Tanya Salyers


1.  What interested you in the doctoral program in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics at Notre Dame?

After I finished my undergraduate studies, I knew I loved to think about math and algorithms, but I didn’t know what I wanted to specialize in. I had it narrowed down some, as I knew that I wanted to study something interdisciplinary and applied - that is something challenging and interesting, yet explainable to a non-technical audience. But beyond that, I wasn’t sure. So I was looking for a program that would give me broad exposure to a variety of interdisciplinary areas so I could narrow it down and find a dissertation topic I was passionate about. The ACMS Department at Notre Dame offered me such an opportunity.

2.  What was the best part of the program?

I did research I am proud of, had an awesome experience along the way and multiple job offers at the end - before graduation I had five industry and two postdoc offers.

I greatly benefited from the varied course selection the ACMS Department provides. The department offers numerous classes in different cutting-edge fields and students are encouraged to customize their curricula to try out different areas. In addition to applied math, statistics, and pure math, students are also encouraged to take classes across various departments including computer science, engineering, biology, social science and many more.

Beyond the coursework, the department provides excellent opportunities to partake in, cutting-edge research through mentoring by our interdisciplinary faculty members. I learned a great deal from my research advisors and other members of our faculty, with their help by the end of the program I had figured out what areas were most interesting to me, and had developed my ability to do independent research.

The school culture at Notre Dame is excellent: the department has a very friendly and collaborative environment. Students are encouraged to study and work on projects together - many classes have a strong focus on doing group projects. The University of Notre Dame is located in a small town, with very few exceptions,  students live very close to campus and are in grad school full time – the grad student community is very close and tight knit. The dropout rate is low, most people who start -finish. In general, the department feels like a big family - everybody knows each other and what people do.

3.  Tell us about your doctoral thesis.

The biggest part of my dissertation was on modeling how social networks form. At Notre Dame, we have a database that contains cell phone call logs – anonymized dataset with information about who called who, when and for how long the conversation lasted. The call logs contained approximately a billion individual calls. From the call logs, we extracted a social network. Nodes are individuals making calls and there was a link between two people if they called each other. Upon analysis, we found out that our cellphone call network had special properties that are typical to social networks, but not as common for other types of networks. The main result of my research was creating a generative model that would act like a black box: in comes an arbitrary network, out comes a social network from the cell phone call data. Inside the black box I ran an algorithm to do the network rewiring, producing and analyzing this algorithm was the novelty of my work. As a part of my work, I’ve computationally generated and analyzed numerous such networks. One of the main decks of results was based on over 70 million networks. Dealing with that many networks – generating, processing and storing the results of computations was an interesting computational challenge.

4.  What are you working on now?

I am a software development engineer at IMDb, the internet movie database. My projects relate to movie ratings, recommendations and social engagement. I really love it here! IMDb has rich data, lots of cool problems and opportunities, and the people are awesome. It’s super cool to be able to point to a page on one of the most popular web sites on the internet and know that my code is a part of it.

5.  What advice would you give to students considering the program?
Always be open to learn new things. Find something that you are passionate about to work on, and come visit once accepted, the campus is gorgeous.