Graduate Students Talk About Our Program

Peer insight can become invaluable when reviewing Ph.D. programs and deciding where you may be a good fit. This diverse group of CS students, Vassilios Lekakis (4th year), Megan Monroe (4th year), and Cody Dunne (6th year), provide answers to how being a graduate student at the University of Maryland is advancing their computer science careers and providing unparalleled research opportunities.

Why did you choose to study computer science at UMD?

Vassilios: UMD is always among the top 15 CS departments across the globe. There are more than two faculty members per area of interest, which gives students flexibility when choosing an adviser to work with. Also, a big plus for me was the location. The beautiful city of Washington D.C. is close by, as well as great trails and places for outdoor activities around the UMD campus.
Megan: I like looking at problems from different angles. At a school as big as UMD, you can get a second opinion from virtually any other perspective and you'll never have to search for a domain expert. Plus, there weren't any slots left in the interpretive dance department.
Cody: The UMD CS department is a pioneer in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and our lab has several respected professors and researchers that helped found the field. My adviser Ben Shneiderman is the founding director of the lab and has over 25 years of experience in the field of information visualization. Also in our department is Ben Bederson, well-known for zoomable user interfaces. Moreover, this close to the capitol there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration with federal government agencies and companies.

What is your CS concentration and what have you been researching?

Vassilios: I study how security affects replication and consistency in weakly connected distributed systems. Apart from that I'm interested in storage, file systems and security.
Megan: With an HCI concentration, my research addresses temporal search and how to make the process of specifying temporal queries more accessible. I spend a lot of time with medical researchers who are looking for meaningful patterns in Electronic Health Records.
Cody: My focus is HCI, specifically on visualizing networks of relationships. These can be social networks like friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, interactions between proteins in the human body, or even the connections between artifacts at archaeological dig sites. My research aims to simplify visualizations of these networks so users can more effectively understand the overall pattern and structure of relationships.

What do you enjoy about your degree program?

Vassilios: I have had the chance to work on some very interesting topics through building secure and reliable distributed systems. The Ph.D. program is challenging but I get great satisfaction by achieving each one of the major's milestones.
Megan: There is a huge opportunity to improve technology in medicine. Computer science can often feel independent of physical location, and yet here at UMD, we are perfectly located such that we can affect both technology and the policy that puts it in the hands of the people who need it.
Cody: I love programming and delving into algorithmic details, but at the same time I enjoy designing visualizations and working with end users. HCI bridges these areas, bringing together expertise from all over campus to help solve real-world problems.

What are some resources provided by the department that you find valuable?

Vassilios: My adviser offers ample time to discuss any new ideas and problems I have with my research. He provides me with several computing resources that make my life in the lab considerably easier and more fun. There are also reading groups that individual groups organize to help communicate with other faculty members. Furthermore, every other week there is a technical talk so I can interact with other researchers outside the university.
Megan: The best resource is sitting on the first floor of A.V. Williams. Jenny Story and Fatima Bangura in the Graduate Office somehow know the answer to your question before you even ask it. You literally walk in the door and they're like, "Don't worry about the vase."
Cody: The CS department runs its own IT department and they are amazing! You'll email them asking for a new keyboard and you'll get a knock on your door 10 minutes later. Also, we have a new website ( that shows you all the talks happening in the various department groups so you don't have to keep up on all the mailing lists.