Comp Sci + MedRen: An Interview with Leona Lu (Trinity College, class of 2023)

Headshot of person, named Leona

Comp Sci + MedRen: An Interview with Leona Lu (Trinity College, class of 2023)

Last summer you participated in a research project led by Professor Astrid Giugni (English and Information Science + Studies) called “Reconstructing Utopia in Restoration London.” What was this project about?

This was a Data+ project, and students got paid a $5,000 stipend to be involved for six weeks last summer! We applied machine learning algorithms like Latent Dirichlet Allocation to seventeenth-century texts before and after the Great Fire of London in 1666 to track political and societal trends. I enjoyed the Data+ project because it provided me with the opportunity to explore machine learning in a fun and interesting environment. I also really enjoyed how I was able to combine in one project my Computer Science major and Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor.

What did you gain from being involved with Professor Giugni’s project?

I valued the mentorship and connections I built. My project leaders, Dr. Giugni and Nicholas Smolenski [graduate student in the Music Dept.] are incredibly smart and approachable. While I had lots of freedom and creativity for my work, it is amazing to have experienced scholars guide your research. They led me to learn about the beauty and unpredictability of research. I also enjoyed working with my Data+ team members, Erika and Audrey. It was great to work with like-minded people during the summer.

You took this further by doing an independent study last fall with Professor Giugni so you could develop your own research project. What was your research about?

I wanted to discover to what extent machine learning could be used in humanities research beyond tracking long-term trends. My independent study project with Dr. Giugni was entitled “Seventeenth-Century Ephemeral Literature: Machine Learning in Understanding Ordinary Lives in London,” which focused on printed broadsides and ballads. I combined quantitative models, such as topic models and sentiment analysis, with close readings of selected texts. My project allowed me to experiment with the interdisciplinary boundaries and characteristics of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Data Science. [Listen to Leona talk about her experience.] 

In March you got to present your work at the undergraduate session of the Northeast Modern Language Association Convention held in Baltimore. That was a big deal! What was that experience like for you? Were you nervous?

It was overwhelming at first because I’m not the best public speaker. But when I arrived at the conference, I felt the support and encouragement from the community. People were super excited to learn about my research. It was also quite exciting to learn about other students’ research at the conference. [View Leona's Poster.]

You are a Comp Sci major and MedRen minor. Would you recommend that other students get involved with Medieval and Renaissance Studies?

Definitely! I think MedRen is a highly interdisciplinary department that offers tons of support and opportunities. The close-knit MedRen community has provided me with a different kind of experience from the Comp Sci department. I have enjoyed going to concerts and plays with fellow MedRen students and professors. MedRen also intersects significantly with quantitative research. Besides my independent research and Data+ work that involves machine learning, I have also done research with the Wired! Lab using 3-D digital visualizations to study 17th-century ivory anatomical manikins housed in the Rubenstein Library. MedRen is like a microcosm of all disciplines, encompassing everything from Chemistry to Computer Science.