In the realm of cutting-edge research and academic excellence, the journey of a remarkable scholar often remains veiled, showcasing only the tip of the iceberg that is their tireless dedication, perseverance, and intellectual ingenuity.
In this exclusive interview, we have the privilege to delve into the extraordinary academic journey of Dr. Mohiuddin Muhammad Tasnim, an accomplished researcher in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Dr. Tasnim, currently a researcher at Huawei Research Singapore, attained his Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. His outstanding contributions to the field of Neural Machine Translation, especially for low-resource languages, earned him the prestigious “Outstanding PhD Thesis RunnerUp Award – 2023 ” from the School of Computer Science and Engineering (SCSE) at NTU.
In the following conversation, we explore Dr. Tasnim’s transformative research journey, focusing on the intricacies of thesis writing, editing, proofreading, and the crucial role of visual elements within a thesis. We also delve into the accessibility of his groundbreaking research and the avenues through which the academic community and enthusiasts can access and engage with his work.
This interview provides a rare glimpse into the meticulous processes, challenges, and insights that shape groundbreaking research, hoping to inspire aspiring researchers and foster a deeper understanding of the academic landscape.
Personal and Academic Journey of Dr. Mohiuddin Muhammad Tasnim
- Hi Dr. Tasnim, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Let’s start with something light-hearted. Can you share a little about what sparked your interest in Natural Language Processing and how you ventured into this fascinating field?
>> Thank you for having me. My interest in Natural Language Processing (NLP) stemmed from a fascination with the complexities of human language and the potential for technology to bridge linguistic gaps. During my undergraduate studies, I was quite enthusiastic about Machine learning (ML). At that time, I did not have any exposure to NLP. Before starting my PhD studies, I collaborated with my PhD supervisor Professor Shafiq Joty for around a year. At that time, I found the challenge of enabling machines to understand and process human language incredibly intriguing. This curiosity led me to delve deeper into the field, where the potential for real-world applications and the constant evolution of NLP technologies captivated my interest.
- Before we dive into the academic specifics, let’s get to know you a bit better outside of research. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not immersed in the world of algorithms and data? Any hobbies or interests that keep you refreshed?
>>Certainly. Outside the realm of research, I find solace and rejuvenation in activities that provide a balance to the intensity of academic pursuits. I am an avid reader, often exploring literature beyond the confines of technical texts. Literature offers a unique perspective and contributes to my creative thinking. Additionally, I love travelling and hiking. I have a bucket list of places to explore during my lifetime. I also have a keen interest in playing table tennis. Engaging in these activities allows me to recharge and approach my research with a renewed perspective.
Thesis Topic and Research Challenges
- Could you share some insights into the challenges you faced during the research phase of your thesis, particularly concerning low-resource languages?
>> Before delving into the challenges, I would like to share my motivation behind choosing to work on low-resource Machine Translation (MT). Globally, there exist over seven thousand living languages, with the majority falling into the category of low-resource languages, despite being utilized by a significant portion of the world’s population. Consequently, advancements in low-resource MT stand to yield a substantial impact. Furthermore, low-resource MT is a good use case application for several long-standing Machine Learning (ML) problems like aligning domains, learning with less supervision, etc.
State-of-the-art Neural MT (NMT) systems have billions of parameters, and their performances are quite impressive. However, inherent limitations persist within these NMT systems. Notably, these models are data-hungry, excelling primarily when exposed to vast amounts of parallel training data, while demonstrating subpar performance when data is scarce. Except for some mainstream languages, e.g., English, French, or Chinese, most natural languages are categorized as low-resourced, lacking substantial parallel data. Moreover, acquiring large parallel corpora is not viable in most scenarios.
Working on Neural Machine Translation for low-resource languages posed a unique set of challenges. One of the primary difficulties was the aforementioned scarcity of parallel data for these languages, hindering the training of effective translation models. Additionally, addressing the linguistic diversity inherent in low-resource languages required innovative approaches to handle variations in syntax, morphology, and vocabulary.
Thesis Writing, Editing, and Proofreading
- Can you shed some light on the rigorous editing and proofreading process that your thesis went through? How important was this phase in ensuring the quality of your work?
>> The editing and proofreading phase of my thesis was a meticulous and crucial endeavor. Ensuring the quality and coherence of the written content is paramount in academic research, as it directly contributes to the clarity and comprehensibility of the findings.
The process involved multiple stages. Initially, I conducted a thorough self-review, addressing issues related to clarity, structure, and consistency. Following this, I sought feedback from my supervisor, valuing his insights into the technical aspects as well as the overall flow of the thesis. This collaborative feedback loop played a pivotal role in refining the narrative and ensuring that the content resonated effectively with a diverse audience.
