Monthly Archives

March 2015

Working in Teams

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Just like any graduate student, I get a big load of homework every week. Professors keep us very busy at the University of Rochester, and I often wish I had more time to spend outside of the library. Some of the homework assignments I get are team assignments. These are very interesting at different levels.

First, who would have thought that homework could be fun? As a matter of fact, working on a team can turn out to be fun and productive at the same time. Every time I meet with my classmates to do group assignments, we spend 10 to 15 minutes socializing and relaxing before moving on to serious things. I believe that working in a good work environment helps stimulate team members to be more productive. Moreover, enthusiasm about doing homework will result in higher quality and more time-effective results.

In addition to that, working on a project with students from different cultures and backgrounds will help you see things from a broader perspective. If I was asked 6 months ago how comfortable I would feel working with a group on the development of innovative biomedical devices, I would have run away as fast as I could. But I see things from a different angle now. As part of the MS TEAM program (Technical Entrepreneurship & Management), I have had the opportunity to work twice with students from the biomedical engineering department. I learned that a diversified team always performs better than a team where all members are experts on the same subject matter. As a matter of fact, we had complementary skills; they had the technical skills necessary to develop the prototype of medical devices in a novel way and as a TEAM student, I had the business skills to develop a business plan that would address the market requirements.

However, working in a team could be challenging and a source of tension between members. In fact, some of the team members might forget about the big-picture goal and compete for attention and praise for accomplishments by trying to push the team towards the way they envision the solution. Smart team members can act as leaders and take advantage of these potential conflicts, turning individualistic efforts into a combined perfect solution that satisfies the most people.

To conclude, working on a team for a project goes beyond just a regular homework assignment. It’s all about learning from others, and extending our capabilities and limits. Teamwork allows you to do work you wouldn’t be able to do by yourself, and in a short period of time. Most of all, working on a team promotes the development of communication skills and tolerance of others’ opinions.


– Amir Ianis KHELIL ’15 (MS)

Amir Khelil


Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, Keep Networking, and Don’t Forget to Smile

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If you are an international student and have no clue about how to find a job in the US, hopefully this post can help you in some way. I will share with you all of my experiences and what I have learned. I really appreciate those people who have helped me.

Many international students are used to their comfort zone with people from the same country, which definitely prevents them from access to native people to a large extent. “American business is based off of relationships – from making deals to building a client base, everything revolves around networking. This applies directly to recruiting,” Scott Gudmandson, a current Simon MBA student, pointed out sharply. Get out of your comfort zone to increase your access to networking opportunities! The key to networking is finding people you have a common connection with, like alumni, friends, or people you’ve met at events. These people are more willing to assist you and it’s easier to make small talk with them. Be polite and respectful in your initial contact via email; get additional contact information and invite them to have a cup of coffee. Once the relationship is built, make every effort to maintain it well, and they may offer referrals to you. Networking is a way to increase opportunities, and help you learn how to market yourself and practice interpersonal skills as well. Through networking, you may not only get referrals, but also get insights into industry or any fields you’re interested in by asking people who can equip you with first-hand knowledge far beyond textbooks and help you understand these jobs.

If you can’t get any referrals, don’t give up! Keep networking and keep applying online. Just remember, before you try to apply for any jobs, make sure that you have an elaborate resume. If you have no confidence in your resume, the Career Management Center is your best choice to ask for help. Or you can ask any alumni with rich experience for help. A complete and up-to-date resume is the first step to building your qualifications. Next step, maintain your LinkedIn profile to attract potential employers. Two hiring mangers told me that before they interviewed me, LinkedIn was a good way for them to learn more about me, besides my resume. Show your professional qualifications on LinkedIn, and don’t forget to align it with your resume! Finally, do your homework on the company you want to apply to and show it in your cover letter. Read the job descriptions and requirements with great care, and then combine your experience and strengths with these to make your qualifications match and stand out.

Opportunities are only for the people who are prepared. Once upon a time, I read a book that said that smiling will increase one’s chances. Get out of your comfort zone, keep networking and smile.

I wish you all the best in your job search!


– Jill Jin ’15 (MS)Jill Jin Pic

Courtney and Bill Hader

Winterfest Weekend

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At the University of Rochester, there are four community weekends: Yellowjacket Weekend, Meliora Weekend, Winterfest Weekend, and Springfest Weekend. These weekends include some of the most treasured traditions at the University of Rochester. They are a great time for the community to come together to celebrate the season, enjoy some fun times, and remember that the University is much more than an academic institution.

