By Bethany Deuel

Tobi Lasisi is no stranger to learning on the job, a skill that has been beneficial as she’s navigated several positions in a new country during a pandemic.

After moving from Nigeria to Mississippi in the fall of 2017 to earn her Ph.D. in computer science at Mississippi State University, Lasisi began working at the SSRC’s Social, Therapeutic and Robotic Systems Lab (STaRS). As a research assistant in the lab, Lasisi collaborated with the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems on exploring new ways to support vehicle parts alignment on assembly lines. While she navigated through her work, Lasisi also had to manage the many changes accompanied with returning to school in a new country.

“It was really challenging for me to settle down into the new environment and the new educational system,” Lasisi said. “At one point, I thought about going back home. I wasn’t sure I could cope with everything.”

In the midst of her transition, Lasisi’s advisor Cindy Bethel, director of the STaRS Lab and a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, became her personal mentor. Bethel was there to guide her through not only course selections but also through the challenging adjustment process.

“At some point along the line, I met Dr. Bethel who became my mentor and advisor. She took it upon herself to mentor me. She was there to guide me,” Lasisi said. “That support really made a huge difference in my life.”

Bethel, SSRC interim director, also connected Lasisi to her current position at Mississippi Alcohol Safety Education Program (MASEP) in 2018. Lasisi had to quickly learn how to work with the web frameworks on which the MASEP’s MOSES application runs as she assumed her role as the in-house software developer for the unit.  As she continues to adjust and work through the COVID-19 pandemic, Lasisi is thankful for the culture of learning surrounding her at MASEP.

“They understand that you’re a student and you might not have all of the requisite experience. But as long as you’re willing to learn and they can see that you’re passionate, they are ready to work with you,” Lasisi said.

As a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science and engineering department, Lasisi is conducting her research on the application of machine learning and recommendation technologies to support requirement engineering processes, under the direction of Bethel and Tanmay Bhowmik, an assistant professor of the department.

Later this summer, Lasisi will take these skills and research interests to work as a quantum design research intern at IBM. She was selected for this prominent three-month position after a rigorous interview process. Lasisi will work on projects related to design, visual, and user experience research to uncover insights into quantum computing community and share knowledge with users. Though Lasisi was initially excited to move to Austin, TX for the internship, the position has currently been moved to a remote work format for safety reasons.

Lasisi has a detailed list of goals for her position with IBM including learning more about how organizations conduct research, collaborating with her peers and gaining real-life experience in the industry. She would also love to see her position turn into a career following graduation.

Along with starting a career in the technology industry, Lasisi hopes post-graduation she will have time to return to two things she loves: reading and travel.

Embracing a culture of learning: Tobi Lasisi on navigating new positions and programs
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