Posted: 30/07/19

Sheila Castilho graduated in Linguistics and Education from the UNIOESTE University in Brazil.

She holds a joint Master in Natural Language Processing from the University of Wolverhampton –UK and the University of Algarve – Portugal.

She completed her PhD dissertation at Dublin City University in 2016. Currently, she is a post-doctoral researcher at the ADAPT Centre. Sheila is a programme committee member of several machine translation and NLP conferences (WMT, RANLP, TC (AsLing), EAMT and COLING) and has acted as a reviewer for high-profile journals (Natural Language Engineering, Revista Tradumàtica, the Machine Translation Journal and JosTrans).

She was part of the TraMOOC project and part of the iADAATPA project. She has authored several journal articles and book chapters on translation technology, post-editing of machine translation, user evaluation of machine translation, and translators’ perception of machine translation – a total of 30 publications to date. She is a co-editor of the book 'Translation Quality Assessment: From Principles to Practice', published in 2018 by Springer. She is also a co-editor of the Machine Translation Journal special issue on ‘Human factors In NMT’, published in 2019. Her research interests include machine translation, post-editing, machine and human translation evaluation, document-level machine translation, usability, and translation technologies.

WHO DO YOU MOST ADMIRE IN BUSINESS?

Hmm, I’m not a businesswoman so I wouldn’t know anyone in business, really. As an academic, I’m more in connection with other academics, universities, research institutions, and so on. In that context, I admire quite a few strong women in research who are opening the doors to other female researchers that are starting. I have quite a few colleagues and friends around me, whom I admire, and it would take me a few pages to name them all! However, if we’re talking about famous people, I admire the engineer, journalist and author Angela Saini who has written a fantastic book called “Inferior” about how sexist notions have been part of scientific research and how we are finally fighting, both female and male scientists, to change that.

WHAT COMPANIES OR BRANDS DO YOU LIKE OR DO YOU THINK ARE GETTING IT RIGHT?

I have seen quite a few brands trying to do better. In particular, I like how Netflix is trying to appeal to global audiences by betting on “foreign-language” (note the quotation in a foreign language because, for some of us, me included, the foreign language is English!) TV shows and movies that would never have crossed the country borders or the language barriers. Our world is so rich in languages and cultures that it is a shame sometimes to focus on things from English speaking countries only. I think they are doing great not only in providing this wide range of cultural art, but they are also treating topics that need to be discussed in society. For example, the series “When they see us” that talks about a group of black teens blamed for a rape they didn't commit in New York in 1989 and were exonerated only in 2002. Alternatively, “Elisa & Marcela”, a movie that tells the true story of a woman who adopted a male identity to marry the woman she loved or “The most beautiful thing”, a series set in Rio de Janeiro that shows the struggle and resilience of women in the 50’s and 60’s Brazil. So, I think Netflix is doing great, and I hope they keep up the tasty cultural variety.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?

I think the best advice I was ever given was to absorb all the information I could during my academic life, to really listen - but to do so critically. It is not just because someone is standing in front of you saying things with confidence that it means they are not to be questioned. Research has taught me that we still do not know many things about our world and ourselves, but, above all, keep researching, peer reviewing and building onto the knowledge of the others that came before you and the ones that are right now with you.

WHAT DRIVES OR MOTIVATES YOU EACH DAY?

Curiosity. It may sound a bit geeky, but I love when I am running an experiment and the time comes to analyse the data. When I start getting some results, it is so exciting to see the patterns, the things I can prove, disprove or things that I had not even thought about and suddenly it is there before me – most likely in a big spreadsheet for me! It is fascinating, and that is what makes me think on a Sunday night, “Oh, great, I’m going to the lab tomorrow to get those results finished”!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL MEDIA?

I think that everything new has its hype, then we start to get used to it and then it ‘dies down’ a bit (the hype curves down). Also, it seems to me that we, humans, tend to go through a tug-of-war with some issues, and social media is no exception. When it started, we jumped into it and then we want to go to the extreme of deleting all of it completely. I do not think that we will stop using it entirely, but eventually, learn to balance social media and learn to use it more wisely. Moreover, that is thanks to the ‘delete it all’ side of the rope. We need an opposite point of view to be able to see the whole picture.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR DO YOU MENTOR ANYONE?

I do not have a mentor yet. I did have (and still have) incredible supervisors that have helped me to get where I am now. I also have amazing colleagues who are always supporting me and even pushing me a bit more, people I can really go to if I have a problem, a doubt, a question. I also did not have any female role models growing up, and I think that is so important to have. So one of the things I work for is to be a good example, a role model for my nieces. I do wish one day I can mentor someone - that is assuming someone would like to be mentored by me! Ha!

