UC student aims to improve computers’ understanding of language

Engineer of the Month finds passion for communication through AI research and student leadership

Akshata Upadhye came to the University of Cincinnati to work on a master’s of engineering degree in computer science, but she shifted to the master’s of science path when she discovered an interest in research in artificial intelligence. Upadhye has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from University of Pune in India. She was named Graduate Student Engineer of the Month by UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Why did you choose UC?

I was very much impressed by the fact that the University of Cincinnati ranks among the top public research universities in the U.S. and is also referred to as one of the world’s most beautiful campuses by Forbes Magazine. How rare is the combination of a top-ranked research institution and the world's most beautiful campus?!

Moreover, the research going on under the Intelligent Systems research groups was the best match for my research interests. And that is when I decided to become a Bearcat.

Some of the other reasons include the co-op program and the campus’ urban setting.

Why did you choose your field of study?

I got into machine learning during my undergraduate degree. I was looking for an interesting subject for my research work and read about machine learning.

I realized that machine learning is all about solving problems with data, math and computers, and that it’s used in artificial intelligence to mimic human intelligence. Since then, it has been an intense passion for me. This passion became deeper during my time at UC.

Describe your research work. What problems do you hope to solve?

Akshata Upadhye headshot

Akshata Upadhye. Photo/provided.

I have always been intrigued by the idea that it would be so nice if computers could understand our language just as any other human would. Enabling the computers to understand the intent of human linguistics has been a challenge in the field of artificial intelligence.

I work on developing novel machine learning algorithms under the guidance of Dr. Raj Bhatnagar, to help computers interpret the context of human language more accurately. Through machine learning, the process of natural language understanding can be automated for computers, thus eliminating the required human intervention. Such algorithms have a broad range of applications in systems like the smart assistants, chatbots, sentiment analysis, social media monitoring and many more. In my research work I utilize natural language processing techniques for processing unstructured texts, which is derived from the field of computational linguistics.

Through my research, I want to help develop conversational AI systems that help people communicate with computers effortlessly, as if they are communicating with family and friends.

What internships and work experience have added to your education?

In the summer of 2021, I got an opportunity to work on an amazing team at a Cincinnati-based ecommerce company. As a data science and analytics intern, I worked on real-world data projects. Through this internship I got a chance to explore the typical data science workflow from data collection and preprocessing through creating final analytics solutions and understanding how business problems are solved with the help of data.

I have also worked as a graduate assistant (full stack web developer) for the IT department at the Graduate School at UC where I worked on web development projects for the graduate school.

I have also worked as a teaching assistant for the courses Artificial Intelligence: Principles and Applications, Intelligent Data Analysis, and Cloud Computing in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science where I got a chance to mentor the students.

How did your student government impact you?

At the University of Cincinnati, I have always been involved in the student organizations and I have represented the graduate students in various leadership positions. I was elected by the graduate student body at CEAS to serve as the committee chair for the Graduate Student Association Executive Board for the College of Engineering and Applied Science. In my role as chair, I worked closely with the committee members and the Dean’s office to make the college administration aware of issues faced by our graduate students. During the COVID-19 pandemic I hosted a town hall meeting to help students connect with the deans and faculty about their concerns.

I am glad that I was able to help the graduate students in their professional development, wellness and collaboration especially when the COVID pandemic impacted the student’s lives.

What are your future goals?

After completing my degree, I hope to be a part of an organization where I can utilize my research and skills to create a positive impact on the world. As I have learned during my time at UC, I will certainly continue to take risks and venture ahead of my comfort zone to learn new things, as there are a multitude of possibilities in the world!