Ren Receives Prestigious Google Fellowship
CS @ ILLINOIS graduate student Xiang Ren was one of 39 students worldwide to receive a 2016 Google PhD Fellowship. A member of CS Professor Jiawei Han’s Data Mining Research Group, Ren was the only fellowship winner in the Structured Data and Database Management category.
Ren is mining massive amounts of text data and discovering semantic structures (such as named entities, scientific concepts, and topics) within document collections. For example, the software tools he is developing can automatically identify mentions of named entities in a Yelp review, news story, or journal article, and then determine whether the entity is a person, product, place, or organization. Conventional methods require hiring people to manually annotate entities in documents in order to train software to eventually complete the task.
Another novel aspect of Ren’s software is that it works on different domains and languages. “We found that existing software focuses only on specific domains,” he explained. “For example, conventional tools can do well with news articles but behave poorly at analyzing Tweets or Yelp reviews, which have irregular grammar and informal form. My tool will be able to deal with text from diverse sources and from multiple languages.”
Ren was part of the Illinois research team that developed SegPhrase, a framework for reliably and efficiently extracting quality phrases from text corpora. SegPhrase, which was a Yelp Dataset Challenge grand prize winner, is being used by Bing Ads, the U.S. Army Research Lab, and TripAdvisor.
“Xiang has made milestone contributions on mining structures from unstructured data,” said his advisor Professor Han. “He has been very dedicated, published more than 10 research papers while at Illinois, and delivered or is going to deliver tutorials at major conferences, including KDD, WWW and SIGMOD. His winning this Google fellowship is a big boost to everyone’s morale in our research group.”
The Google Fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students doing exceptional research in Computer Science and related disciplines. Recipients receive a generous stipend and tuition and fee waiver.
“This award is a big honor from industry because they recognize our academic work, and it will definitely help my career and job search,” said Ren, who anticipates graduating in a year or so. “The award also shows appreciation for the research topics we’re addressing. Coming from the data mining area, we approach the extraction of knowledge from text problem in a much different way than others.”
Ren’s research has garnered other awards, including the CS Department’s C. L. and Jane W.-S. Liu Award and the Yahoo-DAIS Research Excellence Award.