Elen Vardanyan (BS CS ’18) Follows her Dream to Study at TUM
American University of Armenia (AUA) alumna Elen Vardanyan (BS CS ’18) is currently earning a master’s degree in mathematics in data science at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). According to her, AUA’s contribution to her academic and career achievements was “integral” to her success. In the below interview, she reflects on her choice of profession, student years at AUA, educational experience at TUM, and her formula of career success.
What influenced your choice of profession initially? Why did you choose to study at AUA? Tell us about your student years at AUA.
In the last few years of high school, I was convinced that I would continue my education in the field of business. This choice seemed natural to me, given that most of my friends had the same plans, and it did not even occur to me to consider other options. I was not hesitant about my choice of university either – I was well aware of all the advantages AUA offered, mostly through my brother, who was already a student there and shared with me many impressive details about the university’s culture, as well as its incomparable quality of education.
Still confident in my decision to pursue a degree in business, I once decided to have a quick look at a presentation of the Computer Science program, which was to be delivered by Dr. Hajian. Though I did not understand most of what Dr. Hajian talked about, I surely felt excited and motivated. The presentation gave me a lot of food for thought and ultimately convinced me to reconsider my career plans.
With great excitement I applied and was admitted to the CS program, knowing well that it would not be smooth sailing all the way. It wouldn’t even have been fun if it weren’t challenging at all, would it? During the first couple of semesters, I kept having trouble catching up with some of the more challenging courses due to my lack of background knowledge. However, being ambitious and refusing to let those early stumbles jeopardize my overall performance at AUA, I got back on track, and everything only went uphill as the years went by.
The coursemates, staff and faculty members that I met at AUA helped me grow as a student and as a person, making sure that the learning process was not only effective, but also manageable and fun. I spent most of my time at AUA and involved myself in various aspects of university life, ranging from student clubs and volunteering activities to participation in discussions with faculty and staff on organizational matters. Naturally, due to my proactiveness and the extremely stimulating environment of AUA, I made some very vivid memories, which I will always remember fondly.
As an AUA alumna, how would you evaluate AUA’s contribution to your current achievements?
I feel that a big part of who I am now was shaped during the four years that I spent at AUA. I did not only gain technical knowledge, but also developed many soft skills that I did not know I would need at that time. The unconditional help from faculty and staff encouraged me to always voice my opinion and stand up for what I believed in. The instructors’ methods and approach to the organization of courses helped boost my confidence and learn to work under pressure. These factors later played a crucial role in the achievement of all of my subsequent goals.
Another great gain was the valuable friendships and connections that I established along the way. Some of my professors made a significant contribution to my choice of career and are still very willing to help and give advice whenever I need.
What were some of the accomplishments you had while studying at AUA?
During my junior year, I was awarded a full scholarship to participate in a competitive training program in machine learning, jointly organized by several Armenian companies and the Armenian Code Academy. After its successful completion, I was hired by PicsArt, a leading photo editing company, as a data scientist. During my two years there, I worked on a wide variety of projects, ranging from customer churn prediction to image inpainting and recommender systems.
Tell us about your teaching experience at AUA.
I became a teaching associate in one of my favorite courses, Optimization, wanting to stay connected to my alma mater. During this time, I organized weekly problem-solving sessions, held office hours to answer students’ questions about the course, and gave feedback on the homework assignments. I also did my best to help the student groups choose appropriate final projects and work on them. Although this kind of work was unusually demanding, the students’ excitement about the course constantly inspired me. This unique and challenging experience not only refreshed my knowledge in the subject, but also developed my teaching skills and boosted my confidence further.
Tell us about your current occupation. What do you do?
At the moment I am a master’s student at TU Munich, one of the most reputable research universities in Europe. I imagined that relocating to a new country would be difficult both psychologically and financially, but TUM had been my dream university since my sophomore year and no potential hardships would have stopped me from getting there. I feel very lucky to have been awarded the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Scholarship, which covers all of my expenses throughout my studies.
At TUM, I am majoring in mathematics in data science, a program designed to provide the perfect combination of theoretical and practical skills needed for future research in data science. In addition to my studies, I will soon begin an internship at TUM Data Innovation Lab, where I will work on real-life problems with a small group of students and professionals in the field. I value these achievements greatly, and I cannot stress enough how integral the contribution of AUA has been in my achievements.
In general, how would you define success in a career?
I think a career can be considered successful if you are passionate about your job, so much so that you cannot picture yourself doing anything else. It is appreciating what you have, while continuing to always improve yourself and striving for the better. In my personal opinion, it boils down to being in the right place at the right time, which essentially consists of both hard work and blind luck.