Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship: great opportunity for foreign researchers
18 May 2016
Bestoun S. Ahmed is one of the foreign researcher who won the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship 2015/2016; he is now spending one year at IDSIA working with Luca Maria Gambardella on his postdoc. focusing on search-based software Engineering.

Hi Bestoun, you won a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship: how did you apply for it?
My name is Bestoun S. Ahmed, I’m a Kurdish from the North part of Iraq. After
graduation in the university with good marks, I applied for the postgraduate fellowship opportunity in University Putra Malaysia - Malaysia. The achievement of this opportunity gives me a chance to finish my master study.

After finishing my master study, I decide to do not make a delay and continue with my PhD degree. I got a PhD fellowship position in the University Sains Malaysia - Malaysia in the field of software engineering. With my supervisor, we discovered new ideas and new methods for testing by adopting the optimization, artificial intelligent and soft computing techniques to minimize the number of test cases for any software. This open’s new direction of research for me in a field called Search-based-software-engineering (SBSE). Then I took a lecturer position in the Salahaddin University - Erbil teaching in the college of engineering and also continued my research as the head of software engineering research group in the fields of Software Engineering, Software Testing, Optimization theories, combinatorial optimization, and artificial intelligent.
After spending three years as a lecturer and researcher, I found an advertisement about the Swiss Excellent scholarship on a group of postgraduate studies on Facebook. Actually it was the right time for me to think about the application for this program. First, because I was thinking to take some rest from lecturing and put more attention to my research and finish my postdoc position also. Second, it was the possibility to work with different resources and with expert researchers in the field of combinatorial optimization and artificial intelligent. In addition, I was always thinking to get some life experience from Europe and interact with more people to get more cultural experience. So I had a lot of reasons for applying!

The first regulation in the application was to find someone who can host me in his lab and become my supervisor. I thought it would be not so complicate to find it: I wrote a proposal on my research and start to search for possible supervisors in
the swiss universities without positive answers, as my approach, I discovered after coming in Switzerland, was very different in relation to the European approach. Cultural differences, also in small difference, could be sometimes a big  hurdle.
I decide than to conduct a deeper search for supervisors. In this stage I searched for those organisations which have more international students and also for those supervisors who are more deeper working in the problem that I want to work in the research. I started to look and read the website carefully and also to look at the research groups and people inside those organizations. IDSIA fit perfectly with these criteria: the works of Prof. Dr. Luca Maria Gambardella are related to my research topic and IDSIA hosts many guest researchers. So I send Prof. Gambardella an email and he replied to me hopefully. After a short discussion about the situation and the research, he agreed to host me in IDSIA. I have put his name on the application and then I sent the whole documents to the Swiss embassy in Amman Jordan since there is no Swiss embassy in Kurdistan region of Iraq. I have waited for more than ten months to get my offer letter.

What are your main activities at IDSIA ?
The focus of my postdoc. research nowadays is Search-based software Engineering (SBSE) in which how to use artificial intelligent and optimization method in the field of software engineering. Currently I’m focusing on software product line (SPL) and how to derive test cases for it. To do so, the combinatorial interaction testing could be applicable and I’m trying to apply this testing technique for SPL. Of course this is not without difficulties. Part of the difficulty is how to deal with the
different constraints in SPL and how to automate them. In addition, how to automate this process to deal with different feature models. In addition to my supervisor, I’m collaborating with many research groups from Sweden, Australia, and Malaysia. So far, I have published two papers, one in an international conference in London and one in an international journal. In addition, I have three more papers under review and still I’m working on a project with my supervisor in this direction.

How long will you stay at IDSIA and how do you judge your experience?
I will stay here for almost one year. However, due the delay in visa and work permit
process, I arrived here almost with two month late.
My experience at IDSIA was good as my experience in Switzerland, I enjoyed the food and nature a lot. People here are kind and they respect international researchers.
However I have to admit that it was not so easy to deal with the Swiss bureaucracy, embassies and immigration offices. I have gone through a very long and painful process of checking and application of visa for me and my family, which at the end didn’t move to Ticino. I am really thankful to  the IDSIA administration staff who helped and supported me a lot from the beginning until now in many situations.
Nevertheless this program is a very enriching experience for my life and it affects my personality and the way of thinking also in addition to the research experience i got from IDSIA.