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Chelsea Finn featured as part of the Women in AI, a special project by 'Synced'

Professor Chelsea Finn
April 2020

Professor Chelsea Finn studies intelligence through robotic interaction at scale, and is affiliated with SAIL and the Statistical ML Group. In addition to teaching, she does research projects with her PhD students, and runs her lab. She also does research work with the Google Brain Team.

She was interviewed by Synced as part of their 'Women in AI' special project. Modified excerpts from that article follow. 

Chelsea graduated with her Bachelor's in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT and completed her PhD in computer science at UC Berkeley. Her dissertation "Learning to Learn with Gradients" won the 2018 ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award.

Chelsea is actively concerned about the broad impacts of underrepresentation. "I worry about people feeling like they don't fit in, that there aren't people that look like them in a place," she said.

At a young age, Chelsea really enjoyed solving puzzles and problems, and with both parents being engineers she knew that engineering was one way to do that. Chelsea chose to major in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering because she believed that would leave many doors open for her to try different things later down the line. As she became more and more drawn to robotics, machine learning, and AI, she realized the need to go to grad school and do research if she hoped to make new advances and develop new algorithms.

Chelsea says when she started her PhD she wasn't planning to stay in academia because making products in the industry was more appealing. But things didn't go as planned when she later realized the greater long-term impact she could have through research and teaching.

Currently Chelsea helps pair undergrads with grad students in AI so that they can learn firsthand what grad school is like, what's exciting about doing research, and steps they should consider if they are interested in research and AI. 

She has also been helping with other outreach programs for high school students through AI4ALL, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in AI education, research, development, and policy. The nonprofit was co-founded in 2015 by Professor Fei-Fei Li. The first program that the team launched was SAILORS — a summer outreach program for high school girls to learn about human-centered AI.

Chelsea is also well aware that it takes time for any trends to really lead to concrete, measurable improvement, especially since the number of women studying or pursuing a career in computer science has remained low over the past decade.

It's still a work in progress, and fixing the pipeline isn't the entire problem, she added. "I think there's still more that can be improved — in terms of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment."

 

Excerpted from Synced, "Women in AI | Chelsea Finn: 'I Certainly Feel Like a Minority'" March 30, 2020


 

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