Teaching, research, 'geek stuff' and video games create perfect harmony for new Arts & Science grad Cédric Beaulac

June 16, 2021 by Peter Boisseau - A&S News

It didn’t take long for new Faculty of Arts & Science grad Cédric Beaulac to land a dream job in academia, while still finding a way to pursue his “geek stuff” aspirations, like designing video games.

Fresh from earning his PhD in statistical sciences, Beaulac will spend a year as a CANSSI distinguished postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, starting this summer until June 2022.

An award-winning teaching assistant at U of T, he will then join the faculty of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in his beloved hometown as an associate professor in January 2023.

Between the end of his fellowship and beginning of his career as a university professor, he will complete a six-month internship at a video game company.

For Beaulac, it’s the perfect way to dip his toes into the media industry while exploring the link between developing algorithms for statistical sciences and generating creative content for video games and movies.

We spoke to him recently about his journey so far and his future plans.

Your recent research has focused on survival analysis, time series and content generation. Could you offer everyday examples of those things?

The most common application for survival analysis is in medicine, where we try to assess the efficacy of a treatment by studying a variable in the data set for a group of patients. Time series is more closely related to economics. For example, I’ve done time series projects looking at electricity demand in Ontario, assessing how to ensure the peaks in demand do not overtax the supply or system. Content generation is something new for me. I'm trying to explore how algorithms could be used to create sets of art assets such as graphics or even music, in a very inexpensive manner.

Does content generation dovetail with your passion for video games? 

Very much so. I like sciences and most geek stuff and if I could duplicate myself, the other me would definitely study video game design. Content generation is something I am going to explore in a postdoc and I'd like to eventually make it the centre of my career. The idea is to understand the pattern and randomness of natural events and replicate them as best as possible. One of the first to employ it was a Pixar movie where they did a wooden floor using content generation algorithms, without having to pay a graphic engineer to manually design those wooden planks one by one. It’s not meant to replace artists, but to empower them. There's a company that’s been making trees in video games for years and they've recently made a big breakthrough in movies. In the latest Star Wars, all the trees are randomly generated by their particular program.

What impact did U of T have on your career path? 

U of T is a very competitive environment for research and I think it really helped me figure out the kind of environment I want to do my research in. I think it also made me realize I’m really going to enjoy the teaching aspect of being a professor, and I’m even willing to sacrifice research time to make room for my teaching. For me, it's an important part of being a professor. I worked under the supervision of Professor Jeffrey Rosenthal and he was very influential on me. Whenever my confidence would slip or I would get discouraged, he’d remind me this is a field that takes time and practice. When I start teaching at UQAM, I’d like to be a bit like him.

What advice would you offer to students?

To undergraduate students I'd say, focus on learning over grades. Grades and diplomas aren't true goals, but understanding and learning should be. To PhD students I would say to focus on what you enjoy above all and don’t think too much about careers and outside pressure. You'll be working on your own, reading papers for hours. Enjoying your work is definitely the most important thing.

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