Fellow Reflection: Anne Warlaumont
Field of Study: Computational Developmental Psycholinguistics
Practicum: Argonne National Laboratory
Hometown: Chappaqua, N.Y.
As part of a successful practicum at Argonne National Laboratory, Anne Warlaumont was afforded the unique opportunity to view the brain – an organ critical to her research – from two different perspectives: as an observer of human brain surgery and as an observer of microscopic electrophysiology experiments on mouse and human brain tissue in the lab (both at the University of Chicago). While studying computational developmental linguistics on the University of Memphis campus, she uses neural networks and other computational models to study language acquisition and pathology in infants. In order to offset the long hours spent in front of her computer, Anne enjoys running, yoga and spending time with her husband, Rick. She was raised in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Explain why you have an interest in computational science.
"The type of computational science I do involves computational modeling related to the vocalizations babies make, how they change over time, and how mothers and fathers perceive those vocalizations during communicative interaction. I love working in this field because it allows me to pursue computational puzzles and model-building, which I greatly enjoy, in the service of addressing scientific questions related to behavioral and cognitive development that are both theoretically and practically significant. The system I study − which involves the infant's developing brain, hearing and sound-producing vocal tract, as well as environmental inputs such as adult speech − is too complicated to be described purely with verbal theories. And controlled experimentation with babies is subject to many ethical and practical limitations. Computational modeling helps both in specifying and testing more sophisticated theories and in doing so through simulation and advanced data analysis techniques that work around some of the limitations on experimentation. This will, in turn, advance our understanding of how speech-language abilities develop, help us to build artificially intelligent systems, and help in identifying and treating disorders such as autism, language impairments and motor speech disorders."
Why did the DOE CSGF program appeal to you?
"It seemed to me that my research interests were very well aligned with the computational science that the DOE CSGF is working to support. I work in a highly interdisciplinary area and often feel that I am creating my own field. I don't mind being unique, and even embrace the challenge of not fitting neatly into any specific mold. But it can get lonely, and I knew the DOE CSGF program would give me contact with a community of many individuals who are in a similar interdisciplinary boat. I knew that if I were given the opportunity to join this community, attend the annual conferences and perform a practicum, I would be challenged and encouraged by people who fully appreciate the challenges of computational science and could share their experiences and advice. This fellowship is much more involved than some of the other graduate fellowships out there, and that does come with a cost of time and extra responsibility, but it also gives its fellows something very unique and valuable: community and training."
"The other reason the program appealed to me is the generous financial support. I knew that support would help me to focus more on my science and less on financial issues and would give me the freedom to develop my research without some of the constraints that those funded under their mentors' grants experience; I could have more flexibility in structuring my research agenda. And, of course, the prestige of the program was also a draw."
Explain the benefits you have received or positive experiences you have had in the DOE CSGF program.
"My practicum at Argonne National Laboratory has been a very enriching experience. I had the opportunity to work on a type of computational model that was slightly out of my area but still focused on the human nervous system. This really broadened my understanding of the possibilities and challenges in modeling in my field. I also got to work daily with a computer science group that specialized in visualization and in high performance computing and it was a great environment to visit from a technical standpoint. I also formed rewarding collaborations not only with my mentor at Argonne but also with scientists at the University of Chicago. And I made new friends and got to share conversation of our experiences with other students in the computational sciences. I am very grateful for my practicum experience."
"I've also found the annual conferences to be a positive experience. The fellowship does tend to support more physicists, chemists and molecular biologist types than behavioral scientists, but despite this superficial difference, the attendees have many things in common, from computational efficiency constraints to parameter optimization to data presentation challenges to navigating career prospects as an interdisciplinary scientist. And the other fellows work on projects that are really interesting and inspiring to learn about! The conference also offers a lot of opportunity to attend high performance computing workshops and roundtables. These are really educational."
"Finally, the generous funding has been very helpful to me. The stipends at public universities tend to be small and many of the other students in my program experience a lot of stress about money. Some even take jobs outside in order to stay afloat. Not having that stress in my personal finances is very helpful. The financial support also allows me to attend more conferences and to have more freedom in the projects I pursue."
Describe your career goal(s) in the computational science field.
"My goal is to continue working toward the goal of applying computational science to better understand and predict the developmental course of speech and language development in infancy. In the long-term, I hope that this will lead to a working simulation of the nervous system and peripheral apparatus (ears, eyes, vocal tract, etc.) that can be used to test hypotheses about what factors, both internal to the child and external in its environment, lead to the remarkable human capacity for language. I hope also to apply this computational science toward problems of practical importance, such as identifying infants who are at risk for being diagnosed with autism or language, literacy or stuttering difficulties. Someday I hope to direct my own lab to collect and analyze real infant data and to develop computational tools that can benefit the field. And I would like to serve as a mentor to other computational scientists."