Khac-Hoang NGO, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellow, Chalmers University

Personal website, LinkedIn, Ph.D. thesis

Merci beaucoup d'avoir accepté l'interview

Please give us a brief overview of your background before, during and after your PhD

I grew up in a countryside in the north of Vietnam. The emergence of fixed telephones and then mobile phones in my village in early 2000s triggered my curiosity about how a telecommunication system works. I followed a bachelor program in electronics and telecommunications at Vietnam National University, Hanoi. I did a summer internship at National University of Singapore in 2012. After graduating, I stayed one more year in the university to work as a research assistant in a joint project between Vietnam and France. Via the project, I got to know the master program in advanced wireless communication systems at CentraleSupélec, France, which I enrolled in and obtained a scholarship for.

During my master, I did an internship on coded caching, a technique to offload the data traffic in content delivery networks by prefetching contents at/near the users. This opened the way to my Ph.D. study with the same professor on noncoherent communications, that is, communications under limited prior knowledge on the propagation channel. My CIFRE Ph.D. was also conducted at Huawei Paris Research Center. I received my Ph.D. degree in 2020, and then obtained a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship for my current postdoctoral research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. My current research focuses on massive random access and edge computing for the Internet of Things. My goal is to obtain a faculty position in a leading academic institution.

What motivated you to start your PhD thesis ?

The mathematically inclined courses in my master program opened my eyes to the fundamental behind the design of communication systems. For example, information theory tells how to measure information, to what extent information can be compressed, and how much information can be transmitted reliably through a noisy channel. I was amazed by how such intuitive but abstract concepts could be presented so elegantly, and I wanted to learn more. Furthermore, my fruitful internship reinforced my confidence in research. I enjoyed stretching my mind through pondering a question and the excitement of learning or finding something new. I also realized that I could contribute to the development of global communication systems through my research. This motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. degree on fundamental aspects of wireless communications.

What are the most important lessons that you have obtained in research?

I treasure every lesson that I have learned through research. During my bachelor, I often switched quickly to alternative ways when I got stuck solving a problem, which admittedly carried me away from the initial direction. I then realized that being stuck is an inseparable part of doing research, and we need to be persistent and keep pushing. During my Ph.D., I learned to see the essence of a problem, often through a simple but sufficiently comprehensive example, without getting lost in the maze of details. I also saw the benefit of scientific discussion and collaboration between researchers with diverse but complementary expertise and perspectives. In my postdoc, I experience the importance of clarifying the research question before moving ahead with the tools at hand.

Your thesis was awarded the Signal, Image & Vision Ph.D. Thesis Prize by EEA, GRETSI and GdR-ISIS. What does that mean to you?

I felt delighted to receive the prize. I always try to spend decent effort in what I am engaged in. When that effort pays off and is acknowledged, I find a grand encouragement and motivation to keep moving forward. I am also grateful to my supervisors.

How has an international background helped you?

Apart from studying and working in Vietnam, France, and Sweden, I had the chance to attend/organize scientific events in several countries, including Japan, USA, China, Germany, and Spain. This allowed me to meet new people from whom I always find new things to learn. The excitement of interacting with new people, including both accredited scientists and young researchers, kept me from being worn out. Furthermore, I am mentally prepared to move and adapt to a new environment, which is commonplace at the early stage of an academic career.

What advice would you give to students about doing a Ph.D.?

Doing a Ph.D. means you have a contract and a salary. However, never consider it merely as a nine-to-five job. A Ph.D. is a chance for you to challenge and develop yourself. Through striving to solve hard problems, you regularly find yourself at limit of your knowledge and even emotions. And then you gradually push that limit further. On the other hand, to avoid exhausting yourself, you should maintain some activities where you can be detached from work. Hanging out with friends and practicing sports can help. Remember to have fun while doing research.