PhD Spotlight: Setareh Ariafar, PhD’20 – Electrical Engineering
Setareh Ariafar joined the Machine Learning Lab and the Bio-Medical Imaging and Signal Processing Lab to pursue her doctoral studies at Northeastern University in 2015, after finishing her master’s degree from Boston University, and a BS and MS from the University of Tehran, Iran. She followed an unusual path to earning a PhD as her undergraduate degree is in industrial design. Enjoying math and passionate about research, her main area of PhD study was in machine learning with a research focus on Bayesian optimization.
Many design problems involve optimization of an unknown, or partially unknown, objective function that can be costly to evaluate. For example, in drug design, the evaluation of drug efficacy across multiple drug formulations requires producing and testing new drugs, which would be subject to resource and cost limitations. Another example is minimizing the validation error of a machine learning model, such as hyperparameter tuning of a deep neural network, which involves many evaluations of the objective function. Bayesian optimization methods enable solving optimization problems whose objective functions are only available as black box functions and are expensive to evaluate. Ariafar was inspired to work on Bayesian optimization from working on the skin cancer detection from reflectance confocal microscopy image project at Northeastern. Deep learning methods work well in this application, however, tuning the hyperparameters of such approaches is challenging.
During her studies at Northeastern, Ariafar won first place in the ACM Student Research Competition Graduate Level Finals at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (the world’s largest gathering of women in computation and science with over 15,000 attendees). After presenting her work at a NeurIPS Bayesian Optimization Workshop, the organizers and attendees were impressed by her work which led her to be recruited as an intern at Sigopt. After completing her PhD program, Ariafar joined Google Brain and continues her research in machine learning.