Moreover, I scrutinize the final thesis for grammatical accuracy, language precision, and adherence to academic conventions. This was instrumental in identifying and rectifying potential linguistic ambiguities or errors that could compromise the integrity of the research.
The attention to detail during the editing and proofreading phase was not merely a formality but a commitment to upholding the standards of academic excellence. A well-edited thesis not only reflects the researcher’s dedication to precision but also facilitates broader accessibility and comprehension for the academic community and beyond.
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- What strategies did you employ to manage and organize your research materials, data, and references during the thesis writing process?
>> Managing research materials, data, and references is a critical aspect of the thesis writing process. To streamline this, I adopted a systematic and organized approach.
Firstly, I utilized reference management software to catalog and organize my references efficiently. This not only facilitated seamless citation within the document but also allowed for easy tracking of sources and their relevance to different sections of the thesis.
For research materials and data, I implemented a meticulous folder structure on my computer, categorizing documents based on themes, experiments, and stages of the research process. This systematic arrangement ensured that I could swiftly locate and refer to specific materials during the writing phase.
Additionally, version control played a crucial role in managing the evolution of my work. Utilizing platforms like Git enabled me to track changes, collaborate with co-authors, and maintain a coherent history of the thesis at various stages. This versioning system proved invaluable in safeguarding against inadvertent errors and ensuring a transparent record of the research progression.
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- Throughout the thesis writing journey, how did you handle moments of writer’s block or challenges in articulating complex ideas and concepts?
>> Facing moments of writer’s block or challenges in articulating complex ideas and concepts is a common experience in the thesis writing journey. To navigate through these obstacles, I employed several strategies.
Firstly, when encountering writer’s block, I found it beneficial to take short breaks. Stepping away from the work for a brief period allowed me to clear my mind and return with a fresh perspective. Engaging in activities unrelated to the thesis, whether it be a walk, run, play, a change of scenery, or a brief diversion to a different topic, helped rejuvenate my creativity.
Additionally, seeking feedback from peers and mentors proved invaluable. Discussing ideas and concepts with others not only provided alternative viewpoints but also helped in clarifying my own thoughts. Constructive criticism and suggestions from colleagues often sparked new ideas and solutions to overcome challenges in articulation.
Moreover, breaking down complex ideas into smaller, more manageable components facilitated a more systematic and coherent presentation. This approach not only simplified the writing process but also enhanced the overall clarity of the thesis.
- Peer reviews and feedback are crucial in the academic world. How did you utilize feedback from peers, advisors, or colleagues to enhance the quality and clarity of your thesis?
>> Peer reviews and feedback played a pivotal role in refining the quality and clarity of my thesis. I approached this aspect with a collaborative mindset, recognizing the value of diverse perspectives in elevating the overall standard of my work.
Firstly, I established a feedback loop with my supervisor at various stages of the thesis writing process. This involved sharing drafts of my work and actively seeking constructive criticism on the clarity of ideas, the coherence of arguments, and the overall structure of the document. Engaging in open discussions allowed me to identify potential areas of improvement and ensured that my research resonated effectively with a broader audience.
Additionally, I actively sought feedback from colleagues with expertise in related fields. This approach not only enriched the content of my thesis but also broadened its relevance and appeal. Collaborating with individuals from diverse backgrounds brought valuable insights and contributed to the robustness of my thesis.
Furthermore, I utilized feedback to iteratively refine my writing style. Understanding how my work was perceived by others allowed me to address potential ambiguities and present complex ideas in a more accessible manner. This iterative process, guided by constructive feedback, significantly enhanced the overall quality and clarity of my thesis.
- Were there specific tools or software that you found particularly helpful in managing the writing, editing, and revision processes of your thesis?
>> Yes, indeed. The management of the writing, editing, and revision processes of my thesis was significantly facilitated by the strategic use of specific tools and software.
For organizing references and citations, I relied on reference management software, with Zotero and EndNote being particularly useful. These tools streamlined the citation process, ensuring accuracy and consistency throughout the document. They also allowed for efficient collaboration by enabling the sharing of reference libraries with peers and mentors.
In terms of writing and drafting, I found LaTeX to be an invaluable typesetting system. LaTeX’s capabilities in handling complex mathematical equations and maintaining document structure were particularly advantageous in the context of my technical thesis. Its version control compatibility, when coupled with platforms like Git, also contributed to a more systematic and traceable writing process.
Collaborative writing and feedback were facilitated through platforms like Overleaf, which allowed real-time collaboration with colleagues and mentors.
During the revision phase, Grammarly served as a helpful proofreading tool, assisting in identifying grammatical errors and enhancing the overall language precision of the document.
The combination of these tools streamlined the writing and revision processes, allowing me to focus more on the content and coherence of my thesis.
