Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer
Where did you grow up: In Princeton Junction, New Jersey.
What was your academic path before coming to grad school at MIT? I got both my Bachelor's and a Master's in Computer Science at Drexel University in 2002.
What did you want to be when you were younger? Is that still an interest of yours?
What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you? It is not surprising to those who know me, but I had to take a leave from MIT to serve in Iraq. I have been gone a total of 2 years on Army related activities and only recently returned.
MIT, CSAIL, and my adviser, have all been extremely supportive of my leaving and reintegration. I am extremely grateful.
What department are you currently working in, and when did you start there? I work in the Spoken Language Systems group and have been working there since 2002.
What are you working on and why are you passionate about it? I am working on pronunciation assessment and correction in dialogue systems-based Computer Aided Language Learning (CALL) systems. When I was deciding what I wanted to do for my graduate studies, I was considering ways to combine my study of Chinese and Computer Science. I had always been interested in speech technologies and decided that I wanted to work on Speech-to-Speech Machine Translation. During my first year at MIT, this direction shifted somewhat, and I found myself working in CALL.
What makes CALL interesting to me is that it requires knowledge from many fields, such as machine learning, linguistics, second language acquisition, and foreign language teaching. I have had to learn a little about each of these fields, and this has led me to learn other, sometimes tangential, bits of knowledge.
What is your favorite thing about working at CSAIL? I like the flexibility and the opportunities to work on cool projects. There's a lot of neat stuff that goes on here.
What effect do you think your area of work will have on the world in the next decade? Military Linguists are in short supply, particularly for languages such as Arabic or Chinese. In many cases, a soldier will become a trained linguist, but will lack opportunities or incentives to practice their skills. Over time, these skills atrophy. One way that I see this technology being of benefit is by providing a dynamic conversational environment for trained linguists to maintain their skills.
I also see it having benefits in language classrooms where students may feel anxious about participating in conversational practice or where there is a lack of time for such practice. Students who have less anxiety about practicing a foreign language are more likely to successfully learn the language.
What are your future plans? I honestly have not worked this out. I am considering options such as teaching high school, technical consulting, academia, or being a stay-at-home dad. I would like to make a positive difference in the world, but I have not found "my calling." I'm always on the lookout for opportunities.
What advice would you give a prospective CSAIL graduate student? If you get in, congratulations. CSAIL is a difficult place to get into and this means you're pretty smart. It's all right to feel proud. Realize, though, that you are now at the top technical institution on the planet and surrounded by incredibly smart people with many different backgrounds. This can be humbling and you may feel as though CSAIL made a mistake by admitting you.
Don't sweat it, just persevere. Make friends. Get involved in the wider MIT community. And have fun - this is an awesome place to be.
Is there anything else you'd like to share? My partner and I are expecting our first child in December. MIT Medical has a number of programs that are great for expectant parents.