Heroes of NLP: Kathleen McKeown | Summary and Q&A

October 13, 2020
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Heroes of NLP: Kathleen McKeown


Kathleen McKeown, a renowned NLP researcher, shares her story of how she became interested in computational linguistics and offers insights and advice for those looking to break into the field.

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Key Insights

  • 💦 McKeown's journey to becoming an NLP researcher highlights the importance of personal interest and enjoyment in one's work.
  • 🫠 Reading extensively and exploring different fields can lead to unexpected and exciting research opportunities.
  • 👨‍🔬 Overcoming imposter syndrome and seeking guidance from peers are essential steps in pursuing a career in NLP research.
  • 💦 Interdisciplinary work enables researchers to gain new perspectives and tackle complex problems in innovative ways.
  • 👨‍🔬 Choosing tasks and problems that have real-world applications and impact can drive meaningful research in natural language processing.
  • 💝 The online NLP community is a valuable resource for staying connected, learning from others, and keeping up with the latest developments in the field.
  • 🪡 Traditional metrics and benchmarks in NLP need to be reevaluated to ensure more accurate evaluation of models and systems.


  • Hi, I'm delighted to have with me here today, Kathleen McKeown, who is the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University, where she is also the Founding Director of the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. She is also an Amazon scholar and is well known for the work that she's done over many years on t... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Kathleen McKeown become interested in NLP research?

McKeown's interest in computational linguistics was sparked by a friend who introduced her to the field. She spent time reading extensively to learn about AI and natural language processing, which eventually led her to pursue graduate studies in NLP.

Q: How did McKeown overcome feelings of imposter syndrome when transitioning to a new field?

McKeown initially felt like an imposter when she started graduate school in a field different from her undergraduate major. However, over time she realized that her knowledge and input were valuable, and she gained confidence in her abilities.

Q: What advice does McKeown have for aspiring NLP researchers?

McKeown suggests reaching out to people and having conversations about their research interests. She also advises choosing unique problems and tasks to work on and staying connected with the NLP community through reading groups, online courses, and conferences.

Q: How does McKeown approach interdisciplinary work in her research?

McKeown values interdisciplinary work and draws inspiration from various fields such as linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. She believes that interdisciplinary collaboration offers different perspectives and enhances the research process.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Kathleen McKeown's journey to becoming an NLP researcher was unconventional, starting with a major in comparative literature and later discovering computational linguistics.

  • As a comparative literature major, McKeown delved into computational linguistics by reading extensively and delving into AI and natural language processing.

  • She emphasizes the importance of reaching out to others and discussing ideas, choosing tasks and problems that are distinct, and staying connected with the online NLP community.

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