Ellen Riloff joining UA Department of Computer Science!

June 9, 2023

Welcome new department head!

Ellen Riloff Headshot

Dr. Ellen Riloff will be joining the Department of Computer Science faculty in fall 2023. Dr. Riloff will join as Professor and Associate Department Head for fall and transition to the role of Department Head for spring 2024. We asked Dr. Riloff to answer our "Getting to know you" questions. Responses below. 

Educational background/short bio:
I received a B.S. in applied mathematics (computer science) from Carnegie Mellon University in 1987, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1989 and 1994 respectively. In Fall 1994, I joined the computer science faculty at the University of Utah. After many years at Utah, I am thrilled to be joining the University of Arizona!

Research interests:
My primary research area is natural language processing (NLP), and I am interested in artificial intelligence more broadly. I am fascinated by language and how effortlessly humans communicate, despite rampant ambiguity and assumptions based on common sense knowledge. I have wide-ranging research interests, including information extraction (especially events), affective text analysis (recognizing emotional reactions, explicit and implicit), commonsense knowledge acquisition, semantics, discourse, and pragmatics (the intent behind what we say). I also enjoy working on application-oriented NLP, which is where the rubber meets the road and the limitations of current technology become apparent.

Why did you apply to join the University of Arizona Department of Computer Science?
My interest in joining the University of Arizona CS department revolves around the quality of the people there. The CS faculty are excellent in their respective areas, and the department is still relatively small with a collegial atmosphere. Plus I was familiar with the NLP faculty, who do outstanding research and work on topics that align well with my own research interests, so there is a lot of collaboration potential.

What made you interested in pursuing a career in higher education/the academy?
My journey to professorhood was a winding road! I became interested in AI through my coursework at CMU, and was fortunate to join an AI research project as an undergraduate. But I never even thought about graduate school until my senior year when I was interviewing for jobs. The jobs didn't interest me, but a summer internship had planted a seed that a M.S. might be valuable, and I could learn more about AI. So I went to UMass strictly to get a M.S. degree. But I quickly got involved in NLP research and decided that's what I wanted to do, so I later applied to the Ph.D. program. My interest in teaching came from a winding path to computer science! (Sense a pattern?) The first time that I was exposed to computer science, I hated it. But the second time, I came to love it. I never forgot that ... good teachers are everything.

What are you looking forward to most in coming to UA?
I am looking forward to many things! I am excited to get to know the CS faculty and staff, engage with the computer science students, and be part of a growing CS community at UA. And I can't wait to embark on new collaborative research projects in NLP!

Any other information you would like students, staff, faculty, alumni, etc. to know about you. 
I'm a big believer in open communication, so I encourage everyone to reach out and share your thoughts and ideas. Outside of computer science, I love music and animals, so I'm always happy to talk about those topics too. I have a special fondness for lizards, and hope to see many different species of lizards scurrying about in Arizona!