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Snow fell across the United Kingdom on January 18, 2013, but it was not about to deter some of Microsoft Research’s leading visionaries from making their way from the brand new Cambridge lab down to University College London (UCL). They headed to UCL for a special day that would commemorate the deep and long lasting intellectual ties between the two organizations by unveiling a new initiative: beginning this year, Microsoft Research Connections will annually co-sponsor four PhD scholarships at UCL.
UCL students and Microsoft Research visitors at DemoFest
These new scholarships will promote collaborative projects between UCL and Microsoft Research—and build on a history of collaboration in computer and computational sciences, including such major joint projects as 2020 Science, with Professor Peter Coveney, and Resource Reasoning, led by Professor Peter O’Hearn. Although UCL is one of England’s oldest universities, it is also one of the most forward-looking, as is evident in the innovative work of its students, researchers, and faculty.
The scholarships form part of Microsoft Research Connections’ PhD Scholarship Programme in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), which has supported more than 200 doctoral students since its inception in 2004. The highly competitive program supports PhD scholars at research institutions across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in research areas ranging from core computing to biological and social sciences. Recipients receive half of their funding from Microsoft with matching funds from the university. As with all scholarships provided by the PhD Scholarship Programme, the UCL recipients will receive a three-year bursary and invitations to the Microsoft Research annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, where they will learn about Microsoft Research Cambridge research projects, acquire key transferable skills, and share ideas with Microsoft researchers. All students are supervised by a university faculty member and co-supervised by a Microsoft researcher “champion.” In addition, some students may also be offered an internship at Microsoft Research.
Andrew Blake, the laboratory director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, described PhD students as essential to research. He praised their willingness to try out new research projects and observed that “Working with them increases our ability to explore new ideas and contributes to the sustainability of the research lab.”
Rick Rashid, the chief research officer of Microsoft Research, began the day with an inspiring talk on “Microsoft Research and the Evolution of Computing,” during which he described the growth of Microsoft Research over the past 20 years, regaling the audience with stories of how he has worked with product teams on all manner of projects—some of which have had a huge impact on users across the world. He then fielded questions from students and staff on topics ranging from Microsoft’s strategies on open source, to which developments in the pipeline at Microsoft are the most exciting, to how to manage research successfully.
From left to right: UCL scholarship winners Jan Kautz and Sebastian Riedel, Microsoft Research Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid, UCL scholarship winner Jade Alglave, and UCL Vice-Provost of Research David Price (UCL scholarship winner Benny Chain not pictured)
At the end of his talk, Rick announced the four recipients of PhD scholarship funding and their selected projects:
A “DemoFest” was held after lunch under the watchful eye of “inspirational or spiritual” founder of UCL, Jeremy Bentham, whose preserved skeleton and wax head likeness, known as the “Auto-Icon,” sit in a glass case in the Cloisters. Among the living UCL luminaries in attendance were Vice Provost of Research David Price, Dean of Engineering Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Richard Catlow, and several faculty members.
The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as researchers in computer and computational sciences showcased their latest work to Rick Rashid and Jeanette Wing, the new head of Microsoft Research International. A spectrum of demos showed the breadth and depth of work at UCL across domains, from distributed multi-scale computing, resilient and fast networking in data centers, and interactive images on the computer science side, to behavior-change technologies for enhancing health, diffusion MRI of the brain, and patient blood-flow simulation for surgical planning on the health and wellness front.
Alongside the research were teams of proud computer science students, who reveal their inventive spirit through their use of cutting-edge Microsoft technologies—from Windows Azure and Windows 8 Embedded to Windows Phone and F#. They demonstrated some truly inspirational projects, including apps and devices to tackle real-world problems, such as using .NET Gadgeteer and Windows Azure to create a keyhole surgery instructional tool for trainees in pediatric surgery. The brand new Try F# website was presented, with tutorials in financial computing provided by UCL, just a few days ahead of its launch at POPL 2013.
Collaboration between academia and industry can run deep, and UCL’s research excellence has attracted a number of Microsoft Research’s senior researchers to faculty positions at UCL, including Byron Cook, professor of Computer Science; Stephen Emmott, visiting professor of Intelligent Systems; Shahram Izadi, visiting professor of Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics; and, of course, Andrew Herbert, former head of Microsoft Research Cambridge, who is a visiting professor in Computer Science at UCL.
The enthusiasm, deep discussion, and display of innovative collaboration between UCL and Microsoft Research on this snowy day in January exemplify the best of how academia and industry can work together to change the world.
—Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA—Nour Shublaq, Strategic Program Manager, UCL Computational Life and Medical Sciences Network