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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: PhD Student Pratyusha Kalluri Looks Back At The Fellowship

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    Pratyusha Kalluri (2017 Fellow) hiking with her parents.

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Pratyusha (Ria) Kalluri, a 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to her.

Ria, the daughter of Indian immigrants, was born on the East Coast and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. As an undergraduate at MIT and, subsequently, a visiting researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, Ria built artificial intelligence systems modeling facets of human intelligence and human language processing. She is now a computer science PhD student at Stanford University where she aims to build artificial intelligence that is more humanlike and understandable by synthesizing symbolic and statistical approaches.

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I found the PD Soros Fellowship because, in Fall 2016, I knew that I had fallen in love with AI research, I was applying to PhD programs in computer science to dive deeper into this research, and I was looking for fellowships that would support me—with funding, acknowledgement, and community. But I almost didn’t apply. In fact, after reading several previous Fellows’ profiles, I messaged a friend to say that these stories were beautiful, and also intimidating, leaving me unsure if my experiences, my research, and the ways I spent my time were impactful enough and “New American” enough. Of course, the answer is there is no one way to be impactful, and no one way to be a New American. Eventually, I did apply to the PD Soros Fellowship, because, in the short-term, I really wanted to write the application—to reflect and write a piece of my story—and in the long-run I really wanted to have a community like this.

What has The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program brought to your life?

My fellow PD Soros Fellows! They are artists, musicians, doctors, scientists, political scientists, writers, and leaders. They are thoughtful, playful, and kind. I am grateful for the moments when I have gotten to be in conversation with them as they wax poetic about jazz, send me queer Indian literature, ruminate on their responsibility to their hometown, make big moves, experience devastating failure, experience failure as meditative and simple, tell funny stories, laugh, and support each other. I am lucky to have this group of people believing in me.

As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?

In academia, and particularly in science, I often feel like I am supposed to leave myself at home so that I can walk into my research “clear-eyed and sharp.” In reality, I am at my best—as a human and as a researcher—when I bring my whole self into everything I do. The PD Soros Fellows give me examples of what it looks like to be deeply oneself and do beautiful things.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

If you’re wondering if you’re qualified to apply, you’re qualified to apply! As you prepare to write your application, I encourage you to reflect and then tell a piece of your story, whatever that is. Applying itself can be joyful—I actually found writing my New American essay to be a pretty meaningful experience!

Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s next?

I am currently two years into my PhD at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where I am co-advised by brilliant and supportive Professors Stefano Ermon and Dan Jurafsky. This summer, I am also doing research on the Clarity Team at OpenAI. My research focuses on discovering and creating conceptual reasoning inside machine learning models.

Every day, I am learning to do great AI research. Many days, I am also doing work to foster inclusion in AI and to facilitate radical AI. I hope to contribute to a more beautiful and equitable AI future.