Meet the Faculty - Qianwen Wang

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

It has actually been a very long journey. I moved a lot in the last 10 years. My undergraduate was in Mainland China and my Ph.D. was at Hong Kong. Then, I moved to Boston for my postdoc at Harvard and now I moved to Minneapolis. When I did my on-site interview at the University of Minnesota, that was actually my first time visiting Minnesota. I can feel the Department of Computer Science & Engineering has a really supportive and collaborative atmosphere, which I think is very important for success as a new faculty. Plus there was already a well-established research cluster on human-centered computing.

In terms of my research, I got into the world of computer science at a relatively late stage. I have friends who started programming in high school and even in middle school and primary school. I actually started learning computer science principles in the second year of my Ph.D. This later start afforded me a mature perspective and a clear focus, which turned into a profound passion for the field. I realized that I had discovered my true calling, one where my unique path could become a strength.

We would love to hear more about your research!

Primarily, I am a visualization researcher and more specifically, my research is in the intersection between interactive visualization and explainable machine learning. Basically, I try to build interactive visualization tools to help people better understand and interact with machine learning models, and more importantly, using those models to analyze and understand their own data. I focus on two parts. The first part is how we can present better visualizations to help people understand the models they are using and understand the data. Also, I’m working on the interaction mechanism and the feedback algorithm to help people incorporate this feedback to improve the performance of AI. My work has a specific focus on biomedical applications because of their profound impact and the potential to leverage AI in addressing critical healthcare challenges.

What do you hope to accomplish with this work? What is the real-world impact for the average person?

In recent years, the accessibility to AI has significantly increased, with various tools readily available online, often right within your web browser. Despite this progress, there is still a considerable gap in facilitating the application of AI in real-world decision making. My research aim to provide more intuitive interfaces for general people, even without a deep AI expertise, to use and understand AI models. This not only helps people understand the decisions made by AI, but also paves the way for customizing the model to cater to individual needs, making AI more user-centric and adaptive.

What courses are you teaching this fall? What can students expect to get out of that class?

This fall, I’m not teaching any courses. I’m going to do a graduate seminar next semester. I’m thinking about teaching a class related to the interactive visual interface for machine learning. Students will learn how to build an interactive visual interface for an AI model. More importantly, they will learn how to explain an AI model and understand why interactive visualization can facilitate communication between humans and AI.

What do you do outside of the classroom for fun?

I am a pet parent! I have a dog and cat. I also like making things, like crochet and baking. When you are a researcher, it is a long process with a lot of uncertainty and it takes awhile to have returns and results. I like being able to make something and have an end product right away. It’s therapeutic for me.

Do you have a favorite spot in the city?

I have not lived here very long. Actually, I just moved here last month. But I like that Minneapolis has good museums. I like the mill city museum and I plan to go to the art institute soon. I also like going to Open Book. It is a great place to hang out with people in the community.