ITMO Fellowship Stories: "Look for a Team"

Gerhard Wohlgennant came to ITMO University from Austria to participate in the ITMO Fellowship Program. His main field of research is knowledge extraction from natural language. In this exclusive interview he gives us some insight into his past and current research and how he found this opportunity to work in Russia. 

His first experience in Russia was as a visiting professor at the Higher School of Economics for a month. “Russia has an interesting atmosphere, different to a typical Western European country,” he shared, “I was always interested as a child in the cold war, and when I started University, I decided to take a Russian language course, so Russia has always been in the background for me.” In the course of his travels Dr. Wohlgennant met Dmitry Mouromtsev, the head of the Department of Applied Mathematics at ITMO University, at conferences both in Prague and Japan, and he encouraged him to participate in ITMO’s Fellowship program.


Gerhard Wohlgennant

Dr. Wohlgennant is from the far Western part of Austria by the Swiss border, in Dornbirn, he then later moved and lived in Vienna for 20 years. There he studied business informatics at the University of Vienna and also completed his PhD on ontology learning on a method for learning ontology relations by combining corpus-based techniques and reasoning on data from Semantic Web sources in 2010. Most recently he was working as an assistant professor at the Institute of Information Business of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and at ITMO has joined the team at the “International Laboratory of Information Science and Semantic Technologies”.


Austria

His main field of research while at ITMO University is “knowledge extraction from natural language”. He explains that most human knowledge exists in written form, and it is well understandable for human beings but not for a computer which only sees bits but cannot understand the actual meaning. So for the computer to interact with this text, it needs to understand its structure and grammar and then to extract facts from the text.  Knowledge can be represented as triples: subject, predicate and object. Using these triples you can query the wealth of information available based on parameters you choose. For example, you can search for right-handed tennis players from Switzerland born after 1980 With traditional web search finding such information is tedious, but if you have extracted the knowledge into a knowledge base, you can then query the knowledge base to find exactly the information needed. Additionally, the results are linked to other resources where more information can be found, if required. 

You can try this yourself on a website like Ontodia which helps you visualize semantic data and their links. However, due to the complications of natural language, automatic knowledge extraction from written text is not 100% correct. This is why some scientists use crowdsourcing, finding people who can check through the data based on questions provided to them, allowing data sets to be annotated by a large number of people in a short period of time. Crowdsourcing is yet another of Wohlgennant’s research interests.

“Gerhard is a very good fit for our team, his work style and ideas are the perfect complement to what we do. The fact that there are small cultural differences for us is the perfect chance to show staff and students that there are different styles of work and study. And it allows you to expand your view of the world, to make it more open. Gerhard has been able to quickly get onto writing scientific articles and is working well with the PhD students who are helping him. I think we will have a great two years together and will learn a lot from him.”  shared Dmitry Muromstev.

Dmitry Muromtsev

Dr. Wohlgennant further shared about the perks of academia, he explains, that they are “having more freedom than in a normal job, you have the chance to travel a lot, to go to all kinds of countries and conferences, meet new people, it’s an intellectual challenge. When you do research you have some kind of pressure because you have to keep up, you’re forced to learn something new all the time.”


Team of researchers

While he will be at ITMO he will also offer some courses in English to Russian and international students. If he were to give advice to those just starting out in research in the Academic scene, his advice is “to look for a team, find good people that you have the same research interests in, the key is to find a good supervisor. Also as an enthusiastic PhD student you can jump into the specifics of your research topic but it’s important to first gain a deep foundation of understanding of the whole field before delving into your narrower topic.”  

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