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Mohit Bansal
Mohit Bansal

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the prestigious Director’s Fellowship to assistant professor Mohit Bansal, naming him one of the top performers among the agency’s Young Faculty Award recipients.

UNC Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson said, “We are exceedingly proud of Dr. Bansal’s well-deserved recognition and ground-breaking work.”

DARPA Director’s Fellowships are given to only a few recipients of the agency’s already selective Young Faculty Award recipients, who have demonstrated exceptional project performance through the 24-month base period of the original award. The Young Faculty Award identifies and engages rising research stars in junior faculty positions at U.S. academic institutions. Bansal was one of only 28 recipients of DARPA’s Young Faculty Award in 2017, across all science and engineering fields and U.S. universities, and his performance since then has put him in an even more select group of 13 researchers who were awarded the Director’s Fellowship, which provides up to $500,000 on top of the initial $500,000 Young Faculty Award.

“This award is a great recognition of the consequential nature of Dr. Bansal’s innovations in natural language processing. This is a great honor for him and for UNC,” said Jaye Cable, senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Young Faculty Award has supported Bansal’s research on developing life-long learning-based artificial intelligence models that continually revise their neural architecture, use feedback from common-sense knowledge bases, and automate several expensive manual decisions in multi-task learning, and the Director’s Fellowship will help his lab continue important research in this direction of life-long and self-learning models. Bansal is the director of the UNC-NLP Lab, which focuses on natural language processing and generation, multimodal and grounded machine learning, and deep learning-based text analysis.

Bansal has concurrently received the Microsoft Investigator Fellowship, a two-year fellowship that recognizes higher education faculty in the United States whose exceptional talent identifies them as distinguished scientists and teachers. This fellowship program is designed to empower researchers who plan to make an impact with research and teaching using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. Fellows receive an unrestricted gift of $200,000 over two years to support their research.

Bansal is one of 15 fellows in the program’s inaugural group, with around 300 applications received (all full-time faculty at U.S. universities were eligible to apply).

“This exciting Microsoft fellowship will help us further advance our research goals of developing human-like NLG, Q&A, and dialogue systems with multimodal grounding, personality and generalizable knowledge skills,” Bansal said.

Other benefits of the program include invitations to attend multiple events during the two-year term. The goal is to enable the members of the cohort to make connections with other faculty from leading universities and Microsoft and participate in the greater academic community (the full list of winners can be found on the Microsoft Research website). More details can be found in this Microsoft Research blog post.

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