CS PhD Alumni Update

 

Sushobhan Ghosh

Currently an Applied Research Scientist at Descript 

 

 

What was your background before starting your Ph.D. at Northwestern?
I finished my bachelors in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi) before joining Northwestern University as a Ph.D. student in Computer Science. In my undergraduate, I had experience working on particle physics as well as computational optics and imaging.

Why did you decide to pursue your Ph.D. at Northwestern CS?
I had a bit of experience in computational optics and imaging and found it interesting. Also, the field of computational photography had made tremendous strides in the prior decade, especially with the emergence of smartphones. Prof Cossairt's CompPhotoLab at Northwestern is among the few labs which focus on computational photography which is this exciting intersection of physics (waves and optics) as well as computer science (image processing, machine learning).

Can you describe your research interests in one sentence?
My research interests lie in improving the performance of deep learning-based AI models by leveraging the physical models of camera, optics, geometry, and computer graphics.

What skills or knowledge did you learn in the Ph.D. program that you think will stay with you for a lifetime?
Before joining Northwestern University, I had very little knowledge about Artificial Intelligence, or deep learning (the basis of the current boom in AI). In my first couple of years, I learned a lot of concepts of machine learning, deep learning, and AI and apply them to eventually solve research problems.
How are you using the skills you learned during the Ph.D. program in your current role/endeavor?
After finishing my Ph.D. I joined a startup called Descript as an Applied Research Scientist. Descript develops AI based audio and video editing tools for easy content creation and editing. The skills I learned in my Ph.D. to break complex research problems into individual components and efficiently solve them using different techniques developed and discussed in research papers is exactly what I do in my current role.

What advice do you have for current Northwestern CS PhDs?
If I had to give one piece of advice to current Ph.D. students at Northwestern, it would be to explore the field broadly before diving in and selecting a sub-problem to solve in Ph.D. The field of CS, especially machine learning, is making progress at a neck-breaking speed and most of the novel solutions these days are coming from teams with cross domain knowledge (for example optics and physics-based modeling for computational photography). Always helps to keep in touch with the state of research in neighboring fields alongside your main field.
 

 

 

 

Irina Rabkina

Currently an Assistant Professor at Occidental College

 

 

What was your background before starting your Ph.D. at Northwestern?
I had a BA in Neuroscience (minor in CS) from Scripps College and an MS in CS from Loyola University Chicago.

Why did you decide to pursue your Ph.D. at Northwestern CS?
A number of things came together to make Northwestern CS the right choice for me. I had moved to Chicago the year prior, and didn’t want to move again if I could avoid it. But I also knew that NU CS is a great program—one of my undergrad mentors, Sara Sood, earned her PhD at Northwestern and had just come back to teach. Most important, though, was what a great fit Ken Forbus’s research group was for me: our research interests at the intersection of AI and CogSci synced perfectly, and the other students in the group were welcoming, supportive, and incredibly smart.

Can you describe your research interests in one sentence?
I am interested in creating AI that think in the same ways that people do—and learning something about the ways that people think in the process.

What skills or knowledge did you learn in the Ph.D. program that you think will stay with you for a lifetime?
I think the skills that will most stay with me have to do with communicating with a multidisciplinary audience. My research is very interdisciplinary, so I need to be able to communicate with, for example, Psychologists just as well as I communicate with Computer Scientists. As a faculty member at a small liberal arts college (SLAC), this skill also allows me to bring in a wider range of research students.

How are you using the skills you learned during the Ph.D. program in your current role/endeavor?
I am now an Assistant Professor at Occidental College, a small liberal arts college (SLAC) in Los Angeles. I run a research group of undergrads, and teach courses across the CS curriculum. I use the skills I learned at Northwestern every day, in both roles.

What advice do you have for current Northwestern CS PhDs?
Larry Birnbaum once told me that you are done with your PhD when you tell your advisor that you are done. I’ll add a corollary—it’s a lot easier to tell your advisor that you are done when you have a job lined up… preferably one that requires a PhD in hand.

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