Answers for Prospective Students at UNC
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Department's Why-UNC Page Link


What are your research interests?

I work in statistical natural language processing and machine learning, with a focus on multimodal, grounded, and embodied semantics (i.e., language with vision and speech, for robotics), human-like language generation and Q&A/dialogue, and interpretable and structured deep learning. Please read my group's recent papers to get a more detailed idea of what I am working on. Also take a look at my NLP classes from this and last year.


Will you be looking for students?

Yes, I will be taking motivated graduate students at UNC (check the 2018 PhD application due in Dec 2017). I also work with undergraduate students (esp. if you are already at UNC or a local student from Duke or NC State). I will also be looking for a postdoc (and possibly some visiting positions too). We highly encourage diversity!


What are the basic requirements?

I am looking for students who are:
-- highly motivated and hardworking.
-- have superb skills in coding, reading and writing research papers, reproducing prior work's results, and clearly formulating ideas and getting them to work.
-- already interested in machine learning and its applications in natural language processing (and/or its multimodal connections to vision and robotics). To gain some solid background, you can do online courses on machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, and deep learning for NLP (or can take my UNC NLP classes if you are local or already a UNC student).
-- application-wise, it always helps to have prior research experience (preferably, with some relevant publications), strong letters, coding experience (e.g., github research projects), and solid test scores.
-- diversity is highly encouraged.


What is the procedure to apply?

For 2018 admissions (deadlines link: Dec2017-Jan2018, but Dec13 suggested deadline for university fellowships), please follow the UNC CS admissions page. Note that NLP has now been added to the list of CS areas so select the "Natural Language Processing" area of interest/specialization listed in the college's application form, and add my name (to SoP and faculty of interest section) so that I can look for your application. Also, feel free to drop me a line (at mbansal-AT-cs-DOT-unc-DOT-edu) with your CV, but only after reading this page. If you are a current student at UNC (or Duke/NCState), feel free to email me for an appointment.



Why UNC?

Rankings: UNC is a top-5 public school, an original public Ivy, and ranked 30 nationally. It's CS department is ranked in the top 25 by US-News, 18th by AWRU, and in the top 7 (R-rank) to 15 (S-rank) by the National Research Council.

Research opportunities:
-- UNC has some of the top groups in several AI/ML related areas, e.g., language and vision, 3d vision, robotics, graphics, virtual reality, HCI, bioML/bioinformatics, data mining, with strong growth plans in ML, AI, and data science: http://cs.unc.edu/research/areas/. There are also various I-School, linguistics, and statistics faculty working in NLP, ML, and data science related topics. Also, see quora list of best schools to study NLP.
-- There are also great collaboration opportunities with several top-ranked related UNC departments of statistics, information science, cognitive psychology, sociology, healthcare, medical school, business school, and also with nearby universities of Duke (just 8 miles away) and NC State (just 25 miles away) in the highly active Research Triangle Area.
-- The Research Triangle Park in this triangle area is one of the largest research parks in the world, with a large number of companies and startups, e.g., Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm, etc.

Diversity:
-- The CS department at UNC is highly diverse (e.g., gender, foreign nationals, minorities) in its graduate student body as well as in its faculty! The university as a whole has various large diversity initiatives and support centers, e.g., Graduate Student Diversity success program and the Diversity And Multicultural Affairs division. Finally, the whole research triangle area (Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, RTP) is one of the most liberal and diverse regions (due to the several universities, tech giants, and startups).

Life/fun:
-- Livability rankings of Chapel Hill and research triangle: #4 in Best Places to Live in America (US News), 10 Great College Towns (US News), #7 in 50-Best College Towns, #2 in Best Places For Business/Careers (Forbes).
-- Chapel Hill and the research triangle is known for its culture of food, music, sports, films festivals, museums, etc. It is hailed as America's Foodiest Small Town by Bon Appétit and is one of the Big Three of Third Wave Coffee.
-- Tons of scenic outdoor and other activities nearby, e.g., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville (mountain town known for its foodie-ness, breweries, and music festivals), several beaches, waterfalls, hiking/biking/camping.
-- Great connectivity to the east coast (e.g., DC is just 4 hours by car, and ~1 hour flights to DC, NYC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc.); direct flights to most major US cities and several major international cities (e.g., London, Paris, Toronto, etc.), all from the nearby RDU International Airport (just 15 miles away).
-- Good weather.
-- Affordable cost-of-living.

More info on the department's Why-UNC page.