enrico santus


I was born in 1986 in Sardinia, Italy, where i grew up in a large family, a few meters away from the wonderful sea of Calasetta. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence riding mountain bikes and swimming in the sea.

At the age of 15, a couple of months after the collapse of the World Trade Center, I visited my brother in Spain. In that period, he was studying C to apply for a programmer position. I used to sit next to him, curious to understand his code. After that experience, once at home, I decided to invest my first salary — earned the previous summer while working as a bartender — to buy a Personal Computer and an Internet connection. I started reading programming tutorials and joining internet chatrooms, with the naïve dream of becoming a MIT Hacker.

The reality in Sardinia was however very far from such an unrooted dream. Inspired by an uncle who successfully pursued the restaurateur career, I studied to become a cook first (eventually dropping this class after a fish-gutting shock) and a receptionist after.

One day, a friend told me that my school was far too easy, and that this explained my high marks. I did not like his comment. Hence, given my previous interests, I changed school to study IT. I got high marks. So high that the school, for the first time in decades, allowed a student to advance two years in one.

Despite never having planned to receive a university education before, I received a scholarship at the age of 18 and moved to Tuscany to pursue my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees at the University of Pisa. The former was obtained in Modern Literature under the supervision of Domenica Romagno (thesis: The Role of the Reader in Narrative Comprehension) and the latter in Linguistics under the supervision of Alessandro Lenci (thesisSLQS - An Entropy Measure to Identify Hypernyms in Vector Spaces; this thesis was co-supervised by Sabine Schulte Im Walde).

While living in Pisa, I founded Aeolo, a magazine that dealt with literature, art and politics. The motto of the magazine was to revitalize the stale culture with a breath of new wind. The project grew more than expected, crossing the Italian border and featuring many big names, including the Slovenian Nobel candidate for literature, Boris Pahor. This experience immediately turned me into a journalist: in 2008, I started writing for local and national newspapers, including Il Tirreno, L’Unità and Il Sole 24 Ore.

Unfortunately, the journalist salary could not pay the rent. Hence, in November 2012 I started working as a developer of Microsoft grammar checkers for Lionbridge. One year later, I was promoted to language architect, and in few months, I found myself leading numerous international grammar checker projects, including English, Italian, German, European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Hungarian, and Korean.

In the meantime, I kept researching on Computational Linguistics. Thanks to the support of the University of Pisa, I could study in London (Erasmus at the King’s College: 2008/2009), Hong Kong (Erasmus Mundus at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University: 2012), and Stuttgart (internship at the Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung: 2013).

Amongst all the cities I visited, it was Hong Kong that stole my heart. After my first trip, I applied for a fellowship and, upon obtaining it, I went there to pursue my PhD studies at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, under the supervision of Chu-Ren Huang and Qin Lu (thesisMaking Sense: from Word Distribution to Meaning).

After receiving my PhD, I moved to Singapore, where I started one year of postdoc at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), under the supervision of Yue Zhang.

2018 was finally the year of Boston, where I am currently pursuing my second year of postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the supervision of Regina Barzilay. Although not in the shoes of a MIT Hacker, I could somehow make the naïve teenager dream come true.

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