Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

Young talent gathers at Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum

Young talent gathers at Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum

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The past decade has witnessed an incredible boom in Chinese academic research—a boom fueled in large measure by talented young researchers. Over the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of supporting the Joint PhD Program, in which Microsoft Research Asia collaborates with leading Chinese universities to discover and foster outstanding research talent. From 1998 to 2013, more than 150 Chinese students have participated in this program. 

 Some of the young researchers who gathered for the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum
Some of the young researchers who gathered for the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum

“How about hosting a forum to get all these young talents together and provide them an opportunity to inspire each other?” I felt quite excited when this idea came up during a Joint PhD Program committee meeting. After a month of preparation, the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum was held on December 12, 2013. It was a rousing success, bringing together not only the program’s PhD students but also more than 60 additional doctoral students from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Beihang University, and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This PhD forum provided a platform for direct communication among top doctoral students. As one participant observed, it gave the young researchers a unique opportunity “to exchange ideas with fellows who have similar research experiences, which is very helpful and distinctive.”

In addition to this overall sense of camaraderie and mutual inspiration, the forum featured many impressive sessions. Yu Zheng, a lead researcher at Microsoft Research Asia and a renowned expert on the burgeoning field of urban computing, gave an opening keynote that discussed how city problems could be addressed by using big data. This speech, from a researcher who was named one of world’s top innovators under 35 by MIT Technology Review, was an inspirational event, and many students clearly viewed Dr. Zheng as a role model. Xiaohui Wang, a PhD student from Tsinghua University, told us with enthusiasm, “I was inspired by Yu Zheng’s talk. It was great to learn how top researchers at Microsoft Research Asia have advanced their research progress.”

Zhen Cui, left, and Dong Chen discussed their work on face recognition during the oral session.
Zhen Cui, left, and Dong Chen discussed their work on face recognition during the
oral session.

During the oral session, 12 PhD students shared their published research findings. Particularly notable was the dialogue between Dong Chen, a Microsoft Research Asia Joint-PhD student, and Zhen Cui, a PhD candidate from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They focused on face recognition, and both of their papers had been accepted by 2013 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition. “Dong’s work on face verification is amazing. I am very happy and honored to attend this forum with such excellent peers, and I’ve benefited greatly from my interactions here with Dong and other students,” said Zhen Cui.

During the forum, 16 PhD students presented their work with posters and demos. Pictured here are the two students who were awarded the Best Poster Prize.
During the forum, 16 PhD students presented their work with posters and demos. Pictured here are the two students who were awarded the Best Poster Prize.

During the panel session, four participants engaged in a spirited talk on how to achieve a better PhD career. They made me think about my own professional life, so interesting and meaningful were their observations. Their discussion on relationships with mentors impressed me the most. “Mentors are quite different from each other. As a PhD student, it is quite important to know your mentor’s style first, and then by working together with him, you will grow and be independent in research work,” said Shiguang Shan, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A capacity crowd listened raptly during the panel discussion, How to Achieve a Better PhD Career.
A capacity crowd listened raptly during the panel discussion, How to Achieve a Better
PhD Career.

As I reflect on the academic achievements and innovative spirit of these young students, I feel extremely satisfied and honored to have organized this forum. Although it lasted only one day, I believe the forum will be meaningful in the development of these promising young researchers.

With the rapid development of Chinese research activities, I am convinced that the full potential of young talent is yet to be discovered. I sincerely hope that next year, more students from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China will join us, and that the graduates of the Joint PhD Program will continue to make significant contributions to research.

Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia

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