Excellence in undergraduate research
Marilyn Sun, A19, recently won an honorable mention in the Computing Research Association’s prestigious Undergraduate Researcher Awards. Following Sun's award, the Department of Computer Science asked her a few questions about her work in computer science.
Can you please provide a brief summary of your research?
I created Autobahn 2.0, which improves upon the existing Autobahn 1.0 Haskell optimizer. Autobahn 1.0 uses genetic algorithms to automatically insert Haskell strictness annotations (a.k.a. bangs) into programs to reduce runtime and memory usage. However, Autobahn 1.0 often generates too many bangs that require manual checking for bangs that potentially cause program non-termination. Autobahn 2.0 uses GHC profiling data to add a pre-search phase and post-search phase to the original genetic algorithm to dramatically minimize the number of bangs generated while maintaining original performance optimization.
What do you enjoy about research?
I love challenges and research challenges me to be innovative and to not give up. I'm also excited by the element of uncertainty in the research process because I'm attempting [to solve] problems that no one else has solved before. Lastly, I feel true ownership over my research project and take pride in realizing that I've created something (as small as it may seem) that could be useful to the larger research community.
How did you get started doing research?
I started doing research over the summer of my sophomore year. At that point, I had just taken Programming Languages (COMP 105), which introduced me to functional programming and a lot of related core concepts. A graduating COMP 105 teaching assistant, Remy Wang, told me about his research with Professor Kathleen Fisher and how much he enjoyed it. I then met with Kathleen to talk about the possibility of continuing Remy's research after he graduated, and began working on it straight away. Talking to my peers and professors and taking 105 were key parts that helped me identify my interest in research.
Do you have any inspirational words for other aspiring undergraduate researchers?
Prior to the summer of my sophomore year, I was intimidated by the idea of doing research in a field that I didn't know much about. Since then, I realized that part of doing research is admitting what you don't know and then learning it. If you are a student thinking of doing research, I would encourage you to give it a try and ask as many questions as you can. Research is exciting because there is an endless amount of knowledge that you can learn from talking to your peers and mentors, browsing the internet, and reading books and papers.
Do you have plans yet for after graduation?
I will be joining Microsoft as a full-time software engineer after graduation. Although at some point down the road I might decide to go to grad school if I miss research too much!
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I'd like to give a shout out to Kathleen for being a great mentor who taught me a ton in the past two years.