'I studied why miscommunication and ambiguity are so prevalent in human language'

Sasha Boguraev

Computer Science, Mathematics, College Scholar
Bedford, N.Y.

What was your favorite class and why?  

My favorite class at Cornell was CS4740, Natural Language Processing. This class was my first introduction to NLP, and was an amazing overview of the subfield. Further, I took it during my junior fall, which was right about when OpenAI released their ChatGPT model, and led to a massive boom in the field. Learning about the fundamental techniques and methods which was driving this boom, was super fascinating. I have since been a TA for the course, and will be pursuing my PhD in the subfield, which goes to show the impact it had on my academic career.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?  

person hiking

While freshman year was hard for nearly everyone I know, with our lives being affected by the pandemic and transitioning to a completely new environment, it was also full of amazing memories. One, in particular, which stands out to me was a random night in late October of my freshman year, when a friend of mine and I were planning on reserving a room in the Goldwin Smith basement to study for our upcoming prelims. However, we instead just toiled away until 5 a.m. or some other ungodly hour, talking about our lives and deepening our friendship. The memory feels like a quintessential freshman year moment, something like that year in a nutshell, and it remains very close to my heart.       

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

My proudest achievement at Cornell has to be my honors thesis. I have been working on this project in some capacity since my sophomore spring, but it has really taken over much of my time this senior year. I am working with Professor Morten Christiansen of the psychology department to parse why miscommunication and ambiguity is so prevalent in human language, and what, if any, advantages this may pose to the evolutionary fitness of languages. This body of work has truly become something that draws together all the knowledge and skills I have learned during my A&S education. While at times grueling or frustrating, I'm extremely proud of the result.

person hiking

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? 

I think being at Cornell, with so many people from different backgrounds and different interests has introduced me to so many perspectives. This has shaped my broader world-view in an extremely positive way, and driven my academic and personal journeys in ways I could never have imagined.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

person standing by a lake in winter

Don't be afraid to explore. I came to Cornell as a wide-eyed freshman convinced I was going to study biology and statistics, eventually doing a PhD in computational biology. However, I spent my first two years traversing about seven majors before I landed where I am today. This exploration has meant that I ended up studying something that I loved and plan to continue studying. If I had, instead, just blindly stuck to my plan as a freshman, I would never have had the opportunity to discover my true academic interests.

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2024.

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		Sasha Boguraev