- Did you have a specific writing routine or ritual that helped you stay focused and productive during the thesis writing period? How did you manage your time effectively?
>> Establishing a disciplined writing routine was essential for maintaining focus and productivity during the thesis writing period. I adhered to a structured approach that helped me manage my time effectively.
Firstly, I established dedicated writing blocks in my daily schedule. Creating a routine where specific times were allocated solely for writing allowed me to cultivate a focused and uninterrupted mindset. This routine was complemented by setting realistic and achievable writing goals for each session, breaking down the overall task into manageable milestones.
Additionally, I adopted the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method involving short, focused work intervals followed by brief breaks. This technique proved effective in sustaining concentration and preventing burnout during extended writing sessions.
To enhance productivity, I identified and capitalized on my most productive periods during the day. Aligning demanding writing tasks with these peak periods ensured that I tackled complex concepts when my cognitive abilities were at their best.
Furthermore, maintaining a conducive writing environment was crucial. Minimizing distractions, whether they be digital or environmental, helped create an atmosphere conducive to deep work and sustained focus.
Balancing writing sessions with periodic reviews and revisions also played a role in refining the document gradually, preventing the accumulation of overwhelming editing tasks towards the end of the writing process.
- Collaboration with your thesis supervisor is key. Can you discuss the dynamics of this collaboration during the thesis writing process and how it influenced the final outcome?
>> Collaboration with my thesis supervisor indeed played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory and quality of my thesis. The dynamics of this collaboration were characterized by open communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to academic excellence.
From the initial stages of my research, regular meetings with my supervisor were scheduled to discuss the progress, challenges, and potential avenues for exploration. These discussions not only provided valuable guidance but also allowed for a continuous exchange of ideas. The feedback received during these meetings served as a compass, directing the focus of my research towards areas of significance and innovation.
Moreover, the collaborative nature of our interaction extended to the writing phase. Drafts of thesis chapters were shared and discussed, allowing for a thorough examination of the content and structure. This iterative feedback loop ensured that the narrative aligned with academic standards and effectively conveyed the essence of the research.
The collaborative dynamic was not limited to the academic realm. Personalized mentorship provided insights into the broader landscape of academia, including navigating conferences, engaging with the academic community, and understanding the publication process. This holistic approach fostered my development as a researcher beyond the confines of the thesis itself.
Importantly, the constructive criticism and encouragement from my supervisor instilled a sense of confidence and purpose, motivating me to strive for excellence in my work. The collaborative dynamic significantly influenced the final outcome of the thesis, elevating it to a level of academic rigour and clarity that I may not have achieved independently.
Visual Elements in Thesis
- How did you decide on the type and number of visual elements to include in your thesis? Were there any specific guidelines or standards you followed in designing and presenting graphs, charts, and images to maintain consistency and professionalism throughout the thesis?
>> The decision regarding the type and number of visual elements in my thesis was guided by a careful balance between enhancing comprehension and maintaining a focused, scholarly presentation. Each visual element was selected to elucidate complex concepts and provide clarity to the reader.
The types of visual elements included in the thesis were diverse, ranging from figures and charts to diagrams and tables.
The number of visual elements was determined by the principle of relevance. Each visual component served a specific purpose, whether it was to illustrate experimental results, demonstrate the architecture of a model, or present statistical analyses. It was imperative to avoid unnecessary visual clutter and ensure that each element contributed meaningfully to the narrative.
Additionally, I sought feedback from peers and supervisor during the drafting phase to gauge the effectiveness of the visual elements. This iterative process allowed for refinement, ensuring that the visuals enhanced rather than detracted from the scholarly nature of the document.
- Could you share the tools or software you used to create and edit the graphs, charts, and images in your thesis? How did these tools contribute to the overall quality of the visuals?
>> For graphs and charts, I employed Python packages such as matplotlib, pandas, and seaborn. The versatility inherent in these tools facilitated the generation of an extensive spectrum of visualizations. These visual aids effectively illustrated experimental results, findings, and trends.
For model diagrams and other illustrations, I employed draw.io. This software is notably user-friendly and proficient in generating a wide range of diagrams, contributing to the diverse visual representation of concepts and models.
Thesis Length and Structure
- For researchers aiming to manage the structure and length of the thesis effectively, what strategies or tips would you suggest based on your own experience?
>> Managing the structure and length of a thesis effectively is a nuanced task that requires careful planning and consideration. Drawing from my own experience, I would offer the following strategies and tips for researchers undertaking this endeavor:
- Define Clear Objectives and Scope: Before delving into the writing process, clearly define the objectives and scope of your research. This foundational understanding will guide the structure of your thesis, ensuring that each section contributes meaningfully to the overarching goals.
