During finals season, it’s even harder than usual to make time for independent work. So this reading period, I decided to ask a senior, computer science major Sam Arnesen, about the state of his thesis and his plans for spring semester. For his senior thesis, Sam is developing artificial intelligence software that can solve text-based computer games.
What is your thesis about? My thesis is on text-based games–games like Zork where at every step of the game, you’re given a text description of the scene you’re in and you have to enter some text about what the next move is, like “pick up sword” or “open door.” You can imagine that we often teach computers to play games, but there are a few unique challenges associated with text-based games. Part of it is that it is partially observed: you can see what’s around you, but you can’t see the entire state of the game. The other thing is that it’s very difficult to parse the text and translate it into something meaningful, especially when it comes to actions. There’s stuff out there on various methods to do text-based games and be able to play simple versions of them, but they have a couple issues. First, most of the games are quite simple, and more importantly, the kinds of strategies that it would learn translate very poorly between games unless the games are extremely similar, which is bad because you would expect that certain skills (like having a key and a locked door, or remembering orientations) would be understood. The whole reason why we care about text-based games isn’t because it means anything to play the game, but because we want to be able to learn something about language through these games. So it’s bad if the agents are specific to one particular game, because it suggests that they’re learning idiosyncrasies of the game instead of actual language skills.
I’m specifically working on ways to have more transfer of learning between different kinds of text-based games. I am working on building an agent that’s able to parse walk-throughs of games. A walk-through happens in any kind of game, it’s a set of instructions that tell you what you should do at every step. That’s a non-trivial task: you have to parse that text, translate a paragraph into an action, figure out whether the action you took was the correct action, and be able to use the strategies you learn through parsing the walk-through to learn some general strategy.
It’s officially November here at Princeton: the leaves have changed, midterms are over, and fall break is but a blissful memory. If you’re anything like me, this means that you’ve finally settled into the rhythm of the semester. However, it also means that the question you’ve likely been avoiding since the beginning of the year–what will I do this summer?–is becoming harder and harder to ignore, as deadlines that once seemed distant are now imminent.
As a first-year, I remember that this pressure seemed terrifyingly intense. I was surrounded by sophomores, juniors, and seniors who were anxiously applying to dozens of positions, interviewing, and accepting offers–while I was still busy trying to make friends and adjust to the demands of Princeton’s fast-paced schedule. How could I know what I wanted to do with my summer when I wasn’t even confident in my extracurriculars or my concentration?
If you relate to this sentiment at all, don’t fret. The answer to your woes? Spend a summer doing research! Princeton provides an incredible number of summer research opportunities that span a wide range of fields. If you’re uncertain of your major (like I was!) or don’t know what you want to do with your life, I’d argue that a summer spent doing research can be beneficial for a wide variety of reasons.
Colleges like Princeton love to brag about their high rates of student involvement in research: our admissions pamphlets are peppered with student testimonials about the accessibility of professors and the university’s commitment to undergraduate research. But although Princeton does provide incredible resources, doing research with professors doesn’t always feel accessible. Especially as a first-year or sophomore student, it can be challenging to find research opportunities outside of classes (except during the summer).
As a first-year student, I definitely felt this pressure in the fall semester. I knew I wanted to be a part of research on campus as soon as possible, but I worried that no professor would want to work with me. After all, I was less experienced than many older students, and as a CBE major, I knew that quantitative and technical skills were of paramount importance in my field. Though I was afraid of being ignored (or worse, rejected!) by professors, I decided to reach out anyway. I emailed my MOL214 professor (who runs a lab in CBE) hoping that he would help give me an introduction to the department. When I went to his office for a simple discussion, he ended up offering me a position, and I’ve been working in his lab ever since!Continue reading Research on Campus: Not Just for Juniors and Seniors!
First-years, you’ve just survived everyone’s favorite time of year: your first Writing Seminar deadline. Over the course of the past few weeks, you’ve learned the difference between motive and thesis, discussed strategies for analyzing data, written a draft of your first essay, and finally, turned in your first piece of graded work: your R1!
The process of going from an ungraded draft to a graded revision may have seemed intimidating. In part, this is because most first-years have little to no experience with serious revision of essays. In high school, when standards were lower, I, like many others, got away with handing in first drafts most of the time. When I did make the time to revise, my “revision” consisted mainly of adding a few fancy words to my essay and tightening up my conclusion. So when I got to my Writing Seminar and was essentially told to rewrite my entire essay, I panicked.
Did I have to completely start over? Was all my D1 work wasted? As I had no experience with the revision process, I struggled to even begin the process of writing my R1. So if you felt the same way after handing in your R1, read on: I promise that your next two revisions will be made much easier (and dare I say, pleasant?) with the help of a few key strategies.
I’ve known that I wanted to do science research since the age of sixteen, when I spent my first summer in a neuroscience lab. My time in the lab taught me many new skills and enabled me to immediately apply them to unsolved problems–what other summer job could be more interesting than that? Though my specific interests have shifted slightly (I’m now a chemical and biological engineer rather than a neuroscientist), I’ve devoted every summer since to benchwork of some sort.
Consequently, when I started to look for laboratory opportunities last year, I immediately gravitated towards biology research. I had loved the past three summers–why not experience another? In the winter, I applied to internships through Princeton’s International Internship Program (IIP), and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to study the mechanisms of Shigella (a bacterium that causes dysentery) infection at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. I accepted immediately, thrilled that I’d be spending my summer abroad–and on Princeton’s dime!
But as the year wore on, I started to consider what the added value of another summer of wet-lab research would be, especially since time constraints would limit my contribution. I felt like was narrowing in on my chosen field too early. Wouldn’t I be bored?