Statement of Purpose for Graduate School


This was my Statement of Purpose for Graduate School in 2019.

“Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make them.”

When I graduated from China’s Southeast University with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, I faced a difficult decision: should I continue my education as a graduate student, or should I go straight into the industry?

Upon graduation, my research advisor, Professor Guilin Qi, one of China’s foremost authorities on natural language processing (NLP), invited me to join his research laboratory as a master’s degree candidate in CS. This was an extremely appealing offer and I seriously considered it. But in the end, I found that graduate school wasn’t the right choice for me at this juncture, as I did not have a clear career path yet. I felt that it made more sense to gain some hands-on experience in industry first. Only then might I gain a clearer picture of where my strengths are and what I truly want to study.

I attended several career fairs, sat through a number of interviews, and received several decent job offers. Among them, I narrowed down to two in particular. The first was in algorithm engineering at Alibaba, and the second was in NLP engineering at an education technology startup 17zuoye. Once again, I found myself facing a tough decision: which job would teach me more? The world-famous Alibaba, one of the world’s largest tech companies, or the small but fast-growing startup?

What truly appealed to me about 17zuoye was its vision of combining AI with education. 17zuoye (aka “Homework Together”), is the largest K12 intelligent education platform in China. Its goal is to transform K12 education, utilizing AI. And the person in charge of it is Dr. Feng Rao, former chief engineer of Tencent. What sealed the deal for me was the fact that if I took the job at 17zuoye, Dr. Rao would be my direct supervisor, someone I would work side-by-side with every day. While Alibaba’s offer was very generous, I knew that there I would just be a little fish in a big pond. I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to advance AI technologies to help students learn, so I accepted the job at 17zuoye.

I made the right choice. I’ve been at 17zuoye for one and a half years now, and have learned a tremendous amount in NLP through hands-on work. I’ve spent most of my time here developing an essay enhancing system (kind of like a combination of ETS e-rater and Grammarly) with Dr. Rao. It is capable of both evaluating students’ written articles based on text features and correcting grammar errors automatically. We applied neural machine translation models to grammar error corrections and achieved a 7% accuracy improvement. This system has been brought online and served tens of millions of middle school students in China. My work is challenging and engaging, but at the same time I have also discovered my limitations, and realized the importance of stronger theoretical foundations. Hence I decided to apply for a graduate degree program.