Ayah Soufan, DoSSIER ESR

My journey to the DoSSIER project

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--   Interview with Ayah Soufan   --

S: Tell us a bit about your background!

A: I’m from Palestine and I studied Computer Engineering at An-Najah National University. Afterwards I worked for five years as a Software Quality Assurance Engineer in different Software Engineering companies. I wanted to continue my academic education and I was lucky to receive a scholarship to do a master in data science at the University of Southampton in the UK. After that I went back to Palestine, where I was then working at a telecommunication company in the data management team. Their I worked on building different models such as Sentiment Analysis of Arabic text and Face Recognition. Besides that it is my goal to empower women to work in data science and computing fields, for the past year I served as  the President of Arab women in computing (ArabWIC) Palestine chapter. And I was the ambassador of Women in Data Science conference (WiDS) for two years, where we organized a data science conference with only female speakers. Also, I’m a co-founder of Palestine Tech Meetups, where me and my friends were able to build up a tech community in Palestine without any financial support.

S: How did you find out about the DoSSIER project and what made you decide to apply?

A: After I finished my masters, I was actively looking for research scholarships and found the DoSSIER project from Leif Azzopardis post on Twitter! Because of my skills and passion for software engineering, data science and natural language processing I applied for project 5 “Configurable, Exploratory Search Interfaces”. I’m passionate about sharing knowledge and it’s exciting do research on how one gains knowledge through the search process: one reforms tasks, modifies queries and learns on the go, what you are actually searching for.

S: How long are you already working on the project?

A: I started to work on project #5 at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in October 2020, so now I‘m on it since 3 months.

S: What are your initial thoughts on DoSSIER and your experience?

A: I think this project is a unique opportunity where one can research domain specific search solutions as part of a team, working together with 15 talented early stage researchers, amazing supervisors and industrial partners. With this team work I expect the DoSSIER project to have a larger impact than if everyone would work solely on their own. It excites me that DoSSIER tackles a broad range of research problems and can advance the knowledge in a wide range of domains. I am especially looking forward to meet and network with all participants from different universities in Europe.

S: What project are you currently working on?

A: I’m working on project number 5: Configurable, Exploratory Search Interfaces, my focus is on creating an exploratory search interface (in the context of academic search). Currently am concerned with the tasks hierarchy in academic and work search. I am reading a lot of papers to get an overview of the field and to collect the different terminologies and definitions in the field of professional search. My next step will be to come up with my own template for tasks hierarchy in professional search and to define them.

S: Tell us about your team environment. What do you enjoy about collaborating with your small team and the larger lab?

A: I’m lucky to have such kind and helpful supervisors and colleagues. We work from home currently, but I meet other DoSSIER ESRs (Molly and Kanaad) once a week over the internet, where we chat, exchange ideas about our projects and we discuss an experiment that we are designing. We try our best to help and support each other. Our work completes each other’s work, my output is someone's else input and vice versa. The same things apply for the big DoSSIER group, the organization of the project makes it easy to reach anyone on the team to seek help or to discuss ideas. Working with such a diverse team,make the environment more friendly and innovative.

S: What excites you the most about the field of IR and HCI?

A: As my background is in data science and machine learning, I care most about data and take assumptions based on data. In the current project, I am excited to focus more on the human behavior aspect, I am really excited to work on IR and HCI because there are a wide range of applications based on IR and HCI that might affect people’s lives. Many people are affected by search applications for example in academic or health search, therefore I think this project will have a good effect and the whole society can benefit from it. Also, I think HCI and IR is about doing things better.

S: Walk us through a day in the life of a DoSSIER PhD student.

A: Normally I start working at 9am, I read, summarize and synthesize papers and I prepare questions to discuss during my supervision weekly meeting. Also, each week we have a meeting with my supervisors and colleagues at university to discuss our progress and different ideas (DoSSIER internal meeting). We also have iSchool seminar each week, where more advanced PhD students and professors present their ideas and work and soon we ourselves will present there. I also started with general classes about academic writing, courses about how to conduct research or how to do posters and I maintain social collaboration and communication with chatting to people online or planning weekend activities. Due to the lockdown I enjoy cooking at home now in my lunch breaks, I usually cook dishes for the next 2-3 days, most of the time I cook from the Palestinian cuisine.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 860721