This year Winterfest Weekend was held from January 30th to February 1st and it was another successful community weekend! These community weekends are sponsored by Wilson Commons Student Activities and because I hold a graduate assistantship position in this office, I worked during some of the highlighted events of the weekend.

I first attended the Winter Wonderland. I really enjoyed this event because Hirst Lounge in Wilson Commons as well as the Wilson Commons porch transform into a beautiful winter landscape (and we even got some snow the night before so there was a fresh dusting). There were many activities at the Winter Wonderland including free s’mores, the Java’s Coffee truck, huskies, photo illusions, and an ice carving demonstration. The ice carving demonstration was extra exciting this year because they made a replica of the iconic Rush Rhees Library. Lastly, each year at the Winter Wonderland there is a free giveaway. This year’s gift was a free winter hat!

The next event that was a highlight for me was the Taste of Rochester dinner in Douglass Dining Center. This dinner featured make-your-own garbage plates: a true Rochester meal! They had all of the fixings plus some University of Rochester favorites like crispy onions and Mel sauce. I feel that this was the perfect meal to have on a community weekend at the University of Rochester because it was able to connect the University community with the city of Rochester community and traditions.

Lastly, the best part of this year’s Winterfest Weekend was attending the headline event: a Q&A with Bill Hader. Bill Hader is a comedian known for his eight seasons on Saturday Night Live as well as films such as Superbad and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He is one of my favorite comedians and I was super excited to get the chance to see him speak. Through my position at Wilson Commons Student Activities, I was able to meet Bill prior to the show. I brought him a copy of that week’s edition of the school newspaper, the Campus Times, because there was a featured article about him. Even more exciting, after the show, we were able to get a picture with him.

These community weekends have always been a great experience for me and I am lucky that my job gave me the unique opportunity of meeting Bill Hader!



– Courtney Astemborski ’15 (MS)


data screens

The World of Human-Computer Interaction

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In my last post, I talked about the technical elective courses TEAM students can take as part of the program. In my case, I decided to take Data Mining and Human Computer Interaction during the first semester, and will be part of the HCI research team in the upcoming semester. Therefore, I will dedicate this post to talking about what HCI is and what kind of research takes place in this area.

Human-Computer Interaction is a relatively new field within computer science based on the study and design of interfaces between users and systems. These can range from websites and information layout to devices such as screens, wearable technologies, robot communication and even accessibility designs for disabled users. HCI not only requires classical computer science knowledge (programming, databases, networks) but also intersects with many softer areas such as psychology, sociology, cognitive sciences and media studies.

In the beginning, everything was about “making it work”. Users had to adapt to the computer and not the other way around. The programmer had already spent too much time working on complex software to add a bunch of “usability” requirements on top of that, just to make it look nicer (Don’t get me wrong, this is not me speaking! It’s just the answer you would have probably received from a programmer in the ‘90s if you had asked him to change his COBOL-software because users could not figure out how to use it).

Fortunately, things changed with time and though IT geeks remain quite sensitive to comments about their code and interfaces (myself included), new roles such as designers, UX (User Experience) designers, product managers and business analysts have gained more importance in the software development cycle. These people can basically put themselves in the shoes of a non-technical user and think how the system could be improved in order to be more intuitive and need almost no help, nor textual references to understand it. No wonder children can just sit in front of a tablet and slide their fingers like pros after only a few hours of practice. Things are easy now; common sense rules and interfaces imitate reality. HCI is the main factor responsible for this revolution and much of the comfort and ease we find in today’s interfaces would not exist if it hadn’t been for years of research devoted to this field. Pinching, dragging, and touching appear to be magical in comparison to old-school clicks, tabs and enters!

HCI research tries to go one step beyond and study how things will be in the coming years. For example, interfaces have been proven to help teach body language to children with autism – not to replace traditional human tutoring and attention, but as a way to complement it (and even supplement it in extreme cases such as inhabitants of poor countries or remote places).

During the upcoming months I will have the good fortune to work with Dr. Ehsan Hoque, a renowned expert in the field, in the study of interactions between humans and computer-based systems to improve communication skills. There is not much I can say as most of our research is still in progress, but I can leave one question open which I hope I will be able to answer by the end of this semester: can a person improve his public speaking by receiving live feedback from a computer?


Agustin Baretto ’15 (MS)

Gus picture