Noah J Bergam

Student, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Mathematics Physics Social Sciences Technology

Research Topic

Computer Science Mathematics

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2022

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English German

My hobbies/interests are:

Basketball Chess Film & TV Running/jogging Swimming Table tennis Video/filmmaking

Influencer Of

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 24, 2022

What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

A few weeks ago, we discussed interdisciplinarity; while then I reveled in it, the monkey's paw has curled and I've realized that being properly equipped to discuss an interdisciplinary topic means doing a lot of reading. I'm having to become a relative master of topics like land reform, indigenous rights, common pool resources, and nahua ethnographies, and that's only to get started! I need a solid base before I can continue or posit new ideas, since I don't want to risk missing something crucial that fundamentally pulls the rug out from under any model or claim I stake. Overall, doing this preambulatory research has shown me that I'll be entering not one conversation but many, even though my project is relatively specific, due to its interdisciplinary nature, so I need to be relatively well-versed in the language of every conversation I'm joining. So the scope of my project has changed in terms of time: this will likely have to continue throughout the year (something I've already discussed with my faculty mentor), and this summer (which I foresee continuing past the six weeks...) I'll really just focus on developing a theoretical framework or solid basis from where to depart as the year continues. The "problem" with just reading, however, is that it's not exactly productive—on Tuesday, I spent about three hours combing through books on land reform, but from their relation to my project and what I can extrapolate from them I will likely only be able to yield a paragraph. So one of the challenges will definitely be to stop equating productivity with advancement: my research is progressing, even if there isn't a paper by the end of summer to speak for it. 

What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

I truly can't sing Zotero's praises enough. I've been using it as pretty much my foremost tool in organizing and annotating my research—I haven't opened a Google Doc in weeks. It's easy to use, has an incredible amount of functionalities, and helps me keep everything in one place. If there's anything concrete to have come from this summer, is that I am now STRONGLY a Zotero convert.

First off, I want to say that I have never heard the term "the monkey's paw has curled" but I will now probably be using it on the daily. Secondly, I'd like to echo the point you make about interdisciplinary work. It's hard! It's like learning two different languages and then finding a way to write poetry with both of them. You find that there are conflicts and disconnects and different ways of expressing the same key idea. Different fields have different priorities, sometimes for good reason, sometimes quite arbitrarily. 

I am also surprised but glad that you have used Zotero so much. I have mostly stuck to Google docs and LaTeX to record my citations as I write my paper, but I find that might be more a product of habit than of true ease. 

Jun 24, 2022

    Q1: One sort of embarrassing roadblock was that I had this idea for an experiment that wasn't exactly possible. I had written the idea down and developed preliminary tables for how to show the data, but then I realized I had not quite fleshed out the specifics, so come time to write the code, I realized there was a flaw in my understanding of how large language model pre-training actually works. I adjusted, and luckily I was able to salvage an analogous experiment that would essentially test the same idea. 

    I have also recently been bouncing between the appeal of writing and coding as I try to wrap up my experiments. I tend to be much more engaged in laying out my ideas in theory––most of the time, I find coding to be quite tedious, as it comes down to me looking up specific keywords and libraries to implement relatively simple ideas that come to mind. However, I need to code. A lot. And this was the first week where I really spent substantial time training models and running experiments. It is hard. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. At the same time, it really has influenced my theories and hypotheses. It's made my technical writing more precise.

    • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

    Q2: Honestly, I think rereading some of the papers that I read earlier in the program has been a very useful exercise. There tends to be this desire to look at new material as you delve deeper into a subject, but I think that desire tends to run contradictory to the fact that you need to review and check your baseline understanding of things. It really helps connect the dots and make you realize that you're perhaps not as lost as you thought––that you're making progress in your understanding.

    Jun 16, 2022
    Replying to Neha Mani
    • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

    My research exists as part of a larger, ongoing study into characterizing one of the most fundamental pathways in cellular biology: the Wnt pathway. I’ve been working in this lab for quite some time (since September) so I hope to continue working on characterizing this pathway structurally and through molecular dynamics in the coming years. I expect my research to yield some insights into how to best purify the enzyme PORCN in order to freeze it on a grid for structural elucidation. Throughout the summer, I hope to make progress toward my goal of freezing my protein on a grid to collect microscopy data. 

    • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

    My goal of making progress towards elucidating the structure of PORCN is significant because, in order to design cancer therapeutics, it is crucial that we know the architecture of the proteins that these drugs are meant to target—otherwise, the drugs aren’t properly docked into the binding sites and thus are less efficacious. I’m really interested in this research question because in making progress in basic biochemistry, there are immense implications in medicine and pharmacology.  

    It is impressive to think of how useful this kind of research is in creating medical treatments. As a researcher, my mind tends to drift to more useless questions, such as...what does it mean to understand the structure of a molecule? I suppose physically it comes down to creating some kind of static, three-dimensional picture of it, with an understood scale, but how accurate can a static representation be? We have to contend with electron clouds, which probably change in nontrivial ways when the molecule comes in contact with a changed electric field. And do the bonds always keep the same shape under these kinds of interactions? These are kind of just musings but I imagine they have at least some significance on what it means to "elucidate the structure" of PORCN.

    Jun 16, 2022

      Q1: I hope to write a paper, revise it for a couple of weeks after the program, and submit it to conferences or journals by the end of the summer. I haven't thought much about making an annotated bibliography as a deliverable, but I guess I already kind of have one in the works, and it could be a nice kind of blog post to go alongside the paper. If I don't "finish" my project in terms of running all the experiments I currently plan on running, I will definitely continue to work on it after this program. To be more specific, there are two sets of experiments I am working on:

      - Using automated stance detection to track the political undertones of Supreme Court justices' statements during oral arguments.

