Member Highlight: Dr. Donald S. Williamson, Associate Professor, Ohio State University

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News and Resources for Members of the IEEE Signal Processing Society

Member Highlight: Dr. Donald S. Williamson, Associate Professor, Ohio State University

Dr. Abhishek Appaji

Member Highlight: Dr. Donald S. Williamson
Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering
The Ohio State University, USA

Dr. Donald S. WilliamsonDr. Donald S. Williamson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University, where he is also an affiliate member of the Translational Data Analytics Institute (TDAI) and the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences.  He received his Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from The Ohio State University, a M.S. in electrical engineering from Drexel University and his B.E.E. from the University of Delaware. Prior to earning his Ph.D., he was a Member of the Engineering Staff at Lockheed Martin, where he worked in the general area of radar signal processing. He previously was an Assistant Professor and briefly an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Indiana University.

He is the director of The Audio, Speech and Perceptually-Inspired Research (ASPIRE) group. The groups overarching goal is to develop intelligent sound-processing algorithms that continually learn from user and environmental data in real-world environments, while also preserving user privacy. The groups work has been externally supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense, and the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), to name a few. Dr. Williamson is the recipient of two NSF awards, including an NSF CRII and NSF CAREER award.

Dr. Williamson and The ASPIRE Group conduct interdisciplinary research in the areas of machine (deep) learning, signal processing, psychoacoustics and hearing science. More specifically, they collectively work on projects in the areas listed below:

  • noise removal and reduction for speech data
  • data-driven perceptual speech assessment
  • auditory attention detection
  • audio privacy

We approached Dr. Williamson to learn more:

Why did you choose to become a faculty in the field of signal processing?

It started because I had an interest in the areas where signal processing could be applied. Areas such as, digital communication and consumer electronics. When I was an undergraduate student, I really enjoyed the mathematics and design aspects of signal processing. This combined with my interest in music, speech and audio signals resulting in my decision to pursue this area of research as a graduate student. Now, as an associate professor, I see how this field impacts other areas of research and people in general, and I want to be someone that contributes to that impact.

How does your work affect society?

The name of my research group is The Audio, Speech and Perceptually-Inspired REsearch group (ASPIRE). I chose this name because I wanted it to have multiple meanings. One pertaining to my research, I want my work to be perceptually inspired and consider the impact it has on people. A big part of my research is developing intelligent approaches that effectively remove unwanted sounds from audio signals that contain speech. These sounds can include signals from other competing speakers or unwanted construction noise for example. This area of work has the potential to positively affect the millions of individuals that could wear hearing aids, as this technology can be used in their devices to enable them to better communicate in noisy environments. Furthermore, my research strives to develop perceptually inspired approaches that also incorporate human interaction. I genuinely believe that if we want signal processing and machine learning to have a huge impact, we must incorporate people in the process.

I also chose the name of my group because I want the next generation of young people to aspire to pursue careers in science and engineering. I believe that it is also the responsibility of academics to not just impact society through our technology and research, but to impact people through our interactions and relationships.  I’ve done this by being involved in many efforts to help shape young grade school students, undergraduates, and graduate students, especially those from underrepresented groups.

What challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

I think that there are always professional and personal challenges that everyone faces. Professionally, one of the challenges is developing a proper understanding of the interdisciplinary fields that encompass my work, fields such as signal processing, machine learning, psychoacoustics, and behavioral studies. Success in my area of work requires a deep understanding in each of these fields, and it is challenging to develop this. Thankfully, I’ve had great advisors, mentors, family, and friends that have helped along the way. Additionally, it is difficult to stay knowledgeable about all the new advances in each of these fields, while staying focused on your immediate and long-term goals. So, a challenge really is about being able to stay focused on your work, even though other areas may be important.

What advice would you give to scientists/engineers in signal processing?

For emerging scientists and engineers that have just started to be exposed to the field, I would encourage them to obtain as many experiences as possible. These experiences will help increase their depth and breadth of knowledge, but it will also help them find their niche and area that they want to pursue. I would also encourage them not to get to down about negative experiences, as they can learn from them, and they can help propel them forward. For scientists and engineers that have already established their area of focus, I would suggest that they also consider the big picture with the problem that they are addressing. The solutions that we develop in signal processing impact people and society in many ways, and we need to consider how our solutions can impact them positively and negatively. We are at the time where we can no longer have tunnel vision about our work, and we must consider interdisciplinary aspects of our research and use them to guide our solutions.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It truly is a great time to work in the general area of signal processing. The technology that is being developed in this area is truly having a profound impact in many ways. Every day we witness how this field impacts many people, including the developers of the technology, the users of the technology, and those that write about it and analyze the solutions.  I’m excited about all that will be developed going forward, and how the field continues to grow and expand. Furthermore, I look forward to observing and contributing to this expansion and to the education of a diverse group of people that cultivate new ideas.


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