Student Recognized for CS Research

Harvey Mudd College student Sara McAllister ’19 is a computer science major who spends a lot of time thinking about dictionaries. Not the Merriam-Webster kind, the “write-optimized” kind, which record and store data when updates are made to files.

McAllister’s research in this area led to her being selected for honorable mention for the Computing Research Association (CRA) 2019 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. Sponsored this year by Microsoft Research, the prestigious program recognizes undergraduates at North American universities who demonstrate outstanding potential in an area of computing research.

McAllister is interested in creating more capable and efficient models for file systems that use write-optimized dictionaries. “In more traditional systems, small updates require a good amount of overhead, and the goal of write-optimized dictionaries is to decrease this overhead,” she explains. “However, write-optimized dictionaries are more complex, which means that they are harder to analyze with existing techniques. Some generally accepted behavior of these dictionaries is not predictable using existing models of the cost (i.e., time) of reading and writing to storage mediums (e.g., hard disks, solid state drives). Thus, my research is looking at creating more comprehensive models for the storage, validating them and then using them to predict behavior in write-optimized dictionaries.”

According to the CRA, many of this year’s nominees “were commended for making significant contributions to more than one research project, several were authors or coauthors on multiple papers, others had made presentations at major conferences and some had produced software artifacts that were in widespread use. Many of our nominees had been involved in successful summer research or internship programs, many had been teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors and a number had significant involvement in community volunteer efforts. It is quite an honor to be selected for honorable mention.”