KIS SPOTLIGHT: Alumni Updates

This month, I interviewed P’Na from CO’16! Na is currently a second-year at the University of Chicago. Here’s what he had to say!

Why did you choose to study at the University of Chicago?

There were a couple of reasons why I chose to attend the university. First, the school is renowned for its academics, especially the economics and mathematics department. This would allow me to take classes with Nobel laureates (I’m taking one next year!) or notable visiting professors. Additionally, I liked the fact that the university goes by a quarter system (10 weeks long) which would allow me to explore my many interests (although it is sometimes stressful since you have more finals than friends in the semester system). Lastly, the university’s emphasis on a liberal arts education and being well rounded through the core curriculum. Looking back, the core curriculum pushed me to take classes I wouldn’t have chosen such as Western music, East Asian art history, or philosophy.

What are you studying? Why did you choose to study in this field?

I am a double major in Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAM), and Economics with specialization in Data science (I know. It’s a mouthful to say). I chose the CAM major because I am interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence – I find it fascinating that one can write models that when exposed to a new set of data, can adapt and become better at what they’re doing independently. As for economics, I believe that it is an interesting intersection between the humanities and mathematics as the field is all about using math to quantitatively describe and understand human behaviour. Combined, I think these two majors will allow me to use data to better understand the financial markets.

What do you love most about your university?

What I love most about the university is the culture and the people. A university is a place where smart people with a range of diverse interest and background come together. Because of this, discussion-based classes such as the humanities or social science (that you have to take as part of the core) becomes very intriguing and rewarding. Furthermore, most people are very passionate about the field in which they are studying; I really admire the people who take classes for the sake of learning new things that interest them and not just for the sake of getting good grades (although grades are very important!) or for the class being ‘easy’.

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What advice do you have for students in MYP and DP?

In my opinion, besides in classes, MYP/DP students should explore their passions (academic or non-academic) outside of classes whether through IB projects (personal project, extended essay, CAS) or coming up with their own initiative. I believe that when people work on something they are truly passionate about, it makes the work they’re doing rewarding, teaches the skill of independent study, and allows them to gain a better understanding of the topic so that they can decide whether they truly like the topic or not. For example, I chose math as my extended essay, and I decided that I liked the discipline and so became an applied math major!

What do you miss most about KIS and Bangkok?

I definitely miss the KIS’ family-like community the most. I feel like you get to know your teachers better at KIS compared to a university, because even though the class size is similar – professors at the university only teach you for about 10 weeks, compared to KIS where teachers get to know you individually over a course of 1-2 years. Furthermore, because all your friends are taking different classes every quarter, it is harder to find a tight-knit group of friends who share the same academic experience – which is different from KIS where you always feel the support and love. As for Bangkok, I definitely miss the food the most, although there is good Thai food in Chicago, it’s just not as good as home.

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How have you contributed to the university? What clubs, frats etc. have you joined?

In my two years at the university, I have joined many clubs. I spend a lot of my time at the badminton club. Through the club, I have met a lot of people: undergrads, grads, and even professors. Furthermore, we have annual tournaments with Northwestern University which is lots of fun and a good cross-campus bonding event. I am also part of the Model United Nations of the University of Chicago, the largest club on campus, which host annual MUN conference for high schools across the world with over 3000 students attending. In this club, I oversee the tech team, their curriculum, and any tech issues that arise during a conference. The club has allowed me to get to know people who are interested in public policy, political science, or history – fields which I don’t have too much experience with, which makes conversation very interesting. Lastly, I currently working in a Radiology lab at the Pritzker school of medicine doing research on how we can use machine learning techniques to help assist doctors in making a better diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer!

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What are your future plans?

I think after graduation, I will be working for a couple of years first before I go back to school either for a masters in artificial intelligence, data science, or for an MBA. The jobs I’m currently interested in are being a data scientist for a consulting firm, a machine learning engineer for a tech firm, or being an algorithmic trader for a large financial institution. I hope that through summer internships I can get a better understanding of each job and decide which one I like best.

What advice do you have for an aspiring machine learning scientist?

I would say to learn computer science as early on as possible. At a high school level, learning a programming language (Python is a good language to learn) and trying to program some simple task is very fun, rewarding, and also a good start. Also reading up on some machine learning textbooks would also give you an introduction to what machine learning can do and the basic math behind it. Lastly, reach out! If you’re interested in learning more about machine learning I’d love to have a conversation with you.

Do you continue to exemplify the IB Learner Profile even though you are studying in university? How?

I think being at KIS for so long, the IB learner profile has just become a part of life. I think all the IB learner profile words describe some aspect of my life here at university. However, I think that the three IB learner profile words I think I relate to the most are knowledgeable, open-minded, and well-balanced.

How has the IB program prepared you for university?

I think one aspect people struggle the most with at university is stress management. With the demanding workload in a place filled with overachievers, the pressure to get a good job, the harsh winters; life at the university can be challenging for many people. However, I think that because during the IB I was always working on many important tasks at the same time, it allowed me to experience the stress and pressure of university but in a supportive environment (through the guidance of teachers, parents, and support from friends), which helped me adapt to the UChicago lifestyle and find a good work-life balance.

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If you would like to contact P’Na with any questions, here is his email: nanut@uchicago.edu

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