Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Kayo Yin, I am French with Japanese and Chinese heritage. I double-majored in Mathematics and Computer Science at the Bachelor of Science of l’X. Currently I’m pursuing my Master’s in Language Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. There, I’m also working as a research assistant in NeuLab.
Could you please tell us more about what you’re currently studying?
My Master’s program is research-focused, meaning we’re performing research rather than coursework most of our time, it is very much like the first years of a PhD. The field of my research is called Natural Language Processing (NLP), which is at the intersection of artificial intelligence and linguistics. To put it simply, we study how to make computers able to understand and interact with human languages.
Since we all essentially communicate with language, I think NLP is very important to bring technology to its full potential and benefit as many people it can.
More specifically, I’m currently researching context-aware machine translation of human dialogue with my advisor, Graham Neubig. Our aim is to create a machine translation system that can help make speakers of different languages mutually intelligible, and have a conversation together. It’s very challenging and fun, since conversational text often don’t say things explicitly if they can be inferred from the context, while current translation models are not very good at handling context.
My department, the Language Technologies Institute (LTI), is one of the first, largest and best-known institute for my field. It is part of the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, which has been consistently ranked as the top school in computer science in the world. It is definitely very rewarding, inspiring and deeply humbling to be surrounded by so many brilliant professors and students here!
What made you choose your current university/program?
I hesitated a lot with two other offers I had from Stanford and Berkeley. In the end, what made me choose CMU was the exceptional opportunities for research my program offers. The environment here is very unique: we have an entire department dedicated to language technologies, with 33 faculty who are all experts and leaders in their respective research areas that cover all aspects of NLP. I am very fortunate to work with and learn from researchers who are pushing the limits, expanding the possibilities and defining the future of language technologies.
What skills/knowledge gained during the Bachelor of Science have you been using in your current program?
I think the most important skill I gained during the Bachelor is resilience. The Bachelor of Science is very demanding and intense, it was the first time in my life I worked so hard. It taught me that I can often accomplish more than I thought I could, and even when results didn’t meet expectations, as long as I stay motivated to make the best out of the way things turned out, it can lead to an unexpected success and a valuable lesson. I was drawn to my current research topic not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Also, my Bachelor’s thesis opened doors beyond my expectations. Besides the experience itself that really taught me how to conduct research and share my findings, I benefitted a lot from the exposure my work has received. My thesis won the Global Undergraduate Awards in Computer Science, which allowed me to join a network of talented scholars across various disciplines and gain the attention of several potential employers.
I published papers at two prestigious conferences, where I got to connect with top researchers in computer vision and NLP. Recently, I even submitted a paper that continues the work from my thesis with a researcher I met at a conference!
When you entered the Bachelor of Science, did you already know what you wanted to do after the program?
I had no idea what I wanted to do after my Bachelor’s, and I would never have imagined to be where I am now! When starting the Bachelor of Science, I planned to double-major in Math and Physics, then study astrophysics and unlock the mysteries of the universe. In the end, I had too much fun programming during my first year, and became drawn to how computers and languages also work in very mysterious and beautiful ways.
What memories do you have of your time spent at l'X and in the Bachelor program?
Lately, due to the global pandemic I haven’t been able to play music with others, and I fondly reminiscence my time with the orchestra, choir and brass band of l’X. I am grateful to have met so many amazing like-minded individuals at l’X through music, with whom I share wonderful memories of performing classical masterpieces, singing at extravagant places like the Opéra Garnier, and explaining to campus security why our band was blasting a brass arrangement of the school anthem at 2am!
What are your ambitions for the future?
Short-term, I intend to apply for a PhD in NLP next year. My current Master’s program taught me how happy I am when doing research, and also how much I still have yet to learn. I think that a PhD will give me great life experience in dedicating myself to an unanswered research question and push the limits of my rigor and creativity, as well as widen my capabilities and opportunities for my future.
Long-term, my ambition is to widen access to technology by making interacting with computers as easy as talking in your native language for everyone, and break down language barriers between people. I am very lucky to have grown up in an international environment and connected with various cultures during my travels by speaking 5 languages. It led me to believe that by improving communication across different communities, by understanding diverse cultures’ experiences and perspectives, the world can be a more compassionate place.
Any advice to current Bachelor students when deciding about the pursuit of their studies?
Life is often full of wonderful surprises, so keep an open mind and look out for what gives you purpose!