Contents adapted with permission from Tamara Denning,, retrieved August 2018. Thank you! Hers has more pictures of cats though.

How to Prepare
Let's Meet!
Prospective UMBC Students
So you think you might be interested in doing work with IRAL or Dr. M? That's great! This page will help you.

  • Read this whole page. Although it is long, this will make our meeting more productive and help you, and me, get what you need.
  • Look over the information on the lab web page to get some idea what we're doing and what project(s) you find interesting. You may find it useful to read a paper or two.


  1. Yes, I am taking new students, especially PhDs. I am looking for self-motivated people who listen well and work well in a close-knit, collaborative group. Good communication skills help. The first step is talking to me.

  2. Attend the meeting/reading group. A good way to get involved is to ask if you can go to group meetings or seminars and actively participate. Independent studies and RA appointments usually come after that.

  3. Independent studies. These start with a brainstorming session, then a 2-page statement of what you are planning to do. We'll have weekly meetings and/or emailed status reports, a final 6-8 page research paper-style report, and a final presentation.

  4. Funding isn't immediate. I prefer to offer RAs after I've already worked with you (in independent study, class, or group meetings).
    • Master's students are not usually funded via research assistantships.
    • I don't offer TA-ships; that's departmental.

  5. YMMV: Every point on this list is somewhat flexible.

What I'll Ask You

I'm actively seeking students who are interested in robotics, machine learning, and natural language processing. You don't have to be interested in all of those things, but it's a good idea to look over the lab's research areas and papers and figure out what we're doing that's most interesting.

During our meeting I will ask two big questions; think about these beforehand:

Why THIS lab?

  • Robots/machine learning are cool? That's true! What experience do you have with them ("none" is okay)? What specifically about them appeals to you?
  • You need funding? That's fine! But, read the point above, funding isn't immediate.
  • You have an idea that you think might make a neat research project? Awesome, let's talk about it!
  • You don't have an advisor and you're talking to people? That's a great move! Let's talk.
  • You need to connect with a (any) faculty member because you need letters of recommendation? Cool! Let's talk about what you can do that would be beneficial to us both.
  • Are you trying to develop skills to show potential employers (and the actual project doesn't matter)? Great! We always have tasks.

What are your goals? What do you want to do?

  • Push the boundaries of what machine learning can do?
  • Work on robots that can use language to listen and talk to people?
  • Develop robotics for social good (for example, helping seniors live independently)?
  • Tackle hard problems in natural language and communication?
  • Learn to use modern robotics tools and software?
  • Something with robots, which are cool, but you aren't sure what?
  • Something else that you'll tell me about?

Ph.D., Master's, and Undergraduate

I'm always aiming to have a couple of undergraduates, a few masters students, and 5-6 full-time Ph.D. students. There's room for you! Especially PhD students. ;-)

  • Undergraduates usually get the most from research later (junior and senior year). Consider taking AI, machine learning, NLP, or robotics for background. I'm happy to talk to you, but you usually need to focus on the basics first. We actively recruit Meyerhoff and CWIT scholars. Please come talk to me.

  • Master's students will often do projects that help the overall research direction. Thesis students have generally gotten deeply involved in a research project and are hoping to do some research professionally.

  • Ph.D. students and prospective PhDs are especially welcome.
    • PhD students usually receive paid tuition and a stipend to live on.
    • You'll start by getting familiar with the projects in the lab (and reading a LOT of papers). Over time, that will evolve into your own project, something that you are guiding yourself.
    • All PhD students publish papers; most will travel to conferences in interesting places. It's a lot of fun.

Okay, I want to know more!

After reading the above,
schedule a 15-minute meeting with me. You can only schedule two weeks out, so if I'm not showing availability, just try again later.

The IRAL lab has four faculty members. You may wish to contact Drs. Ferraro, Engel, or Raff as well as talking to me.

Prospective UMBC students

Like many schools, we do graduate student admittance at the department level; individual lab groups do not admit students. I definitely encourage you to apply for the program, but an admissions committee makes final decisions, not me. Group membership is usually decided after admittance, and I don't generally offer funding until after I've worked with you in some capacity (see funding isn't immediate, above). I have no say in TA decisions, not even for my own classes.

If you've done research work before, or if we've met at a conference, or someone pointed you towards me, or something, you can email me for more about UMBC and to tell me about yourself and why I should look out for your application. Please don't send me a resume. Just tell me how our interests overlap and why you're interested in my lab and work. Basically, answer the questions above.

To apply:

And one small piece of advice...

If you send me this email:

Dear Professor, I have read your web page and I am very interested in your work on Artificial intelligence and robotics and language. I have studied [...] at [...] with GPA [...] and have skills with C, C++, and HTML. I am sure I would be very successful in the IRAL lab under your supervision.
I will not be impressed. Please take the time to tell me your reasons for interest in IRAL specifically and what you think you might do here.