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Naohiro TAWARA

No Photo Visiting period October to December 2015
Visiting university Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (TTIC)
Visiting country and region Chicago, Illinois, USA

Content of the study program

Thanks to this overseas program, I had the opportunity to study at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (hereinafter TTIC) from October to the end of last year. TTIC is the Chicago Branch of the Toyota Technological Institute, which was founded by the Toyota Motor Corporation. This is a graduate university with integrated Master’s and Doctorate programs, where students and professors from various countries conduct research, mainly in the fields of machine learning with an emphasis on images, voices, and robots, at a facility that is part of the University of Chicago, USA. I chose this institution for two reasons. First, the current President of TTIC was originally a researcher on voices and carried out research similar to my own. Second, since receiving advice from the President of TTIC during an international congress on phonetics, I have wanted to visit TTIC.

Study results

As this was a precious opportunity for me to study in an utterly new environment, I decided to work on a somewhat different subject from what I studied in Japan. I looked for a field in which I shared an interest with a professor at TTIC, and settled on a subject that would provide me with new knowledge. More concretely, while my previous research focused on unsupervised learning dealing with recognition issues in an environment where only a few or no correct labels are given, the research partner at TTIC specialized in voice recognition. To focus on a topic that would benefit us both, we decided to work on improving the performance of existing voice recognition methods in an environment where only a few correct labels are given. Although we did not complete an academic paper partly because this was a relatively short program, we are continuing this study as joint research project based on the results obtained during my study at TTIC.

My experience abroad

I was especially impressed with the social events frequently held at TTIC. They seem to have more official events than similar facilities in Japan; this difference may be due to the fact that TTIC is a relatively small institution. In particular, it is tradition for all members of TTIC to gather and eat a large volume of pizza every Friday afternoon. During this event, I saw professors and students of different fields engaged in intense discussions, even though they do not normally have such exchanges the rest of the week. I realized that innovative ideas are born from such casual occasions. Moreover, when performing research, I had opportunities to use tools prepared by local students and a large-scale computer system owned by TTIC, and local students helped me use them. It was novel that researchers there actively shared methods and knowledge of these tools.

In addition, I found that the exchange of human resources was very active. For example, TTIC regularly holds conferences by inviting outside researchers. I was very impressed by the active exchange of opinions during these events. Apart from that, a lot of researchers from various universities visited TTIC during my short stay. I have become truly aware that such active exchanges contribute to a large variety of research results.

Influence on my future career

Although I studied abroad for one month, my values have been modified by meeting a variety people abroad. This experience has opened my eyes to the world at large, and I want to study language to improve my ability to express myself, understand others, and develop deeper friendships. I hope to study abroad again before completing my studies at the graduate school, as this will allow me to improve my language skills, meet talented people, and grow personally by learning techniques and skills that are not available in Japan, although that may depend on universities.

Other comments

While participating in this overseas program, I realized the high standards of universities abroad. Both professors and students were very highly motivated. Through discussions in journal clubs or progress report meetings, I met people knowledgeable about a wide variety of fields, which are not necessarily related directly to my own research field. I also joined several classes; I felt that while the level required for students was generally high, the follow-up system was well organized and that the system functions generally well as an educational institution. I hope to work at an overseas research institute in my future career.