Blending EE with CS: an Inteview with Polina Golland

Polina Golland

Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Polina Golland discusses research topics with her group members (from left)  grad student Ramesh Sridharan, and on her left Georg Langs, research scientist and Gabriel Tobon, MEng student.

Polina Golland discusses research topics with her group members (from left) grad student Ramesh Sridharan, and on her left Georg Langs, research scientist and Gabriel Tobon, MEng student.

Q. How would you contrast your own education as a PhD student at MIT (and earlier at the Technion) from that which you see students experiencing now — particularly in the MIT EECS Department?

Polina Golland: My undergraduate education was mostly in CS with an unusual amount of mathematics. Only after coming to MIT, I started taking interest in what is traditionally thought of as EE courses, including stochastic modeling and estimation, which substantially affected the directions of my research.

Officially, I am a CS faculty. I teach courses that might be considered EE, but are taken by many students from different concentrations in the department. EECS students at MIT have an opportunity to truly blend the two disciplines in their curriculum, and I see many of them take advantage of this feature of our department, perhaps not realizing how special it is. For example, I teach two graduate-level courses on inference, information theory and estimation. In the past, these courses would be considered solidly in EE territory. But we have about the same number of EE and CS students taking the courses these days. The interest by the CS students reflects the recent focus on inference in traditionally CS fields of machine learning, robotics and computer vision. I am an Area II faculty and a member of CSAIL, and I co-teach this course with Greg Wornell, who is an Area I faculty and is part of RLE. I don’t think the students ever stop to wonder whether the course is EE or CS; they take it because it is relevant to their research.

My impression is that MIT always had very a small barrier between EE and CS. I certainly never cared about it as a graduate student. But with the new undergraduate curriculum, the distinction is even less detectable. The students are encouraged to find an area they are excited about, and not to worry about labeling it EE or CS.

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