HOW DO YOU NETWORK?

I like networking. Mostly my networking happens in academic conferences that I attend throughout the year. However, I also network in the industry and educational events. I think for me, networking is easy enough because I am genuinely curious about what people are doing and how they are doing that, so I tend to talk a lot and ask loads of questions! I also love connecting people, so if I meet someone doing something similar to what a colleague or an acquaintance is doing, I immediately remember that and try to put them in contact.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS LINE OF WORK AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO GET INTO THE SAME LINE OF WORK?

I am a machine translation specialist by ‘accident’. When I finished my undergrad course in Brazil, I was teaching English (I had been an English teacher there for a few years). One year after graduation I started to have this itch of “I need to know more – this can’t be all the knowledge I’ll have”, so I decided to look for masters programmes in translation in Brazil. I had done some translation work, and I had always liked it. One student of mine at the time told me about this “Erasmus Mundus scholarship” which her friend had applied to which would fund a master in Europe. “You definitely should try it, teacher”, she said. So, I decided to have a look at the courses and saw one module in this master in natural language processing called ‘machine translation and translation tools’, and I thought “I love translation already so why not”. So, I applied for that and got the scholarship. I spent one and a half years in England and six months in Portugal doing the masters, and I completely fell in love with machine translation and translation technologies in general. From that, I pursued a PhD and chose Dublin, more specifically DCU, as it has a great history of collaboration with industry. I wanted my research to solve real-world problems. Moreover, I have been doing that – solving real-world problems – for over six years now. Also, I could not be happier.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?

To be honest, I think if I had known something in advance, I might not have done the things I did. So that would be a shame because I think I’m right where I am supposed to be.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON REASON FOR PEOPLE FAILING OR GIVING UP?

I think the lack of opportunity is a big part of why people just give up. You cannot show what and how much you can do if no one gives you the chance to prove it. When getting that chance, we fail when we do not believe that we can do that – the impostor syndrome is a big rock in our shoes. That is why having the opportunity and then surround yourself with amazing, capable people (a mentor!) is, in my view, a great way to succeed.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR LIFE?

I’m very proud of where I am professionally. Being from a poor background from the Brazilian countryside, having a good education was not always possible, but I was just too stubborn to stop studying. So, I used whatever tools I had to be able to get an education. It was not easy at all and looking back. I am very proud of how hard I worked and how I never let myself give up. But I do think that there should be easier and fairer ways for people to get an education.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?

Professional success is when it is Sunday night, and I am excited to go back to work on Monday. Living the whole week wishing for the weekend just so you are out of work is my biggest fear. Personal success is to be able to live doing the job you love and to be able to balance that with your personal life. As well, for me is to have my nieces (I have 5) looking at me like I’m the “cool aunt who lives abroad and travels so much”. So yes, I’m the cool aunt! And I like being the cool aunt because I can be the role model for my nieces, to show them to go that step further, to believe in themselves, not to fear, not to believe for one second that you are determined by the amount of money your family had. The world is out there for everyone.

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR UNIQUE SKILL(S) IS THAT HAS HELPED YOU BECOME SUCCESSFUL?

Curiosity and stubbornness are some of them, but if I'm being 100% honest, anger helped me a lot as well. I was always very angry about the unfairness I experienced in Brazil, like getting a proper education. I was angry at people giving up because it was too hard – and it was! – but I was mostly angry because I never had an opportunity to show how good I could be. So that is why when the opportunity came, I latched on to it. I was eager to show what I could do; I was tired of being angry. So yes, curiosity, anger and stubbornness. A weird mixed that worked for me. Also, I like to think that I have a good sense of self-improvement, of becoming better at everything I do. I try not to settle for the minimum; I want to fly high. I think sometimes we may deviate from the path - and this is sometimes lonely because it is new territory – but I was never afraid of this, of opening ground. I actually constantly sought it. I think this has helped me a lot in my profession.

WHAT VALUABLE LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED SO FAR THAT YOU COULD SHARE WITH OUR AUDIENCE?

Help as much as you can. Sometimes people just need a little word of encouragement, a “you’re doing well”. Sometimes people just need a small opportunity, and they will do great things. Be kind and help as much as you can. I think that is what I have to share.

IS THERE ANYTHING NEW YOU ARE WORKING ON THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?

