What I really enjoy is that computer science is about people: how we can influence their lives in a positive way through the use of computers.

Zeerak Waseem
Zeerak Waseem
PhD Student
Computer Science - Natural Language Processing research group
Zeerak chose Sheffield because of the reputation of the Natural Language Processing group and because of the expertise within the group.

Can you tell us more about your background and what/where you studied as an undergraduate?


I did my undergraduate and master’s degree at the University of Copenhagen, in Computer Science and IT and Cognition respectively.


Why did you choose Computer Science at the University of Sheffield for your post-graduate study?


I chose Sheffield because of the reputation of the Natural Language Processing group and because of the expertise within the group in working on social media along with some of the faculty’s expertise in machine learning.


What do you particularly enjoy about studying Computer Science?


What I really enjoy is that computer science is about people: how we can influence their lives in a positive way through the use of computers. Using computer science, we take an active part in their lives, which means we have a responsibility to make sure that our methods and choices support their lives, when we alter or inject ourselves/our tools into them; and to consider and analyse our methods for identifying where and how they might fail them.


Tell us about being a postgraduate student here. What’s a typical week like for you?


There’s a lot of freedom. I tend to work from home 3-4 days of the week, using the university network to access articles, compute resources, and run experiments. On the days I’m in at the department, I spend a few hours doing some tutoring work and the rest of the time is spent coordinating projects, writing code and papers, and meeting with my supervisor.


What is your favourite thing about Sheffield?


I think it would have to be the Sharrow Lantern Festival – once a year, people make lanterns that fit a theme, and then they all march them through a route to a park to the beat of Samba drummers. It’s pretty amazing.


Can you tell us a bit more about your project and what you are working on?


I work on the issue of online abuse and incivility, and ethics in machine learning. My work addresses with how we can robustly detect abuse across different platforms, sociolects, and dialects. Moreover, my research seeks to address how machine learning systems learn social biases such as racism and sexism and how we can address such issues in the design of our methods.


What are your plans for the future and how do you think your experience at Sheffield will help you in your career?


I’m planning to continue in academia – overall, I think that everything I’ve learned will contribute in some way, and while it can be hard to disentangle the process of learning individual skills, what stands out to me is the ability to foster continued creativity in research: how to work and motivate yourself to work on projects, even when you are struggling. And how to collaborate with people in other disciplines, and how to integrate the knowledge produced in computer science with knowledge produced in other fields – and more importantly, how to read papers from other fields.

Do you have any top tips for students thinking about postgraduate study in Computer Science at Sheffield?


Pick up a hobby and make sure to schedule time for it on a weekly basis (at least), and create schedule for all of your days. And finally, read things from other fields that are related to your research, diversify the basis of knowledge you have. It’s helpful for a number of reasons: you find out how other fields are thinking about the problems you’re addressing, it can serve as inspiration for avenues for your own research, but most importantly, it will give you a much broader understanding of your problem and will strengthen the basis of your research.
 

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