Andrea Burns Awarded the 2021 Google Fellowship

By Lizzy Maimone

BU CS PhD student Andrea Burns (GRS’23) has been selected to receive a 2021 Google PhD Fellowship in the area of Machine
Perception, Speech Technology, and Computer Vision. There were 12 fellowship awardees in this category with Andrea being the sole recipient from Boston University. As a graduate student, she was made aware of
the industry and government-sponsored fellowships which can provide funds for graduate students and their research. “I think most graduate students know of such awards because your funding greatly affects you during your graduate program (e.g., whether you have to TA courses and how often),” said Andrea.

Andrea is a fourth-year Ph.D. Student at Boston University. She is a member of the Image and Video Computing Group, advised by Prof. Kate Saenko and Prof. Bryan A. Plummer. Her research is in representation learning and the intersection of computer vision and natural language processing specifically in vision and language. Andrea is well-versed in a wide variety of computational topics including computational machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, speech technologies, and human-computer interaction. “I think it’s very exciting to work on vision-language representation learning because there are many high impact applications,” said Andrea. “Image-sentence search, image captioning, visual question answering and more have many use cases (think Google search or automatically captioned images on social media).”

Her passion for her research and long hours of work on experimentation and analysis were rewarded with interest from other researchers. “The fact that other researchers found [the projects] interesting and think they’re worthwhile endeavors was one of the most exciting and affirming moments I’ve ever experienced,” said Andrea. “I believe my work matters and can have a great societal impact. It’s easy to forget that the time you spend working every day really does contribute to a bigger picture.” 

The award also allowed for greater financial support, and more time dedicated to her studies without the burden of grading and tutoring students as a teachers’ assistant. She has also been able to collaborate with research scientists at Google since receiving the award. 

Beyond the Google fellowship, Andrea has won other awards during her time at BU, including the Grace Hopper Conference Award and the Dean’s Fellowship during the Fall of 2018. Andrea received her undergraduate degree at Tulane University. When she was applying to Ph.D. programs, BU struck her interest due to the professors she could potentially work alongside as well as the many other resources that BU offers. Once enrolled, she found her faculty advisors particularly helpful. “I’ve had an immense amount of support and input on my research direction,” Andrea said. “Having experts in the field provide insight into the history of certain research problems and guiding the research process has taught me a lot about how to build research ideas and projects around them.”

Congratulations, Andrea! We can’t wait to see what you do next.