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CMU Portugal Inside Story: Rui Correia

Rui Correia is a CMU Portugal program Alumnus in Language Technologies who graduated in 2018. He is a Natural Language Processing researcher with interest in applying Machine Learning to real-world problems. He was jointly advised by Maxine Eskenazi at Carnegie Mellon University and Nuno Mamede at IST, with a thesis entitled Automatic Classification of Metadiscourse.

Rui currently works as a Lead Machine Learning Engineer at DefinedCrowd, an intelligent data platform for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that offers efficient data workflows to collect, process and enrich training data by combining crowdsourcing, tools, and machine learning capabilities to accelerate enterprise machine learning training and modeling.

Rui’s self-proclaimed mission (and passion) is to bring together linguistics and technology.

 You are currently a Lead Machine Learning Engineer at DefinedCrowd, can you tell us more about the company and your position?

DefinedCrowd provides a human-in-the-loop platform for data collection and enrichment, which is called Neevo. Through Neevo, we build and enrich a community of contributors who are qualified to work on tasks that may involve text, audio or image, such as Named Entity Tagging, Speech Collections, or Object Detection. At the other end of Neevo, our clients, often other Machine Learning teams, gain access to this pool of contributors allowing them to establish continuous and complex flows of quality annotated data to train their AI solutions.
Our goal in the Machine Learning Team spans across several areas of the platform. From assuring and measuring the quality of the data that is delivered, to optimizing the annotation and generation pipelines, we work in a cycle of research and development to continuously improve the product and guarantee that our contributor’s effort is spent where it is most needed.

In 2018 you finished your PhD. In what ways do you think this PhD impacted your current career?

My PhD allowed me to become an expert in areas I had a real passion for, such as Crowdsourcing and Natural Language Processing. Having this expertise really helped me not to compromise when looking for my next career challenge. I got to apply to companies that were doing things that interested me, and today I get up every day and have the luxury of working in something that I love and that challenges me.

When you decided to pursue a PhD, why did you choose the CMU Portugal Program?

During my Master’s degree at Técnico, I was actually already working on a collaborative project with CMU, which was called REAP – a software for learning a second language through reading real-world articles. The coordinator of such project was Professor Maxine Eskenazi, who would then become my PhD advisor at CMU. This is to say that the decision for me was very natural. Things were going well during the Master’s and I was invited to apply to the program to continue and further develop the work I had already done.

How would you describe your experience, both at CMU and IST? 

Above all, it’s a privilege. The experience of pursuing your PhD in two different institutions, surrounded by two very distinct social and cultural surroundings was incredible. I was able to take relevant complementary courses from the Psychology department while doing my PhD in Language Technologies. How great is that? It was also overwhelming at times and extremely challenging, but in the end, it rewarded me with the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.

How do you intend to pursue your “self-proclaimed” mission of bringing together linguistics and technology?

For me, one of the most important things in my work is to have a keen sensitivity to the problem I am trying to solve, whether it involves natural languages or not. You may have solved something similar a hundred times before but take your time to understand the current context. What are the specifics and the details that are intrinsic to that problem? Can you take advantage of them to improve your solutions? What new questions can you raise? The bottom line is to know the domain you are working on and stay inquisitive and curious.

For other students that are thinking about doing a CMU Portugal Dual Degree PhD, what would your advice be?

Chose a topic that you love, work hard and master it. Get involved in your research community and take advantage of the fact that you will be exposed to great minds that can give their take on your subject. Other than that, just enjoy the ride. Make friends, go bowling, and get inspired. Go Penguins!