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February, 2014

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.

February, 2014

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Learn to tell stories with data at the Excel for Research webinar

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    We hear a lot these days about “data science,” but what is it, exactly? Data collection, data management, data wrangling, big data, broad data—these are all pieces of the data-science puzzle.

    One view is that data science is all about telling stories—with data. However, the stories are definably non-fiction: it’s about separating fact from fiction, gut instinct from incontrovertible evidence.

    Free Excel for Research webinar

    Finding compelling storytellers is not easy. That’s why pinning down what a data scientist does is so difficult; it includes such a wide variety of tasks and required skills. It’s an interesting mix of finding the right question, then putting together the answer and presenting a narrative with numbers, analysis, charts, and animated visualizations to make the point. While Microsoft Word and PowerPoint are seen as the tools of choice for more traditional storytellers, in the new era of data-intensive research, Microsoft Excel is becoming the new star. And now it has a few nice surprises, such as Power BI for Office 365, the new multipurpose-tool for the data scientist—allowing you to clean, slice, dice, plot, map, and animate your data easily.

    If you’re one of the many researchers who already use Excel extensively, these new features mean you can continue to use a familiar tool but with much wider and deeper capabilities. It’s a convenient entry point for data on the web and in the cloud, allowing you to make use of data in Windows Azure from computations, experiments, and field studies.

    To find out more about how Excel and Power BI can help your research, tune into our webinar on February 26, 2014, at 16:00 UTC/GMT (08:00 PST), and we’ll walk you through how to find, query, analyze, and visualize your data in new ways. Register to join us for this free, interactive webinar.

    We’d also like to hear your Windows Azure project stories. Tell us how you’re using Windows Azure in your research—what problems you’re trying to solve and how using the cloud is working out for you. Just post your story on the Windows Azure for Research LinkedIn Group and you could be chosen to tell your story at one of our worldwide events, inspiring other researchers to follow your example.

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Grants and scholarships promote women’s participation in computing

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    As many of you know—especially if you’ve been reading my blog posts—the participation of women in computer science continues to decline. Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 37 percent in 1985, despite US Department of Labor statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing career fields, with a shortage of qualified candidates to fill available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing fields.

    Innovate to impact the world.

     As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing. To do so, we must attract more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. To maintain their interest in STEM programs, we can increase young women's exposure to the myriad opportunities in computer science and provide them with support during their undergraduate and graduate STEM studies. This is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

    The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a non-profit community of more than 500 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s participation in computing and technology. NCWIT helps organizations more effectively recruit, retain, and advance girls and women in K-12 through college education, and from academic to corporate and startup careers. The NCWIT Academic Alliance brings together nearly 750 distinguished representatives from academic computing programs at more than 275 colleges and universities across the country—spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides US academic institutions with grants (up to US$10,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Through 2013, the Seed Fund had awarded US$465,450.

    In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we are pleased to announce the 2014 winners:

    • College of St. Scholastica (Jennifer Rosato)
      Promoting Female and Diverse Student Retention through Faculty Use of a Growth Mindset Approach
      This project will provide professional development for faculty at The College of St. Scholastica, helping them to instil a growth mindset among women and minority students who are majoring in computer science and associated concentrations, as well as fostering the continued interest of students taking pre-engineering courses.
    • Georgia Gwinnett College (Sonal Dekhane, Kristine Nagel, and Nannette Napier)
      Georgia Gwinnett College Women in IT Boot Camp
      A weeklong workshop, the boot camp will give 24 promising female IT sophomores an opportunity to get a head start in programming.
    • South Carolina Technical College System (Stephanie Frazier and Salandra Bowman)
      SCTCS Triple A Academy
      The academy will immerse 10 to 14 female students—each of whom is enrolled in a certificate, diploma, or degree IT program—in a one-week program that promotes ability, acuity, and audacity (the triple As) in IT-related fields.
    • Tufts University (Benjamin Shapiro)
      Engaging Women in Computing through Musical Instrument and Performance
      This unique project will design a curriculum and an accompanying set of hardware and software tools that teach computational thinking and engineering through the design and construction of tangible, programmable electronic musical instruments that youth can use for live performances.
    • University of Arizona (Gondy Leroy and Paulo Goes)
      Tomorrow’s Leaders Equipped for Diversity
      The university’s department of management information systems (MIS) will team with industry to make computer science and MIS students aware of diversity issues, with a special focus on gender, preparing the students to be leaders and managers who are equipped to both counter the problems and leverage the benefits of diversity.

    In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Graduate Women’s Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend, plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance, to women in their second year of graduate study at a US or Canadian university. The scholarship helps recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs.

    We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Microsoft Research Graduate Women's Scholarship:

    • Anne Holladay, Carnegie Mellon University
    • Claire Chow, University of Notre Dame
    • Yunmeng Ban, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    • Sruthi Polali, Rice University
    • Nan-Chen Chen, University of Washington
    • Ghazal Fazelnia, Columbia University
    • Tesca Fitzgerald, Georgia Institute of Technology
    • Angelica Ruszkowski, University of British Columbia
    • Brooke Fugate, University of Pennsylvania
    • Elizabeth Mamantov, University of Michigan

    Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2014’s women in computing.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
     
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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Building cloud virtual machines for research

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    As regular readers of this blog know, the Windows Azure for Research program recurrently solicits proposals on the use of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, in scholarly research. Winning projects receive a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources.

    We review these proposals on the fifteenth of even-numbered months (February, April, June, and so forth), so the next deadline, February 15, is fast approaching. This marks our third round of solicitations, and the response so far has been outstanding, as a review of current grantees and their projects attests.

    New RFP series focuses on specific cloud-based research topics

    In addition to these standing, bi-monthly requests for proposals, we are initiating a new set of calls, focused on specific cloud-based research topics. Submissions for the first of these special calls are due on April 15, 2014.

    Our first special call—Science VMs for Research—requests proposals to build virtual machine (VM) images that can be shared with communities of users. While it is standard practice for scientific communities to share important open-source, domain-specific software tools, using these tools often involves complex installation procedures or the resolution of library conflicts. Cloud computing obviates such impediments by enabling communities to share a complete operating system image, pre-installed with all the tools needed by specialized groups of users. Thus, a newcomer to the group can install the image in the cloud and be doing productive work very quickly. Moreover, the community can keep the cloud-based VM image updated with the latest version of the software.

    Microsoft Open Technologies operates VM Depot, a community-driven catalog of preconfigured operating systems, applications, and development stacks—VM images that can installed in minutes by anyone with a Windows Azure account. Several VM Depot images have proven popular with the scientific community. For example, Elastacloud has donated an image called Azure Data Analysis, which includes R, IPython, and a number of high quality open-source, data analysis tools. Several other domain-specific VMs are in the works.

    The Science VMs for Research call will provide grants of Windows Azure resources to develop and test new contributions to the VM Depot. Submit your proposals for the special call via our submission site; proposals should include “Science VM” in the project title and must be received by April 15.

    We’re looking forward to reviewing both the February 15 and April 15 proposals, as we work together to bring the power of cloud computing to scholarly and scientific research.

    Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections

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