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  1. Modeling the time evolution of discrete sets of items (e.g., genetic mutations) is a fundamental problem in many biomedical applications. We approach this problem through the lens of continuous-time Markov chains, and show that the resulting learning task is generally underspecified in the usual setting of cross-sectional data. We explore a perhaps surprising remedy: including a number of additional independent items can help determine time order, and hence resolve underspecification. This is in sharp contrast to the common practice of limiting the analysis to a small subset of relevant items, which is followed largely due to poor scaling of existing methods. To put our theoretical insight into practice, we develop an approximate likelihood maximization method for learning continuous-time Markov chains, which can scale to hundreds of items and is orders of magnitude faster than previous methods. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach on synthetic and real cancer data. 
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  2. The generalization of representations learned via contrastive learning depends crucially on what features of the data are extracted. However, we observe that the contrastive loss does not always sufficiently guide which features are extracted, a behavior that can negatively impact the performance on downstream tasks via “shortcuts”, i.e., by inadvertently suppressing important predictive features. We find that feature extraction is influenced by the difficulty of the so-called instance discrimination task (i.e., the task of discriminating pairs of similar points from pairs of dissimilar ones). Although harder pairs improve the representation of some features, the improvement comes at the cost of suppressing previously well represented features. In response, we propose implicit feature modification (IFM), a method for altering positive and negative samples in order to guide contrastive models towards capturing a wider variety of predictive features. Empirically, we observe that IFM reduces feature suppression, and as a result improves performance on vision and medical imaging tasks. The code is available at: https://github. com/joshr17/IFM. 
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  3. null (Ed.)
    Graph Neural Networks (GNNs) have been studied through the lens of expressive power and generalization. However, their optimization properties are less well understood. We take the first step towards analyzing GNN training by studying the gradient dynamics of GNNs. First, we analyze linearized GNNs and prove that despite the non-convexity of training, convergence to a global minimum at a linear rate is guaranteed under mild assumptions that we validate on real-world graphs. Second, we study what may affect the GNNs’ training speed. Our results show that the training of GNNs is implicitly accelerated by skip connections, more depth, and/or a good label distribution. Empirical results confirm that our theoretical results for linearized GNNs align with the training behavior of nonlinear GNNs. Our results provide the first theoretical support for the success of GNNs with skip connections in terms of optimization, and suggest that deep GNNs with skip connections would be promising in practice. 
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