculty member may submit a single nominee for the award each spring. Current or recently-graduated WNCG students are eligible for nomination as long as they have not won the award previously.

The winner, or winners, is decided from among the nominations by a committee of WNCG faculty and staff. In addition to considering academic and research merits, the committee seeks to celebrate students who represent the research group positively, participate in center events, foster collaboration with other students, and encourage group camaraderie. Both of this year's winners not only have a number of impressive research-related accolades, but are also well-recognized in their various efforts to support their fellow students: leading research reading groups; lending a helping hand at WNCG events; and showing care and committment to their peers' well-being, just to name a few.

The selected students receive a cash prize and are traditionally honored at the group-wide Spring Social at the end of the semester. Although this year’s Spring Social was cancelled due to social distancing measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, WNCG faculty, students, and staff were able to gather virtually to announce and celebrate the winners of this year’s award.

We caught up with AlAmmouri and Hoffmann over e-mail for a short Q&A to ask about their experiences as part of the group:

Ahmad AlAmmouri (left) and Jessica Hoffmann (right) are
the winners of the 2020 Student Leadership Award.

Q: When did you join WNCG?

Alammouri: Fall 2016

Hoffmann: January 2016. It's been a while! I've had a great time.

 

Q: How did WNCG factor into your Ph.D. program choice?

Alammouri: When I was applying for [my] Ph.D., I had a list of seven professors that I really would like to work with; four of them were in WNCG. I am co-advised now by two of them and in touch with the other two. Being in such an environment was a significant factor for me and probably the main reason I joined WNCG. Also, I recall being impressed by the many collaborations WNCG has with the industry, since it is a clear indication that researchers in WNCG work on timely research problems which are appreciated by the industrial community.

Hoffmann: I actually didn't know about WNCG when I came to UT. I joined the CS department, and only discovered WNCG once I was here.

 

Q: How has being a WNCG member influenced your studies and Ph.D. work?

Alammouri: WNCG is an excellent place to learn the different aspects of communications networks. Before joining WNCG, my knowledge was narrow and limited to problems that I personally work on, but now I have a much border knowledge because of the works of my fellows.

Hoffmann: WNCG has been a crucial part of my PhD. It all started with the socials during my first year, which established that this was a happy place. I think that this is very important, because people often forget that happy researchers make good research. It was very easy to join another professor's group meeting, or meet with them when I had a research idea that was in their domain of expertise. The physical space also fosters collaboration, with white boards that make it easy to start writing equations. We also had frequent and interesting talks. All in all, everything in WNCG has been designed to foster creativity, and I wouldn't have had the PhD I've had (nor the ideas I've had) anywhere else.

 

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research.
Alammouri: My focus is on modeling and performance analysis of wireless networks. In general, I enjoy studying large systems that are rich in dynamics and randomness.

Hoffmann: I work with epidemics under uncertainty, with a strong focus on theoretical guarantees. I've worked on a few questions on the topic, including: Is it possible to learn the structure of an epidemic just from noisy times of infection? How hard is it to control an epidemic if we don't know exactly who is infected? It's a fascinating field! It also used to be calm and sometimes lonely; and then COVID-19 happened.

 

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Alammouri: A researcher working on interesting and relevant problems

Hoffmann: I hope to continue with what I love: doing cool math surrounded by the people I care about. Hopefully, in 10 years, I could be leading more projects, and maybe my family would be bigger. While we're at it, I also want to have won a local karate competition, live on Mars, and have a pony.

 

Q: Any closing thoughts for future or current WNCGers?
Alammouri: :)

Hoffmann: This is a good place to do research. Use your resources: your advisor, your friends, staff members (they're awesome!). It's very easy to become isolated during a PhD, and many of us face some mental health issues. If that's the case, talk about it, you're not alone. Many of us have gone through it and would be happy to help =) Despite these challenges, the PhD can also be a very fun adventure, so enjoy it while it lasts!

 

Congratulations on winning this year’s Student Leadership Award, and thanks for being a wonderful part of WNCG!