Student Portraits

July 25, 2022

IVADO Student Portraits – Er Raqabi El Mehdi

Our “IVADO Student Portraits” initiative consists of meeting students from our community to share their backgrounds, motivations and ambitions!

We sat down for a chat with Er Raqabi El Mehdi, who’s working toward a PhD in Applied Mathematics at Polytechnique Montréal.

  • Can you tell us a few words about yourself?

My name is Er Raqabi El Mehdi. I’m PhD student originally from Morocco. Insights are my passion, research is my vision and Kaizen is my mission. I love soccer, and from time to time I do other sports like swimming and snowboarding. I also like sharing experience, especially with emerging generations, through blog entries, articles and get-togethers—whether virtual or in person!

  • Tell us about your academic journey.

After I earned my secondary school diploma in mathematical sciences, and then moved on to the preparatory courses for the large engineering schools. I ended up studying in the Industrial Engineering department of the prestigious Mohammadia School of Engineers (known by its French acronym, EMI). After I got my B.Eng. degree, I worked as a quality and safety manager at the Jorf Lasfar port complex in the province of El Jadida, Morocco. I then completed an MBA at the International University of Japan (IUJ) thanks to an African Business Education (ABE) Initiative scholarship sponsored by the Japanese government. I’m currently in Canada, studying toward my doctorate in applied mathematics at Polytechnique Montréal, with generous support from IVADO and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies.

  • What motivated you to choose digital intelligence?

With my diverse background and the opportunities I’ve had to try lots of different things, I was looking for a field where I could put all, or most, of my experience into practice. So applied mathematics ended up being an optimal choice, allowing me to put to use both the mathematical knowledge I acquired in the preparatory classes as well as at the EMI and the business acumen I developed at the EMI and the IUJ. When using applied mathematics, I incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) as well as a data science or operations research (RO).

  • What are you working on for your research project?

As a research student, I loved OR ever since I first encountered it at the EMI. Right now I’m using it to solve very-large-scale real-world problems using decomposition techniques like Dantzig–Wolfe and Benders. To improve the performance of what is developed in OR, I rely on AI and machine learning (ML). My research project encompasses a practical aspect (dealing with a very-large-scale problem in the world’s largest phosphate mining company), a methodological aspect (where we generalize our solutions to other problems), and a fundamental or theoretical aspect (pushing the state of the art in the context of optimizing large-scale problems).

  • Have you presented your research project in public? How did it go?

Yes, I’ve presented some of the project outcomes at a few conferences. It’s really fantastic to present your work to other researchers and get their feedback on the possibilities for improvement as well as on new research avenues and trends in the research community.

  • What is this project bringing you on an academic level?

I am fine-tuning a number of skills, such as progressing from a theoretical idea or problem to the algorithmic implementation of the solution via programming, to communicating the results in publications. In those three areas, there are so many lessons that only a researcher can appreciate.

  • What is this project bringing you on a personal level?

A lot of learning, maturity, modesty, wisdom, sensations—and a lot of grey hair (hahaha)! Also, discovering another universe besides the real and virtual ones: by this I mean the vast universe of the human brain and of knowledge. It’s a universe where we can say we are greater than we are than the real one, in which we seem to be minuscule.

  • What challenges are you encountering during your academic journey?

Being far from my family and dealing with the very rough Montréal winter.

  • What’s your relationship to technology / to digital intelligence?

By the time I finish my PhD, I hope to have contributed to furthering the state of the art in optimization of large-scale problems through four perspectives: the solver perspective, the metaheuristic perspective, the exact perspective and the learning perspective.

  • What are your ambitions for the future?

Research is a way for researchers to live in the future. My ambitions are to learn more, understand more, innovate more and contribute more to humanity. I’d really like to become a professor with a lab and a team of my own. I also hope to help the budding seeds of our world—i.e., the coming generations—to free themselves whatever status quo situations they are in that impede their creativity and undermine their distinction.

  • Any resources to share?

My articles are available to read on my Medium and LinkedIn pages. The first is more technical content, while on the second, I write more about my personal experiences.

When it comes to the Medium articles, I’d like to mention these two:

And on LinkedIn, my emphasis would be these two: