MIT computer scientist Regina Barzilay and Harvard historian Sunil Amrith are each among the 24 recipients of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, which is sometimes referred as the “genius grant.”
The five-year fellowship, which is awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” comes with a total stipend of $625,000 that’s considered “no strings attached.” In other words, recipients are free to use the money as they decide to.
Barzilay, a professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), works at the convergence of machine learning and natural language processing. After earning her Ph.D. at Columbia University with a dissertation centered on developing systems that can summarize news stories, she joined MIT in 2003 and focused on syntactic parsing and the deciphering of dead languages, among other things.
“I have been blessed to work with amazing students and colleagues who challenge my thinking, inspire me, and give me a new perspective on research,” Barzilay said in a statement. “From my first days at MIT, it was clear to me that you don’t have to conform to existing standards in the field. You are free to explore any direction you like.”
Sunil Amrith, who is currently a Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies and a professor of history at Harvard University, focused his research on migration and its role in shaping present-day social and cultural dynamics. His research demonstrates the crucial role of the Bay of Bengal in connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia through the circulation of people and goods.
“I was inspired to become a historian by curiosity about the world around me and curiosity about how the world came to be the way it is,” Amrith said in a video on his MacArthur profile page.
Honored and delighted to be a #MacFellow —and still in shock!
— Sunil Amrith (@sunilamrith) October 11, 2017
To qualify for consideration, nominees for a MacArthur Fellowship “must be either residents or citizens of the United States, and must not hold elective office or advanced positions in government,” as explained on the website.
Since 1981, 989 people have been named MacArthur Fellows.