Alumni Spotlight — Salam Daher

Salam Daher, MSDAS 2006, is currently an Assistant Professor in Informatics & Computer Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. After completing her studies at Digital Worlds, she later pursued a Ph.D. in Modeling and Simulation at the University of Central Florida. With over five years of experience in the software industry and academia since 2013, Salam has diverse research interests in healthcare simulation, synthetic environments, 3D characters, facial expressions (FACS), body language, medical simulations, and virtual, mixed reality and augmented reality.

In what ways did your Digital Arts and Sciences experience prepare you for your career?

It was very useful in the subsequent jobs that I got, in the way that one climbs a ladder. Every time you step, you accumulate more knowledge, and then you step again. It allowed me to work on projects using larger scales, different simulation software, getting exposed to working with virtual environments. That by itself opened the door for me to create more interesting projects. One thing opened the door to another, and when I was interviewing [my projects] were one of the things that caught people’s eyes.

What do you like most about your current career?

There have been different stages to my career — when I was in the industry, I enjoyed working on multiple projects and wearing different hats in my role. Sometimes it would be programming, sometimes modeling, sometimes reviewing. I love seeing prototypes get turned into products and doing useful work. Now, working in academia, there is a different “flavor” to work. The scientific background is the same in both settings, but in academia, when I’m teaching something and someone finally gets it, there is a unique satisfaction to that.

What are your favorite DAS memories?

There are lots of good memories. I really, really loved working on the Space Mission Simulator project. Just creating it was so much fun. I was doing it as part of a class, and to be honest, I probably would have ended up working on something totally different if I wasn’t at the Digital Worlds Institute and didn’t have access to the lab. It was a team of three students, me and two other students, and split up different project components to work on. I had to build this platform with a rocker and a slider, with a camera in the back that tracked its motion, so the graphics move with you. Just the making of that alone was such a fun thing to do.

What advice would you give to current Digital Arts & Sciences students?

My advice is to pick what you really love and have fun working on it, because time can pass and you won’t even feel it. It’s also essential to talk with people that already took [your] career route and see what they liked, what they didn’t, or how it deviated from their expectations. Have a really free conversation about what their everyday life is like, what is expected.

For example, I used to think that a Ph.D. is like a masters degree — you take these courses, you work on your dissertation, and you’re done. But I realized you don’t necessarily get your PhD just by finishing courses and working on a project — it kind of never ends. It’s important to talk with people who are doing the work before you choose it. So ask people in this industry what is everyday life like, like working on.

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