Megagon Team Profile: Wataru Hirota, Research Associate

Welcome to our fifth team profile blog post! In this article, we interview Wataru Hirota, a Research Associate at Megagon Labs. You’ll learn about Wataru’s internship at Megagon, what it’s like to start a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and why communication is crucial for research.

How did you arrive at your current role at Megagon?

While I was completing my Master’s degree at Osaka University, my supervisor suggested that I apply for an internship here at Megagon. I had never considered such an opportunity before. It excited me, so I decided to take a chance.

There was one big problem worth mentioning — I was not very familiar with the English language! I had actually never left Japan before working at Megagon. To prepare, I practiced speaking in English every day from then on. More specifically, I focused on conveying my ideas clearly and understanding what other people were saying. Surprisingly, this made me think about my research in new ways; I had to comprehend concepts on a deeper level in order to communicate them in this unfamiliar language.

Fortunately, all of this effort paid off! I landed an internship at Megagon Labs. After finishing my Master’s degree, I ended up joining this company as a full-time Research Associate.

What's something you learned during your internship that you'll always remember?

That’s a tough question! I learned a lot through discussions with my team members. Whenever I have interesting ideas or experimental results, I can always depend on them to give me honest feedback. These conversations often give me new insights that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself.

Also, I think these discussions have made me better at explaining technical concepts more succinctly and cogently. So I think the main lesson I picked up from my internship is to never underestimate the potential and value of candid communication. This is something that I strive to remember every day as a Research Associate here.

What was your proudest accomplishment during your internship?

I’m extremely proud and honored to have the chance to publish our work in AAAI 2020! You can see this paper at the following link: Emu: Enhancing Multilingual Sentence Embeddings with Semantic Specialization. I appreciate all of the support I received from my team members on this: Yoshi, Behzad, and Wang-Chiew, thank you — I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing group of people to work with!

Embeddings were a vital component of this research; they were difficult to discuss due to their abstract nature. Throughout various discussions with my team, I constantly had to refine my visualization of embeddings in order to properly address the research objective. It’s inevitable that some information gets lost when visualizing how embeddings work, but practicing this helps us focus on its essential elements.

Ultimately, I think that visualization helped us discuss embeddings more effectively. In turn, this made our paper more appealing. While this approach may seem subtly different, I believe it was one of the big breakthroughs we made.

What was your favorite part of your internship here at Megagon Labs?

Between my amazing, intelligent team members and the extraordinary work we get to do, I couldn’t possibly pick one aspect. But I do have to say that I really enjoyed brewing coffee with our special espresso maker!

It turns out that many people on Megagon’s team are gifted in making coffee taste incredible. I think we should consider opening up a coffee shop! But on a more serious note, I’ve learned a few new coffee-making tricks while we’ve been away from the office. I can’t wait to show them off once we resume work in-person.

What was it like to start a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely been a difficult time for everyone around the world. Many of us have had to adapt in ways we never envisioned before this crisis.

I wasn’t expecting my work style as a Research Associate to be so radically different from how I worked during my internship here. I think this is due to working remotely as opposed to in-person. Because communication is so limited these days, it’s more important than ever before to convey ideas in the right way. With that said, I’m extremely grateful that I put in the time to practice English every day leading up to my internship.

On a personal level, the pandemic has caused some of my favorite restaurants to close permanently. We are living through some tough times right now. But I’m trying to be optimistic. On the bright side, we don’t have to deal with traffic as much as before!

What one piece of advice would you offer to aspiring research scientists?

Knowing technical concepts is great, but it’s not enough. Communication often takes a backseat to other skills that aspiring research scientists prioritize, but it’s essential for success. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.”

Always think of how you could improve how you share your insights. And always give people your full attention when they are explaining what they are working on. Not only is this insightful, but it’s often very inspiring.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this special interview with Wataru! Check out our blog to see other team member profiles and learn more about Megagon’s recent work!

Written by Wataru Hirota and Megagon Labs

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