ORIE Ph.D. Spotlight - Lijun Ding

Lijun Ding

Name:  Lijun Ding
Hometown: Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Degree(s) pursuing / earned: Ph.D. in Operations Research
Concentration: Mathematical Programming, and Applied Probability & Statistics 

What motivated you to pursue your Ph.D. at Cornell?
During my graduate study in statistics at the University of Chicago, I got a few chances to take classes on and to do research in optimization. I found it very interesting and hoped I could do something in the intersection of optimization and statistics. In my Ph.D. application search, I found that ORIE at Cornell fits my interest best as there are many world class researchers who are working on both fields.


What does being a Cornellian mean to you?
To be honest, I have never thought about this question during my Ph.D. study. Thinking back about my five years in Ithaca, I think being a Cornellian means always being curious and willing to spend time on something that may not produce immediate gain.


Who inspired or influenced you during your time at Cornell and why?
It is hard to determine a single person that affected me most. I want to name three people: James Renegar, Yudong Chen, and Madeleine Udell. Jim gave me lots of advice and he was always available to hear about my research and situation before the epidemic, even though he is not my advisor. I am also deeply impressed by his honest and humble character. I am very thankful to my advisor Yudong, who provided me the most financial support, but also let me search for my own interests. He is also willing to hear my unprepared presentations and premature ideas, and is quite sharp in giving feedbacks. Talking with Madeleine is always fun and I could feel her energy in doing research and searching for new ideas. I am also surprised and inspired by her many ways in dealing with daily life issues.


What will you miss the most about Cornell?
I guess I will miss the people, and many trails, which I walked frequently during my final year.


What surprised you most about your Cornell experience?
The ORIE department is very friendly, caring, and helpful. I got many chances to collaborate with my fellow students. 


What accomplishment as a Cornell student makes you most proud?
My student paper prize 2019 of INFORMS Optimization Society makes me most proud. Though I really did not expect I could get the prize.  


What moments—big or small—made your Cornell experience special?
I think it would be the project presentation on predictions of the March Madness game for the course ORIE 6125, computational method in OR. Instead of just the prediction, we actually produced an interactive website. The user can look at the prediction of a specific team that she is interested in. One could also see the predicted tournament results in a singular plot. I guess the most memorable thing is that we present it to all the ORIE Ph.D. students in the Ph.D. lounge, and I could feel the welcoming and friendly atmosphere at that time.   


What are your plans “Post Cornell”?
I am going to University of Washington for my postdoc study. I hope to be a professor in my academic career.


Please describe one or two highlights of your time at Cornell.
One highlight is the acceptance of my paper with my fellow students to the International Conference on Machine Learning. It was the first time I worked only with my fellow students in producing a paper.


Fun Fact(s):
Please tell us something about you and/or your family (i.e., connections to ORIE or Cornell); favorite quote as it may pertain to your degree or research; funny/interesting story about your time at Cornell.

I am actually the first person in my family (including my father’s side and my mother’s side) to pursue a Ph.D. My parents, like most Chinese people, are from the countryside. Due to their hard work, the education they received, and the development in China, my parents are now able to have a much better life than before. I am very grateful for their support of my studies and their continued care during my time studying aboard.

I tried to practice my Cantonese during my study at Cornell. I talked to Venus Lo and Michael Choi in Cantonese, though in the end the talk usually turned into English or Mandarin as I cannot really understand their Cantonese. Yudong is actually from Canton but he kind of refused to practice Cantonese with me as he cannot understand my Cantonese. So we most of the time talked in Mandarin.

I also enjoyed playing Mario Cart with Xiangyu and Haici. I have to admit that I am an expert on Mario Cart now.

I do like playing table tennis. I played this a lot during my middle and high school. I had so much fun in participating the ORIE tournament, even though it did not end properly. 

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