Khoury PhD Student Threads Together Tech and Fashion

March 14, 2019

By Benjamin Hosking

For Maryam Aziz, who recently defended her PhD in machine learning at Khoury College, writing research papers brings her a sense of pride similar to that of “a chef who puts their soul in the food they make.” Aziz says, “There is a lot of me in the process.”

Advised by Professor Javed Aslam, Aziz takes pride in her research on the improvement of fundamental machine learning tools to assist in a variety of applications. One of the problems she recently studied is multi-armed bandits theory. “You walk into a casino with $400, and your goal is to find the slot machine that gives you the highest rewards.” With ten thousand slot machines each costing a dollar per pull, she came up with a simple strategy that finds one of the best machines with high probability.

“The beauty of our work is that, in order to apply to more real-world situations, we do not assume we know anything about how rewards are chosen for the slot machines,” explains Aziz. “This bandit game is not an abstract mathematical toy, but rather is a simulation of many real-world scenarios, from drug discovery to classification.”

Before Aziz joined the Khoury College graduate program, she knew she wanted to study machine learning with Professor Aslam but lacked prior background in the specialization. Still, she mustered up the courage and knocked on his office door. Aslam “took a chance on me multiple times,” says Aziz, “including when I picked the risky topic” of multi-armed bandits. He also encouraged her when she concurrently studied for a certificate in fashion design. “He happily wrote me a recommendation letter which helped me get admission into MassArt’s two-and-half-year fashion design program.”

Some of Aziz’s future machine learning research plans are inspired by the art classes she took. In her next phase of research, she wants to work on prediction of virality and popularity: “The part of the economy driven by artists and other creative individuals is increasingly happening online.” She would like to apply her research on the multi-armed bandits models to short term fashion trend forecasting.

Aziz thrives on challenge. “I believe with ownership, principle, some courage, and an open mind you can achieve insane things.” The combination of her two study areas – the arts and computer science — enables her to stay within the arts and computer science as well as provide a foundation for trend forecasting in other fields like psychology and medicine. By investing in her artistic skills, Aziz says she is a “better and more creative scientist.”