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Stefan Ivanov ('17) on His Time at AUBG and Pursuing a Master's in Cambridge

Stefan Ivanov has just been accepted to study at Cambridge University. "I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Computer Science from AUBG," he said. "And now I will pursue a Master of Philosophy in Advanced Computer Science." While Stefan finds that combination amusing, he also recognizes the importance of mixing practice and theory and focusing on both research and experimenting. A big fan of Liberal Arts, he thinks that Gen. Ed. courses can be as valuable as the ones required for a major and believes that student clubs are an essential addition to academics.

He graduated from AUBG with a perfect GPA of 4, received the Outstanding Achievement Award in Mathematics and was a teaching assistant to two professors. He also managed to be part of several student clubs, most notably as the founder and first president of The Hub, a computer society on campus that now hosts annual hackathons and brings top IT specialists from all corners of Bulgaria to AUBG. Stefan is also part of the AUBG Alumni Association and a judge in the mathematics part of the AUBG MultiTalent Quest.

Why did you choose the Advanced Computer Science program in Cambridge?

I always wanted to do a master's after AUBG and I wanted it to be at a prestigious university. Cambridge is a great institution and got my attention because of the great experts it has in the field of advanced computer science. I also wanted my master's to be on the research side -- I wanted to test whether I could be good at a research program.

Back at AUBG, you had a perfect GPA of 4 and you graduated with honors. But you also managed to find time for extracurricular activities. Which students clubs were you part of and how did they enrich your AUBG experience?

I was the founder and first president of The Hub and that took most of my extracurricular time in the third and fourth year. I am glad about how the club turned out and how it is evolving. While I was president, we were mostly focusing on trying to set up the club, to create one of the first larger hackathons that has now turned into Hack AUBG and also to create an environment where people would share their knowledge. For example, I like computer graphics and mathematics, especially in connection to programming, so I tried to give small courses and lectures on that topic as part of the club.

I was also the tech person for AUBG Daily, which was kind of on the side, it wasn't that demanding, but I wanted to try out different things. And finally, in reverse chronological order, I was part of the Math Club and the Fitness Society in my first and second year here.

I believe that academics prepare you for a career path, especially in university: you know what the assignment is; you know what you have to do. With clubs, the nice thing is that it's on you. It forces you to be more proactive and helps you with your future development. Most of the things you do at student clubs are very practical, for example, finding sponsors. Even if you are entirely in academia – suppose you do a master's and a doctoral degree – you still need to convince people and find sponsors and be able to fund your studies. The student clubs also teach you organizational skills that are helpful for your personal life as well - you learn how to organize your study habits or work schedule. Extracurricular activities fill in some of the gaps that we typically have if we only focus on the courses. And obviously, it is a lot of fun, especially at AUBG. I regret not being more involved with student clubs in my first and second year.

Which classes and professors had the most impact on you – personally and professionally?

I have to say almost all of the professors had some profound impact on me. I took some of the more advanced math courses with Professor Ganchev. He helped me appreciate the joyful and fun nature of mathematics and how it is not just some hard-to-remember theorems and formulas and proofs. He would typically tell stories about the mathematicians that created those theorems and you get to see the actual process behind them.

Another professor that I owe a lot to is Professor Hristo Iliev. He helped me develop a weekly habit of doing a lot of exercises and focusing on perfecting something that I've learned through a lot of practice. Also, both professors gave me the opportunity to be a student assistant for their courses. I'll say that doubled my knowledge because if you have to teach something, you have to understand it very well.

And what has been your working experience after AUBG?

After I graduated, I started working for a company called Chaos Group which specializes in computer graphics and focuses on visualization and helping artists do the best they can. I was first an intern there and then continued as an R&D engineer. My work there has been primarily programming but also doing research - mostly finding papers that can help us implement some techniques for specific applications. It has been a hugely varied scope of work which prepared me for applying for the master's program. I think that my work there was a substantial part of why I got accepted, in addition to my academic achievements at AUBG.

Have you worked on projects with other AUBG alumni and do you find alumni friendships and networking important to you?

I am part of the AUBG Alumni Association and am thus involved with many AUBG projects. I was one of the main organizers of the AUBG MultiTalent Quest -- a contest for 11th graders -- and I was a chief judge in the mathematics part of the competition. Also, I try to have a buddy, typically from the alumni, to study with and to work on hobby projects in programming. It is a lot easier to find people from AUBG with your mindset and your motivation level for such projects.

What are your long-term career plans? How do you imagine your dream job?

I definitely would like to have an academic and creative job. The thing I am doing at the moment is similar to what I want to do in the future – research and development. I want to continue diving into the newest trends in academia and research and experiment with them. I am very much a practical person that enjoys theoretical foundations. One of the reasons why we started The Hub, for example, was that we wanted to have a little bit of more practical knowledge and experience. I would also consider doing a Ph.D.

What advice would you give to first-year students on getting the best out of AUBG?

I would advise them to at least enroll in one club or do one extracurricular activity. Join The Hub, or Tedx, or the musical, or any other club. Have it as the thing you do outside of academia. I would also advise them not to neglect any academic opportunities that they will have at the university. Challenging Gen. Ed. courses can be as valuable as the courses for your major because they teach you how to learn and how to adapt to a new environment and new knowledge. If you want to do something in the real world, you will not start doing it from scratch; you first have to learn how to do it. This skill of learning how to learn is crucial. And AUBG provides an incredible opportunity for you to learn that skill if you are motivated to give your best.

Interview by Dimana Doneva

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