News featuring Chris North

Focus on Alex Endert…..a DAC alumnus interview

Alex Endert, DAC Ph.D. alum, and an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech

While a student at DAC, Alex Endert (Ph.D. computer science 2012) worked with his advisor Chris North on a user interaction technique for visual analytics (semantic interaction) that helped adjust analytic models by computing on simple, well-understood interactions. For example, by highlighting a phrase of text or grouping a pile of documents adjusts underlying algorithms they can help people without data science training make sense of large amounts of text quickly. This line of research ultimately led to Endert’s dissertation, and grounds much of his research today.

Since 2014, Endert has served as assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. He is a recent recipient of two major awards, the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award and a $2.7 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Data-Driven Discovery of Models (D3M) program to develop new techniques to make machine learning in data science more accessible to non-data scientists.

In an interview, Endert shared some thoughts about his experiences at DAC, the best part of his job, and a few personal snippets. 

 

How did you wind up at DAC?  

Honestly, I was browsing the lab websites, saw Dr. Chris North’s site, and saw it had a massive, 50-monitor large display. I thought working on such technology would be awesome. Interestingly enough, my dissertation ended up having less to do with large displays, but I recall that being one of the reasons I was initially interested in Virginia Tech and DAC. So, I went up to Blacksburg and chatted with Chris.

So your advisor had a lot to do with your decision?

Yes, meeting Chris ultimately led to my decision. The advice I got from many colleagues and current students is that having a similar style of research as your advisor is important, and in the short time meeting Chris, I got that sense.

You worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories for two years before joining Georgia Tech.  What brought you back to academia?

It was a wonderful experience. I was able to perform applied research, work with really great people, and learn a lot from many of them. But I missed working with students and that is what led me back to academia. Mentoring Ph.D. students, and helping them achieve their career goals is what I like best about my job. As a DAC student I learned many skills about how to be an effective advisor. Thanks Chris!

How else did your experience as a Ph.D. student influence you?

I often reflect on my time at Virginia Tech and DAC. Beyond the advising skills I already mentioned, research accomplishments, and graduating successfully, I recall many experiences that helped shape my research interests. For example, the multi-disciplinary nature of the Discovery Analytics Center connected me with colleagues outside of my immediate area of research and illuminate challenges at the intersection of HCI, visual analytics, and data science. Those challenges are becoming more important as our culture becomes more data-driven.

Any advice for current DAC students?

Take advantage of having students and professors nearby who are not directly in your area of research. Chat with them over coffee about your work, and listen to their feedback. When you graduate, it is likely that you will be communicating or selling your research to people who are in nearby — but not identical — fields.

What is the most important thing you learned at DAC?

While impactful research is challenging, it can also be fun!

Speaking of fun, any interests/hobbies?

I have grown to enjoy hobbies that get me away from technology, such as camping, fishing, golf, hiking, etc. My most recent experience was going ice fishing for the first time. That was great, but perhaps a little too cold for my liking.

What is the one thing you would like people to know about you?

I still pull for Virginia Tech football. Let’s Go, HOKIES!


DAC Alumna Jessica Self raising diversity awareness

selfJessica Zeitz Self, DAC Ph.D. alumna who was was advised by Dr. Chris North, professor of Virginia Tech – Computer Science and associate director of DAC, discusses her experiences at Virginia Tech that allowed her to help decrease the gender gap of women in the field of computer science.

Self became a champion for diversity through efforts such as Women in Computing Day, an event that brings seventh-grade girls to Virginia Tech to learn about computer science in nontraditional ways. Click here to read more about Self’s work.


DAC collaborating with General Dynamics Mission Systems

Discovery Analytics Center

Computer science professor Chris North, left, with Ph.D. student, Caleb Reach at DAC’s InfoVis Lab in Torgersen Hall.

DAC is collaborating with General Dynamics Mission Systems on an exciting venture that will help intelligence analysts find important information more quickly.  Chris North, associate director of DAC and professor of computer science, is leading the collaboration from the university side. North’s research group is developing a “smart” software that uses a visual interface and machine learning algorithms to allow the analyst’s interactions with the data to guide future searches. To read more about the partnership click here.


DAC Associate Director Chris North Awarded a Grant from Microsoft

Discovery Analytics Center

Chris North with DAC Ph.D. students from the InfoVis Lab.

DAC associate director, Chris North, along with other Virginia Tech researchers led by Joseph Gabbard, associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, received a grant from Microsoft for the amount of $100,000.  The grant will be used to explore the potential uses of its HoloLens devices for advancing research in the area of mixed reality and the possibilities of holographic computing. The team of researchers includes faculty from theInstitute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the Center for Human-Computer Interaction.  To read more about this grant click here.


Kurt Luther and Chris North awarded NSF Grant

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Kurt Luther (left), Chris North (right)

Chris North, professor of computer science and associate director of DAC, and Kurt Luther, assistant professor of computer science were awarded a $500,000 grant from NSF over three years from its cyber-human system program area.  The grant focuses on using crowdsourcing to help analyze big data and solve problems. Crowdsourcing, in this sense, means soliciting contributions of data from a large group of people, most of whom are online users. To read more about Kurt and Chris’s project click here.