Student researchers also get to make use of our HAILab space!
If Explainable Artificial Intelligence Projects pique your interest, please email me so we can talk about possibilities. Prior to meeting with me, read my grant proposal overview, review past research students' projects, review the frequently asked questions at the bottom of this page, and go through this MIT Technology Review article on AI explainability. The best prepared students will have questions to ask about the prior work and potential next steps.
Research is open-ended, there's no set curriculum and sometimes we try to solve problems that can't be solved. Therefore, a "comfort" with failure (or at least, the ability to easily learn from failure and move on) is a very important trait of a researcher. This also helps with creativity which is super useful when building projects used by people.
Applications for Summer Research Assistantships for Williams CS are typically due mid February. The form is available here. However, you must talk to me prior before submitting a form to work with me!
Summers at Williams are quite pleasant! The weather is nice, there's free tickets for students to attend the Williams Theater Festival, Farmer's Markets on Saturdays, and there's less stress as you won't be taking classes. Every Tuesday, the Williams Science Center has a pizza lunch accompanied by a talk from one of the science professors. During the week, you'll work ~40 hours, although, I typically only require that you be in the lab for a set 3 hours per day. We'll have a weekly scheduled meeting, and you can typically reach me by Slack as well.
I also advise research projects during the schoolyear on these same topics, but typically for students who have worked with me previously. These positions are either paid (fewer than 10hrs/wk), or can be pursued as an Independent Study course, we'll talk about your preference when we meet. A sample Independent Study syllabus for being a Research Assistant on this project is located here.
What kinds of skills are you looking for in an RA?
The sorts of skills that are most important in my research program at Williams are what we call "metacognitive" skills. That is, are you a self-driven learner? Do you know when/how to ask for help? Can you collaborate well with others? When you run into obstacles, do you persist? Do you view failure as a learning opportunity? When reading articles, can you think critically about what the authors are saying and identify flaws and opportunities? Also, and perhaps most importantly, I'm looking for excitement and enthusiasm for the overlap of Artificial Intelligence + Human-Computer Interaction + Education.
What do students do in your research?
Depending on student interest, my interest, and an assessment of opportunities in the research literature, we tend to mutually collaborate on research ideas. However, every research project I advise falls under the overlap of Artificial Intelligence + Human-Computer Interaction + Education. Sometimes we build things, sometimes we don't get that far, but we always include considerations of designing for people prior to building anything. I also take on non-CS major RAs, as I often have project ideas that are focused more on human behavior with respect to AI and are accessible to those who are not as comfortable programming.
Is 3 months really enough time to make a research contribution?
I typically view the summer research phase as focusing on learning and building a foundation for doing more complex work during the rest of the school year. At the end of the summer, my RAs often say things like "If I knew at the beginning of the summer what I know now, I'd do things very differently." And this is actually a good outcome! It means you've learned! It also means the student is ready to start asking deeper questions and applying their newfound knowledge to a relevant project. We do good work in the summer, but we do great work after the summer.
What is working in the summer like?
I'll start off by saying that I typically require summer RAs to be on campus ~3 hours/per day, and then they can do work wherever/whenever they prefer, so long as deadlines are met. We also begin the summer with a lot of reading, interspersed with conversations about our readings, building technical skills, and practicing new Human-Computer Interaction methods. As we get later into the summer, we start designing systems, and getting feedback from peers while continuing to read. A researcher never stops reading! You have a lot more flexibility than a lot of other jobs, with the added freedom of only working on 1 project, rather than taking 4 Williams classes.
What is your management style?
I tend to take a collaborative approach with my student researchers. We always work on projects in Artificial Intelligence + Human-Computer Interaction + Education, but there's a lot of options within that! The trick is really to combine student ideas with knowledge of the research area, and that can be somewhat of a negotiation. Once we figure out the project direction, I'm there to guide you to what next steps might be, but the student researcher has a lot of independence on exactly how those next steps are executed. In some cases, I may have an idea for a specific project, and I will ask the student if it sounds interesting before sending them off in that direction.
Do a lot of students want to work with you?
Computer Science departments across the country are seeing a tremendous surge in student interest in computer science. Computer Science research at Williams is no exception! You can read more about this from The New York Times (Williams College has institutional access to NYTimes).
What courses are needed?
I assume no familiarity with topics in the research area, it's those metacognitive skills that are [once again] most important! However, if you've taken classes in Psychology, Sociology, Cognitive Science, or Statistics, I'd love to hear about them! Likewise, courses cross-listed in the Williams Science & Technology Program are often relevant as well. Particulary courses about technology, Silicon Valley, or social justice. If you plan to build software in the summer, it's really most helpful if you've taken at least CSCI136, but more is always welcome! I also often have projects that do not require any programming at all, and those are perfect for non-CS majors and CS majors with interest in human behavior and design.
What kind of dog is Pixel?
Pixel is a Samoyed. Samoyeds tend to be lower on dander than many other dogs and they do not have an oily coat, so oftentimes they are considered fairly hypoallergenic (despite all the fluff!). Pixel is very sweet and often outgoing, especially if she knows you (or is very bored). While she's typically easy-going at work, it is possible to get her very hyped up. She enjoys sassing me, fetching a ball, going for walks, and howling with the quarterly bell tolls.