Postdoc Spotlight: Dr. Varada Kolhatkar

May 07, 2018

Dr. Varada Kolhatkar was born and raised in Pune, India, where she completed her undergraduate degree in computer science. Dr. Kolhatkar came to SFU as a post-doctoral fellow in September of 2016 with a keen interest in furthering her understanding of linguistics. She will be working with Dr. Maite Taboada on sentiment analysis and opinion mining. We've asked Dr. Kolhatkar some questions about her interest in linguistics.

What first drew you to Linguistics?

We use web searches (e.g. Google search), translation systems (e.g. Google Translate), and voice recognition systems (e.g. Siri) on a daily basis. The basic way to interact with these technologies is with language, but language is ambiguous. In order to provide the correct information, these systems first need to understand what humans are saying or writing. For example, if you ask Google, "Who is Panini?", it needs to understand that the question is about the ancient Sanskrit linguist and not the panini sandwich. In the latter case the question word "what" would have been used instead of "who". I am a computational linguist, which means that I help computers understand human language. I believe that linguistics can be useful to reason out the predictions of computational systems, which has drawn me to linguistics. 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a city called Pune in India. Pune is a cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra in India and is known as "Oxford of the East" due to the presence of several well-known educational institutions in the city. An interesting aspect of this city is that although it is a hub for information and technology and engineering, you can still find traditional schools and families following rituals and traditions hundreds of years old and which are untouched by the western culture and technological advances.  

If you were given a one semester paid vacation, how would you spend the time?

Interesting question! One of my career goals is making computational linguistics accessible to other disciplines and to the people who do not have easy access to learning it. Accordingly, I would love to spend my time in the following activities: 

  1. I would like to organize a summer school in computational linguistics in countries like Nepal, India, or Africa.
  2. I would also like to spend time with people from healthcare or legal profession to understand the best ways to incorporate computational linguistics in their profession or teaching them a bit of programming and introduce them to computational linguistics.
  3. If there is any time left, I would like to spend it on self-exploration and would love to go to a meditation retreat.


If you would like to learn more about Dr. Varada Kolhatkar, you can visit her website here.