NSF Announces 2020 Graduate Research Fellows

April 13, 2020

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced recipients of its Graduate Research Fellowship, including three students from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS): Alex James Boyd, Derenik Haghverdian and Lucy Pei.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines across the United States. Support comes in the form of a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, as well as $12,000 paid directly to the university to cover tuition and fees. The GRFP has a history of selecting recipients who go on to achieve high levels of success, and these three ICS recipients show great potential.

Alex James Boyd is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Statistics whose research focuses on the intersection of machine learning and statistics in deep probabilistic models. “My overarching focus is on improving these methods for sequential data,” he says. “More recently, my efforts have centered around developing novel ways of personalizing predictions for sequences generated by different users (such as messages in a conversation or purchase history) and better deep probabilistic modeling techniques for sparse event data.” Boyd is grateful for the fellowship and the reliable source of funding it provides. “Because of this fellowship, I am largely free to steer my own research goals toward making the biggest impact, both within and outside of research communities.” He plans to pursue a research-focused industry job after obtaining his Ph.D.

Derenik Haghverdian is also a statistics Ph.D. student. His research focuses on developing efficient and scalable methodologies to tackle computational challenges encountered in Bayesian statistics — more specifically, in Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) and its variants. “Scalable HMC algorithms will significantly decrease the modeling time for big data problems by taking away the computational burden and will help create more complex models that capture the true nature of the problems studied in multiple disciplines,” he explains, adding that it is an honor to receive this fellowship. “It will significantly facilitate my path toward reaching my potentials, fulfilling my dreams, and being an impactful member of the scientific community.” Those dreams include pursuing a career in academia and becoming a professor of statistics. “This will give me the opportunity to mentor the next generation of graduate students,” he says, “and also participate in cutting-edge research that will have a significant impact on the society.”

Lucy Pei is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Informatics whose research involves technology interventions aimed at helping minoritized communities. “This research is based on fieldwork I did at a community literacy center serving resettled refugees and immigrants,” says Pei, who was humbled to learn she had received the fellowship. “The application I was able to put together was the product of a great deal of mentorship and investment from family members, friends and professors who have believed in me and my work and have encouraged me to pursue my evolving definitions of scholarship that matters.” She says that the funding will allow her to perform richer fieldwork and more outreach activities. She is also working with her adviser Roderic Crooks, fellow graduate student Bono Olgado, and a team of undergraduate researchers to understand how and why community organizations are engaging with data in their advocacy. “My future research will involve critically analyzing how people who carry out projects under the banner of ‘tech for social good’ or ‘tech for development’ understand their work.” She aspires to continue this work through a career in academia.

Shani Murray