Staff Spotlight on Maria Liakata
Maria Liakata, Professor in Natural Language Processing, recently joined Queen Mary School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science in April 2020. Read about why she chose a career in Computer Science, her career highlights and her dream dinner party guests.
Why did you choose to become a Computer Scientist?
I studied Mathematics as an undergraduate as I really enjoyed the subject at school. I came across Computer Science modules and programming during my undergraduate degree and was gripped. I later found out I could combine my passion for languages and Computer Science in a field called Natural Language Processing (NLP)- the field that uses computational methods to analyse human language to complete a number of tasks. I then did a masters and PhD in NLP and continue to work in NLP and NLP applications.
How long have you worked at Queen Mary and why did you choose to work here?
I started on April 1st 2020, so two months ago, during lockdown. Queen Mary has a vibrant academic community and there is great interest in my work on sensing through language. There are great colleagues with similar research interests to mine.
What are your research interests?
Methods in NLP that capture changes in language and heterogeneous user-generated content over time (longitudinal models for NLP), opinion mining and summarisation, cross-domain textual similarity and knowledge transfer, social and biomedical applications of NLP, rumour verification.
What’s the best thing about your job?
You never get bored, there is always a challenge, something new to learn and explore both in research and teaching. I also enjoy the flexibility in terms of what I can work on. There are many deadlines but this is a constant drive.
What is your greatest academic or non-academic achievement?
I am proud of my PhD work on automatically learning world knowledge from text in logical form. It would be good to place this work in the context of neural network embeddings. My work on combining language and user-generated content to assess mental well-being that has led to the Turing AI fellowship award and the Turing AI fellowships are also great achievements of mine.
What did it mean to you to receive the Turing AI fellowship award?
It was a dream come true! I can finally work solidly on a programme of research that I have been pursuing for a number of years through smaller projects.
What’s your favourite place on any of our campuses?
Unfortunately, I started my position at QMUL under lockdown so I haven’t visited the campus much yet. I look forward to going to the river canal at Mile End and the Queen’s building!
If you could tell a prospective student one thing about Queen Mary, what would it be?
QMUL provides a very friendly environment alongside great vision and ambition.
Do you have any unusual hobbies or pastimes outside of work?
Spending time with my family, walking in nature, Pilates. So nothing really unusual (I used to do Black & White photography and scuba diving at a different stage in my life. Often I feel that my work is also my hobby.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
This is a tricky question. Could this be a dinner party with people alive and dead? Would I invite them because they are entertaining or because I and others could learn from them? Given no restrictions, I would invite pioneering scientists who excelled at connecting different disciplines through Mathematics and Computer Science (such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace), authors like Albert Camus (who in their novels tackled the absurdity of the human condition) and my favourite modern-day standard comedians Eddie Izzard and James Acaster to translate the serious stuff through their comic genius.