Today’s post is about Ninareh Mehrabi, PhD soon-to-be alumna of the Viterbi School of Engineering, whose current research focuses on developing trustworthy AI systems for Amazon Alexa. Join us in learning more about her journey at USC and what are her next steps as a researcher.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at Amazon Alexa AI working on developing trustworthy AI systems in the Trustworthy Alexa AI team. Previous to that I was a PhD student at USC-ISI advised by Aram Galstyan and Fred Morstatter. My PhD dissertation was on developing responsible AI systems for the complex world. I also completed my undergraduate studies at USC. I am passionate about seeing the impact of my research in real-world applications and am an advocate for diversity and inclusion which is also reflected in the type of research I perform.
What factors influenced your decision to pursue your PhD at USC?
Since I obtained my undergraduate degree in computer engineering and computer science from USC, it was a natural choice for me to stay at USC for my PhD studies as USC has always been like a second home for me. I already knew about USC culture and was familiar with the department and types of research performed at USC along with the faculty members. I was also really interested in the types of projects that my advisors were involved in at ISI which was an important factor for me to pursue my PhD at USC-ISI.
What were some of your highlights at USC?
I gathered a lot of new experiences during my PhD journey at USC-ISI from working on government funded projects, to getting recognized for my research through industry supported fellowship from Amazon, and even getting featured in a documentary about my research (which was my first ever experience to be a little part in the movie industry and learn how things are done there). I also got the chance to work and collaborate with great researchers as well as giving back to the community through mentorship and getting involved in volunteer work. I am always grateful for each and every single opportunity that I was given at USC and am looking forward to opportunities to give back to my community.
Tell us about why you decided to get involved in CAIS.
As mentioned previously, seeing the impact of my research in real world applications is really important to me. Thus, naturally getting involved in CAIS was a great opportunity for me to find possible avenues for collaboration as well as applying my research to possible real-world problems. In addition, as my research was in designing and developing trustworthy and responsible AI systems with emphasis on fairness, I found most of the CAIS members interested in such initiatives which made me interested in getting involved in CAIS.
How did your experience at CAIS contribute to making your time at USC memorable?
I learned a lot from being a part of CAIS. In fact, for one of my recent faculty interviews, I referenced an informative email that was sent from CAIS which was really helpful to navigate the discussions during my interview process. As part of my learning experience as a PhD at USC, CAIS definitely played an important role for me to grow and learn.
Tell us about your plans for the future.
Currently, I am pursuing my postdoc at Amazon and am also looking for a faculty position in academia to hopefully someday run my own lab. However, regardless of where I end up working, the most important thing for me is to see the impact of my research and giving back to the community. Thus, this can be either me working in the industry and seeing the impact of my work in production in developing responsible systems or me being in academia in which I will be mentoring students and working on meaningful projects with direct impact in our society.
What advice would you offer to someone considering pursuing a PhD in computer science?
I would advise prospective students to first pursue what interests them the most. Second, to always reflect on how their work can benefit society. Third, stay aware and up-to-date with the state of the art and what is generally happening in the world.