Shudian Zhao is awarded the dissertation prize of the Austrian Society for Operations Research

Shudian Zhao received the prize for her doctoral thesis, completed in 2022, entitled “Splitting into pieces: alternating direction methods of multipliers and graph partitioning”. 

“I’ve always wanted to travel and explore different parts of the world,” Shudian Zhao tells us. Her educational path first took her from China to the UK. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Reading in 2017, followed by a Master’s degree programme in Computer Science with a focus on Machine Learning at Imperial College London. “When I heard about the doctoral position in Klagenfurt from my Master’s supervisor, I was just completing my Master’s programme in London. It was during this time that I became more interested in optimisation and decided to continue working in this field for my doctorate,” Shudian Zhao recalls. Her application was successful and she joined the University of Klagenfurt in 2019, where she completed her doctorate in the doctoral programme “Modeling-Analysis-Optimization of discrete, continuous and stochastic systems”.

Her doctoral thesis deals with graph partition problems. Shudian Zhao explains this further: “This means that when we divide a network (represented as a graph) into distinct subsets, we aim to minimise the connections between different subsets while maximising the connections within each subset. This family of problems is very hard to solve, especially if the network has many nodes and connections.” To find solutions despite these challenges, it is necessary to switch to a different level: “We try to solve the relaxation of the problem, which is a simpler and more manageable version of the problem. This is easier to solve and at the same time still offers a good approximation of the original solution.” Shudian Zhao subsequently focussed on how to use this method to get as close as possible to the complex problems. Part of her doctoral thesis involves developing efficient algorithms for the complicated approximations.

The field of optimisation continues to fascinate Shudian Zhao. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH Stockholm). The mathematician would like to continue to work in a research-related capacity, and is open to positions in both academic and industrial institutions.