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Faculty feature: Dr. Rahul Gomes

| Gary Johnson (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Photo caption: Dr. Rahul Gomes, right, analyzes summer research data with a student as part of a National Science Foundation grant the assistant professor received in 2022.

Dr. Rahul Gomes didn’t fully grasp the immense potential of computer science while growing up in India. That all changed when as a high school student, he was fascinated to realize he could use programming languages to build his own calculator.

“It was something new as I didn't have an extensive exposure to personal computers,” Gomes recalls. “That perhaps may also have been a contributing factor toward starting to enjoy the digital realm.” 

Gomes has been enjoying the digital realm ever since, and as an assistant professor of computer science at UW-Eau Claire, he teaches courses like web systems, machine learning, deep learning and computer networks.

His teaching interests include data mining, computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and bioinformatics. He researches in the areas of convolutional neural network (CNN), vision transformers, data mining and feature engineering, and bioinformatics.

Gomes has a bachelor’s in education and in science from St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata, India, a master’s degree in computer science from Sikkim Manipal University in Gangtok, India, and a Ph.D. in computer science from North Dakota State University, in Fargo, North Dakota.

In the video below, Gomes talks about artificial intelligence and how Blugolds are exposed to the technology.

We also caught up with Gomes to discuss teaching, UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire community.

What led you to get into teaching? Tell us about your path.

The fact that I loved teaching and sharing knowledge with students became evident as I started tutoring STEM subjects while at high school. That’s what prompted me to attain a bachelor in education degree to refine my pedagogical skills. Pursuing a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science was the most logical step toward fulfilling my career goal for years to come. 

What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you? 

Education is a two-way process and I am always looking for new and innovative ideas from students which work well in the curriculum. As computer science is a rapidly evolving field where programming languages come and go, it fascinates me to find myself as a learner in my class too. So, bring in your ideas that enable application of efficient computing solutions to make things better.

What is something you’ve worked on at UW-Eau Claire that you’re especially passionate about?

UWEC gave me an opportunity to consolidate my research objectives and integrate them with my teaching responsibilities. After establishing a foundational course in deep learning, and offering this along with several modern courses like machine learning, we have been able to offer a much wider perspective of what computer science is capable of. This has led to an extraordinary number of student-faculty collaborative research projects across different departments as well as clinicians at Mayo Clinic Health System. Developing algorithms with Blugolds that can have a direct impact on patient treatment response time is a great feeling. 

What do you enjoy most about being part of the UW-Eau Claire community?

As an early career faculty member, I was surprised to find the level of support that is available here in terms of teaching, research and the simple thought of making someone feel welcome. Everyone is approachable and always willing to help. Our Blugolds are always excited to learn new things and the curiosity is very unique to this institution. 

What are your thoughts, and perhaps concerns, about the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence?

AI has tremendous potential to advance fields like health care, which is a significant focus of my research. The emergence of large language models like ChatGPT has raised a lot of concerns related to ethics in AI. It’s our goal as educators to teach the next generation about how to build and use AI responsibly by integrating these factors in our courses. Bias in AI also is prevalent to a certain extent. It is important to get a holistic view of the implications that this form of AI can have in our daily life. Our CS curriculum also includes ethics in computing and engineering to address these concerns.

If you hadn’t become a faculty member, what would you be doing for a living?

I would be a research scientist focusing on AI-based solutions in biomedical informatics. UWEC’s collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin is an excellent opportunity for me to participate and collaborate with clinicians. Through several research projects, our Blugolds have also played an integral role in discovering AI-based solutions to streamline patient treatment and follow-up. 

When you’re not on campus, where in Eau Claire is your favorite spot to be?

Besides taking a stroll in Phoenix Park and enjoying food and music at the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, I enjoy an occasional trip to the local fish stores. I enjoy aquascaping and envision a large nature aquarium like the one created by the great Takashi Amano himself. 

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?

“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil deGrasse Tyson (NDT). The wonders of the cosmos still amaze me to this day and the likes of NDT and Brian Cox are infectious. It’s a great read.