- Create a Detailed Outline: Develop a comprehensive outline that delineates the major sections and subsections of your thesis. This serves as a roadmap, allowing you to organize your ideas coherently and anticipate the flow of the document.
- Establish a Logical Flow: Ensure a logical and cohesive flow of ideas throughout your thesis. Each section should build upon the previous ones, creating a narrative that is easy for readers to follow. Transition sentences and clear connections between concepts contribute to this coherence.
- Prioritize Conciseness: Strive for conciseness in your writing. While providing sufficient detail is crucial, unnecessary verbosity can detract from the clarity of your message. Be mindful of the balance between depth and brevity, aiming for clarity without unnecessary complexity.
- Regularly Review and Revise: Periodically review and revise your work as you progress. This iterative approach allows you to identify redundancies, streamline content, and refine the structure. Regular reviews also prevent the accumulation of extensive revisions towards the end of the writing process.
- Seek Feedback Early and Often: Share drafts of your thesis with peers, advisors, or colleagues early in the writing process. Feedback from others provides valuable insights into the structure, clarity, and overall impact of your work, enabling you to make informed adjustments.
- Stay Mindful of Word Limits: If your institution or program has specific word limits, be mindful of these constraints. Prioritize information that aligns with the core message of your thesis, and consider supplementary materials such as appendices for detailed but non-essential content.
- Use Visuals Strategically: Incorporate visual elements strategically to convey complex ideas succinctly. Visuals can enhance understanding and contribute to a more engaging presentation while potentially reducing the need for extensive textual explanation.
- Allocate Sufficient Time for Editing: Dedicate ample time to the editing phase of your thesis. Editing is not just about correcting errors; it involves refining the structure, language, and coherence of your document. A well-edited thesis significantly contributes to its overall quality.
- Maintain Consistency in Formatting: Ensure consistency in formatting throughout your thesis. Adhering to established guidelines for headings, citations, and references contributes to a polished and professional presentation.
By integrating these strategies, researchers can effectively manage the structure and length of their theses, creating documents that are not only comprehensive but also accessible to a diverse audience.
14. Lastly, are there any individuals you’d like to acknowledge for their support?
>> Definitely! I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Professor Shafiq Joty, my supervisor, for his invaluable guidance and support throughout my academic journey. I am deeply appreciative of Professor Philipp Koehn for serving as my mentor during the internship at Meta AI Research. My sincere thanks extend to my peers and colleagues at the NTU-NLP lab for their camaraderie and generous assistance during the tenure of my PhD.
Additionally, I wish to express profound appreciation to my family for their unwavering love and steadfast support, which have been instrumental in my endeavours. Their encouragement has been a constant source of strength and motivation.
Vijay : Dear Researchers, the captivating journey through Dr. Mohiuddin Muhammad Tasnim’s academic odyssey offers us a profound insight into the world of cutting-edge research and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in Natural Language Processing. As we draw the curtains on this exclusive interview, we are left with a vivid tapestry of dedication, intellectual brilliance, and a commitment to addressing challenges in Neural Machine Translation.
Dr. Tasnim’s accolades, including the “Outstanding PhD Thesis Runner-Up Award – 2023,” serve as a testament to his exceptional contributions to the field. The intricate details shared about thesis writing, editing, and the incorporation of visual elements provide a valuable roadmap for aspiring researchers navigating the complex terrain of academia.
Furthermore, the interview sheds light on the accessibility of Dr. Tasnim’s groundbreaking research, emphasizing the importance of fostering engagement within the academic community. As readers, we are invited to explore the avenues through which we can delve deeper into the world of NLP and contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding low-resource languages and Neural Machine Translation.
In unveiling the challenges and triumphs of Dr. Tasnim’s transformative research journey, this interview aspires to inspire the next generation of researchers and instill a deeper appreciation for the relentless pursuit of knowledge. May it serve as a beacon for those navigating the uncharted waters of academia and ignite a passion for pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of Natural Language Processing.
In summary, the interview with Dr. Mohiuddin Muhammad Tasnim provides a rare glimpse into the world of groundbreaking research in Natural Language Processing. As an accomplished researcher in Neural Machine Translation, particularly for low-resource languages, Dr. Tasnim’s journey, highlighted by the Outstanding PhD Thesis Runner-Up Award, reflects dedication, innovation, and a commitment to addressing challenges in the field. The interview not only offers insights into the intricacies of thesis writing but also emphasizes the importance of accessibility and community engagement in advancing academic discourse. Dr. Tasnim’s experiences serve as an inspiration for aspiring researchers, inviting them to navigate the complexities of academia with resilience and a passion for pushing the boundaries of knowledge in NLP.