Answers for Prospective Students at UNC
Department's Why-UNC Page Link
VIDEO 'UNC CS Department Overview 2021'
UNC-NLP Group Page
What are your research interests?
Our group (nlp.cs.unc.edu/) works in statistical natural language processing and machine learning, with a particular 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 generalizable deep learning.
Please read our group's recent papers to get a more detailed idea of what we are working on. Also take a look at my NLP classes from this and last year.
Will you be looking for students?
Yes, I am usually taking motivated graduate students (and I am currently looking for postdocs). 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 postdocs (and possibly some visiting positions too). We highly encourage diversity!
What do we look for in an application?
We are looking for students who are:
-- Motivated and passionate about solving problems and doing research.
-- Have reasonably solid skills in coding, and are preferably also comfortable reading some basic research papers and clearly formulating mathematical ideas.
-- Preferably already interested in computation linguistics and machine learning and 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).
-- If you have some form of prior research experience (this doesn't need to be top-tier publications, but can be via some interesting research project reports, internships, workshop papers, or coding experience (e.g., github research projects)), feel free to send pointers. However, *none* of these are strict requirements, and every application is unique depending on your circumstances, so please apply and shoot me an email to discuss :-)
-- Diversity is highly encouraged.
What is the procedure to apply?
-- For 2021 admissions, the deadlines link says Dec2020-Mar2021, with Dec15 as the suggested deadline for university-level fellowships (but we accept+fund RA/TA applications after that too till March)
-- FAQs link
-- please follow the UNC CS admissions page for official submission
-- Note: please 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 (and please check out our other amazing new NLP/ML faculty listed below too). 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.
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.
We are ranked 5th in NLP in the last 3 years in US+Canada and 10th in the world on csrankings.
(note that overall department ranking of UNC on csrankings is not correct/reliable because a major impact and very strong area of medical image analysis (computer vision+bio) is not included; even though a similar analogous area of compbio/bioinformatics is included; see detailed discussion of inclusion criteria satisfaction + signatures from several top US universities on github here and here).
Our alumni are faculty in several top universities, e.g., Ramesh Raskar (MIT), Marc Levoy (Stanford), Greg Turk (GaTech), Theodore Kim (UCSB), Benjamin Lok (UFlorida), Vicente Ordonez (UVirginia), Stephen J. Guy (UMinnesota), Gopi Meenakshisundaram (UC Irvine), Rahul Narain (UMinnesota, IITD);
And top positions in several industry/research labs/startups, e.g., John Crawford (Intel Fellow), Mike Capps (President of Epic Games), Matt Cutts (Distinguished Engineer at Google), Steve Molnar (Distinguished Engineer at Nvidia), Chunk Robbins (CEO of Cisco), Mark Mine (Director of Platform Innovation at Walt Disney Studios), Julia Grace (Senior Director at Slack), Lawrence Kesteloot (Founder of HeadCode), Danette Allen (Deputy Lead of Autonomous Systems at NASA), Aaron Fulkerson (CEO/Founder of MindTouch), Aaron Houghton (CEO of BoostSuite).
See details at link1 and link2.
-- UNC has some of the top groups in several AI/ML related areas, e.g., NLP/ML/AI/Vision/Robotics/DataScience/ARVR/Graphics/IoT/HCI/Bioinformatics faculty (e.g., Snigdha Chaturvedi, Colin Raffel, Shashank Srivastava, Junier Oliva, Ron Alterovitz, JM Frahm, Marc Niethammer, Alex/Tamara Berg, Quoc Tran-Dinh, Stan Ahalt, Jan Prins, Jaime Arguello, Henry Fuchs, Shahriar Nirjon, Leonard McMillan), with strong growth plans in NLP, 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.
-- 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.
-- The CS department at UNC highly encourages diversity and has numerous clubs and organizations to support this, e.g., Blacks in Technology, Girls Who Code, Pearl Hacks, UG/Grad Women in CS, Enabling Technology, Technology Without Borders (see CS Clubs List)! The university as a whole has various large diversity initiatives and support centers, e.g., Graduate Student Diversity success program and the Diversity And Inclusion Office. 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).
-- Livability rankings of Chapel Hill and the Raleigh-Durham research triangle region: #13 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), #2 in Most Educated Places (Forbes), #8 in Best Cities for Jobs.
-- 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 30 mins away).
-- Good weather.
-- Affordable cost-of-living.
More info on the department's Why-UNC page.