“He’s the Best Person to Work With”

Global PhD Fellow Nasser Zalmout is working with a highly regarded mentor to improve how computers translate Arabic

Global PhD Fellow in Computer Science Nasser Zalmout is part of the natural language processing team at NYU Abu Dhabi that is trying to develop tools to solve the Arabic translation problem.

Natural language processing is a subfield of artificial intelligence that focuses on natural language, and how computers are capable of analyzing and understanding languages in either formal or informal style, or in spoken or written form. “We are trying to address some of the complexities in the Arabic language, like ambiguity, where any given word can have up to 12 different interpretations on average,” Zalmout said.

Together with his mentor, Associate Professor of Computer Science Nizar Habash, Zalmout is developing tools that facilitate processing of Arabic and its many dialects such as Emirati, Egyptian, Palestinian, and others. This will help make it easier for computers to understand formal Arabic, also known as Modern Standard Arabic, as well as dialects used throughout the region.

You may recognize some common applications that are powered by natural language processing, Zalmout explained. Apple’s Siri, Google translate, and Alexa the virtual assistant by Amazon are just a few examples.

NYU Abu Dhabi: The Right Decision

Zalmout worked with Professor Habash on a project before embarking on his PhD studies, and had no doubts about continuing the research. “I loved working with him. He’s the best person to work with when it comes to Arabic and natural language processing.”

An advisor is like a long-term professional relationship. Selecting the right advisor will make or break your PhD experience.

Global PhD fellows at NYUAD also have the same access to resources available to PhD students in New York — including the United States F1 student visa, which allowed Zalmout to take on internships with two tech giants: Yahoo and Amazon. “Without the visa, I wouldn’t be able to pursue these internships,” he added.  

Advice for Prospective Graduate Students

  1. Do your homework and investigate people in the field you are interested in.
  2. Make sure you read about their current research. Don’t be afraid to email and arrange for a Skype interview.
  3. Speak to former PhD students of potential advisors to get a glimpse into the life within the department and lab.

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