The University of Southampton

Wojciech Rozowski BSc Computer Science, 2021

Why did you choose to study at Southampton?

The University of Southampton felt like my optimal choice because it combined a few factors – besides being a Russell Group University, the main reason for me was the academic excellence of its Electronics and Computer Science (ECS). Also, Southampton as a city attracted me as being a vibrant, diverse and student-friendly place.

What were your Southampton highlights?

I particularly cherished my first weeks at Southampton and throughout my time at Southampton I really enjoyed the Personal Academic Tutor scheme. I was very lucky to have Dr Enrico Gerding as my tutor – he was always an amazing help. 

I loved my 2020-21 academic year. Despite most of my classes being done remotely, I was very lucky to have amazing and caring flatmates in my halls of residence and because of bubbling in lockdown, we spent lots of time together. 

At the same time, I had the opportunity to take a mathematics module outside of ECS. It was delivered though online learning due to the pandemic and was one of the best modules I ever took. The lecturer introduced multiple aspects of abstract algebra using examples from puzzles and card shuffles, and wrote a book for students to use to self-study. The University also supported me with an online learning grant that allowed me to get some new computer equipment.

My time at Southampton helped me to grow and mature in an area I loved. It allowed me to explore different aspects and applications of computer science, helping me to pick the field I would like to specialise in.

What other activities did you take advantage of while at University?

I had an amazing opportunity to take part in the Excel Internship programme and to join Cyber Physical Systems Research Group in ECS as a research intern on a six month research project at the end of my first year. Alongside PhD students and postdoctorate researchers, I worked on low-level software for energy harvesting-based ultrasonic water sensors. I helped deliver data for an algorithm to predict leaks in water-delivery networks. This internship was my first contact with academic research and although my current area is not connected to that internship, I gained lots of transferable skills that helped me later. 

This internship was a great addition to my CV, leading to me joining the Software and Large Scale Systems Group at ARM Research, in Cambridge, on a research internship that is normally aimed at PhD students. I worked on the distributed system for managing nodes in edge computing systems. 

I also had a great fun participating in the International Collegiate Programming Contest. I was a part of the Southampton team, and we represented the UK at the North-Western European Regional Championship of ICPC in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Although we didn’t get to the European Championships, we had lots of fun during the contest. For me, it was a great opportunity to level up my problem-solving and team-working skills. 

Away from the academic side of the University, I enjoyed the student societies. I was President of the Polish Society for a year which aims to provide a safe and friendly environment for Polish students, helping them to settle at the University and organising various outreach events. Along with the Southampton University International Office, we organised an event in Warsaw for freshers, offer-holders and potential applicants. 

I was also a member of the Southampton University Hillwalking Society and had great fun participating in hikes and getting to know beautiful nature sites in and around Hampshire. 

What did you enjoy most about your course?

Throughout my three years at Southampton, formal and abstract modules, such as Programming Language Concepts, Foundations of Computer Science and Theory of Computing, gave me the greatest joy and a sense of fulfilment - encouraging me to work independently outside of the University programme. Those modules made me fall in love with the theoretical and foundational aspects of computer science. 

The highlight of my course was definitely my third-year individual project module. It was a great honour for me to be supervised by Dr Julian Rathke, who went from teaching me the basics of Haskell language programming in my second year to being my academic mentor helping me network with top academics in the field when I was looking for a supervisor for my PhD. 

My individual project was a research-intensive project in the area programming language theory and formal verification. It involved building an executable interpreter for a programming language, which is formally proved to be correct. I used a language called Agda, which is both a programming language and a proof assistant, allowing me to prove mathematical theorems about properties of the created code. During that time, I had a great opportunity to establish academic contacts outside of Southampton and to learn from academics at Utrecht University and the University of Nottingham. 

I was also honoured to be awarded best undergraduate project in the ACM Student Research Competition at the International Conference on Functional Programming for my summary of my project findings. Winning was an amazing opportunity to have a debut in the research community of Programming Language Theory and network with top academics in my field before starting my PhD.

Why did you decide to go on to study a PhD and what are your future career aspirations?

I am truly amazed by how abstract mathematical concepts can both interlink and model the behaviour, structure and properties of the systems that are the subject of computer science research. Being a naturally curious person who loves problem-solving and mathematics, I am passionate about the interplay of abstract maths and computer science, especially in areas such as logic, category theory or automata theory. So, a PhD was the natural choice for me. My end goal is to become a researcher in an area intersecting theoretical computer science and programming languages theory. 

How did your time at Southampton help you to get to where you are now?

My time at Southampton helped me to grow and mature in an area I loved. It allowed me to explore different aspects and applications of computer science, helping me to pick the field I would like to specialise in. I got a solid dose of technical skills which were especially helpful in my time at ARM and Goldman Sachs, where I worked as a Site Reliability Engineer Intern, while developing a cloud infrastructure for a customer banking project. It also gave me a whole range of transferable skills, including public speaking and academic writing. 

What advice would you give to a student starting their degree?

Definitely spend time with your course mates - lectures and assignments are only a fraction of the overall learning experience at university, you can learn lots from other students in your department. In pre-COVID-19 times, the Zepler labs were the lace I could hang out with everyone from ECS and learn from them. 

It is also worth talking to your lecturers, especially about their research or academic interests. There are so many interesting fields outside of the usual university curriculum and it’s worth finding out what researchers at Southampton do. One of my lecturers, who taught the introductory modules, was actually an expert in the very interesting field of coalgebras.