From Grad School to Google

Published: Apr 20, 2004

From Grad School to Google

Computer science doctoral student and Graduate Student Association (GSA) Vice President Tom Armstrong has a very full calendar for the rest of the spring, followed up by a summer internship with one of the Web’s hottest companies: Google.

As a second year Ph.D. student, Armstrong fills the bulk of his time with research in the intersection of computer science and linguistics at the CORAL (Cognition, Robotics and Learning) Lab, led by Professor Tim Oates. But like many graduate students, Armstrong also juggles his own coursework with teaching undergraduates (a section of Computer Science 203, Discrete Structures) and involvement with student organizations like the GSA.

Armstrong, who did undergraduate work at U. Massachusetts Amherst, came to UMBC and the CORAL Lab after meeting Oates, a fellow UMass Amherst alum. “We study what’s called language acquisition or language learning,” says Armstrong. “We look at ways a robot with sensors—much like a human baby—could learn language by being immersed in an environment. Children learn language by interacting with and listening to adults speaking normally. We want to make a robot do the same thing.”

This summer, Armstrong will be in California working at one of Google’s research labs. “I’ll be part of a team helping to improve Google’s machine translation function. When you Google something and get a result from a foreign-language Web page, I’ll be working to help make the ‘translate this page’ link in your search results work better.”

Armstrong is one of a growing number of UMBC grad students who have gone on to work at the research and development labs of prestigious IT and Web companies like Hewlett Packard, IBM, Nokia and Amazon.

This semester, Armstrong has been busy as vice-president of the GSA, which supports and promotes UMBC’s growing graduate student population. Armstrong is chair of the 26th annual Graduate Research Conference (GRC) between UMBC and the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB), to be held at UMBC on April 23. The annual event, which UMB and UMBC take turns hosting, is open to the entire campus community and is a good place to learn more about the real-world impact of graduate student research at UMBC.

Despite the difficulty of arranging logistics for 150 presenters and 70 judges, Armstrong is excited about hosting the conference. ”It’s an opportunity to showcase grad student research to the UMBC community and beyond,” says Armstrong. “Plus it gives grad students practice giving presentations on their work before going to a conference in their field, which can be somewhat of a lion’s den.”

According to Armstrong, events like the GRC help build UMBC’s national research reputation. “Higher visibility for graduate programs trickles down to a higher quality of undergraduate applicants, which over time will help UMBC rise in the national graduate program ratings.”

For more information on the 2004 Graduate Research Conference, visit






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