Research visit by Michal Štefánik from Masaryk University in Brno

Michal StefanikWhy coming to Helsinki?

I was familiar with what the Helsinki group does from earlier, as I was building a lot upon their outcomes in my previous work; I’ve used OPUS for evaluating the distributional robustness of translation models, and in a few of my previous papers, I’ve also used Helsinki-NLP models as my base models. Additionally, I’ve had a chance to attend one of prof Tiedemann’s (the group leader) public talks, which left a good impression on me.

How was the arrangement? I wrote a message to prof Tiedemann and later talked to Timothee, one of the lab members, which allowed me to align with the group’s topics of interest. Eventually, I picked the dates from February to the end of April: these fitted well my plans, but also it was the time when the days in Helsinki grew longer but there was still enough snow for winter sports.

What was I working on? There were several interesting directions, but I eventually decided to focus on the topic of modularity in language models, which I’ve also spent most of my time working on.

I was looking into the effects of the modularization of languages in multilingual machine translation models: how modular language models disentangle language-specific features in their representations, and on the practical side, on the impact of modularization on downstream quality of translation in over 100 languages.

One of the rougher morning rides at the end of April 🙂

How was the stay, work-wise? Building on so much previous work, the group has great access to both data and compute, which was really helpful in scaling my experiments to so many languages. There is someone to turn to regarding anything resource-related, which allowed me not to get stuck essentially on anything along the way and kept me focused on my main goals.

Though I think, most importantly, the group has a very friendly culture of open communication about essentially anything. It is perfectly common to ask anyone for help, as well as to ask anyone about what they did over the weekend or if they want to join a beer after work!