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An Interview with DIMA PhD Student Martin Kiefer



... during my Bachelor’s studies at DHBW Stuttgart, Prof. Markl invited a few of my fellow students and me to visit DIMA and learn about their research activities. The visit not only peaked my interest, it motivated me to subsequently join DIMA as a student assistant ...

Martin Kiefer, research associate at the DIMA Group of TU Berlin since April 2016.

How did you first learn about the DIMA Group and when did you join?

I first learned about DIMA during my Bachelor’s studies at DHBW Stuttgart while working at IBM. I always wanted to go to Berlin for my Master’s studies and my manager at IBM put me in touch with a DIMA student assistant. Afterwards, DIMA members visited my university, offered a talk, and mentioned that there were open research assistantships in their group. Prof. Markl invited a few of my fellow students and me to visit them and learn about their research activities. The visit not only peaked my interest, it motivated me to subsequently join DIMA as a student assistant in 2013 and continue on as a PhD student in 2016.

How far along are you in your doctoral studies? Can you describe your research?

I am in the third year of my doctoral studies. Ever since I started working at DIMA as a student research assistant, I have been working on data processing using modern hardware. In my current research, I am investigating how specialized hardware architectures like GPUs and FPGAs can be used in combination with approximation techniques to increase the efficiency of data analysis tasks in terms of their execution time and power consumption. Reducing the power consumption is a particularly important task: The amount of available data continues to increase exponentially and for economic and environmental reasons, we need to ensure that the energy demands required to analyze the data do not grow exponentially as well.

Since joining the group, how have you grown professionally, particularly, as a researcher?

I have surely grown professionally as a researcher. First, I have gained deeper knowledge in my area of research. Second, DIMA members have many opportunities to attend colloquia, where visiting researchers from around the globe offer lectures on a broad array of research areas. Third, besides the technical skills, I have further developed my soft skills: I have improved both my writing skills as well as my scientific presentation skills. Regularly offering lectures as a course instructor has enabled me to become a better speaker. I have learned how to present myself and my research to others, especially when I applied for a Software Campus program grant. Furthermore, the need to balance research, teaching, and project-specific duties have enabled me to improve my time management skills too.

Given your teaching experiences while in the group, how would you describe your teaching philosophy? What have you learned about the educational process?

My teaching philosophy is rather simple: “Learning becomes much easier when you are aware of the importance of a topic.” When teaching a topic, I try to get across why a topic is important, useful, or fascinating. As a researcher, it can become quite easy to take subject matters for granted. However, it is essential to put things into context, in order to spark the interest and passion for research in students. Thus, I take extra care to share insights with my students. As a lecturer, I have come to realize that things appear very different from a podium than behind a student desk. I have discovered that effective teaching requires a lot of effort and teamwork, in order for a lecture to run smoothly, which is especially true for lectures with a large number of students.

What advice would you give to future students who are interested in pursuing a PhD in the DIMA Group?

I would advise students to focus on database systems and information management. They should enroll in DIMA courses, attend the lectures, and join in on DIMA related projects. Beyond this, I would recommend picking one or two additional focus areas. For example, machine learning is very popular today and this skillset comes in quite handy in varying scenarios. In addition, I would suggest students consider writing their thesis with a DIMA advisor or join as a student research assistant. In this manner, they can get to know the group, open the door to a research experience, and expand their horizons.

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