Faculty Spotlight: CoRL accepts esteemed work of Asst. Prof Jayaraman

The international Conference on Robot Learning (CoRL) has accepted the renowned work of CIS and GRASP Lab Assistant Professor Dinesh Jayaraman.

According to their site, the “CoRL is a selective, single-track conference for robot learning research, covering a broad range of topics spanning robotics, ML and control, and including theory and applications.” With an acceptance rate of 34% this year, the conference was able to increase their intake slightly due to the fact that it’s taking place solely online. The call for 2020 submissions featured a variety of topics such as Imitation learning and (inverse) reinforcement learning, Bio-inspired learning and control and Multimodal perception, sensor fusion, and computer vision.

Jayaraman’s paper, titled Model-Based Inverse Reinforcement Learning from Visual Demonstrations, was co-authored by Neha Das, Sarah Bechtle, Todor Davchev, Dinesh Jayaraman, Akshara Rai and Franziska Meie. All accepted papers are also published in the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) Workshop & Conference Proceedings series.

The fourth annual CoRL 2020, whose previous hosting sites include Osaka, Japan, Zurich, Switzerland and Mountain View, USA, will be held virtually from November 16 – 18.

Research and Resources: A Peak at CIS Highlights

The CIS Highlights site is one of the department’s many digital platforms that centers prominent research from students and faculty, as well as other interdisciplinary programs and centers affiliated with CIS. Featured research areas include projects in the fields of Computational Biology and Biomedical Informatics, Natural Language Processing, and Formal Methods and Logic. And of course, highlights — featuring important department blurbs and updates from CIS’ own chair, Zachary Ives.

*** Visit the CIS Highlights site here for more. ***

C.I.S. Strong: Meet Edo Roth

What research/ projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on research in the field of privacy-preserving data analytics with my advisor Andreas Haeberlen and a group of other great collaborators at Penn CIS. We’re working mostly on how to design systems for massive-scale distributed data analysis while guaranteeing differential privacy. It’s a nice mix of applied cryptography and distributed systems thinking, which has been really enjoyable for me. I’m currently thinking of how to expand some of our work to graph analytics, which introduce a host of other challenges, but also bring in a lot of possible applications (even potentially in understanding aggregate statistics during the pandemic).


What has been keeping you grounded and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The most important quarantine hobby I have is exercise – I mostly work out in my apartment, but I’ve also recently started playing tennis again (a naturally physically-distanced sport!) I have also been trying to stay on a constant reading schedule outside of research, with a healthy mix of baking every once in a while.


What future research/ projects are you excited about?

I’m excited to continue my research on privacy-preserving technologies, because I believe they have so much potential to unlock additional sources of sensitive data, and also because they can give a chance for people to have meaningful consent and control over the data they choose to contribute for aggregate analytic purposes. In the long-term, I’m passionate about all sorts of public interest technology, particularly those that can help protect privacy rights, decrease inequality, and strengthen democracy.


Favorite culture intakes right now.

I’m a huge fan of the Ezra Klein podcast – he’s a great systems-level thinker and brings on so many incredible guests from a wide variety of fields. A good chunk of the podcast is about politics, but regardless of your interests, I guarantee you can find an episode in the catalog which will leave you thinking about the world in a new way. I’ve been listening to a lot of different music, but one artist I’ll highlight is Jazmine Sullivan, because her voice makes me feel things!

Up Next: Penn’s Climate Week

Now more than ever it is critically important for us to address the impending and drastic changes occuring in our global climate: science and our own corporeal experiences demand it. Next week, Monday, September 21 marks the beginning of Penn’s Climate Week, and it could not be more timely.

Each day of the week (09/21 – 09/25) will center a different theme, including Monday’s focus on Africa and Climate Change. While a plethora of events will be hosted throughout the University, SEAS has its own special lineup, featuring CIS’s own Benjamin Pierce as a speaker for Wednesday’s carbon offset webinar.

***Click HERE for the full schedule of events***

CIS Distinguished Lecture Series Presents: Adam Finkelstein

Adam Finkelstein, Professor, Computer Science Department, Princeton University

The CIS Colloquium series is proud to feature the Distinguished Lecturer for Fall 2020, Princeton University’s own Adam Finkelstein.

As a Computer Science professor at Princeton, Adam’s research focuses on the “art of science,” comprising audio, photo and video manipulation. Much like the title suggests, his lecture with CIS will focus specifically on “Recovering, manipulating and enhancing recorded speech (1905-2020).” Projects up for discussion and survey include the process of retrieving audio recorded onto a postcard over a century ago, as well as a method designed to make real-world recorded speech sound as if it was recorded in a studio!

***The seminar will take place on Tuesday, September 15th, 3PM-4PM. Click HERE for more info.

MCIT Admissions Webinar: Alumni Spotlight on Women in Tech

Penn Engineering Online Learning is offering up a special admissions webinar for its upcoming installment, featuring MCIT alumnae impacting the tech industry. Hosted by PE’s Associate Director of Professional Development and Networking, Emily Parry, the webinar will cover topics such as how to seek out community and mentorship, advice for women considering a career switch into CS, important resources to be aware of, networking tips, and more.

***The event will take place via Zoom on September 16, at 2PM. Click HERE to register.***

C.I.S. Strong: Meet Tony Kipkemboi

Tony Kipkemboi (Image: courtesy of Tony Kipkemboi)

Although this current semester is Tony’s first with UPenn and the CIS community, the active duty U.S. Army Sergeant has been excited, preparing and active. When he’s not working at a  military Infectious Diseases Research laboratory as a Biological Research Assistant, you can find him practicing his python coding skills in preparation for his MCIT Online program.

Read more about Tony’s time with his wife and baby son, and his love of photography, below!


