Journeying through Statistics & Machine Learning Research: An Interview with Jake Snell

Image of Dr. Snell smiling, wearing glasses and a pale red and grey checkered collared shirt.

Jake Snell is a DataX postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Computer Science at Princeton University, where he develops novel deep learning algorithms by drawing insights from probabilistic models. He is currently serving as a lecturer for SML 310: Research Projects in Data Science.

As I dive deeper into my computer science coursework, I’ve found myself engaging increasingly with statistics and machine learning (hereafter abbreviated as SML). Opportunities to conduct SML research are abound at Princeton: senior theses, junior independent work, research-based courses such as SML 310: Research Projects in Data Science, joining research labs, and much more. There is such a wide variety of research opportunities, and so many nuanced pathways that students can take while exploring SML research. So, for this seasonal series, I wanted to speak with professors and researchers who are more advanced in their research journeys to share their insight and advice to undergraduate students.

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The Wonderful Act of Grabbing a Coffee with Your Professor

Top-down photo of two coffee mugs on saucers, placed on a worn wood block surrounded by leaves. The coffee has a pattern made in the foam.
Two cups of coffee waiting for you and your professor

Princeton is a wonderful place. Among all the elements that make this university great, in my opinion, two stand out: the students and the professors. Students come from different backgrounds, with all sorts of fabulous experiences. And, in departments across campus, we have so many valuable professors – who are world-renowned in their respective fields – that make this place so amazing. 

But, there sometimes tends to be a divide between these two important elements. In my encounters with my peers, I have often noticed that undergraduates find professors “intimidating” to reach. One of my friends even told me once that “I think my professor’s time is too valuable to be wasted on me.” 

As a first-year student, I found the work of the professors in all of my classes very fascinating. But I was perhaps too shy to reach out to them to learn more about their work. What changed the game for me was that my residential college, Rocky, had organized a “Take your professor to dinner” night. Since it was a structured program planned by the college, it made it much easier for me to invite a professor for dinner. And I did. I invited my chemistry professor, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made at Princeton so far. In fact, to this day, he is still an amazing mentor for me. 

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How to Become a Better Sleuth: Connecting with Faculty through Online Directories

Like many people my age, I am an uncertified, yet impressively efficient sleuth. Give me a name and some time, and I should be able to pull up at least two sources of information on any given person.

We know the process well: start with Google, aim for Facebook, and click on everything in between: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, news media, public tax records, etc. – not to mention the terrifying wonders of Tigerbook.

You probably already have your sleuthing system all figured out, but have you considered applying it to research? Continue reading How to Become a Better Sleuth: Connecting with Faculty through Online Directories

Mentorship in Research: What’s “networking” all about?

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Bennett shares his story.


When I say “networking,” what do you think of?

Affluent, well-dressed extroverts? Annoying emails from the LinkedIn account you signed up for Freshman year (out of a vague sense of professional obligation)? Shallow, self-serving conversations? The old boys’ club?

There’s a lot going on at this career fair, but networking doesn’t have to be intimidating

There are a lot of negative associations that spring up around the word “networking.” And I understand that – there’s definitely something reflexively uncomfortable about conversations where the participants have ulterior motives. As someone who shuns both uncomfortable social interaction and formal wear, it would be understandable if I wrote networking off as an awkward, greedy affair.

But here’s the thing – that’s not what networking is.

One of the best ways I’ve heard it put goes as follows: what if instead of calling it “networking” we called it “learning from each other”?

Because that’s what networking is. And that’s why this post is part of the mentorship series – if you think of networking as finding and consulting mentors, it becomes a lot more approachable and a lot less uncomfortable.

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