Computer Science graduate student Yasha Pushak received a 2016-2017 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, an award created by the Government of Canada to attract and retain world-class doctoral students in Canada. The Vanier CGS is the most prestigious scholarship available to PhD students in Canada. Vanier Scholars must demonstrate strong leadership skills and a high standard of achievement in graduate studies. The Vanier CGS will provide Yasha with $50 000 a year for three years while he completes his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Holger Hoos.
Yasha's PhD research is in machine learning and artificial intelligence, with a focus on the empirical evaluation and configuration of algorithms. In particular, his research goal is to develop an automatic tool that can be used to learn which parameter settings improve the empirical scaling of an algorithm's running time as problem instance size is increased. Such a tool will find algorithm configurations capable of solving much larger and harder problem instances than the previous state of the art. By developing a tool that can improve the performance of any algorithm, Yasha hopes to allow for the wide-spread adoption of the methodology he develops. For example, the tool could be used to improve the performance of an optimization algorithm used in the energy-sector to schedule power plant operations, thereby leading to a direct reduction in carbon emissions.
Before beginning his PhD, Yasha completed his Bsc. at UBC's Okanagan campus with an honours in Computer Science and an honours in Mathematics. Yasha began his research career under the supervision of Dr. Yves Lucet and Dr. Warren Hare as a summer research student, where he developed algorithms for path planning in road design optimisation. During his time as an undergraduate student Yasha demonstrated leadership skills as a co-founder of the Canadian Undergraduate Computer Science Conference/Congrès Canadien des Étudiants en Informatiques (CUCSC/CCÉI). The CUCSC/CCÉI is the first of its kind in Canada; it brings together bright undergraduate students from across Canada to showcase their research. Each year the conference also promotes gender equality in the computational sciences by hosting a women in computer science panel and exposes students to new perspectives and topics through the presentations given by esteemed plenary speakers from academia and the industry. Yasha is most proud of having helped to establish a community of students, professors and industry professionals in Computer Science across Canada -- a network which, for example, has been used to help one student land their dream job doing medical data science research at Stanford upon graduation.