What research/ projects are you currently working on?

I am currently on active duty in the U.S. Army and working at a military Infectious Diseases Research laboratory as a Biological Research Assistant. We have been working on SARS-COVID research lately hoping to find a vaccine for the ongoing pandemic.


What has been keeping you grounded and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Other than work, I have been working on my onboarding class for my Master’s program MCIT online and taking family (wife and 15 months old son) on trips to ‘usually’ crowded destinations in DC. Best time to be out there is when there’s less people out and about. I have also been working to improve my python coding skills before classes start. I like running and I have been working out consistently: blissful. I have also been active on LinkedIn connecting with professionals in industry and catching up with my family and friends in Kenya.


What future research/ projects are you excited about?
I am excited to learn more from the MCIT program and jump into any interesting projects.


Favorite culture intakes right now?
You can find me binging on specific YouTube channels. I haven’t missed a single episode of Peter McKinnon (a professional Canadian photographer and YouTuber): he’s very skilled and always has good content and tips. You can tell I’m into photography. Another content creator I follow is Destin Sandlin (a graduate student, engineer, and science communicator at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.) His YouTube channel is called Smarter Every Day and rightfully so as he always has very cool content. I also binge on anything Space and Rockets. I don’t miss any Rocket Launches even the frequent Starlink Satellite launches by SpaceX!

Summer 2020 TA Awards!

Clockwise (from top left): Brandon Joel Gonzalez, Katie Pizziketti, Nicole Chiou, Serena Gandhi (Image: Penn Engineering Online Learning Twitter Acct.)

As the academic community has had to adapt to experience learning in a mostly virtual realm, the position of Teaching Assistant has morphed a bit as well. This year’s Summer 2020 TA Award Winners have been recognized for their outstanding ability to help facilitate efficient and smooth online engagement. CIS staff, faculty, and students are honored to have them!

Visit Penn Engineering Online to view the full list.

C.I.S. Strong: Meet Tejas Srivastava

Tejas Srivastava (Image: courtesy of Tejas Srivastava)

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science Engineering back home at India’s University of Pune, Tejas Srivastava chose to join the UPenn CIS family as a graduate student (c/o 2021). And we’re so lucky to have him!

When Tejas is not listening to his favorite tech podcasts, or getting into a new workout routine, he’s probably studying ways to better interpret the data of human emotion. Find out more about Tejas and his work with the World Well Being Project below.



What research/ projects are you currently working on?

As a research assistant under Prof. Lyle Ungar within the World Well Being Project, I am currently working on building a generalizable emotion-based lexicon from social media data by interpreting and inverting deep neural networks for text classification. I am also working on some mini projects such as  building an online portfolio website to showcase my work, projects, experiences and learnings, and an app which shares select new photos from my phone and shares them with my parents and across devices (TV and tablet) back in India (still in progress).  Apart from these projects, I am spending time revising some subjects and preparing for the upcoming recruitment season.


What has been keeping you grounded and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has sure propelled me to inculcate new habits and hobbies to maintain my well-being, one of the most significant ones being networking and talking to people. I have been spending time to talk to my parents daily and talking to friends back in India and fellow classmates at Penn and celebrating birthdays and other festivals virtually. I have also been attending a lot of virtual tech meetups hosted by Penn and communities in and around Philly and meeting new people with similar interests. I am also connecting with a lot of Penn Alumni, and talking to them about their experiences, and seeking general advice from them.

I spent some time redesigning my room and specifically my workplace, to create a welcoming and clean setup, knowing that I would have to spend a lot of time there.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have also started to cook a lot and spend more time in the kitchen and have tried a lot of new dishes, and enjoyed taking cooking breaks in between work. Very recently, I have also started basic workouts at home, and going on runs and walks (with proper precaution of course!) in and around Penn Park and Schuylkill River, exploring University City and some parts of Philly, in order to get some fresh air and compensate for my old regular walks to the campus from my apartment. Thus, I would say that the pandemic has given me a chance to pause, and re-evaluate myself, and with some time on hand, develop myself in a lot of ways.


What future research/ projects are you excited about?

Me along with my research group have made some progress on the lexicon building project, and I plan to continue to work on the same, as we are on the way to promising results. Apart from that I plan to take the distributed systems course in the upcoming semester, and am particularly excited to work on the course project, which includes building a fully-fledged distributed cloud platform from scratch.


Favorite culture intakes right now?

I recently started reading “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, which talks about the philosophy of being successful by taking insignificant and simple decisions and actions, consistently over time, instead of waiting for or taking the one revolutionary move, and have been trying to test and implement the same. I also enjoy sometimes listening to podcasts while I workout and run, and specifically follow the Artificial Intelligence Podcast by Lex Fridman, and The ChangeLog podcast, where hosts interview hackers, leaders and innovators within software development and open source. I also indulge in some Bollywood music and occasional Prateek Kuhad (one of my favorite singers) songs while I run. Mostly on the weekends, I spend some free time watching videos on YouTube, following the latest in technology, and admire the works of MKBHD, Unbox Therapy, The Verge and many other tech Youtubers, and have also recently restarted watching “DeathNote,” one of my favorite animes.

GRASP Lab’s Fall Virtual Events

Oladapo (Dapo) Afolabi,  final year CS PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, was the featured speaker at GRASP Lab’s latest seminar, titled “Data Driven Perception for Autonomy.”

In the upcoming Fall semester, interdisciplinary academic center GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab will present a series of seminars and events with speakers from all over the country. Speakers include Tichakorn (Nok) Wongpiromsarn, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University, and Penn CIS’ own Jim Gee. The GRASP Lab’s faculty contains a large chunk of CIS members.

Find more info The GRASP Lab’s upcoming events and seminars HERE.