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Transforming doctoral study into an innovative career

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21 December 2021

Through combining depth of knowledge with an entrepreneurial mindset, Cosmin Laslau has created a career that has allowed him to travel the world and work at the forefront of technology innovation. He currently works in Boston on the team developing Amazon’s Alexa. 

Cosmin says that from a very young age he was interested in innovation and technology, influenced by his family and the books he had read. He chose his course of study based on passion, earning a PhD in Scanned Probe Microscopy and Electrochemistry at the University of Auckland. As many doctoral candidates can relate to, Cosmin says “At the time, the career path that I would follow wasn’t totally clear. It’s been a great adventure to find roles that allow me to combine research with real-world applications.” His intuition led Cosmin to work in data science when it was an emerging field, before moving on to join pioneers in machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP).

While working towards his doctorate, Cosmin took part in the Velocity entrepreneurship development programme, administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Cosmin says “The challenge and opportunity of distilling my research into a general-audience pitch was a definite highlight of the Velocity programme for me. Communication to stakeholders of all backgrounds is such an important skill in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Velocity programme does a great job of teaching that and also helping participants practice it. Another highlight for me was the calibre of the other programme participants, with their diversity of ideas and approaches. It was very inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by these awesome folks. Innovation benefits tremendously from a collaborative process, and Velocity does well to help foster that community at the University of Auckland.”

Following his PhD, Cosmin took a job at Lux Research, advancing to become Director of Research Products. During that time, he also undertook further studies in Machine Learning via MIT’s Professional Education programme. Cosmin says “It was fantastic to apply the electrochemistry training of my doctoral studies towards the commercialisation of energy storage, electric vehicle, and grid-scale battery topics. Lux Research’s work on these topics with many of the world’s largest companies, all around the world, led to some great projects and connections all over the world, travelling around Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, and around the U.S. – a great experience at that stage of life.”

The wealth of knowledge and experience Cosmin has developed has led to him joining the team developing one of the world’s most high profile innovations – Amazon’s Alexa. “I work on the spoken language understanding part of Alexa, as part of a team that specialises in automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding. We aim to make Alexa even better at helping customers, and I’m fortunate to work with some amazing scientists, linguists, engineers, and product managers towards that goal.”

Alexa is at the forefront of the rapidly developing field of Ambient Computing. Cosmin says “Ambient computing aims to make technology more seamlessly helpful as part of our everyday lives. I remember growing up, we had one single desktop computer in our house, with a bulky, low-resolution monitor and a large tower to house the computer’s components. Today, that’s already been downsized to fit in your pocket or on your wrist. Ambient computing will look to take this trend even further, as computing becomes even more helpful, portable, and frictionless.”

Alexa now has a staggering 130,000 skills. Cosmin says “Alexa is a much-loved music DJ in our family – our kids love to ask Alexa for their favourite tunes, and there’s often a queue of requests that we have to get in since Alexa is so in-demand for her music-playing. Also, ‘tell me a joke’ gets asked a lot of Alexa in our house, as we all love comedy.”

When asked to reflect on the connections between deep-dive study as a doctoral student and a career in innovation and entrepreneurship, Cosmin says “One of the things that innovation and entrepreneurship have in common with doctoral studies is the sheer amount of time dedication required to make an impact. The years of singular focus and dedication that a PhD programme requires puts you in the right frame of mind for innovation and entrepreneurship more broadly, at least in my experience. It was great hands-on training for the lifecycle of innovation and the level of patience and dedication required to bring an idea to reality.”

His advice to postgraduate students wanting to work in innovative fields and find a practical application to their research is to broaden the scope of their interests and experiences. “What I studied in undergraduate differed from what I did for my PhD, and the career that followed was different yet again. Those twists and turns broaden your experience and skill set, and make for a more interesting journey along the way as well!”

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education
University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

social media

21 December 2021

Through combining depth of knowledge with an entrepreneurial mindset, Cosmin Laslau has created a career that has allowed him to travel the world and work at the forefront of technology innovation. He currently works in Boston on the team developing Amazon’s Alexa. 

Cosmin says that from a very young age he was interested in innovation and technology, influenced by his family and the books he had read. He chose his course of study based on passion, earning a PhD in Scanned Probe Microscopy and Electrochemistry at the University of Auckland. As many doctoral candidates can relate to, Cosmin says “At the time, the career path that I would follow wasn’t totally clear. It’s been a great adventure to find roles that allow me to combine research with real-world applications.” His intuition led Cosmin to work in data science when it was an emerging field, before moving on to join pioneers in machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP).

While working towards his doctorate, Cosmin took part in the Velocity entrepreneurship development programme, administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Cosmin says “The challenge and opportunity of distilling my research into a general-audience pitch was a definite highlight of the Velocity programme for me. Communication to stakeholders of all backgrounds is such an important skill in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Velocity programme does a great job of teaching that and also helping participants practice it. Another highlight for me was the calibre of the other programme participants, with their diversity of ideas and approaches. It was very inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by these awesome folks. Innovation benefits tremendously from a collaborative process, and Velocity does well to help foster that community at the University of Auckland.”

Following his PhD, Cosmin took a job at Lux Research, advancing to become Director of Research Products. During that time, he also undertook further studies in Machine Learning via MIT’s Professional Education programme. Cosmin says “It was fantastic to apply the electrochemistry training of my doctoral studies towards the commercialisation of energy storage, electric vehicle, and grid-scale battery topics. Lux Research’s work on these topics with many of the world’s largest companies, all around the world, led to some great projects and connections all over the world, travelling around Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, and around the U.S. – a great experience at that stage of life.”

The wealth of knowledge and experience Cosmin has developed has led to him joining the team developing one of the world’s most high profile innovations – Amazon’s Alexa. “I work on the spoken language understanding part of Alexa, as part of a team that specialises in automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding. We aim to make Alexa even better at helping customers, and I’m fortunate to work with some amazing scientists, linguists, engineers, and product managers towards that goal.”

Alexa is at the forefront of the rapidly developing field of Ambient Computing. Cosmin says “Ambient computing aims to make technology more seamlessly helpful as part of our everyday lives. I remember growing up, we had one single desktop computer in our house, with a bulky, low-resolution monitor and a large tower to house the computer’s components. Today, that’s already been downsized to fit in your pocket or on your wrist. Ambient computing will look to take this trend even further, as computing becomes even more helpful, portable, and frictionless.”

Alexa now has a staggering 130,000 skills. Cosmin says “Alexa is a much-loved music DJ in our family – our kids love to ask Alexa for their favourite tunes, and there’s often a queue of requests that we have to get in since Alexa is so in-demand for her music-playing. Also, ‘tell me a joke’ gets asked a lot of Alexa in our house, as we all love comedy.”

When asked to reflect on the connections between deep-dive study as a doctoral student and a career in innovation and entrepreneurship, Cosmin says “One of the things that innovation and entrepreneurship have in common with doctoral studies is the sheer amount of time dedication required to make an impact. The years of singular focus and dedication that a PhD programme requires puts you in the right frame of mind for innovation and entrepreneurship more broadly, at least in my experience. It was great hands-on training for the lifecycle of innovation and the level of patience and dedication required to bring an idea to reality.”

His advice to postgraduate students wanting to work in innovative fields and find a practical application to their research is to broaden the scope of their interests and experiences. “What I studied in undergraduate differed from what I did for my PhD, and the career that followed was different yet again. Those twists and turns broaden your experience and skill set, and make for a more interesting journey along the way as well!”


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