Yes! I’m working on discourse-level machine translation evaluation. Currently, most of the evaluation performed to check the quality of machine translation system is performed at a sentence level, which does not allow for assessing suprasentential context, textual cohesion and coherence types of errors, such as the mistranslation of ambiguous words.
For example, when translating the English sentence “I think my husband put it together backwards because it barely rocks” into Portuguese, we need to know the gender of “it” to be able to translate it properly. If I add the sentence that came before that, we have: “It is pretty. I think my husband put it together backwards because it barely rocks.” Still, we cannot say the gender of ‘it’ to be able to translate the term “pretty” as adjectives in Portuguese have genders. So, adding one more sentence for context: “It is more of an olive green than a mint green. It is pretty. I think my husband put it together backwards because it barely rocks.” Still not able to decipher what “it” is. It is only with the one more sentence for context we can tell they are talking about a rocking chair: “This chair is way darker than it is in the picture. It is more of an olive green than a mint green. It is pretty. I think my husband put it together backwards because it barely rocks.” So now we can translated the full text, as we know that “it” is feminine (“chair” in Portuguese is female) and so we can make the agreement for the adjectives properly: “Esta cadeira é mais escura do que na foto. Ela está mais para um verde oliva do que para um verde menta. Ela é bonita. Eu acho que meu marido montou de trás pra frente porque ela mal se balança.”
As you can see, all the bold parts need to have the gender (and number) so we can translate it. When we evaluate machine translation systems on the sentence level, we cannot tell if the translation is actually correct because we are missing the context.
In that case, the translation for the first example “I think my husband put it together backwards because it barely rocks” could be in the masculine ("Eu acho que meu marido montou de trás pra frente porque ele mal se balança”) and we would assess it as ‘correct’ when it is not entirely. So we can see how much we lose doing sentence-level translations and evaluation. The task is quite challenging, but I am very excited about this new project and optimistic we’ll have great results soon.

WHERE’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE?

My favourite place is the Iguassu Falls (Cataratas do Iguaçu, in Portuguese), back in my hometown Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. It is a powerful place that makes you feel energized. I have travelled a lot and, to this date, I am still to find a place as amazing as that one. I know I’m biased to say but, hey, if you don’t believe me, give it a try!

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY?

I like singing a lot, so karaoke nights is something I like doing.

MOST EMBARRASSING EXPERIENCE?

Always when I forget someone’s name. I’m really bad at names.

WHAT ARE YOU NOT VERY GOOD AT AND WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT?

Names! It’s embarrassing sometimes, so I just say to everyone I’m not good with names, and so far they’re kind enough to don’t take it personally. I’m very good at my job (of course!), I’m very organized, and so it makes me good at being a researcher, and I am also a great cleaner!

WHICH WORDS DO YOU OVERUSE?

Since I moved to Ireland, I have been using the word “grand” a lot, as in “it’ll be grand” – something Irish people don’t even notice, but they say a lot! I use it so much that friends now give me presents with that word (birthday cards, books), they tag me in jokes about it. I even have a tattoo with the ‘be grand’ sentence. Sure look, be grand.

YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM OF CHOICE?

For personal use, I still think Facebook is the easiest way to keep in touch with my family in Brazil and my friends all over the world. For work, I think Twitter is the best one. It allows me to live tweet conference and events I am at, and also follow conferences and events I could not attend, as well as being aware of new research in my field.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When I am travelling.

YOUR FAVOURITE (WRITER/AUTHOR/ MOVIE/SINGER/TV SHOW)?

I’m quite an eclectic person, and I tend to watch/read/listen to almost everything. I do love all about sci-fi movies, books, tv shows. Isaac Asimov is my favourite sci-fi writer. Logically everything that is his and becomes a movie or tv series, I’ll watch. For music, again, I like almost everything, but Aerosmith is the highest one in my list.

WHAT LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

There are quite a few people in my day to day life whom I admire a lot. I especially really admire people who go out of their way to help others. But if we’re talking about famous people, I have to mention Malala Yousafzai. This girl has been through a horrible experience, and instead of giving up and being afraid, she is using her influence now to pressure leaders everywhere to give young people the education they deserve. This is admirable and hats off to her.

A POSITIVE PHRASE YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH PEOPLE.

“The truth is out there” is a phrase from The X-Files series. I love it because it means different things depending on which ‘yous’ look at it. For me, as a researcher, that the truth is out there and I have to keep looking for it with science. For me, as an individual, it means the truth about myself is out there, so I travel to figure myself out. The world is out there, and so it the truth. No wonder this is the sentence I used as the epigraph for both my master dissertation and PhD thesis!

Originally Featured on The Global Interview

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