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IBM Global Summer School Experience

August 10, 2020

Last week, IBM’s global summer school ended successfully. It was well attended with over 5000 participating over the world and 2000+ people were watching at the same time, and a huge discord channel was created for the purpose. It was more like a conference with lots of excitement and fascination with a new rising technology: The Quantum Computer. 

A tweet from Abe Asfaw, Education Lead, IBM Quantum


I was lucky enough to participate as a lab student. The lab students had an excess of the learning materials and even a study group to help complete the lab assignment.  As a Ph.D. student, the lectures and lab were easy to follow, but I was quite shocked that many high school students were working together. IBM is doing their best to integrate with all the people with different educational backgrounds. I ask myself what was I doing during my high school instead of learning quantum computing? 

1. Coursework

Screenshot of a lecture on a quantum algorithm on Crowdcast

Summer school covered basic knowledge of quantum mechanics to simulating quantum chemistry using quantum computing.  It was taught by experts in quantum computing from doctoral students to experts around the world. It was organized into five topics. 

  • Writing and Running Quantum Programs: Elisa Bäumer
  • Shor’s algorithm: Abraham Asfaw
  • Quantum Error Correction using Repetition Codes: James Wootton
  • Superconducting Qubits Lecturer: Zlatko Minev
  • Quantum Chemistry: Abhinav Kandala & Antonio Mezzacapo

There are three main threads to the course: quantum mechanics, quantum computing software, and quantum computing hardware. Elisa covered basic knowledge of quantum mechanics such as quantum states, quantum circuits, and measurement. Abraham, Abhinav, and Antonio discussed the application of quantum computers such as Shor’s algorithm and quantum chemistry simulation. Zlatko showed how actually quantum computers can be manipulated using transmon circuits using cavity QED and how it is possible to overcome experimental difficulty by using error correction circuits. 

It was well organized and this class was equivalent to the one-semester class for the 4th level of undergraduate physics-major student. 

On the last day of the class, IBM hosted a panel discussion with faculties from top universities and vice president of IBM Quantum. You can still watch this on Quantum Computing Careers:

  • Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow and Vice President, IBM Quantum
  • Marina Radulaski, Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at UC Davis
  • K. Birgitta Whaley, Director, Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center
  • Steve Girvin, Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Yale University
  • Monika Schleier-Smith, Associate Professor of Physics at Stanford University
  • John Preskill, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics,  Allen V.C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair, IQIM

It was a very insightful discussion, and it introduced job opportunities for physicists, computer scientists, and engineers no matter whether you have a Ph.D. or not. I highly recommend watching the video.

2. Lab assignment

There was one assignment every day. We are asked to use IBM quantum computers to simulate our algorithm! It is very exciting to use an actual quantum computer using conventional a programming language. Actually, anyone can try to use the IBM quantum computer and the quantum framework here

Qiskit Learning Lab material using qiskit and an IBM quantum computer.

The assignments were quite straightforward. We had 10 mins to an hour of lab lecture by several lab tutors: Abraham Asfaw, James Wootton, Nick Bronn, Abhinav Kandala, and Antonio Mezzacapo. They asked us to add a simple line of code to complete their algorithm. 

Lab support from Qiskit lab tutors on Discord channel
Lab support from Qiskit lab tutors on Discord channel

There are many lab tutors in the discord chat working really hard to help students confused with quantum computing. My personal saviour was @raisinbrann99 (I feel really bad that I don’t know the name!). I was new to Python, so I was quite confused about how things work at the beginning, and she magically solved my problem!

There were useful channels in the Discord group. We even created study-groups to help each other. Mentors were available pretty much 24/7 in the channel to help students around the world in different time zones. 

A message when you complete the assignment. Once you complete assignment, you will receive a pleasing notification like this!

3. Networking opportunities

One of the great things about the IBM summer school is the networking opportunities. In their discord channel, we had a server named networking. Therefore, we could connect via LinkedIn and Facebook, IBM’s Qiskit slack community, and IBM Qiskit twitter account. I also helped to build one of the quantum computing communities on LinkedIn. 

Networking opportunities for quantum computing community

This was a golden opportunity for me. I was able to talk with many physicists, financials, engineers all around the world, and make a good connections with them. I really enjoy talking to random people who are fascinated by quantum computing like me!

4. Comments and criticisms

There are many great things that I want to keep talking about, but I believe that there is some room to improve for a better summer school.

  • Difficult collaboration with other people
  • Lack of compensation to complete the assignment 

It was hard for me to talk and collaborate with other people at the beginning. Due to the COVID, everything was virtual, so we needed to talk to strangers in discord without any guidelines. I believe it can be fixed by actually allowing video conversations with the group members in the same time zone led by the assigned group leader. I end up creating my own discord channel and inviting ~10 people to have a voice chat together. This way, it is much easier to connect with people and collaborate together to complete the project.

Secondly, the summer school provides lab solutions on the next day to the assignment. I really appreciate the solution, but there was no difference between who completed the assignment before and after the solution. I see their intention toward including all the people without any dropout, but it makes it really difficult to work with other people because it is hard to find people working on the same project. I believe a more strict deadline will force students to collaborate together and motivate each other.

These are all minor concerns. Without any hesitation, it was a great summer school, and I really appreciate IBM’s effort to create an environment for people who are fascinated by quantum computing. Especially these uncertain times due to the COVID, I had an opportunity to learn new skills and meet with wonderful people. 

About Saesun Kim

Saesun Kim is a Ph.D. student in experimental quantum optics at the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Quantum Research and Technology.  Twitter @saesunkim

How to get a job in Quantum Computing: Quantum Computing Career panel event on Youtube from the Qiskit Team