Zachary Feng — Joint Honours Mathematics and Computer Science (B. Sc.)

Zachary Feng (center) at DLR during his 2018 summer internship in Germany

Academic Career

What are some pros and cons about your program?

In mathematics, for most courses, each problem unveils a new way to interpret the topic, and it’s very refreshing.

In term of assignments, what I like the about them is that they aren’t very long in general. They require that you figure out the solution in a clever way, which is where you should find yourself committing the majority of your time. The benefit of studying a joint major in Math and CS is that the math compliments the CS in a critical way. You may be asked to, for example in Comp 302 or Comp 330, to provide a proof to justify your solution. But you have already been drilled in your analysis and algebra courses on how to write rigorous proofs, so you can put the technicalities behind and focus on the key ideas for the course. CS is great in that it is fun and you can quickly turn some crazy idea into reality. Of course, CS is also very employable in today’s market.

One thing that other people would also tell you is that programming assignments in CS can take a long time to complete. This is definitely true.

I’ve found myself debugging code for hours in the Trottier computer lab, and doubting whether this assignment is really worth my time because I have a midterm coming up in a couple of days. You always need to believe in yourself and push through.

If you want to pursue a dream, you certainly should not stay on a track that doesn’t take you there.

What advice would you give to younglings at McGill? Or… If you were to go back to your first year, what would you have done differently

Set a goal for yourself to pursue after university, then it’s a lot easier to stay motivated.

Internship Experience

Tell us about your summer internship and how you acquired it.

In a way, it was like a vacation and work at the same time.

I feel as though people in Europe have a great work-life balance which was really cool to see.

  1. I learned that I enjoy research.
  2. To get the most out of your research experience, you need to have the necessary background. While I had the relevant prerequisite knowledge, there was still some heavy math which I could not make sense of at the time. This meant I ended up working behind quite a few “black boxes” in the form of APIs. However, this does not mean that you cannot produce meaningful results. By understanding how the “black boxes” work, you can combine them in meaningful ways and experiment with the outcomes, which I think characterizes much of undergraduate research, so this is normal, and don’t be ashamed if you don’t understand everything! My project was successful and I produced results that could be used by my supervisor in his own research.
  3. Mate (the fizzy German drink) is very tasty, would recommend. You can get them for 58 euro cents at any respectable grocery store. ($0.87 CAD)

After this internship, I can say that switching majors was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, and I haven’t looked back since.



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