From NYUAD to Google: Class of 2020 Alumnus Daniel Watson Secures Place in Competitive AI Residency Program

Katie Stanworth
September 29, 2020

NYU Abu Dhabi alumnus Daniel Watson has been awarded a place in Google’s highly competitive AI Residency Program and will begin the 18-month placement with the Google Brain team in Toronto, Canada, in a few weeks' time.

Watson, originally from Panama, majored in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics at NYUAD. During his undergraduate studies, he pursued interests in machine learning, mathematics, programming, and music; but it was during freshman year, while taking a class titled Natural Language Processing that Watson truly discovered a passion for research; learned how to ask research questions, and decided this was the career path that he wanted to pursue.

The course instructor — Professor of Computer Science Nizar Habash — recognized Watson’s interest, enthusiasm, and potential, and offered him the opportunity to collaborate on a research project in the Computational Approaches to Modeling Language Lab (CAMeL).

“I worked with Professor Habash on a research project over the summer after my freshman year, and continued throughout sophomore spring. I published the findings in a paper entitled, “Utilizing Character and Word Embeddings for Text Normalization with Sequence-to-Sequence Models," explains Watson.

As lead author on the paper, Watson presented his research at the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing in Belgium, during the fall of his junior year. It was here that he met recruiters from huge companies around the world, and learned more about Google's AI Residency Program. After being encouraged to apply, and sitting two technical interviews, Watson was offered a position within the prestigious program, and was asked to identify his preferred location.

I chose Toronto over New York and California because the team is much smaller. There are about five senior researchers, and they all do research that I am interested in. One of the Google Fellows there is Geoffrey Hinton who is considered by many to be the "Godfather of Deep Learning," so that was a big factor in my decision.

Daniel Watson, Class of 2020

Upon completion of the residency, Watson plans to pursue a PhD in machine learning. “I’m interested in niche areas, but I’m not yet sure which specific area I will ultimately focus on. My time at Google Brain will allow me to pursue my own research and work on my own ideas, but I will also collaborate in research projects with other AI residents and the senior researchers there. This may inspire me to further delve into different areas of interest that I haven’t yet fully explored.”

 

Daniel, for me, represents the ideal computer scientist: he is curious, hard-working, and focused; but also rounded in terms of interests and hobbies. He was always learning and experimenting on the side; creatively thinking of solutions and alerting me and members of the lab to recent publications that he found.

During a visit to our campus from a professor who is a rising star in computational linguistics, Daniel discussed ideas with him like a graduate student would. The visiting professor commented privately about how impressed he was with the students at NYUAD, and strongly advised that Daniel should go to grad school.