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24 May 2021

An Interview with Christian Benscome Lopez, #Tapia2021 Academic Panels & Workshop Chair

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Christian Lopez is the 2021 Tapia Conference Academic Panels and Workshops Chair and an Assistant Professor of Computer Science with an affiliation in Mechanical Engineering at Lafayette College.  We spoke to Christian about what new projects he is working on and what he is looking forward to at Tapia this year.

What new projects are you working on this year?

We have been collecting tweets about Covid-19 to study public discourse.  Our dataset has over 1.5 billion tweets about Covid-19 collected since January 2020.  We have collected all of this data and augmented the dataset with sentiment information and topic modeling information for researchers to use. Augmenting the dataset is very computationally intensive, but by doing it ourselves we are making it easier for  researchers to leverage this large dataset.  Our data is freely available on GitHub at github.com/lopezbec/COVID19_Tweets_Dataset.  A lot of people have already taken advantage of the dataset, we are seeing people are looking at the specific types of misinformation that has been tweeted.  We are learning a lot about how social media can be used to battle Covid and future pandemics.  

What has the last year been like working with students virtually?

I have actually been on parental leave this semester.  The faculty at Lafayette were able to choose face to face or remote.  Lafayette has a strict protocol in place, with a lot of testing, and quarantine areas for students.  Faculty are  getting  tested 2x per week. However, with parental leave I am  still working with a few students, and writing papers and grants,  but the baby is taking a lot of our time.

You were a part of the 2020 Virtual Tapia Celebration – what did you learn from taking a conference virtual?

Virtual opened the door to more people who would not be able to come.  Most undergrads go to the conference for Career Fair, so a real opportunity for them.  The flexibility was good.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Tapia.  What topics would you like to see represented and how should people be engaging.  What are your favorite Tapia memories?

It is nice to show the progression and how far the conference has gone and how much impact and help it has provided to people over the years. It will be great to show the impact it can have.  It will also be nice to reach out to people who were in early conferences and got their jobs there.  I was a student and went to tapia twice, by coincidence I met the department head of my current department.  Everything really went smoothly; I was finishing my PHD and presented at Tapia.  I installed the Tapia Conference app and saw someone was looking for people interested in faculty positions.  We met to talk about it.  I ended up interviewing, visiting and joining the college.

What would you like to see happen during the next 20 years to diversity in computing?

There is still a lot of progress to be made.  Even big companies are working on being more inclusive and equitable to make sure Machine Learning models are not biased and marginalize people.  People need to really focus on the negative impacts and consequences of the technology and it needs to be understood.