The Department of Computer Science welcomes Reza Jafari as a collegiate associate professor for the fall semester. He recently earned his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University. His teaching and research experience and expertise includes machine learning and applied artificial intelligence.

Reza indulged us by sharing 10 things about himself, including why he chose Virginia Tech and why he is so excited to work with graduate students. He will get this opportunity working at the Northern Virginia Center and looks forward to being a part of the Innovation Campus in Alexandria.

1. What does your research entail?

My research area is machine learning and deep learning for data analytics and modeling. I have a great interest in data mining and data visualization for classification and pattern recognition. Deep leaning for time series analysis and forecasting is another area of my expertise. I am very interested in applications of machine learning to solve real world problems in industry. Implementation of deep learning models on microcontroller and GPU for faster computation is another area of my expertise.     

2. What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

My goal is to expand my research toward recurrent-based neural networks as they are powerful to model and predict nonlinear complex data. The inherent feedback connections in recurrent-based neural networks give these types of networks a boasted power in classification and pattern recognition.

But the calculus behind the recurrent-neural networks is not well understood and requires a deeper analysis and research. Recurrent-based neural networks suffer from instability due to feedback connections and implementing a numerical algorithm that maintain stability during the training phase can prevent gradient exploding and allowing for a more robust training phase. 

3. Is there anything else that you're involved in?

To fully understand machine learning and apply it to solve industry problems, there is a need for application-based lectures and hands-on labs. I am developing a series of project based-learning machine learning lectures where students will learn how to apply deep learning models to solve industry problems. The goal of this lecture series is to minimize the gap between academia and industry and give students a chance to work with real data and real application-based projects.   

4. Why did you choose Virginia Tech?

Virginia Tech is a prestigious university where I can see myself grow professionally and serve the community. The strength of the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech is its faculty and students. I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues on research and teaching projects. I also look forward to working with our outstanding graduate students.

The other reason that I was drawn to Virginia Tech was the opportunity to be part of the Innovation Campus (IC) at the Northern Virginia. I believe that the IC will be the best place where I can fully implement my project-based research and teaching ideas.

5. What Is your favorite thing about your job?

As a researcher, the best part of my job is to solve a problem to make life easier for others. As an educator, the best part of my job is to influence my students’ lives in a positive direction. Pursuing an advanced degree in computer science is a dream for many students and I am excited to assist graduate students in fulfilling their academic and professional aspirations.

6. Why is your job important to you?

The philosophy of my life is about education, and I devoted my professional life to this purpose. I do believe “knowledge is power” and to be powerful you need to be educated to solve problems. My job is important to me because as an educator, it is my responsibility to teach my students the most updated information in the field of computer science. This is a challenging task and requires dedication.       

7. What do you do to relax?

Being in the nature and doing outdoor activities that push my limits is very relaxing to me. Watching natural beauties such as waterfalls, ocean, mountains, gazing stars, and animal life inspires me and let me think deeply. When I watch how a small creature like a spider can build a net that is stronger than steel, how thousands and thousands of birds fly in a group without collision, it gives me a good feeling and makes me relax.

8. Do you have any hobbies that you would like to share?

Jogging, soccer, hiking, skiing, swimming, camping, biking, bike packing, surfing, kayaking, poetry, music, artwork, wood works, solving puzzles, movies, and cooking. 

9. How do you balance your work with your life?

Keeping a balance between life and work is always a difficult task and I work hard to maintain that balance. I listen to my body’s internal messages and tune myself accordingly. To maintain this balance when I leave work, I try to disconnect from the technology life and dive into the natural life. Camping in a wooded area or near the beach or traveling around the world and seeing other cultures are also other ways that I try to maintain a balance in my life.   

10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?

I am very excited about the new chapter in my life at Virginia Tech, and I am looking forward meeting my new colleagues and students this fall.