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Department of Computer Science and Technology

On Monday we held a memorial event in Emmanuel College for my PhD student, Negar, who died so tragically in October last year.  These are the words I said in memory of her.

The first time I talked to Negar was just over 5 years ago, in May 2012.  I can remember it vividly, sitting in Alan Mycroft’s office phoning Iran to interview a candidate for a job on hardware reliability.  She came across as a quiet person who was unflustered by the questions that we threw at her.  And behind that a determination too, a determination to secure the job, to come to Cambridge and achieve her ambition of studying for a PhD.

That quiet determination became more apparent once she came to the UK and stood her in good stead as she carried out her research.   Despite the ups and downs of a PhD, she remained focused on completing her dissertation and aiming to publish the results in the best conferences and journals in our area.  As time went on, she never lost her quiet nature, but she grew in confidence in her own knowledge and abilities.  At first, she would take everything I said without question, but later, where others would perhaps argue with me over different view points, she would instead simply let me talk, then gently tell me all the things I had said that were wrong.  Never annoyed or frustrated with my lack of understanding.  Just calm, gentle and confident.  Believe me, in the latter stages of her PhD, this happened often!

Negar was very proud of Iran and loved describing the country, its culture and people.  I remember multiple train and car rides with her and Jyothish as we went visiting other universities, where she told us about how her life had been back in Tehran, or the snow on the mountains outside the city, or the food from different parts of the country.  She knew I had a sweet tooth and on one trip home brought me back some sohan, a traditional kind of biscuit from the south which tasted like nothing I’d had before.  A mixture of nuts, sugar and spices that was difficult to stop eating!  Negar also sent me a Wikipedia link with the sohan to describe the ingredients because she worried my Farsi was a little rusty!  I think she loved sharing her culture and history with people at the same time as she was exploring a different country and continent and learning about us.

One thing that sticks in my mind is how many friends Negar had and made during the time she was here.  Perhaps it was that quiet, gentle nature of hers that drew people to her.  I’ve had a number of people get in touch with me since October to express their sadness, some of whom I have never met and some of whom only met Negar once or twice.  But my abiding memory of her is of the times when she wanted to talk to me about her work.  There would be a quiet knock at the door, she’d stick her head round and ask if she could just have one minute of my time.  Not wanting to bother me if I was busy, or interrupt the work I was doing.  I miss those quiet knocks, just as I miss learning about her culture or being gently corrected on things I don’t quite understand enough.  She seemed to touch so many people’s lives in such a positive way and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know and support her in working so hard towards her dreams.