MDS Spotlight: Meet Michelle Yun, MDS Computational Linguistics, Class of 2023

After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Speech Sciences from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Michelle Yun had planned on pursuing a master’s in speech-language pathology. However, Yun became intrigued by UBC’s Master of Data Science (MDS) in Computational Linguistics. 
“It offered me the chance to step out of my comfort zone and gain new skills in coding and working with data,” Yun said.

After tackling some small projects related to data science and learning about cutting-edge developments in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and computational linguistics, Yun realized this was a career she felt passionate about.

Michelle Yun, Master of Data Science in Computational Linguistics

Yun only applied the MDS Computational Linguistics because of her experience with the Linguistics department during her time as a UBC student. “I wanted to continue being a part of it. I was especially interested in Miikka Silfverberg and Garrett Nicolai‘s work with indigenous languages, and wanted the chance to learn from them.”

She added that her favourite thing about MDS Computational Linguistics’ faculty is their enthusiasm and willingness to help the students succeed.

“Although the workload was heavy, I’m happy with the depth and quantity of material we covered in ten months. I also enjoyed getting to be a part of such an intelligent group of classmates and I’ve learned a lot from them,” said Yun.

In addition, being amongst a diverse cohort allowed her to learn how to collaborate with teammates with different perspectives, skill sets, and life experiences.

For Yun, another valuable aspect of the MDS Computational Linguistics program was the in-person component.

“Since the program can be stressful, getting to talk to my classmates every day was a great way to support one another and build friendships. Additionally, the opportunity to come to campus and learn face-to-face helped me feel like a part of the UBC community and I really enjoyed getting to engage with my instructors every day,” she explained.

The capstone project phase of the program was also very important to Yun as it was a great introduction to working as a data scientist in a professional capacity. “Not only did I get to apply the material I learned from class, I also learned how to communicate with stakeholders, work collaboratively, and create a data product for a real-world business need.”

One piece of advice she would give to students interested in the MDS Computational Linguistics program who don’t have a math or computer science background is to go beyond the suggested prerequisites before starting the program. She especially recommends prospective students become familiar in Python and to brush up on their linear algebra.

As she prepares for the job market, Yun believes the program’s emphasis on learning practical skills that data science professionals use day-to-day, and the theoretical lessons covered the fundamental knowledge that interviewers are looking for.

Yun’s ideal position would be where she could leverage both her linguistics background as well as the technical skills built during her time in the MDS Computational Linguistics program. “I’m particularly interested in working with lower-resource and non-English languages, so working for companies that develop multilingual NLP tools would be a dream job.”

When she eventually lands her dream job, Yun said that she will take the following thing she learned during her time in the program to her career.

“Your solution is only as good as your data. A key takeaway for me has been the importance of exploring, understanding, and cleaning your data before trying to build a fancy-pants machine learning model!”

Michelle’s Top 3 Tips on Succeeding in the MDS Computational Linguistics Program:

  1. Take initiative in teamwork settings. If you’re introverted like me, it can be hard to take the lead in group projects, but it’s a great opportunity to hone your leadership skills. 
  2. Try to get involved! One of my most rewarding experiences during the program was participating in a shared research task - it was a great opportunity to gain research experience and apply problem-solving skills independently. While the course load can definitely be heavy, I’d encourage students to check out other chances to deepen their knowledge outside of the classroom. 
  3. Take care of yourself. (Something I struggled to do!) It’s easy to immerse yourself in school, but to avoid burnout, it’s so important to keep in touch with your loved ones, maintain hobbies, and go outside once in a while!

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