      - Testing the utility of my SCOTUS stance detection dataset as a pre-training task for other legal AI tasks like judgment prediction or similar case matching. 

      Q2: I think my research matters on both a social and a technical level. The Supreme Court's relationship with public opinion and the political undertones of its legal performance present fundamental questions and incessant tensions in American democracy. I think understanding those tensions makes us more active citizens. It gives us critical power. Furthermore, I think my project presents certain technical insights on the utility of "legal stance detection," which, as far as I know, is not a recognized legal AI task.

      Jun 13, 2022
      Replying to Charlotte Hoskins
      • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

      The history and literature I am exploring through my research has a lot of ethical implications. One such dilemma is carefully curating a list of literature to read and base my study on. As my time period is the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of literature is written by white people for white audiences. Because of this, I have actively included works written by Indigenous Australian authors and Native American authors to aid my exploration of settler colonialism. Another ethical issue I am facing surrounds language. Many texts I am reading use racist and white supremacist language, so I have decide to censor any quotes I use that contain such language throughout my research project. 

      • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

      Both my faculty advisor and my graduate student mentor have allowed me to view alternative ways to tackle my investigation. Based on these, I have reconsidered how I can approach my topic, which is very broad and daunting. Because imperialism covers so many different areas, I have changed my project by considering focussing on a particular aspect of it, namely settler colonialism in Australia and the United States. 

      Hi Charlotte, I think the problem you face with explicating imperialist literature is really interesting. I would imagine that it is quite difficult to quote and analyze racist language in an academic setting, especially since it is such language and its expressed sentiments which might ultimately be of the most interest in your research. It seems like you are approaching it carefully and will ultimately find ways to express your thoughts appropriately.

      Jun 13, 2022
      • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

      I think there are a couple of ways to think about this question. My project is in some sense focused on a huge ethical issue inherent to the judicial branch of the federal government: specifically, the question of whether or not the Supreme Court (ought to) act as a counter-majoritarian institution. As many of us are aware, this question is particularly relevant in the context of the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision draft, which may end of overturning Roe v. Wade. Of course, I think this question is posed in a different sense, prompting me to consider the ethical issues of conducting my research. Since I am working with mostly publicly available data, I think the answer is no––although I have recently started thinking about whether there is something potentially harmful about trying to spin narratives from data in order to make it look like results. I think that is a risk we run quite often in the quantitative social sciences, and it takes careful, rigorous methodology and honest exposition to mitigate. 

      • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

      Yes. I've received very different perspectives from my faculty mentor (a CS professor), my graduate student mentor (who studies political science), and a professor (of economics) to whom I was recently referred. I think this diversity of perspectives is a useful thing at this early stage in the project, although it makes life kind of difficult. I don't want to get into the weeds here, but I think my mentor and I have agreed that there is a compelling computer science problem (namely, pre-training of legal AI) that I can address in this project. However, the social sciences voices seem to suggest a more granular look at the written opinion data. For instance, one interesting idea was to look specifically at 5-4 decisions (since they have a certain controlled essence) and analyze the sentiment expressed in the written opinions over time; another was to look at the exposition of the Warren Court and compare that to other periods in SCOTUS history.

      Jun 02, 2022
      Replying to Julia Goralsky

      1. Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

      My project is very much focused on the minute details of cancer genetics, and my academic interests also lie at the molecular and cellular level of biochemistry. Thus, it is very easy for me to get caught up in examining these scientific mechanisms from an objective point of view. I think being exposed to the interdisciplinary range of projects has really helped me to put my own work into perspective and visualize how even the smallest details of biological sciences can relate to meaningful lives, events, and cultures. This correlation has made me even more excited about the work I’m doing, but also interested in further studying the manners in which medicine can intersect with language, literature, and policy. 

      2. As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

      I think my major challenge will be remembering the new protocols required for my project, especially pertaining to tissue cultures. Another challenge for me will likely be finding an adequate amount of pre-existing literature that I can use to understand my project. Aside from these, I am mostly just excited about the beginning stages of my project.

      I want to echo the excitement you express in your answer to the second question. Starting a research project is daunting and overwhelming at times, but it's really an unmatched experience in the world of academics. Unlike starting a class, you don't have a syllabus that will tell you exactly where you go. To some extent, you decide the flow of ideas, the themes and the lessons and the discussion. I don't want to speak too much for bio labs, of course, but I imagine that beyond the more specific protocols the researcher really decides the meta-protocol, which seems like the fun of it. 

      Jun 02, 2022

      There are pros and cons to having interdisciplinary cohort. On one hand, it's harder to immediately relate to the work that others are doing. To quote Femi, we wake up every day and go to war with ourselves when we do research, and everyone's battles look very different. As a result, though, it feels less like of a competition to get the most results and more like a shared journey. We have everything to gain from collaboration, whether that means trading skills, pointing out resources, or just conversing about the ideas we are working with. The exciting thing about such collaboration is that you might be quite surprised by what you learn. In that way, I really like the interdisciplinary aspect of the Laidlaw program. 

      The biggest challenges for me right now are kind of the heart of my project: I need text data, and I need to implement certain methods to analyze that data. Thankfully, on Tuesday, I procured two century's worth of Supreme Court opinions and have started playing around with sentiment analysis on them. While that gave me a certain sense of satisfaction, I know that I have to do a lot more digging if I want to collect meaningful results. One promising development is that I have discovered some APIs from which I can extract opinion articles and social media, although I haven't used them in much depth yet. On a methodological level, I also need to build a stance detection model, which I know how to do in theory but will take some time in practice.