What put you on the path to your current role?
I studied math as an undergraduate and graduate student, but was always interested in software engineering and machine learning. After finishing my PhD, I worked in the finance industry developing mortgage models for a few large banks. Then, I transitioned into the tech industry and led a team responsible for machine learning related product development at a Seattle startup before joining AI2.
What’s the most surprising or interesting thing that happened with your work at AI2 recently?
After our team published a paper last year describing an algorithm named “ELMo,” other research groups around the world followed suit, publishing papers with names like Bert, Big Bird and Ernie. As several members of our team have young children, we couldn’t be more pleased that the natural language processing community is now talking about algorithms honoring adorable children’s TV characters.
What are you looking forward to with your work this summer?
Summer is traditionally the season for conferences, when all of the work from the last 6–9 months is presented, and they provide an opportunity to catch up with colleagues we haven’t seen in a while. This year, I also co-presented a tutorial at the NAACL conference in June. We have also been working recently to incorporate large scale structured knowledge bases such as Wikipedia into models such as ELMo, and are planning to apply the technique to some of the specialized knowledge resources in use at AI2 (e.g., for processing biomedical articles for Semantic Scholar).
One piece of advice you’d give an aspiring researcher:
Although most researchers follow a path that includes a PhD in Computer Science, it is also common to take other routes. For example, I do not have any formal training in computer science, machine learning, or natural language processing, instead learning requisite skills via self-study and related work experience. Opportunities such as AI2’s Pre-doctoral Young Investigator Program also provide an alternate path to research that does not necessarily include a PhD in CS.
Most underrated activity or place in Seattle?
Seattle isn’t known for its beaches, but we do have some nice ones both on Lake Washington and Puget Sound. The beaches on Puget Sound such as Golden Gardens are particularly nice as they face west and have amazing sunsets behind the Olympic Mountains. Sitting around a campfire on the beach with close friends and enjoying the long summer evenings is highly enjoyable!