Students walking on campus in the fall.

Provost's Fellow Dylan Cashman

Computer science Ph.D. candidate Dylan Cashman has been named a 2016 Provost's Fellow.

How did you become interested in computer science?

My grandmother was actually a COBOL programmer for Merrill Lynch in the 1970s and 1980s. She always encouraged my brothers and me to use computers and to try hard in school. Even now in her eighties, she pulls out printouts of her old programs and walks me through them. She inspired me to try it out when I got to college, and to always challenge myself to learn more and more. 

What kind of research have you worked on in this area? What are the broader implications of your research?

My research focuses on making data analysis more usable by non-experts. While big data and evidence-based decision-making have become completely ubiquitous concepts, the math and the machinery involved can be incredibly complex and opaque. Users without a statistical background are prone to misinterpreting their data, or ignoring it all together. I work in the intersection of visual analytics, machine learning, and human-computer interaction to expand the audience of data analysis tools by building systems, holding user studies, and developing meta-algorithms to adapt existing methods to a more novice user.

What research topics do you think you might pursue?

In the near future, I will be working with Professor Remco Chang and the Visual Analytics Lab at Tufts to analyze implicit user interactions in Human In the Loop analytics systems. We hope to show these interactions can be used to support decision-making. There are several applications we are exploring, primarily in the cybersecurity and medical fields. I have a math background, so in the long run, I'm very interested in exploring a more formal definition of sensemaking process of visual analytics that incorporates the formalism of algebra and topology.

What made Tufts the right choice for you?

I love the small size of the department - I know almost all of the professors and other graduate students. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and we all can lean on each other for help. It was also important for me to be in Boston. Being surrounded by so many different schools makes it easy to find people to collaborate with locally, and there are so many interesting companies and startups in the area. I really like the work being done in Dr. Chang's lab, as well. Most importantly, I believe that the Computer Science department at Tufts understands the value of concentrated thought; we aren't given so much systems work or teaching work or coursework that we have no time to think. It's a really carefully-crafted balance of all three.

Once you finish your degree program, what would you ultimately like to be doing with your time?

I would really like to be a tenure-tracked professor. I love to teach and it's very important to me that whatever I end up doing, some part of it is in teaching and mentoring. I also would love to continue my research. If for any reason teaching doesn't work out, however, I know that I will have many opportunities to work in the industry. I feel very fortunate that the subject that most interests me, computer science, is a subject where expertise is greatly valued in many different domains.

What does having this fellowship and the financial support mean to your ability to pursue a graduate education?

I worked for some years after undergraduate so I'm a bit older than some of the other grad students. I'm getting married soon and hopefully starting a family soon, and it's very important to me that I am able to move forward in my family life. Without the financial support, I may not have pursued more graduate education, due to the opportunity cost of not working. Now, I feel so lucky that I get to have my cake and eat it too.