Inside Story: Margarida Ferreira

Margarida Ferreira is a first year CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Instituto Superior Técnico (Técnico) and the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Under her Ph.D. she expects to further develop her research in program synthesis and find new ways to help people quickly and safely use a computer to automate daily tasks, under the supervision of Inês Lynce at Técnico and Ruben Martins at CMU. Currently in Pittsburgh for the semester, she shared her experience in the Program thus far, what she is looking forward to take the most of her time at CMU and provide additional advice to incoming CMU Portugal students. In her free times she loves cycling and hiking.

What drew you to the CMU Portugal Dual Degree Program?

I was working with my advisor at CMU, Ruben Martins, for several months before I even applied to the Dual Degree program. We started working together on my master’s thesis topic, part of CMU Portugal’s Large-scale Collaborative Research Project GOLEM. Once I finished that, I was still very much interested in the topic, and I wanted to continue working with him. The Dual Degree just seemed like a natural step in that direction. CMU is a truly an outstanding university and it just seemed like an excellent opportunity to experience academic life and challenge me academically, while also living and exploring a different city and country.

What is your biggest takeaway from CMU thus far?

I think it was how much my research benefited from the collaboration with my peers. I gained a lot of opportunities to discuss and collaborate with other Ph.D. students, some working on topics that are closely related to mine and some of whom work in completely different things. This really makes my work not only more enjoyable but more meaningful. People have different perspectives on the same problem and together we can come up with more creative solutions and ideas on how research can positively impact the world, which is the big goal.

What is the biggest difference between studying and researching in Pittsburgh versus Portugal?

When I arrived here, I was positively surprised by how much importance people place on sharing their work and research with others within the department or the School of Computer Science. There are several venues, more or less formal, where we can present our work to our peers and get their feedback and opinions. Perhaps it was because I was in Portugal in a period severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that was the notorious change from what I was used to in Portugal. I was part of a much smaller group of people and I was very familiar with what they do. Here I have a broader view of the work of a larger group of people. Both sides have benefits and overall, I’m just lucky to be part of both research environments.

Are there any specific events or activities that you are looking forward to experiencing at CMU?

All of it. I’m just really looking forward to my time here in Pittsburgh. Since the time I arrived, I’ve been very integrated with my cohort and the CMU Portugal community as well. The Program organizes a lot of lunch events and I really have gotten to know a lot of people here. Though there are plenty of these exciting events within my department within CMU, CMU wide or within CMU Portugal. I’m just also very much looking forward to continuing my day-to-day routine life here because Pittsburgh is a really nice city. I very much enjoyed living here and it provided me with such an enjoyable and healthy environment. I’m just excited to keep working on my research and see where that leads me

We’re all very passionate people about what we do, and it’s a refreshing environment to think and share opinions about computer science.

Do you have any advice for incoming first year Dual Degree students?

Just, congratulations on being accepted. I feel like now you’re here; you definitely deserve it. We’re given the opportunity to explore many topics and just search for your academic path and just seize the opportunity. So just enjoy.

“Explore as much as you can and learn as much as you can. Find something you’re genuinely passionate about
and just use it to improve the world in any way you can, even if it’s just a little bit.
I feel that’s really what the Ph.D. is about. Just find ways to make the world a better place.”
– Margarida Ferreira

I had a lot of support. I could always count on my CMU advisor to help me with most things. Debbie Cavlovich with Computer Science – she’s very, very helpful. Don’t be afraid of asking for help from the people here because everyone I’ve met is amicable and looking forward to providing as much assistance as possible. Don’t go crazy over all the bureaucracy, people are here to help, you just need to ask.