University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Isabelle Augenstein is Denmark's youngest female professor

People — She googled her way to finding out that she is the country's youngest woman with the title of professor. She knows there is still gender bias in the world of research

Who is she?

As a 33-year-old just-appointed professor at the Department of Computer Science (DIKU), Isabelle Augenstein is Denmark’s youngest ever female professor.

She does research on natural language processing and develops statistical methods to decode words’ meanings. These then become mathematical formula that can model direct intentions and the concealed emotions and intentions behind a sentence. She has most recently published a report on gender bias in the way in which female politicians are referenced in comments on the social media Reddit.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) has become a large research area internationally, and it is used by companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon – but not in Denmark.

»In Denmark, NLP is a relatively minor area of research. This still applies even though it has grown considerably since I was first employed at the University of Copenhagen five years ago,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

She has been involved in building up the entire NLP field from the ground up in the five years that she has been at the Department of Computer Science DIKU, where the number of staff has grown from eight to 30.

Why am I reading about her now?

Isabelle Augenstein found out herself that she is Denmark’s youngest female professor via Google Search, which also uses NLP.

»It was fun that it turned out to be me,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

In academia, male professors still make up a majority, and that was one of the reasons why she searched on Google.

»It is important to highlight the results of female researchers separately, because it is, unfortunately, still harder to make a career as a woman because of gender bias,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

Her motivation to do the work it takes to land a professorship has been the combination of different interests and abilities which she discovered within herself at a relatively young age, she says:

»I started my interest in NLP when I was at upper secondary school. I liked computer science, and I was very interested in mathematics, language, philosophy and psychology. I also always wanted to work as interdisciplinary as possible. I considered many possibilities, because I wanted to be able to combine my different interests. I found out, finally, that NLP was what I was looking for,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

She grew up in Germany and after upper secondary school started at Heidelberg University in 2008.

Where have I heard about this person before?

Isabelle Augenstein reckons that you may have heard about her work because she spends so much time on her research.

She does have other interests, however, that are almost as far away from the world of research as possible. They have given her new friends and acquaintances.

»I like to relax with other people in my spare time. I do not work, on purpose, all of the time, and I do taekwondo four times a week. I am actually really into it,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

She started taekwondo during the first year of her bachelor’s degree programme in Heidelberg, and she has kept at it ever since.

»It’s a good way to clear your mind after a hard day at university,« says Isabelle Augenstein.

What should I do now?

You can try to make yourself familiar with NLP. Isabelle Augenstein has a few suggestions to get you started:

Here you can find 10 examples of the use of NLP today.

And here are another set of examples of how NLP can be used in ways that not very many people are aware of.

Here is Isabelle Augenstein’s own introductory course on NLP, which she set up five years ago.

On the internet there are three demo sites that allow you to explore NLP and experiment with it. They are here, here and here.