PhD Student Mingzhe Hao Receives UChicago Harper Dissertation Fellowship

Mingzhe Hao, a 4th-year PhD student advised by Neubauer Family Assistant Professor Haryadi Gunawi, received a William Rainey Harper Dissertation Fellowship, the highest honor awarded to UChicago graduate students. The fellowship is awarded in the final year of graduate study to help students concentrate on thesis completion.

Though Hao is in his fourth year of PhD studies, his relationship to UChicago CS and Gunawi date back even farther, to when he joined the Masters Program in Computer Science in 2013.

“You could say I grew up together with the department,” Hao said. “I'm really, really grateful, and not just about getting the award. What makes this unique is the people around you, the advisor, they made the effort over all these years to help you become what you are right now. That's what means a lot to me.”

Hao came to the University of Chicago from China with an interest in cloud computing, which he has combined with storage systems and performance in his thesis project. Primarily, Hao has studied tail latency, the delays sometimes experienced by users when they are trying to access a web page or request data stored in a cloud system.

With Gunawi, Hao has developed an approach to detect and mitigate the conditions that cause these tail latency events. Current procedures assign requests to a random server and only switch to another machine when they don’t receive a response by a certain time limit, causing longer loading times on the front end. Under Hao’s approach, when a server receives a new request, it first checks its internal state and decides if it’s too busy, sending back a hasty warning so that the job can be diverted.

“After getting this response that ‘I cannot do it,’ the job owner can immediately assign this job to somebody else that is not that busy,” Hao said. “So in this way, the overall service time gets much shorter.”

The research has been presented in first-author papers at conferences such as the 2017 ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles and the 2016 USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies.

“Among all the great characteristics and personalities that Mingzhe has, I see this:  He adapts, he evolves, hence he excels,” Gunawi said. “To be a well-rounded researcher, students must adapt and evolve, building versatility in performing research, discovering new techniques, exploring new frontiers of research, facing tough challenges with poise, presenting with passion, advising other students and working together to advance science. That's what my eyes have testified in Mingzhe. The success of his research is the materialization of all of these. I'm just a lucky advisor to have him as my student.”

In addition to his research pursuits, Hao also credits UChicago CS faculty — including co-advisors Andrew Chien and Hank Hoffmann — with helping him develop his professional skills, such as communications and juggling multiple deadlines. He’s also had opportunities during his graduate education to gain experience at outside companies, including stints with NetApp and Microsoft Research and an internship this summer at Facebook.

Between all these activities, Hao also mentors several students at the PhD, Master’s, and undergraduate levels, many of whom are international students like himself.

“International students, they have their friends, but in regards to their career, most of the time they fight by themselves,” Hao said. “So I'm really grateful. I think the recognition from the people that have been watching you, that's the really valuable thing.”

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