Issue: 01/2023

A conversation with visiting professors

At the heart of the Leibniz AI Lab is the opportunity to work with outstanding scientists from all over the world. Since the beginning of the Future Lab, several professors have already been guests in Hannover and have contributed their share to the research and given new impulses. Currently, Prof. Niloy Ganguly from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur and Prof. Prasenjit Mitra from Pennsylvania State University are in Hanover, and until recently Prof. Manolis Koubarakis from the National and Kapodistrias University of Athens was also a guest. Sophie Boneß spoke with them about the Leibniz AI Lab, their research fields and life in Germany.

Start-ups are trained to be able to present their idea in a so-called “elevator pitch”. Can you also describe your research briefly and concisely?

Niloy Ganguly: I research the use of Deep Learning and network techniques to develop accurate and fair prediction and recommendation techniques and develop pre-training methods to build trustworthy AI systems.

Manolis Koubarakis: I have always worked in the field of artificial intelligence. Currently, I am working on knowledge graphs with a focus on spatial and temporal data. For more than a decade, my group has been leading European and national projects at the frontiers of artificial intelligence and remote sensing.

Prasenjit Mitra: My research focuses on data mining, predictive and causal modelling with applications in medical informatics. Even before I joined the Leibniz AI Lab, I was working on AI in medicine.

Why did you join the Leibniz AI Lab?

Mitra: The Leibniz AI Lab is a renowned laboratory, one of the three International Future Laboratories in Germany, with the ability and mission to conduct cutting-edge research and provide the necessary resources to do so. Top researchers work here together with the MHH, one of the best university hospitals in Germany, which in turn is one of the most developed countries in the world. From a personal point of view, I also wanted to live in Germany and experience Europe, and my daughter studies here.

Ganguly: I liked the idea of using AI for precision medicine. Also, the opportunity to work with smart and knowledgeable researchers from all over the world was enticing.

Koubarakis: Prof. Nejdl and I worked together on peer-to-peer systems a long time ago. Since then, I have been following the work of the L3S, and when I heard about the Leibniz AI Lab, I applied for a visiting professorship.

What wisdom would you pass on to (future) PhD students?

Mitra: I would say: do research because it has a big impact on a real problem, not just to do something fancy. Follow your dreams. Work on something you really care about. Data processing is like a Swiss army knife. A multi-tool that can literally be used in any field. I’ve worked in geography, geology, anthropology, art, chemistry, environmental science, medicine, sports analytics, computational linguistics, animal welfare and a few other fields. Choose an application that you are passionate about and then the work becomes a hobby and fun. Work hard and sincerely with integrity and be kind to others you meet in your profession.

Ganguly: My advice is simple: acquire as much knowledge as possible. Read a lot of research papers and listen to a lot of lectures.

Koubarakis: Find a topic for your doctorate early on with the help of your mentor. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of publications that come out every day, especially on trending topics like AI. Question the ideas you find in the papers you read by asking yourself two questions: “Does the paper I am reading actually solve the problem it claims to solve? If so, is there a better solution?”.

What do you like best about living and working in Germany?

Koubarakis: I liked the friendly, international and collegial atmosphere at L3S. I enjoyed living in Hanover because the city is just the right size. It is not too small and not too big, very civilised with lots of green spaces and very friendly people.

Ganguly: Yes, that’s true. Everyone is really very friendly and collegial.

Mitra: Yes, I can’t confirm the cliché that Germans are rather unfriendly at all. At work and everywhere else, everyone was always friendly. I also appreciate all the culture, history, architecture and nature – for the first time in 26 years I don’t own a car!

The questions were asked by Sophie Boneß. 

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Sophie Boneß

Sophie Boneß is a communications staff member. Among other things, she is in charge of the Leibniz AI Lab.