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Ramakanth Pasunuru
January 23, 2019

Computer science doctoral student Ramakanth Pasunuru, who works with assistant professor Mohit Bansal in the UNC-NLP group, received the prestigious 2019 Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship for his work in natural language generation and machine learning. Pasunuru was one of only 10 recipients across all of North America for 2019.

The Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship covers full tuition and fees for two academic years, with an additional $42,000 annual stipend to help with living expenses and conference travel. Pasunuru will also be offered an invitation to interview for a salaried internship with leading Microsoft researchers who are working on cutting-edge projects related to their field of study. Microsoft Research also pays for his travel to attend the PhD Summit, a two-day fellow workshop held at the Redmond lab in the fall.

The fellowship was established in 2008. Since its inception, the program has supported 132 fellows that have gone on to perform pioneering research in the technology industry or accept faculty appointments at universities around the world.

“These are the best PhD students in North America; they are incredibly talented and it is really an honor to support them at this important and exciting stage of their careers,” said Neel Joshi, a Senior Researcher at Microsoft’s research lab in Redmond, Washington, and chair of the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship.

Pasunuru’s research focuses on models that can automatically generate text summaries, conversational responses, captions and dialogue jointly from text and video modalities. He also incorporates semantic skills and knowledge (e.g., logical entailment and saliency) into these language generation models using dynamic multi-task learning and multi-reward reinforcement learning methods. He is currently developing models that can continually learn and adapt based on feedback. More information can be found on his webpage.

“I’m truly thankful, excited and humbled to be a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow,” stated Pasunuru. “This fellowship will be incredibly beneficial in helping me move forward with my career aspirations and research goal of human-level conversational agents.”

“I am very proud of Ramakanth for this outstanding achievement,” said Bansal, Pasunuru’s adviser. “His research is making strong contributions to the area of multimodal language generation, reinforcement learning and multi-task learning. I am excited about the next steps in his research, as well as the opportunities that this prestigious MSR PhD fellowship will provide him with.”

Pasunuru has had his publications recognized with awards at prestigious NLP conferences, receiving an ACL 2017 Outstanding Paper Award and a COLING 2018 Area Chair Favorites Award. He also earned an ACL Don and Betty Walker Scholarship in 2017.

For more information about the fellowship and the full list of MSR PhD fellows, see the Microsoft Research blog post titled, “Winning combination: 2019 Microsoft Research Ada Lovelace and PhD Fellowships support top talent”.