Finding the Perfect “Porridge” in NTU
Finding the Perfect “Porridge” in NTU
  • reporter Yoon Seok-sang
  • 승인 2020.07.06 21:26
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▲Prof. Bhowmick of NTU
▲Prof. Bhowmick of NTU

Professor Sourav S. Bhowmick at NTU is a leading researcher in data management, human-data interaction, and data analytics. His current research areas range from Computational Social Science to Network Biology and Adult Learning. The Postech Times had the honor to interview Prof. Bhowmick and gain insight into good researching habits.

Please explain your interest in many distinct areas, ranging from computer science to biology and psychology.
Many of the world’s major problems are at the interface of different areas rather than a single area. In biology, I explore how to bring data management and analytics techniques into biology. For example, if you have data related to molecular interactions in cells, how they are connected to one another and so on, you have the potential to design platforms where you can computationally predict and analyze drug targets: "maybe you should consider these molecules with this kind of dosage." It is not that  your prediction is always accurate, but you can tell biologists “do not look into this part” or "focus on these molecules". Without computational techniques, biologists would have to go through an exponential number of wet lab experiments that is prohibitively expensive.
My interest in social psychology is different. It is the other way around. I explore how to bring social psychology theories into computer science techniques. Have you heard of conformity? Conformity refers to the inclination to align our attitudes and behaviors with those around us. It is a human trait and have been studied by social psychologists for a very long time. Surprisingly, most of our online social analytics algorithms do not incorporate such human traits in analysis. We are bringing social psychology theory into our algorithms to build better and more accurate models.

Were there any hardships conducting such integrative researches?
There are several challenges obviously. First, you must be very patient, because you cannot do this research on your own. You have to collaborate with biologists, psychologists, etc. That does not mean you do not need to know anything about biology or social psychology; you still need to know the foundation because you cannot talk to people if you do not know anything about the area. They can give you deeper insights; they can help you to verify whether your writing or presentation makes sense from a biological or psychological perspective. But you still need to know the basics.
Second, there is a steep learning curve, especially in biology. Not many people can go there. That means once you reach there, you do not have much competition. You have more flexibility looking into the problems and doing something interesting.

Is there anything you would like to say to the readers?
Whatever you do in life, there is one thing I always believe: if you can practice and practice many times, you can be perfect, but you may not create anything new. Practice may not lead to new things. Sometimes, many of the problems we need to solve, you need to look into it in a new way. For that, you need time. You need to think, you need to pause. This applies to any activity you will do in the future.
Also, have you heard about the Goldilocks Zone? It is from a fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There were several porridges: one of the porridges was too hot but one was not too hot, not too cold. For example, certain topics in AI are very hot. It is very challenging for one who is getting into these topics to make a contribution that is significant enough for people to associate that topic with him/her. Select problems that are not too cold, that means nobody cares, or not too hot, too many people working on that. That is the key.