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Computer Science Holds its First Doctoral Thesis Defence

By Morgan Holmes

Fatema Rashid PhD defence

Holding the Computer Science "Oak Pace Stick" representing the research contributions of all successful doctoral candidates, on which the name "Fatema Rashid" will be engraved. From left to right are Dr. Alex Ferworn, Dr. Ali Miri, Dr. Fatema Rashid and Dr. Isaac Woungang

On July 8, 2015, Fatema Rashid became the first PhD candidate in Ryerson University’s doctoral program in Computer Science to defend her thesis. Entitled “Secure Data Deduplication in Cloud Environments,” Fatema’s research examined ways of easing the problem of Big Data storage by identifying and removing duplicate copies from cloud-based storage systems.

Fatema outlines her work in a way many people can relate to: “If someone likes a cat video, they might share it on a social media channel like Facebook. If thousands of other people also like that video and share it, without my research, thousands of copies of the same video would have to be stored over and over again wasting space, costing service providers money and actually affecting our environment as Facebook buys more and more storage space (using lots of power) to accommodate the same cat video. My research suggests a secure and effective way of ‘deduplicating’ digital information – one cat video, not thousands or millions.” (Here’s a further glimpse of Fatema’s fascinating investigations.)

Fatema’s Ryerson journey began in 2007, when she was admitted to the highly competitive MSc in Computer Science program. “I almost, however, withdrew,” Fatema recalls, “because I was at a loss as to what to do when my mother’s visa was delayed so that she could not care for my infant daughter during my studies. I am very happy that the program’s administrators helped me find day care on short notice and convinced me to continue.” Two years later, Fatema earned her MSc as one of the program’s first graduates.

“I knew I wanted to continue my research at a higher level, but I also knew I had to wait for Ryerson’s Computer Science doctoral program to be approved,” she notes. That program was authorized to run in 2011, and Fatema was one of the first people to apply.

Reflecting on her experiences at Ryerson, Fatema says, “I would especially like to thank my co-supervisors, Dr. Isaac Woungang and Dr. Ali Miri, who took a risk on me, guided my progress and allowed me to find my own success.” Dr. Miri notes that Fatema “has managed to produce an excellent thesis supported by eight papers published in very prestigious venues,” while Dr. Woungang commends his former student for being  “a very thoughtful and effective researcher. We are deeply proud of her success.”

“I have watched Fatema grow academically, gain confidence and transform from a very good student into an excellent researcher, one who I would be proud to have as a colleague,” observes Dr. Alex Ferworn, Computer Science’s graduate program director. “I also believe she will make an excellent ambassador for our Computer Science graduate programs.”

“Now,” Ferworn quips, “Fatema deserves a good rest. But I don’t think she will get one.” The newly minted Dr. Rashid explains: “I am expecting the birth of a child this month and my husband and I are very excited. I will take some time off, care for my children, but I will be back. My goal is to teach students computer science so that they are exposed to a multitude of opportunities. Computer Science is a rich discipline, where you can explore the edges of its knowledge and contribute to expanding them.” 

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