Ashvini Varatharaj

                  About Me

I am a third year PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, being advised by Professor Simon Todd and Professor Laurel Brehm. My keen research interests lie in the intricate fields of computational psycholinguistics and child language acquisition. 

Recently, my scholarly journey has ventured into understanding the pivotal role language plays in orchestrating emotions and sentiments, a venture that promises to marry linguistics with the profound complexities of the human emotional spectrum and mental health. 

Alongside my academic pursuits, I have nurtured a passion for developing product ideas, stemming from my personal interest in understanding emotions and mental health and being able to build technology that can enable children to develop healthy emotional skills. 

I am actively seeking summer internships for 2024 . I am looking for opportunities where I can bring my interdisciplinary knowledge to the forefront, crafting products that are insightful, empathic, and grounded in scientific rigor, specifically in the space of mental health, edtech and/or emotion research.


Refereed Conference Presentations 


1. Botelho, A. F., Varatharaj, A., Patikorn, T., Doherty, D., Adjei, S. A., Beck, J. E. (2019). Developing Early Detectors of Student Attrition and Wheel Spinning Using Deep Learning. Journal of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies. (link).

2. Closser, A. H., Erickson, J. A., Smith, H., Varatharaj, A., & Botelho, A. F. (2021). Blending learning analytics and embodied design to model students’ comprehension of measurement using their actions, speech, and gestures. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 100391. 

2. Dharani Sethuram, Lakshmi N, Ashvini V (2015 ). Home Security Robot. In International Journal of Computer Science & Communication Networks,Vol 5(3),169-172 [pdf]

Full Paper

1.Varatharaj, A.,Botelho, A., Lu, X., Heffernan, N. T. (2020). Supporting Teacher Assessment in Chinese Language Learning Using Textual and Tonal Features. In Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED).

2.Botelho, A. F., Varatharaj, A., VanInwegen, E., & Heffernan, N. T. (2019, March). Refusing to Try: Characterizing Early Stopout on Student Assignments. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge. (Accepted)  [ pdf]

3.Erickson, J., Botelho, A.F., McAteer, S., Varatharaj, A., Heffernan, N. T. The Automated Grading of Student Open Responses in Mathematics [Accepted in 10th International Conference on Learning Analytics Knowledge. 2020.]


1. Ashvini Varatharaj, Laurel Brehm(2023). How do we learn to talk about our emotions?. Poster presented at the 14th California Cognitive Science Conference (CCSC) at UC Berkeley.

2. Ashvini Varatharaj, Anthony Botelho, Xiwen Lu and Neil Heffernan. Hǎo Fā Yīn: Developing Automated Audio Assessment Tools for a Chinese Language Course. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Educational Data Mining 2019. 

Recent Events 


Excited to share that our collaborative work with the ChiCI lab on "Children As Evaluators: Understanding Emotion Language Acquisition" has been accepted at the ACM Interaction Design and Child (IDC) 2024 conference happening at Delft, Netherlands in June! 


Excited to share that I have an accepted talk at the Conference of the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE) happening at Northern Ireland in July 2024!

Workshop paper at CHI 2024

Excited to share that our paper on using Augmented Reality for teaching Linguistic Justice to children has been accepted at the AR4Social Justice workshop at CHI 2024, happening in Hawaii.

Note: I also fully support the appeal to the CHI community (

Talk Accepted at VALP6 2024

Excited to share that our abstract based on my MA thesis on Implicit Learning in Non-Māori speakers has been accepted at VALP6 (Variation and Language Processing 6) conference which will be held in Vigo from 26-28 June 2024.

Conference talk at LISO 2023

I had the opportunity to present the 26th Annual Conference on Language, Interaction and Social Organization (LISO) held at University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Poster presentation at CCSC 2023

 I had the opportunity to present at the 14th Annual California Cognitive Science Conference (CCSC) held at University of California, Berkeley From my own personal experiences, I have been interested in understanding the role of language in emotions, and how children and adults develop the concept of fine-grained emotions by looking through an interdisciplinary lens. Working with Dr.Laurel Brehm, I am really excited to have started a whole new project on this! The poster I presented was titled “How do we learn to talk about our emotions?” .

New Venture Fair 2023

Super excited to share that for the second year in a row, my team was one of the 20 that was selected to present at the New Venture Fair (NVC Semi-Finals) at UC Santa Barbara. Our product, SELie, is aimed at helping children gain emotion regulation skills. It was great to pitch our idea and get feedback at the fair!

New Venture Fair 2022

Presented our idea at the New Venture Competition at UCSB. As a team of two, we worked on building an app to help address the challenge of under-resourced mental health resources for students at universities using wearable and behavioral data. Was selected from a twenty teams to proceed to the next round! 

featured by women in AI Asia pacific

Happy to be featured as a part of the #NextInAICampaign initiated by Women in AI, Women in AI Asia Pacific (APAC) and WaiCOUNCIL( by Women in AI India). 

Presented our work on Heritage language at nhLrC and isb13

Interesting research on heritage languages and studying complexity change in languages using information theoretic methods. I worked with Prof. Gregory Scontras from UC Irvine and Prof. Naomi Nagy from University of Toronto on this work. Hope to continue this work during my PhD. 

Presented at the 13th Heritage Language Research Institute and International Symposium on Bilingualism ISB13.

Regents fellow 2021

Really happy to receive the Regents fellowship to start my PhD in Fall 2021.

The Regents of the University of California established the prestigious Regents Scholarship Award in 1962 to recognize students of outstanding academic achievement and promise. 

Defended my Masters Thesis! ( Summer 2020)

After two years of exciting research, learning about student learning and understanding how we can use AI to improve education, I finally defended my thesis work on "Developing Automated Audio Assessment Tools for a Chinese Language Course". Could not have done it without the support and mentorship from 

My advisor : Dr. Neil Heffernan , mentor :Dr. Anthony Botelho

Thesis Reader : Dr. Jacob Whitehill

Collaborator : Prof. Xiwen Lu

Please find my thesis here.

AIED 2020 

Presented my work on "Supporting Teacher Assessment in Chinese Language Learning Using Textual and Tonal Features" in Artificial Intelligence in Education Conference 2020.

Varatharaj, A., Botelho, A. F., Lu, X., & Heffernan, N. T. (2020, July). Supporting Teacher Assessment in Chinese Language Learning Using Textual and Tonal Features. In International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (pp. 562-573). Springer, Cham.  

Graduate Research and Innovation Exchange (GRIE) 2020

One of the finalists in the GRIE 

Presented my research at the annual Graduate Research Innovation Exchange (GRIE). It is a poster celebration and competition that highlights the breadth, diversity, and quality of WPI's graduate research. 

Update: All the finalists ended up receiving the split prize money due to the final event being cancelled due to covid-19 . 

Tech Together Hackathon 2020 

IBM Research Challenge Winning Team and

DELL Driving Human Progress Challenge Winners. 

Had an amazing time at TechTogether 2020 with a passionate and hardworking team. Our project was based on "Drug Re-purposing for Cancer - A Data Driven Approach ". The data-set was provided by IBM. Check out our project here. 


WRAMP (Women in Reseach and Mentorship Program) , Dec 2019

Successfully completed the WRAMP program which involved me mentoring two high school students and one undergraduate student to complete a research project. Check out our final project on 'Data Science for Social Good' below. It was an amazing experience to be part of this program.