Posted Sept 25 2018
Faculty: Science and Engineering Faculty
Year graduated: 2018
Thesis: Robust recognition of human behavior in challenging environments
Career category: industry
Dr Navarathna did an industry internship while his thesis was under examination and this landed him a full-time job with Disney Research in Los Angeles. His advice to new graduates is to take risks and focus on opportunities that will enhance and grow your skill sets.
You were awarded your PhD in 2018. What employment opportunities did you look for after this?
During my thesis writing stage, I was thinking of my next steps in my career, and during the external examination period I narrowed it down into two options. One option was to do an industrial internship to enhance my practical knowledge, and see how my research could have an impact in real-world applications.
With the help of my principal and associate supervisors, I found an opportunity to do an internship at Disney Research in Pittsburgh. Disney Research was a very unique working experience – I worked with talented scientists/engineers in real-world applications. In the later stage of my internship, Disney Research offered me a postdoctoral research position in a computer vision group.
What position are you currently in?
I am working as an Associate Research Scientist at Disney Research Los Angeles, in a computer vision lab. In this position, I work to publish interesting research findings – including scientific publications, patents and technology transfers, and new research/ development directions for various business units within Walt Disney Company. I also closely work with a few masters and PhD students and collaborate with universities and industry partners.
What skills did you need to demonstrate or learn to articulate to be employed in this role?
My research focuses on estimating people’s engagement and enjoyment when watching movies and television shows, and spans the fields of computer vision, machine learning, video data analytics, data processing and data mining. As well as these technical skills, I have to be really enthusiastic and passionate about research work, willing to take risks and learn new things. I also need the time and ability to tech-transfer the research into various business units. Communication is another key component as I need to present research ideas and outcomes, not only to colleagues and the research community, but also to Executives and Directors in the Walt Disney organisation.
Overall I find the experience of working in an industrial research organisation really challenging and very rewarding as it allows me to apply technical skills as well as non-technical skills to real-world problems.
How has doing a PhD at QUT informed your current practice or position?
I use many skills that I gained during my PhD every day. I discovered my passion for doing real-world, applied research while I was at QUT. From the beginning of my PhD journey the university provided me with excellent technical guidance and also developed my non-technical skills sets like publication writing (eg: through various workshops), developed my presentation skills and critical thinking.
QUT also provided a very supportive network and opportunities to work and network with talented scientists and engineers in institutes and companies like AutoCRC, CSIRO through internships, conferences and also by allowing me to participate in real-world applied projects. These experiences gave me a lot of confidence in how to handle real-world problems and how to work in a larger projects with many brilliant engineers and scientists.
What is your current career goal?
Right now my research focuses on estimating people’s engagement and enjoyment when watching movies and television shows, and spans the fields of computer vision, machine learning and data mining. I am interested in analysing data collected with cameras because this passive sensing technique does not alter the viewing experience. However, it makes the inference process much more difficult, since algorithms must estimate an audience member’s mental state based on their facial expressions and body postures. My goal is to predict the general population’s opinion of new media content based on audience data collected during small focus groups. I’m currently working to achieve my research goals and tech-transfer my research into a predictive data science framework.
It’s really satisfying to know that your research can have a great impact of people’s lives in direct or indirect way.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is close to completing their PhD at QUT?
Many students use their last stage of their PhD to write scientific articles. It’s really important to publish your research findings for the benefit of your research community, and the last stage of your PhD would be a great time to do this. When you are about to finish your PhD, you have a better understanding of your skills sets, your interests and passions.
However – my advice would be to focus more on finding an opportunity for enhancing your existing skills sets, and also finding a workplace that has smarter people in it than you! This allows you to grow your career rapidly and learn more. Importantly, be open to taking risks in early stage of your career by experimenting different directions and goals. Finally, networking with people is really valuable. You never know what kind of doors will open to you in the future.
There are a number of ways you can engage with industry and apply your research skills in the real world during your PhD candidature. Current students may visit the Graduate Research Education + Development (GRE+D) wiki for information on internships, industry placements, short modules and other training and opportunities.