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Cecilia Li: Graduate Student

Department: 
Natural Language Processing
Degree Program: 
Natural Language Processing M.S.
Hometown: 
Chengdu, China
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Cecilia Li

 Cecilia Li is a Baskin Engineering undergraduate alumna who is currently enrolled in UC Santa Cruz’s new M.S. program in natural language processing. She spoke with us about what she loves about computer science and her plans for the future.

Why did you choose the NLP MS program?

I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.S. in computer science and a minor in math. I absolutely loved the program. After graduating I applied for the computer science program and was accepted into their masters program and then --funny story-- I received an email about the natural language processing program, which I’d never heard of. I contacted the director, Professor Walker, for details. 

After looking over the course schedules I saw all kinds of machine learning courses, which is what I wanted to study, and switched to that program. 

What interests you about Natural Language Processing?

I use Amazon Alexa and can tell it’s the way the world is heading.

I love data collection. I’m a bit of a nerd and hoarding data has always been a hobby of mine. I’ll scrape web sites for information to parse. For example, I play Animal Crossing, and to figure out which fish and bugs I needed to catch and when, I scraped a few wikis for the information and then cross-referenced them with my inventory and went back in time to catch the ones I needed. So that’s the kind of stuff I do for fun! 

I’d love to do something combining language and data.

What do you think of the program so far?

I was a little afraid that I’d find the courses challenging because I didn’t come in with a strong machine learning background, but it’s been going really well. Of course I’m putting in a lot of time, and there have been a couple of days when I’ve only had time to eat a single meal, but I’m getting it done!

We’ve been playing around with different NLP models in our class. My favorite thing was combining multiple models and running them simultaneously. I’m still a beginner when it comes to NLP, but that was really compelling to me. It makes me really happy to be able to use so much of the math I learned.

It’s really nice to have professors who work in industry. At least half of our professors work in the field. It’s incredible hearing about how big companies are starting to use NLP.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’m definitely drawn to a life in academia over industry. I’d love to be able to learn throughout my entire career. Professor Flanigan’s work seems incredibly interesting, I’d love to join his lab at some point. So I guess the next step would be a Ph.D. program if anyone will have me!

Tell us about yourself.

I love traveling. Before college I was lucky enough to travel all over the world. I really enjoyed visiting the Maldives, Singapore, Japan, Bali in Indonesia. The U.S. was always where I wanted to go for college, though. I wanted to be at the cutting edge of technology and knew California was the place to be.

These days when I’m not doing my school work or exploring new restaurants in San Jose or scraping data, I play a lot of Nintendo Switch, especially "Zelda: Breath of the Wild."