Meet ML@GT: Ziyi Wang is Solving Optimization Problems on Complex Issues

The Machine Learning Center at Georgia Tech (ML@GT) is home to more than 100 talented students from across campus, representing all six of Georgia Tech’s colleges and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

These students have diverse backgrounds and a wide variety of interests both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, we’d like you to meet Ziyi Wang, a fourth-year machine learning Ph.D. student who has been to six of the seven continents and started his journey at Georgia Tech as an undergraduate student.

Advisor: Evangelos Theodorou, Associate Professor at the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering

Hometown: Changsha, Hunan, China

Major: Machine Learning Ph.D., fourth-year

Previous degree: B.S. in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech

Tell us about your research interests. Where might people be impacted by them in everyday life?

My research interest is using machine learning to solve large scale stochastic optimization problems. I love what Professor Stephen Boyd once said: every problem in life is an optimization problem. My goal is to develop algorithms that solve optimization problems on complex problems ranging from robot motions to supply chain.

What drew you to wanting to research these areas?

My internship at Amazon was an eye-opening experience and exposed me to challenging real-world problems, which also inspired me to work in this area.

Tell us about the lab you are a part of.

I’m part of the Autonomous Control and Decision Systems (ACDS) lab led by my advisor. I have been working in the lab since my senior year of undergrad. I love the fun and diverse lab that we have. We have a very interactive workspace and great conversations take place almost every day.

What has been challenging, rewarding or unexpected about earning a doctorate degree?

The biggest challenge for me is the Ph.D. schedule. I love and used to have a strict routine every day. With the Ph.D. life, on the other hand, it’s very hard to set a fixed schedule of doing research and even doing coursework. There are always things that take much longer to complete than expected.

What attracted you to Georgia Tech as the place to earn your Ph.D.?

Georgia Tech is like home to me. I started here as an undergraduate and have been here for eight years. I love the academic atmosphere on campus and Olympic-level gym (and pretty much everything else!)

What have you been up to during quarantine?

I moved and am currently working remotely as a graduate research assistant from Seattle.

What’s the most random or best thing you’ve purchased via online shopping?

The best thing I have bought online is a tent for my dog. Him sleeping in it is the cutest thing in the world.

What app do you spend the most time using on your phone?

I probably use WeChat the most to communicate with friends and family

What’s a talent you would most like to have?

I would love to be able to play an instrument.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

Teaching in a remote village in China for 7 days. It really put things into perspective and motivated me to work hard and not take anything for granted.

What are some of your hobbies?

I like to do obstacle course training. I’m a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior and love training on obstacle course.

Tell us about something that brings you joy.

Cooking. I love all kinds of food and figuring out how to make them myself.

What’s something someone would be surprised to learn about you?

 I don’t drink alcohol and coffee.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

My mom and my girlfriend. They are the hardest working people I know and continue to inspire me every day.

If you could time travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

Africa. I have been to every other continent and would love to explore Africa.

Why do you think embodying Georgia Tech’s motto of “progress and service” is important, especially in regards to ML and AI?

I think it’s important to constantly remind ourselves what the ultimate purpose of ML and AI is in academia and industry. Curiosity aside, we need to keep in mind that the goal of our work should be to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.

Story by Allie McFadden, Communications Officer,

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