Graduate Student Profile: Amre Shakimov

From the Spring 2012 issue of Threads

Amre Shakimov loves a challenge, and he loves to explore. Its what brought the PhD student to Duke.

Up until I was 15 years old, if somebody told me I would be studying in the United States and considering job offers in the United States, I would just laugh because the United States was another planet and there were no ships to bring me there, said Shakimov, who was born in the former Soviet Union in what is now the Republic of Kazakstan, in Central Asia between Russia and China. It was just an impossible thing to consider.

Yet for two years before starting his five-year journey at Duke, he worked as a computer programmer in Chicago. What he found aside from a difference in food was very little else thats different.

It struck me when I came that all people are the same, he said. Honestly, I didnt have any cultural shock. Maybe its part of my character because I really always enjoy exploring new things.

Shakimov soon started exploring his future in discussions with friends. With the realization that he likes challenges and people, they determined academia would be a good fit for him and that he should pursue a doctorate. Shakimov chose Duke because of its smaller size.

I wanted to be able to discuss ideas of my own and work on them rather than join a bigger department and work on some smaller part of a project, he said. It might be easier, but I dont think its as rewarding as when you work on a project thats your own and have a little closer relationship with your adviser.

With his adviser Associate Professor Landon Cox Shakimov, now in his final year at Duke, is working to identify possible security and privacy threats on online social networking sites and to propose solutions. In addition to the challenge of his research work, he has been involved heavily in the inner workings of the department, including serving as a liaison between graduate students and faculty and serving on committees for faculty searches and prospective graduate student visits. This last semester he was faced with the challenge of deciding what to do after he graduates in May.

Im interested in many things, he said. I really enjoy doing research. I like teaching. I like building. I really enjoy the engineering aspects of being a graduate student in computer science, which means that Im looking at many options.

Those options included continuing his research as a post-doctoral scholar or working in academia, research labs or startup companies. There was even the possibility of returning home to work in a university. That option of returning home is always on his mind, he said, noting he had to weigh the opportunities of a job offer with the duty of returning to his home country and being closer to family.

All of those factors are in completely different dimensions, so its very hard to evaluate them in a way that one decision would clearly be the winner, Shakimov said. Maybe its more pressure, but on the other hand, maybe its more option. Maybe for other graduate students, its a little harder to consider offers from another country. But for me, Im considering other offers from Europe, Asia and here in the United States.

In June, Shakimov will start a new adventure in California. Hes accepted a job with a startup company in Palo Alto.

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