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Zarrin Langari

PhD 2010

Zarrin Langari at her computerWhen Zarrin Langari's mother was growing up in Iran, she loved math but there was no mathematics education for girls in her entire province. She led female students in a strike, and two weeks later the school administration agreed to set up a mathematics class. Her daughter, Zarrin, was a beneficiary of her mother's courage, and excelled in mathematics.  

It was not easy to be a female university student in post-revolutionary Iran.

I was so confused in the first term. I remember in the last class of the term before the exam, the professor asked if we had questions. I asked, 'What is a CPU?' Everybody looked at me and laughed.

Her outstanding mathematical skills stood her in good stead, though, and she began studying on her own, painstakingly using English texts, since none then existed in Farsi. Though she could only schedule one hour a week of computer time, she excelled, and ranked first in her class in her last two years of study.

In 1998, with her husband, a Persian literature specialist, and her young daughter, then three years old, she emigrated to Canada in order to continue her education. Her research with PhD supervisor Richard Trefler centred on verifying communication protocols. She defined a visual modeling system called graph transformation, and provided semantic modeling for AT&T's Distributed Feature Composition (DFC) communication protocol. Communication protocols are notoriously difficult to verify, yet, since we depend on them so heavily, verification is essential. Langari used the DFC modeling system to show that she could substantially simplify the verification process without sacrificing accuracy.   

The diversity and size of Waterloo's program were major assets for Langari.

You are free to follow lots of research areas. For example, my Master's work, under the supervision of Frank Tompa, was in databases, classifying word senses in the Oxford English Dictionary using text mining algorithms. There is such amazing diversity of research here. I find that inspiring.

Langari found that the flexibility of graduate school blended well with family life.

Graduate school gives you more free time than a regular job to spend with your child when they need you.

She brought her daughter to several of the outreach programs that the university sponsors to attract girls into mathematics and computer science; years later, she was still talking about the artificial and computer security seminars she attended ...

Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo