From A “Lazy” Student To An Intern At The National Center For Supercomputing Applications, United States

From a student who rejects his school activities while sticking to his virtue of “reading is enough”, Mai Quang Tuan (first-year student at VinUniversity) has become an intern at one of the most dream-worthy places for internship of technology students worldwide. All thanks to a unique pedagogical method of an elite university for its first-year students. 


Mindset change upon experiencing failures


Mai Quang Tuan, a first-year student of Electric Engineering (College of Engineering and Computer Science, VinUniversity) admitted his strange ways of learning since his school-age: saving the most of time spent on studying and extra-curricular activities. This winner of multiple First Prize in Physics of various topics in the National Olympiad 2019 – 2020 confidently claims to gain a decent understanding of almost every issue in just 10 minutes of readings and Youtube research. Tuan’s brain seems to memorize everything. Hence, he called himself a “lazy” student. 


This was the reason why Tuan did not sign up for the project during the first semester’s recruitment for VinUniversity professors’ research assistant role. His laziness was one of the reasons, but the other more important reason is “I want to collect adequate knowledge before joining our professors’ projects because I was afraid of being unable to contribute much”- Tuan said. As the second semester arrives, he came across the offer to become a research assistant in research by Prof. Do Ngoc Minh (Vice-Provost of VinUniversity) on AI application and machine learning in the healthcare sector. It was the start of Tuan’s critical transition beyond his expectations. 

As a former high school student from Phan Boi Chau high school for the gifted in Nghe An, Tuan – who was much familiarized with theoretical issues in the book – now faced real-life problems for the first time. The research was to develop a medication monitoring application with the challenge of digital transformation of paper-based medicine prescriptions onto smart calendars and reminders for the patients. It also acts as an AI-based “doctor” to help with the diagnosis of respiratory issues just as many experienced healthcare practitioners, or as a health-monitoring pillow, etc….

The research outgrew Tuan’s universal rule of “10-minute to understand everything”, which made the first-year student of VinUniversity experience facing road ends while tackling the daily life questions. Tuan still remembers his 2 weeks of struggling and restlessly searching for new ideas and resolutions without any significant result for the project of medication assisting application. The bottleneck of the project was an algorithm for spelling correction of the prescription from paper form to digital form. This is of utmost importance because a single mistake can corrupt the patients’ medication in terms of dose or types of medicines.


“Why don’t you try to connect the wrongly spelled words with their closest matches in the dictionary?” – Prof. Do Ngoc Minh’s simple suggestions suddenly opened up Tuan’s mind. The solution was then developed by Tuan and his team and proved to be substantially more effective than before.


The opportunity to “jump into the water” to live big

Mai Quang Tuan eagerly revealed, a range of researches on AI integration in the healthcare sector by the Professor and his team are reaching the final phase. Those once “over the top” researches now eventually seem to be within his reach.


The most treasured thing for Tuan was the learning of the right mindset and research experience from his respectful Professors at VinUniversity. He also learned from his peers not only their useful knowledge but also their sharp debate skill, creativity and public speaking.


The cycle of idea brainstorming, executing, failing and repeat means a big deal to Tuan. He shared that he finally realized the key motivation for the success of research is persistence, patience and a strong determination to accumulate knowledge bit by bit and change one’s mindset. 


Those were also what Tuan wrote in his application essay for the internship at the National Center for Supercomputing Application (NCSA), University of Illinois (US), a legendary research institute. Besides Tuan are the most excellent students of the Machine Learning field from the US and other countries who also applied for the intensely competitive internship in the famous birthplace of the web browser used worldwide.


Tuan’s essay seems to be off-track with the question about his reason to apply for the internship. It was a real story on his transition during his first year at VinUniversity with the research he was working on with the renowned Professor. NCSA Council has then immediately appointed him for the research on computational visuals for negative emotion recognition. Once succeeds, this research’s findings can be applied to the camera systems for early warnings of dangerous objects.


Supervising Tuan since his very first steps into the research, Prof. Do Ngoc Minh compared his transition as “learning how to swim”. Every one knows every moves to swim, but he/she needs to jump into the water first. This is the most effective learning as students learn about what they lack and what they need. From their failures, they will learn to gain not only knowledge but also approaches and skills to resolve problems and especially, self-motivation. 

 At VinUniversity, this skill is specially trained for first-year students, by submerging them in research projects with their Professors – a rarely seen way of training in Vietnam. 


According to Prof. Minh, apart from VinUniversity’s remarkable investment, the student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1 also creates an ideal environment for both study and research. Similar methods are also implemented by leading universities worldwide. A student-to-faculty ratio below 10:1 seems to be a compulsory condition for universities of top rankings to maintain their standing.


An earnest hope of the Professor for the young generation under VinUniversity’s education is to explore themselves more. Nobody but we have to do it. Only from the exploration of themselves, the excellent students of VinUniversity can accomplish high achievements with confidence and passion.

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