UW News

February 17, 2022

UW biologist and computer scientist named Sloan Fellows

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UW computer scientist Yulia Tsvetkov (l) and biologist Briana Abrahms (r) named 2022 Sloan Fellows.University of Washington

Two faculty members at the University of Washington have been awarded early-career fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The new Sloan Fellows, announced Feb. 15, are Brianna Abrahms, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, and Yulia Tsvetkov, an assistant professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

Open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields — chemistry, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics — the fellowships honor those early-career researchers whose achievements mark them among the next generation of scientific leaders.

The 118 Sloan Fellows for 2022 were selected in coordination with the research community. Candidates are nominated by their peers, and fellows are selected by independent panels of senior scholars based on each candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in their field. Each fellow will receive $75,000 to apply toward research endeavors.

This year’s fellows come from 51 institutions across the United States and Canada, spanning fields from evolutionary biology to data science.

Abrahms is an assistant professor of biology and holds the inaugural Boersma Endowed Chair in Natural History and Conservation. Her research program integrates animal bio-logging technology, Earth observation and big data analytics to advance understanding of the causes and consequences of wildlife responses to global change across marine and terrestrial systems. In addition to advancing basic ecological theory, Abrahms is passionate about developing data-driven, publicly available tools that bolster capacity to conserve the natural world.

“How do animals make decisions in the face of global change, and what are the consequences of those decisions for individual fitness, populations and interactions with other animals and humans? This is a big question my group is working to answer, which can inform both biodiversity conservation and human sustainability,” Abrahms said. “We’re becoming increasingly interested in understanding how species responses to environmental change can have unanticipated and often negative consequences for social-ecological systems so that we can reduce unwanted outcomes in the future.”

Tsvetkov is an assistant professor in the Allen School. She engages in multidisciplinary research at the nexus of machine learning, computational linguistics and the social sciences to develop practical solutions to natural language processing, or NLP, problems that combine sophisticated learning and modeling methods with insights into human languages and the people who speak them.

“The huge success of contemporary AI-powered NLP technology stems from the fact that it has matured enough to effectively serve and interact with humans. However, there is still a technological divide: The rich ecosystem of language-aware applications — machine translation, question answering, educational applications, summarization — are well-equipped to serve privileged users. But those same applications are systematically biased in ways that render them less useful for millions of other users, including speakers of low-resource languages or representatives of disadvantaged groups discriminated by gender, race, age or ethnicity,” Tsvetkov said. “The long-term goal of my research has been to bridge this divide, and to develop effective, accessible and equitable language technologies, serving all users, across populations, cultures and language boundaries.”

For more information, contact Abrahms at abrahms@uw.edu or Tsvetkov at yuliats@cs.washington.edu.