Computer science Ph.D. student receives dissertation fellowship

Photo of Suzanne MatthewsSuzanne Matthews, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has been awarded a dissertation fellowship by the Texas A&M University Office of Graduate Studies.

The fellowship will last for nine months and is designed to help awardees focus on wrapping up their dissertation and defending without having to worry about sources of income. The dissertation fellowship consists of a stipend in the amount of $15,000 plus an additional tuition payment. During the fellowship period recipients also receive reimbursements for their student health care.

Matthews and 14 other students are the first recipients of this award.

Matthews is researching ways to make large phylogenetic datasets more manageable for scientists. A phylogenetic tree depicts how a group of organisms are related. The most popular methods for inferring these structures tend to produce tens to hundreds of thousands of trees. The goal of her research is to help scientists leverage these large datasets. Over the course of her studies, she has worked on novel algorithms for quickly comparing these trees, which are currently the fastest in the field. She also has created the most efficient compression algorithm for archiving large tree collections.

One important feature of her compression algorithm is that it allows for fast and direct analysis on a compressed collection of trees without any loss of space savings (that is, the file does not have to be decompressed in order to do analysis). For the remainder of her dissertation work, she is working on a novel version control system that will help scientists seamlessly manage their phylogenetic analyses. By helping scientists more fully leverage their data, Suzanne hopes her work will ultimately help them infer better phylogenetic trees.

Matthews will graduate next spring.  She is supervised by Dr. Tiffani Williams, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.