Receiving co-author status on a research paper is an honor typically reserved for faculty researchers, graduate or Ph.D. students. Researchers carefully select the few students they take on to work with them on a project, and not every project leads to a published or presented paper.
So imagine what it must feel like to be Henry Nelson of Ward Melville High School. Henry is a high school junior who worked with Stony Brook professor Erez Zadok, Ph.D. candidate Ming Chen, IBM researcher Dr. Dean Hildebrand, and former SBU graduate student Ashok Sankar Harihara Subramony on a research project recently presented at the 15th USENIX FAST ’17 Conference.
Henry collaborated with the research team to improve the speed of network file systems (NFS), and thereby improve the ability of programmers to send large amounts of data and commands to their systems. The main goal of the project was to allow certain data and commands related to files to be sent in large groups, a much more efficient method than the current (and much slower) standard practice of sending one command at a time. Henry worked side by side with the team, helping the design, writing code, debugging, and even editing the paper itself. His efforts ultimately lead to a very prestigious co-authorship.
The paper, titled “vNFS: Maximizing NFS Performance with Compounds and Vectorized I/O”, was chosen to be presented at the 15th USENIX Conference on File Storage and Technologies. “This conference is very selective,” said Professor Zadok. “There are many professors and Ph.D. students who wish to get papers published in that conference. For a high school student to get published there, is nothing short of remarkable.”
When asked how it felt to be a high school student amongst a much older and more experienced crowd in attendance, Henry said that the friendliness of everyone at the conference was extremely encouraging, and that “Overall, everyone was extremely nice and simply paid attention to my ideas - no one cared how old I was.” He also appreciated the guidance of the Stony Brook researchers, saying: “Dr. Zadok and Ming were instrumental to my success. They gave me extremely valuable guidance, not only pertaining to vNFS but also about the college application process and working in computer science generally. To be afforded the opportunity to work at a collegiate level was amazing.”
While Henry contemplates which institution he’ll attend after graduation, he says that he is strongly considering pursuing a Ph.D. of his own, and is also interested in entrepreneurship. He credits the fact that he was able to audit Professor Zadok’s CSE-376 class with his achievement, in addition to the strong mathematics program at his high school. Notably, Ward Melville High School is also where the late Mark Weiser, computer science superstar and “the Godfather of Ubiquitous Computing”, went to high school. There must be something special on the cafeteria menu at Ward Melville for sure!
By Michael Curatola