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‘Completing My Studies in Russia Has Always Been My Dream’

Ismail Kayali, from Aleppo, Syria, earned his MS in Big Data Systems from the HSE Faculty of Business and Management in 2018. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Informatics and Computer Engineering at the HSE School of Data Analysis and Artificial Intelligence.

Ismail Kayali
Photo Courtesy of Ismail Kayali

My uncle studied civil engineering in Russia during the 90s and returned to Syria with stories about the beauty of this country and the culture of the people there. So I grew up surrounded by many toys and coins for Russia with a lot of stories in my mind about this great country. I think completing my studies in Russia is a dream that has been with me since I was a kid.

After I finished my five years of Bachelor of Engineering in Informatics Engineering Faculty (Artificial Intelligence Specialization) in 2015 at Aleppo University, Aleppo-Syria, I started exploring my graduate school options.

When I was choosing where to do my Master’s, I saw HSE’s programmes and Big Data Systems looked particularly interesting. I was able to get a Russian government scholarship, which meant that I didn’t have to pay a tuition fee.

HSE website is one of the best university websites I have ever seen. It provides all the information about the programmes, teachers, courses, and syllabi. I checked all the courses in Big Data Systems and System and Software Engineering Master’s programmes. Both of them suited me well given my educational background and both were in the Computer Science field. I applied for both of them and then I got accepted to the Big Data Systems programme.

Big Data Systems is considered a new word in computer science and HSE has done a great job adding some management courses to this programme, which gave me the opportunity to understand the market and how the computer science business works.

After completing my Master’s I decided I’d like to pursue an academic career, so I applied to HSE’s Doctoral School. I discussed my research topic with my research advisor, Professor Sergey Kuznetsov, and he provided me with very useful materials to write my research proposal. Then, I did an interview with several professors from the Faculty of Computer Science where I described the problems which I am trying to solve.

My goal now is to finish my studies with good grades and get my Ph.D. with distinction. My life as a student revolves around this. I also work in the Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Structural Analysis (ISSA Lab) and supervise Master’s and Bachelor’s students in addition to my studies. There are several students in our doctoral programme and we all communicate on a regular basis—we have a WhatsApp group, where we can discuss the questions we have when there is a  course we take together.

Now with the pandemic, everything has gone online, but I preferred being in the offices and classrooms because it is more interactive and better for discussions and questions. I hope we will be able to go back to HSE University building in the fall.

I am very lucky to have Professor Sergey Kuznetsov as my research advisor. We are in constant communication about all matters related to my studies, articles, and my work in the laboratory. He is great and there are no words to describe how much I am thankful to him for his support and research guidance.

For my thesis, I’m working on the Image Captioning Methods, which is how computers are able to generate comprehensible sentences in natural language to describe images. In other words, my aim is to get a full description of all objects in the images and the relations between them in clear and correct sentences generated by machines.

Studying and Living in Russia

My Russian is not good yet but it’s not a problem as I am studying in English. HSE Doctoral programme offers international students a Russian language course, which I took during my first year of PhD. It was useful, but I do not speak Russian fluently yet—there is still much to learn.

Still, it is possible to live in Moscow without knowing the Russian language well—many people speak English.

Before coming to Russia, I was very enthusiastic to see Red Square and the Kremlin. I knew that the Russian people are friendly and intellectual because they read a lot, and this is noticeable. Of course, after I came here, my view about the Russian people did not change, but instead, I explored deeper the beautiful culture, customs, and cuisine.

As for the places during my stay in Moscow, I have visited many beautiful venues such as VDNKh, Arbat Street, The Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow River, and a lot of other great places. I hope in the coming years I will visit Saint Petersburg as I have heard a lot about the magnificence of that place.

My life in Moscow is fantastic and tiring at the same time, I don't have so much free time since  I have tasks and things to solve or study but also there is always new places to see and new events to check. 

On holidays, I go with my friends walking around Moscow on a bike in the summer and walking in the winter. Moscow is fabulous in all seasons.

As for my future plans, I wish to apply for a post-doc position at HSE after getting my PhD. I’d love to start teaching and become part of this great community, which has really helped me a lot ever since I enrolled in HSE back in 2016.

Admissions to HSE’s Master’s programmes are open until August 14, 2020. International students can apply online. Graduate applicants can register for preliminary portfolio assessment.

To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre at: inter@hse.ru, or via WhatsApp at: +7 (916) 311 8521.

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‘My Time at HSE Will Always Be Special for Me’

Sangam Kumar Singh is currently finishing the second year of his Master of Science in Big Data Systems. After spending the first year at HSE Moscow, he has gone to the UK on a double degree track with Lancaster University. Sangam has talked to HSE News Service about his studies, hobbies, research interests, and future plans.

Social Media as a Lens on Collective Emotion

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