CSML holds its popular “Dinner with a Professor”

May 1, 2023

Amidst the whirl of yet another busy spring semester at Princeton University, students enrolled in the undergraduate certificate program at the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning Center (CSML) stepped out of the classroom last month for a special meal at Prospect House.

Between bites of salad and various entrees, students had the opportunity to connect with faculty in an informal setting as part of CSML’s “Dinner with a Professor” on April 11th. The special three-course event, typically held in the spring semester, encourages students to meet with peers enrolled in the certificate program and talk with professors about their research interests, projects and other topics. The event, last held in 2019, also fosters the data science and machine learning community on campus and builds connections between disciplines.

“I think it is great we get everybody together in their senior or junior year,” said Peter Ramadge, CSML director. “Many people in the program already know each other, but this is a great opportunity to hear what everybody is doing as part of the CSML undergraduate certificate program.”

“It’s a great event,” added Ryan Adams, computer science professor and director of the undergraduate certificate program. “It’s fun and a chance to get to know the students better and hear what they are up to and hear about their research interests in a more informal setting.”

Adams also took the time to reflect on the growth of the certificate program, which is now the second largest on campus with enrolled students drawn from more than 20 departments. Currently, there are over 255 undergraduate students, mostly seniors and juniors, enrolled in the program. CSML is on target to graduate 115 undergraduate certificate students this spring.

“What is wonderful about the program is that students are not just from computer science or engineering, but there are people from the humanities as well. It reflects well on Princeton’s liberal arts education,” said Adams.

Adams was at the dinner on the invitation of Alkin Kaz, a senior in the electrical and computer engineering department. His independent work for CSML deals with transformers, a type of machine learning model, and quantum computing. Kaz said he wanted to talk with Adams because Adams and his lab group have worked on a transformer model that can create computer-aided design sketches.

Sebastian Seung, Evnin Professor in Neuroscience and Professor of Computer Science and Neuroscience, said he enjoyed the dinner because it was a chance to relax and chat with students and not necessarily talk about schoolwork.

Alex Baroody, a senior computer science student, had invited Seung because he took one of his classes on neural networks, COS 485, and was impressed.

“I wanted to learn more about Professor Seung’s work and how he has interacted with the fields of machine learning and computer science throughout his career,” said Baroody. “And I think this event is awesome. It gives us the opportunity to talk outside the classroom with our professors and develop relationships with them and other students.”

Gabriel Vecchi, director of High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) and Professor of Geosciences and HMEI, had been invited to the dinner by two students, Charlotte Merchant, a junior, and Grace Liu, a senior. Both students are computer science majors and advisees of Vecchi.

“He’s a great advisor. He’s the best and so nice and supportive,” said Merchant.

Liu echoed Merchant’s praise: “He’s a really great advisor. I have been working with Professor Vecchi since I was a freshman and it’s nice to have a conversation about research and talk about other things outside of research,” said Liu.

Vecchi was touched by the students’ comments.

“This is the first time I have been to this dinner, and it’s been fantastic,” said Vecchi. “You can sit down and talk with students on topics that are not about their thesis or research and get to know them as people. We get to spend a lot of time together, but it’s structured around meetings on research. So, this event is very cool. I would not have missed it for anything.”

Aside from “Dinner with a Professor,” CSML also sponsors other student engagement initiatives throughout the year. CSML invites seniors to become CSML ambassadors, who speak on their undergraduate certificate experience at information sessions. Near the end of the semester, CSML holds “Barks, Bubbles and Brownies.” This study break session, scheduled for May 2nd, features sweet treats and therapy dogs for impromptu cuddle sessions. For further campus engagement, CSML sponsors the Princeton Data Science, a club for students interested in using data to understand the world.