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Angela Ramirez: Graduate Student

Degree Program: Natural Language Processing M.S.

Undergraduate Institution: University of California, Santa Cruz

Department: Natural Language Processing

Hometown: Atwater, California

Angela Ramirez: Graduate Student

“We’re getting real experts who work in the industry to show us how they use the technology and what they do with it. Getting that perspective is really cool.”

Angela Ramirez is a member of the inaugural class of Baskin Engineering’s new M.S. in Natural Language Processing (NLP). She is also an undergraduate alumna of UC Santa Cruz, where she majored in cognitive science with an emphasis in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction and a minor in computer science. 

Why did you choose to study Natural Language Processing?

My journey toward Natural Language Processing (NLP) has been long. I can’t say I’m one of those people who always knew she wanted to do NLP. It was about two years ago that I learned about it… I was working as a research assistant on a project that looked at online communities. We explored the dynamics between owners and members. So that became my introduction to machine learning and natural language processing. I thought it was super interesting that we were able to resolve that level of detail from text and graphical structures alone.

I ended up doing my thesis looking at mental wellbeing applications. I did a lot with sentiment analysis using the work of Pennebaker, who found that people suffering from depression often use “I” statements, for example. I just found it really interesting. Language really is what connects us as humans. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s also a really rich field to study. There are so many gaps. People speak in such different ways and I think there’s real complexity and beauty in it. So that’s how I got into NLP.

What do you think of the program so far?

I honestly think it’s great! We’re getting real experts who work in the industry to show us how they use the technology and what they do with it. Getting that perspective is really cool. I feel like it’s a good mix of things. We’re getting to learn how the industry actually uses NLP and the background of these methods, what the shortcomings and benefits are.

We’ve had three seminar speakers so far. It’s really inspiring to hear how they approach NLP, and what their thinking is behind things. It makes me think of things I might be able to do with the technology. 

What would you like to do when you graduate?

I’ve been looking into different career paths like data science, data engineering, or finding a niche in NLP. One area of interest is understanding text sentiment. It seems like a very big field. Before coming to the NLP program I worked with an ecommerce company. I saw firsthand how sentiment analysis and marketing can go together. 

I really like the idea of creating empathetic systems that can detect emotion and provide appropriate responses. We’ve also been hearing a lot about bias in algorithms and ways of preventing it from creeping in. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of algorithms and methods they found bias in and how to prevent it. It’s been inspiring me to think about coreference resolution, and the different types of machine learning techniques to prevent these issues from occurring.   

Why else did you choose to come to UC Santa Cruz?

It’s close to Silicon Valley, so that was a huge draw for me. The seminar courses are great too because it allows us to create connections with these people. When I saw that I was really intrigued. I’d also heard about the Amazon Alexa prize and other research going on at Santa Cruz. Also, I knew some of the teachers who’d be working with us. 

Tell us some fun facts about yourself!

I like doing my makeup, yoga, and weight-lifting. I’ve recently taken up knitting too. That’s been fun. I’m a big hiker (as most people at UC Santa Cruz are). During quarantine I’ve also been venturing into other realms, learning about new languages and things like astrology. 

I’m technically a first-generation woman STEM graduate! I’m the first in my family to get a master’s degree, so it’s great to be here!

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