Interview: Successful Bosnian Kenan Sehic worked as a Visiting Researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

October 1, 2020 7:30 PM

 

Dr. Kenan Sehic has spent six months working as a visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and he says that the visit to MIT was definitely the highlight of his research career.

”If you plan to produce relevant results while having a broader impact, then you should collaborate with the best researchers in the field. And the people at MIT are definitely one of those researchers. Furthermore, the Technical University of Denmark encourages us to travel abroad to make academic connections while improving our knowledge. My host at MIT was Associate Professors Youssef M. Marzouk, which is a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and co-director of the MIT Center for Computational Science and Engineering. Probably, one of the finest researchers in the field,” Dr.Sehic explained to Sarajevo Times.

His position was related to his Uncertainty Quantification group and the main focus during the six months visit was the quantification of rare events. Rare events are events that occur rarely in our lifetime but can significantly influence our daily routines. The focus to predict their behavior efficiently and accurately. At the end of his visit, they presented the preliminary results at the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) that was held in Spokane, Washington in February 2019.

“These preliminary results were the foundation for our manuscript that I have submitted this year. In the end, my US journey was just an incredible experience. It is very difficult to describe. I guess working in the US is like working at the main front of science. The working environment is completely dedicated to your success and personal development. MIT is an open and diverse university at which you do not feel like a stranger. You can easily fulfill any of your interests that you may have as a student. Looking back on this period, I’m definitely missing that atmosphere,” Dr.Sehic explained.

During his master’s study at the University of Sarajevo, Dr.Sehic was applying and analyzing equations in a classical standard approach.

He explains that the description of nature was deterministically bounded by a certain set of predefined design parameters. However, we know that the outside world includes uncertainties for which these equations could produce significantly different responses.

“Personally, I find great inspiration in difficult and complex problems that challenge my way of thinking. Stochastic modeling and uncertainty qualification is going beyond the standard approach in engineering. We start understanding the background of natural events in a more concrete way. It can be recognized as a mix of applied mathematics, statistics, engineering, and computer science. This unusual combination brings definitely the best of me. Since my young age, I was attached to mathematics and physics. So, it was hard for me to decide which path to take. Eventually, I went for mechanical engineering which really allows someone to easily migrate to other fields while being confident in his/her abilities,” Dr.Sehic explained.

 

 

In two semesters, Dr.Sehic was a teaching assistant on the course “Introduction to partial differential equations”. It is a very popular master course organized by his supervisor Associate Professor Mirza Karamehmedovic.

”I was glad to help my supervisor with correcting exams, homework, and generally helping students. Frankly, it was strange to go on the other side and now be a person to correct exams. In general, I really like the Danish educational system because the focus is on group work. Therefore, as a teaching assistant, you need to assist students only when they ask for your help. They need to work on problems by themselves, which is a very effective way of learning. I would definitely encourage our institutions to do similarly. In addition, students are encouraged to evaluate their teaching assistants. I was particularly proud once I got the feedback from them. It was an additional boost to my academic career. About my background, I mean it is not that strange for Danes to hear about Bosnia and Herzegovina as our Bosnian community is one of the best-integrated communities in Denmark. Unfortunately, the war that happened in our country is still the number one thing to hear when you say Bosnia,” Dr.Sehic explained.

Dr. Sehic’sPh.D. project was a part of the larger project called DeRisk with the goal to reduce the cost within offshore wind turbines by providing new design methods to quantify extreme wave loads.

The problem was very complex to handle as it required a large number of features with a numerical model that is expensive and difficult to use. Ocean waves are simply a harsh environment to work with. The general idea was to calculate efficiently and accurately the probability of occurrence that a wave with a certain height will exceed a certain design threshold.

”Our effort and commitment eventually helped us to solve this problem in a way and to deliver three manuscripts that you can find on arXiv and hopefully soon in the journals,” Dr.Sehic explained.

Speaking about plans for the next five years, Dr.Sehic says that, hopefully, all will be all healthy and happy in five years and this pandemic will be in the past.

”My dream is undoubtedly to work and to be recognized in my country. However, we witness that unfortunately skills and experience may not be that crucial to receive an opportunity in Bosnia. Nevertheless, my plan is to work closely on my current research interests such as machine learning and stochastic modeling. Even though I would like to stay in academia, doing industrial research has its own advantages. So, if I don’t become a professor, you will find me in a productive and challenging company working on complex problems within computational mathematics,” Dr.Sehic concluded.

Kenan Sehic was born and raised in Sarajevo, where he has obtained his master’s degree within Mechanical Process Engineering in 2015 at the University of Sarajevo. He was recognized for his outstanding academic achievements by the University of Sarajevo as well by Public Enterprise Elektroprivreda BiH d.d., a public energy company, that supported his academic path with the full scholarship during the master study. His first employment was in a local oil and gas company as a process engineer. However, after just a short period of time, his overall interest in science and research pushed him forward to enroll in the Ph.D. program at the Technical University of Denmark under the supervision of Associate Professor Mirza Karamehmedović. He received a Ph.D. degree in Computational and Applied Mathematics in 2020. Since 2017, he has been a frequent speaker at various international conferences. During the Ph.D. study, he spent six months working as a visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics under the supervision of Associate Professor Youssef M. Marzouk. The external research visit was funded by various Danish institutions and the MIT Visiting Scholarship. His research interests include uncertainty quantification, machine learning, and stochastic modeling with a specific focus on rare events. In addition to his academic duties, he is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (ANNT) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, he works as a postdoctoral research fellow on the project financed by Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems, and Software Program at the Department of Computer Science (Lund University) in the collaboration with Assistant Professor Luigi Nardi.

 

Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt

 

 

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