The Pakistani PhD student pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in Data Science
Campus scenes of coverage of the coronavirus COVID-19 coverage that closed Kennesaw State University for much of 2020. Photos by Rob C. Witzel

Rehma Yash Razzak, from Pakistan, loves being curious. In Kennesaw State University, the Pakistani student has found a place to satiate her drive to know more — and in various fields.

Razzak is pursuing a doctoral programme in Data Science Analytics at Kennesaw State University, where she gets to find patterns in whatever given data she has.

We caught up with Razzak to learn more about why she compares this to solving a Rubik’s cube, the hackathons she’s joined and her future plans:

Why did you pick KSU?

I wanted to pursue studies at KSU’s College of Computing & Software Engineering (CCSE) because I was curious to see what opportunities existed for me, and I was already quite passionate about computers and software in general so choosing the College of Computing and Software Engineering felt natural to me.

I chose to pursue my Ph.D in Analytics and Data Science because I thought it would allow me an interdisciplinary approach for my future work. Plus, I love getting to find patterns in whatever given data we have. In a sense, the Ph.D in Analytics and Data Science allows me to be as curious as I want to be; my curiosity is an asset. Data can tell us a lot about certain things in a way not many understand. I would compare it to solving a Rubik’s Cube, challenging, but the satisfaction of figuring out a pattern is very rewarding.

Have you done any experiential training whilst at KSU?

Thanks to KSU, I have had a lot of hands-on experience due to the number of hack-a-thons and game-jams I took part of. Being exposed to these taught me how to work in a team, manage a team, work under a tight deadline, and be a mentor that others can rely on.

I recall in one of the game-jams I was part of, I lead a team of about 12 people, to make a first-person shooting game. I juggled multiple responsibilities ranging from manager, developer, and QA Tester. It felt challenging but very rewarding working with so many people of different skill levels, and I even learned a few new skills myself.

In one other game-jam, I actually got a chance to mentor a group of freshmen who were doing a game-jam for the first time, so I taught them fundamental skills of game design and programming and was able to foster a positive relationship with each of my teammates for that one game-jam.

Rehma Razzak

In a few hackathons I was part of, I was teaching my colleagues how to work with new software. I also took part in KSU’s Owl Job Shadow programs, where I got to shadow a company and work for them for a day. I got a chance to contribute to the company’s final product and learn about company workflow from a computing perspective.

How has the programme challenged you?

The CCSE program has benefitted me by providing several opportunities to sharpen my skills outside the classroom. Regarding its course offerings, they offered me a challenge. A lot of things tend to come naturally to me, so having a challenge (e.g challenging courses, coursework) served as a great motivator for me to learn as much as I could in my courses and gain as many applicable skills as possible, and hone them to the best of my ability.

The program taught me to be creative (and efficient) in forming my own solutions to various problems. I also gained a lot of initiative not only for my growth as a student, but also as an individual. In a field like CSSE or any other field (such as Data Science for instance), it is often necessary to have initiative if we want to solve problems/questions that have yet to be answered.

Knowledge and trends can evolve very quickly in tech-based fields, so if one does not have the initiative/drive to keep up to date with them and start exploring, then it becomes quite difficult to succeed in the field. Another benefit from the CCSE program was meeting a lot of new diverse people and forming strong friendships with them – some of the people I met in CCSE I still talk to today.

Graduate programmes at KSU enhance career options for students with computing backgrounds. How has this benefited you so far?

I think this benefitted me by giving me a direction of what I exactly I wanted to do with CSSE […] The graduate program helped me determine that I actually really love researching; I love being able to ask questions that have likely not been asked before, and coming up with newer ideas to answer them. I’m inquisitive, and figuring out the next puzzle is a never-ending challenge I am grateful to be a part of.

There are thankfully a lot of research-job oriented opportunities in CCSE. The graduate program in CCSE is how I managed to land my first GRA (Graduate Research Assistant) position. Thanks to that I learned a lot about computing from the scientific research side, and I learned how to broaden my knowledge so I can apply my computing skills to other areas, such as healthcare. I learned how to be more open-minded, willing to explore new areas where I can apply my newly learned computing skills. I can also use what I learned as a potential resume booster and got a chance to foster strong connections with faculty.

What tasks did you take on during your internship/placement?

In KSU’s Owl Job shadow program, you would be placed in a company that matched your interests. In my case, I was matched and placed with a company that specialized in mobile app development. A typical day with that company included daily team meetings, and then you work within your own department within that company. For example, there were departments that dealt with debugging, another department that dealt with deploying the app on android/iPhone, etc. I remember getting to sit-in on one of these team meetings where current progress and current issues were discussed.

Then, I worked for a bit as a QA Tester for a mobile game company called Playtest Cloud, which oversaw testing of new mobile games that had not been released to the public yet. A typical day there consisted of getting a lot of emails regarding what playtests were available. However, the time-window for accepting these playtests were quite short, so prompt notice was required. Each playtest ranged from 30 minutes to 1 hour long, with some playtests requiring 2 hours. We needed to describe the game in regard to content, how well it was designed (e.g. User Interface), and current problems the game is struggling with (e.g. glitches).

In my GRA position, I work under a professor and help them with current projects. My days there often consist of performing data analysis, and drafting up results for publication.

How do you see your career progressing once you graduate?

I see my career progressing as me working in industry, or possibly research lab(s) relating to mental health, mainly helping to increase understanding about Alzheimer’s disease or even Autism, as those are my main research interests.