CSpotlight: A leap of faith into computer science

Kerem Ersöz is an international student from Turkey who initially came to the University of Minnesota to study biochemistry. When he realized he was more intrigued by the computational laboratory work than the biology itself, he decided to switch majors (and eventually, to also apply to the integrated program). Now, he'll graduate with both a B.A. and an M.S. in computer science!

Why did you choose to study at the University of Minnesota? What do you enjoy about most about Minnesota?

I was considering a few universities in the Midwest, and the University of Minnesota really stood out in terms of approachability and affordability for international students. Also, a huge factor for me was the fact that the U of M is one of the few Big 10 schools that are located in a metro area.

I've come to really enjoy how pronounced the difference between the seasons are in Minnesota, since it’s generally just really warm and dry in Turkey, where I'm from. I also love how green it is here! Finally, I appreciate how many opportunities for student employment and internships there are available in the Twin Cities.

What sparked your interest in computer science?

Originally, I intended to major in biochemistry. After my first two semesters, I decided to take a computer science course—completely out of the blue—at a community college nearby, and I really loved it. To be honest, when I was still a biochemistry major, the goal was to eventually move on to the more informatic side (i.e. bioinformatic, cheminformatics, etc.). Then, I came to the realization that maybe it’s not necessarily the biology that was piquing my interest, but the application of computer science that really intrigued me. So, I took a leap of faith and decided to switch majors (and I’m really happy that I made that choice)!

What did you like most about being an undergraduate teaching assistant?

I was actually a TA for two biology classes before assisting with two computer science classes. Being a TA for Foundations of Biology actually helped set my sight on the computer science field, since the course involved a lot of computational work. I really enjoyed being exposed to the diversity of students and the variety of solutions they came up with to solve different problems.

How do you enjoy the integrated program so far? What was the most challenging part of this program?

The integrated program allows you to study for five years and leave school with a master’s degree. I was actually a late applicant, and only recently applied as a junior in college. I have definitely had an increased workload since I am a year behind compared to other integrated program students. The requirements are also a lot more intensive. However, I'm really enjoying it so far and the program is exposing me to much more variety within computer science!

Tell us more about your internship at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

I was working with a team to help develop a powerful and new supercomputer—I was super excited to work on this kind of project. The experience exposed me to HPE's actual professional production environments around the world. My team specifically worked with people from Japan and Germany, which really opened my eyes to the vast scale this business. On top of the business lessons, the internship also gave me a lot of opportunity to network through many events hosted by the company.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

As an international student, I personally had a lot of doubts initially, since international students are generally “one-step-behind” when it comes to work. The most important advice I can share is to not mind these factors and do your own things to the best of your capabilities. At the end of the day, it is really up to you to seize the opportunity to make something happen—and second guessing yourself is not the way to go! Always take advantage of the opportunities around you, and you will be greatly rewarded.

What are your plans after graduation?

This summer, I am planning to get my certification for the highest level of Japanese, since I am considering a possible future position in Japan. Along the way, I’m also looking forward to learn more about other computer science fields, such as vision and deep learning. One thing is for certain—I will pursue a career in industry...but the question remains as to where!? I’m not too sure yet but there are definitely so many opportunities to consider!