Alumni Spotlight — Mohan Zalake

Mohan Zalake, MSDAS 2017, is a Ph.D. Student in Human-Centered Computing at the University of Florida. He works in the Virtual Experiences Research Group as an investigator of embodied conversational agents (ECAs), which are digital 3-D characters that converse with humans through natural language-style dialogues. His interests include virtual reality, natural language processing, machine learning, computer graphics, and human-computer interaction.

In what ways did your Digital Arts and Sciences experience prepare you for your career?

I’m currently a PhD student and researcher at the University of Florida. When I was doing my Digital Arts and Science masters, I learned skills related to computer graphics and animation, and it’s how I transitioned to research. I reached out to a professor who was working in virtual reality and since, have used my skills in computer graphics in virtual reality and my current workload.

What do you like about your current career?

The best thing is that I get to explore different research questions that I’m interested in, but at the same time, have an impact on the society itself. For example, working with departments of journalism, or physicians to create simulations and experiences that are used by real patients in hospitals — right now, around 3000 to 4000 patients have used my software.

What are some of your favorite memories from when you were in the program?

I think it would be working in the groups I was involved in, such as Gator VR, while I was a student at the University of Florida. Also participating in hackathons and creating new projects through classes.

What advice would you give to current students?

I would recommend that any undergraduate or masters students who are interested in going into research, to start soon. As soon as you’re in your first year or second year, reach out to a professor whose work you like. If given the opportunity to work with them, you can think about if you want to continue in that direction.

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