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Bringing Education to all: Dr Billy Moses Jr’s path from India to Durham

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In this edition, we learn more about Billy Moses Jr., Assistant Professor in our Department of Computer Science.

Billy joined the University in 2022 after a couple of postdoctoral stints at the University of Houston (USA) and Technion (Israel), preceded by a PhD in IIT Madras (India).

Billy's research focuses on the theoretical foundations underlying distributed computing. In other words, he looks at computers connected via networks like the Internet and creates algorithms for those computers to run to solve problems. And he uses maths to argue that those algorithms work as they should.

Of particular interest is the creation of algorithms that are resilient to chaotic elements in the system such as when network connections change over time or some of the computers involved misbehave. He also works on problems related to movement and computing involving mobile agents and programmable matter (eg, if we had the microbots from Big Hero 6 then instead of controlling them directly, can we design simple algorithms for each microbot to follow so that collectively they will do something complex?).

Billy’s days vary wildly depending on what deadlines are on the horizon, what research projects are active, and what teaching he’s doing. As such, there is no common day.

Dr Billy Moses Jr.
Dr Billy Moses Jr.

But here’s an example of a random Tuesday in a term when he had no teaching.

Your day:

8.30am: Wake up, drink Coke Zero/Monster Ultra, get ready.

9.30am: Research meeting on a dynamic graphs problem.

12pm: Catch up on emails.

1pm: Seminar/department meeting.

2pm: Lunch

2.30pm: Work on an active research project (reading/writing/thinking).

3pm: Zoom meeting with US collaborators on a mobile agents problem.

4pm: Meetings with student advisees/do some admin work.

5.30pm: Leave office.

More about Billy

What do you enjoy about your role?

I love the freedom to define how I want to spend my time. I really enjoy the fact that I know what responsibilities and duties I have and certain constraints on my time and it’s up to me to set up my days to get things done. That control over my life and the ability to choose to spend a lot of time on work or to just kick up my legs and relax is wonderful.

What are you most proud of?

Something I care deeply about is getting education out to people who don’t easily have access to it. I especially like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for this reason. So, the thing I am most proud of is when I was doing my PhD in India, I had the opportunity to be very heavily involved as a lead teaching assistant in the launch of NPTEL’s first ever MOOC. NPTEL stands for National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, and is a joint venture between the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Science, funded by the Ministry of Education of the Government of India to bring education to all parts of the country. As the lead teaching assistant, I had a chance to interface with the professors involved, the people working on the backend, and the various students who were taking the course and could help shape the experience of so many people.

What’s the best bit of advice you have been given and that you would give?

This wasn’t something I was told so much as something I read. Years and years ago I read this article The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life” by Radhika Nagpal. There is a bunch of good advice in it, but what stuck out to me the most were two things.

First, reframing experiences from something that gives you stress (eg, others will judge me to see whether I have what it takes to get tenure) to something that is more like an opportunity (e.g., I now have a chance to spend several years working with smart people, let’s make the most of it) can drastically affect how much you enjoy an experience and subsequently do well in it.

Second, Radhika writes “I try to be the best "whole" person I can”. We usually wear many hats in life (eg, researcher, son, friend, teacher, etc). Yet, when we compare ourselves to others through the lens of any particular hat, we always choose the person who is the best at doing that one thing. And we do this for each of the hats we care about. In other words, when I think of the papers I write, I compare myself to the best researcher in the field, when I think of how well I teach, I consider the best teacher I’ve ever known, and so on. But the thing is, for each of those people we compare ourselves to, how well are they doing at the other things in their lives? We only have so much time and if we’re trying to do several things, we’re probably not going to be the best at each and every one of them. So why feel bad? Just strive to be the best you, ie, the best mix of whatever you are.

How do you look after your mental health?

I try to block out time specifically for meeting people and for my hobbies. So I might spend evenings with friends and then spend time from 9pm to 1am on hobbies.

What is your favourite food?

I love Indo-Chinese food. I don’t know why, but that particular blend of spices hits just right.

Where has been your best holiday?

Honestly, I love staycations where I just sit at home all day and marathon a tv show, book, or video game.

What are your hobbies?

A big hobby of mine is consuming stories. Whether it’s video games, books, k-dramas, c-dramas, anime, whatever. If there’s an interesting story, I want to experience it. And that includes all the fun stories people have to tell about themselves. Additionally, I like playing chess and I occasionally go bouldering.

Do you have any pets?

Not at the moment. However, my housemates do have a dog. I am currently working on changing his loyalties from them to me!



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