Outstanding Bachelor’s of Science Award


Iris Cong, graduating with a bachelor’s in computer science, is the school’s 2017 Outstanding Student Award winner at commencement. Cong has received several top national and international honors for students including the National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship (declined); and the Goldwater Scholarship. Last year she participated as a young researcher at the 2016 Heidelberg Laureate Forum. Cong is going to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University and is particularly interested in quantum computing research.

What was your favorite class at UCLA and why?

All of my UCLA classes were really great, and I’ve learned so much from each of them. It is hard to pick any particular engineering class when all of my professors are extremely talented and inspiring, so one unique aspect I’d like to highlight about UCLA is the breadth it offers for students. Over the past four years, I’ve had the opportunity to take the choir classes at UCLA several times, and these classes were a great experience for me — it was a great balance to the science classes I was taking, and I got to make many great friends who share my passion for music. My singing also drastically improved, as we got to perform in Royce, Schoenberg, and even Disney Hall together, and I even got to sing a solo at our final concert this year.

Your favorite UCLA memory?

My favorite memory during was attending the 2016 Heidelberg Laureate Forum, an annual international conference for young researchers to meet with the world’s top computer scientists and mathematicians, and getting to represent UCLA there. At this conference, I got to meet and socialize with many Turing award winners and Fields medalists, including UCLA alumnus Dr. Vint Cerf. It was very inspiring for me to attend some of their lectures, and have conversations with these pioneers in science and mathematics. It was also a great experience for me to make friends with many other talented researchers across the world.

How did you get interested in studying physics in graduate school?

During sophomore year, I first got interested in quantum computing research. This happened because quantum computing is important to society, as it is a promising solution to the upcoming end of Moore’s law scaling, and matches my interests and talents, as it is interdisciplinary at the juncture of computer science, physics, and mathematics. Over the past two summers, I was fortunate to do two research internships in quantum computing, both resulting in publications. Motivated by these successes, I would love to continue in related fields for graduate school, and I feel that having a strong physics background to complement my computer science knowledge would strongly benefit me. Not many researchers in quantum computing have degrees in both physics and computer science, and I think such a combination will give me a unique perspective in solving these important yet challenging problems.

Do you have any advice for underclassman looking to pursue graduate study?

My strongest advice would be to attend as many office hours as possible and get to know the professors. In my first two years, I went to almost every office hour, and I got to hear a lot of extracurricular things about my professors’ research or their advice. This taught me a lot about the steps to pursuing a research career, and helped me find my interests. Many of the professors I got to know in this way also wrote me recommendation letters for my research opportunities and graduate school.