The University of Wollongong (UOW) has so many high achieving PhD students, working towards solving real world problems. Behind every great PhD candidate is a great supervisor (or two). We hear from both to understand their perspective of the postgraduate journey.

Yan Qian is a PhD student working within the field of “computer vision”, a subfield of artificial intelligence. She is investigating how computer vision can be used in cities to improve traffic scenarios. Her supervisor Dr Johan Barthelemy joined the SMART Infrastructure Facility of the University of Wollongong (Australia) where he is a Research Fellow. He is leading the SMART IoT Hub and the Digital Living Lab developing sensors and edge computing devices for IoT applications.

Dr Johan Barthelemy WIDE

Meet the supervisor: Dr Johan Barthelemy

Can you explain your area of expertise?

As an applied mathematician, I am interested in a wide variety of topics and my research is interdisciplinary. Initially, I was doing research around large-scale agent-based models to simulate the evolution, transportation and mobility behaviour of a population made of millions of individuals. But, over the last few years I have been exploring the field of Internet-of-Things to create new data sources for simulations, and how to add artificial intelligence in remote sensing platforms for monitoring different environments to transmit only the relevant data, i.e. how to perform the computations at the edge to create the Artificial Intelligence of Things.

Applications of this research include privacy-preserving real-time intelligent video analytics for smart cities, asset tracking such as beer kegs, air quality monitoring, stormwater management and flash flood early warning systems. Using the live data coming  from different type of sensors in simulations allows us to design better data-driven models of the systems we want to investigate. Most of those applications rely on statistics, deep learning, edge-computing, signal processing and high-performance computing.

How did you find yourself where you are now professionally?

That’s a good question, I did not really plan to be where I am now. I just know that I want to keep learning new things and don’t want to be stuck in one box. After completing a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Namur in Belgium in 2014, I was offered a position at the SMART Infrastructure Facility as an associate research fellow in the Infrastructure Simulation and Modelling Research group.

During this time, my research has mainly focused on agent-based simulation for high performance computing facilities. A couple of years later, SMART started investigating the use of sensors and Internet-of-Things for some projects which interested me. Soon after I started developing prototypes of sensors and AI algorithms for these projects. In 2018, I became a research fellow and had the opportunity to lead SMART’s Digital Living Lab to further research and develop new Internet-of-Things and smart sensing applications.

Ever since I was a PhD student, I always enjoyed teaching and managed to deliver a few subjects each year both at the University of Namur and within UOW. This led to my current position as a lecturer at SMART.

What makes a great PhD candidate?

A good PhD candidate is someone curious, enthusiastic, passionate about the research and who is able to work both independently and within a team. Being a good communicator is also an asset when it comes to sharing their passion and engaging with the community. A great PhD student is someone who is not afraid to challenge and question the existing ideas and be creative in exploring new ways to solve problems. Finally, knowing how to balance research, personal development and family life are all vital skills to master if you want to embark on a PhD journey.

How do you guide candidates on their journey?

In addition to regular meetings to discuss the research and progress, I try to be available for as much face-to-face discussions as the candidate needs. If the candidate is facing a challenge, we work together to find a solution, or think about what type of support or strategy is needed to overcome it. It is important that the PhD candidate enjoys what she/he is working on. I also encourage the candidates to learn new skills and discuss with other PhD students and researchers to start new interdisciplinary collaborations. From time to time, I also find it is necessary to remind the candidates to take care of themselves and to take some time off.

What should candidates consider when finding a supervisor?

A PhD is a rewarding personal journey, and as with all journeys, it comes with its ups and downs. Choosing the right supervisor to support you through those cycles is crucial. In addition to sharing research interests, the most important thing is to find a PhD supervisor with whom you are comfortable discussing openly and sharing ideas. This is the foundation of building a good relationship between you and your supervisor, not only for the duration of the PhD, but afterwards as well.

There are plenty of good supervisors available, so it is important to take your time to meet with them, but also to discuss with the other PhD students and researchers in their groups. This will help you to understand the level of support you can expect during the PhD and to get all the information you need to make your decision.

Meet the candidate: Yan Qian

Yan Qian WIDE
PhD candidate Yan Qian

Can you give a description of the topic or question you are investigating?

My research focuses on computer vision in the traffic scene. Computer vision, a subfield of artificial intelligence, describes the ability of machines to process and understand visual data; automating and improving the type of tasks the human eye does.

Using the existing network of surveillance cameras in our streets, my goal is to deliver a methodology enabling us to detect and track the different traffic components, and hence to accurately monitor and predict different types of traffic flows in our cities. With a rapidly growing population, it is important to rethink our cities and to build tools to respond to the social and economic challenges we are facing.

How did you select your research topic? Where does your interest in this field stem from?

I have a background in mathematics and data science. I had always been fascinated by extracting hidden patterns in data. When Johan came to me with the exciting opportunity of pursuing a PhD in the above-mentioned topic, I did not hesitate. Prior to my PhD journey, I was working as a business intelligence consultant in Brussels, Belgium. But I was aware that I needed other challenges in my life.

How did you find your supervisor?

Johan was my teacher at the University of Namur while pursuing my study in Applied Mathematics and Data Science. In one of his courses, we had to collect a dataset from a company and analyse it. I chose to conduct a survey on the communal elections in Luxembourg in 2017. I was interested in analysing people’s political choices based on the demographic information. Besides, Johan was also teaching a machine learning course, which was my first hands-on training in the field.

How do you think your research can change the world?

Cities are currently rapidly developing their existing CCTV network. These large surveillance networks are only used for investigating incidents and monitoring anti-social behaviours in public places, due to privacy regulations and only a few accredited operators can view the feeds. Thus, a large amount of data is created but unused. By developing privacy-preserving intelligent video analytics that use the above-mentioned data, it is possible to monitor the traffic, understand  citizens’ driving behaviour, avoid traffic jams, improve securities, well-being, and build tomorrow’s smart cities.

What advice would you give someone considering doing postgraduate studies?

Starting a PhD can be frightening at first. And it is fair to say that it is a big decision to make. Before considering this, make sure to be passionate about the field. You will be spending the next few years on a specific topic, and research brings with it many highs and lows. Passion for the subject makes it easier when you encounter difficult times. Secondly, find yourself a supervisor with whom you can establish a good connection, since you will have to work closely together. Be sure to find someone who will listen to your struggles and needs, and support you towards your achievements.

Phd stories May- Johan and Janside

To read more about Johan take a look at his Scholars profile

To find out more about Yan Qian take a look at her Linkedin profile

To find out what else is happening at SMART take a look here