Graduate stories | Wu Weiqi: life is a wilderness, not a track

ON2023-07-06TAG: ShanghaiTech UniversityCATEGORY: Global

Wu Weiqi ’23

Computer Science and Technology, SIST


Brief introduction 

High school:

Suzhou High School, Jiangsu Province


Further study:

School of Electronic Information and Electrical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University


Academic experiences and honors:

Ÿ  Excellent TA in SIST

Ÿ  TA in the SISTor student tutoring group

Ÿ  Worked as a student staff in the Institute of Humanities

Ÿ  Super Computing IndySCC Winner in 2022

Ÿ  Second prize in Shanghai Division of Mathematical Contest in Modeling in 2021

Ÿ  Excellent Student Award of ShanghaiTech during the first three years

Ÿ  Excellent Student Award for social practice


Hobbies and interests:

Literature, movies, music, competitive sports


Starting point

The first time I met ShanghaiTech was in Summer 2019. I participated in the Campus Open Days, an assessment event for prospective undergraduate students, and had a tour inside SIST. I stopped in the center of the lobby and was attracted by four huge banners hanging from the 5th floor down to the 2nd floor. The sentence “SUPER INTELLIGENT STUDENTS TEACHERS”, whose abbreviation is also SIST, as shown by the four banners expresses a kind of confidence and vigor about the school. After learning more about ShanghaiTech, I was surprised to learn about its international curriculum system and rich resources for scientific research. Compared with most universities, ShanghaiTech pays much more attention to cultivating undergraduate research abilities. This really impressed me and made me more determined to choose ShanghaiTech. At the same time, I also asked myself, would I, as a student be a good match with the university?


Photo of the lobby of SIST


During the interview, one of the three panel professors asked me a question about whether, or not,  a certain kind of technique can be achieved. I was so nervous since I seldom participated in interviews, that I just said “it cannot be achieved easily” without saying more on why I answered in that way. When the professor kept asking me to say something on the technical mechanisms behind it, my mind went blank, and my words didn’t make sense at all. However, at last, the three professors seemed satisfied with my overall interview performance, and smiled at me mildly. One of them said, “if you are interested in the life at ShanghaiTech, come to join our community, and we can study together to see if the technique can be achieved.” Relieved and determined after hearing this, I thought I will come here in the coming Fall.


Moving forward

I didn’t decide to choose the major of Computer Science and Technology until the last moment of submitting the choice of major to the admission system. After that, I was assigned a programming task to finish in English before the new semester. The task was a very big struggle for me as I had little knowledge of coding, and so had done badly even in my high school Visual Basic course, which is regarded as a basic coding technique. Luckily, after looking up many references, I managed to compose a bunch of low-efficiency and non-pretty codes, and finish the task before the deadline. I felt a little bit overwhelmed and depressed. “Am I really suitable for this major? No! This is just the beginning. I should move forward and learn!” I decided to study hard to make up the gap in my coding skills.


For us, undergraduates in Computer Science, two courses, “computer programming” and “introduction to information science and technology”, form the basic foundation of programming, but are nevertheless not easy for beginners to handle. There were many challenging parts and requirements: English learning materials; learning a programming language in one semester; conquering difficult coding problems to meet well-designed bullet points, just to list a few. I will not forget the sleepless nights I spent in the common room of the dorm, where I witnessed the lights of other buildings gradually turning off, the dark sky gradually turning bright, from night to dawn, and finally working out the correct results with my codes in hundreds of lines. At that moment, my tiredness was flushed away by the incomparable sense of achievement. The obstacles I had overcome and the difficulties of correcting the errors in my codes became a kind of joyful memory.


Although suffering a lot through these two courses, they really laid a solid foundation for my coding ability. I began to like the project part of a course since I could not only practice my programming ability, but also get familiar with the process of writing reports, practicing other skills that are necessary for moving further in academia.


Project poster of the course “computer vision”


The university gave us much freedom to select courses, and there were many courses for us to choose from: courses from different tracks of the major; graduate-level courses; and interdisciplinary courses opened by other schools. These would equip us with a multidimensional and comprehensive knowledge system. It’s worth saying that despite some courses being entitled “introduction” or “fundamental”, they were more deep than broad in content, which helped me understand the mysteriousness behind different subjects.


During my first and second years, I spent most of my time taking classes and writing homework. I thought my coding level was not good enough and I also had not decided my research field, so I was hesitant about joining a professor’s group. My senior fellows advised me: “If you are interested in being involved in research work, then you can simply contact a professor. All professors welcome undergraduates to join them!”


I then chose to join Associate Professor Tu Kewei’s group where I could conduct my research in the field of natural language processing because of my interest in linguistics. Although the various technical  terms felt overwhelming when I first joined the group and listened to the paper discussions, I began with basic tasks, learned and thought about the research methods, and took the course entitled “natural language processing” taught by Prof. Tu. I felt more familiar with the basic knowledge and techniques in this area.

Photo of me discussing algorithm in SISTor student tutoring group


In my last year of university life, a series of unexpected and seemingly magical things happened to me, although quite normal to some extent after three-years’ effort. One of the research projects I was involved in was published in a paper in October, 2022, in the international conference EMNLP 2022, and it was the first time for me to see my name appearing in a top conference. In November, the student supercomputing team “GeekPie_HPC”, where I was one of the members, won the First Prize in the international supercomputing competition IndySCC. The following April, one of my projects was published as a journal article, where, for the first time, I was listed as the first author, and accepted by the conference ACL 2023, after experiencing a tough time of final revisions during Spring Festival. This paper, of course, was the best conclusion of my undergraduate study, and was the best start for me to do future research.


Group photo of “GeekPie_HPC” team


I think the most important harvest was not the scores, awards, or papers, but the immersive experience for me during the whole learning process. For some time before, I had regarded it as a waste of time and energy if I couldn’t get an expected result after doing something, and this could definitely trap me in depression. As I was more involved in the research and competitions, I transitioned myself from a state of internal friction to peaceful mind, became more pragmatic about temporary bad results, and focused more on the joy brought by the process I experienced, rather than the goals aimed for. There was no need to take the negative feedback received during the process as a negation of myself. The confidence, courage and persistence nourished from the process of exploration and trial were the real valuable gains for me.

Group photo of us volunteers for Shanghai Marathon

Looking back

In my fourth year as a SIST student, although I didn’t stop in front of the four banners any longer to recall the past, I could still remember the first time of my yearning for SIST. Fortunately, I was like a young and vigorous seed that was firmly supported by ShanghaiTech, a young and resourceful soil for me, and I have grown gracefully since then.


Living in such a diverse and open environment, I have witnessed different people’s lives, and I also realized that there is no definite destination that a person must reach, and there is no so-called shortest path. Life is a wilderness, not a track. Must there be an unshakable direction to move forward? Not necessarily, I think. In the face of infinite possibilities, as long as you keep walking, the scenery you see and the growth you experience are all meaningful.


To this day, I still cannot accurately define and plan the life I expect. I only hope that the life I experience is an endless process of seeking knowledge, seeking truth, roaming, exploring and creating, and this is exactly what ShanghaiTech has brought me. I am very grateful to the university for providing me with the opportunity to explore the world and a platform to show myself. A new journey is calling me, and I should say goodbye, but I know that I don’t need to say goodbye, because my experiences at ShanghaiTech have already been integrated into me and become memories that cannot be separated.


Robert Frost wrote in his poem: 

“I shall be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

And all my steps and harvests on my own unique journey began in the not-too-long ago afternoon when I stood in the lobby of SIST and took pictures of the four banners.