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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Addressing the Need for More Women in Computer Science Programs


    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 35 percent in 1985, despite U.S. Labor Department statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing, most in-demand fields, with too few qualified candidates to fill the 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 careers.

    Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States.

    As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing, which means attracting more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. CEO Steve Ballmer has acknowledged this need, observing that “…we need to keep more women interested longer in their lives in STEM subjects.” We know this will require a concerted effort across private companies, NGOs, IGOs, government, and academia. We recognize that it’s vital for young women to get support during their undergraduate and graduate studies and to be exposed to opportunities in computer science, which is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

    I remember my first year of college engineering studies: I took Computer Science 101, studying PASCAL. I found it extremely boring, and I had no idea what careers were available in computer science, even though I was working at the school’s computer center where I supported students in computer labs, installed network cards into student computers, and helped the IT staff build the university’s firewall. At the time, I had no idea these duties, which I really enjoyed, were potential careers in computer science. After being approached by one of the professors to conduct research on building an animatronic bison for the engineering department, I decided to focus my energies on mechanical engineering and robotics. I didn’t realize that robotics could be part of the computer science world. A future in computer science engineering seemed out of the question—so there I was: one less woman in computer science.

    Today, I want to do everything possible so that young women don’t make the same mistakes as I did. It is critical for us at Microsoft Research to familiarize young women with the amazing career opportunities in computing. In furtherance of that goal, I would like to highlight the programs and recipients of this year’s NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.

    NCWIT is a national coalition of more than 200 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits working to strengthen the technology workforce and cultivate innovation by increasing the participation of women. Its Academic Alliance brings together more than 250 distinguished representatives from the computer science and IT departments of colleges 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 U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. To date, the Seed Fund has awarded US$315,450. In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we would like to announce the 2012 winners:

    • Claremont Graduate University will team with Scripps College Academy to provide workshops that provide high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with mentoring and support to pursue careers in technology and computing. Project Principal Investigator: Gondy Leroy.
    • Fisk University will integrate software engineering into its GUSTO (Girls Using Scientific Tools for Opportunities) project, which introduces, encourages, and prepares low-income and minority girls for STEM careers. Project Principal Investigator: Ray Bullock.
    • Union College will pilot a successful Seed Fund project from another institution: a social robotics outreach workshop in which women computing undergraduates serve as mentors and educators for middle- and high-school girls. Project Principal Investigator: Nick Webb.
    • The University of Central Arkansas will build a female-friendly environment for computing majors by recruiting a first-year cohort of women and retaining them with opportunities for learning, research, service, and leadership. Project Principal Investigators: Chenyi Hu, Yu Sun, and Karen Thessing.
    • The University of Virginia will focus on actively recruiting computing graduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups by providing enhanced exposure to graduate programs, facilities, faculty, and graduate student life. Project Principal Investigator: Gwen Busby.

    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 Women’s Graduate 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 U.S. or Canadian university), helping them gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs. Winners of the 2012 Microsoft Research Graduate Scholarship are:

    Recipient University
    Danielle Bragg Princeton University
    Elizabeth Murnane Cornell University
    Emily Sergel University of California, San Diego
    Jennifer Townsend Georgia Institute of Technology
    Joanna Drummond University of Toronto
    Kaitlin Speer Northwestern University
    Valkyrie Savage University of California, Berkeley
    Vanessa Sochat Stanford University
    Veronica Catete University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Yubin Kim Carnegie Mellon University

    Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2012’s women in computing.

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

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Managing the Scientific Data Explosion: a Response to the OSTP Digital Data RFI


    Scientists can agree that there’s a lot of data out there, and that we could be using it more efficiently. Now the White House has asked for input on how to do just that.

    Data intensive researchData from scientific research is important to a diverse array of user communities from researchers, governments, and companies to wildlife managers, transportation managers, hospitals, and teachers. As the quantity of data in individual and community collections grows, its potential value also increases but, unfortunately, so do the associated challenges of data access, privacy, storage, and archiving. These challenges are social, economic, and technical, and the solutions will require collaborative contributions from universities, federal agencies, companies, scientific societies, and other organizations.

    Effective approaches to realizing the benefits of scientific data are likely to require many elements, including:

    • Providing incentives and rewards for sharing data
    • Creating and disseminating software tools and online services that enable users to find and analyze data of interest
    • Developing and using standard metadata schemas, well-documented data formats, and access protocols to enable data re-use and cross-domain fusing of data
    • Facilitating systems by which funding agencies and users can contribute to the costs of data storage, sharing, and analysis
    • Developing systems and metrics to determine when and how data is worth preserving and sharing

    Microsoft believes that these are challenges worth tackling, and that coordinated efforts are urgently needed to advance our ability to curate, preserve, and use digital scientific data to maximize the societal and economic impact of research. Therefore, on January 12, 2012, Microsoft submitted our input in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) request for information (RFI) on Public Access to Digital Data Resulting From Federally Funded Scientific Research.

    The Microsoft response emphasizes two areas: Economic Models and Software Tools and Online Services. We discuss that nations, to facilitate research and realize societal benefits of that research, should create environments in which innovation can occur around the critical elements that enable data sharing, retention, and use, and the costs should be shared among the various groups that receive benefits from the data and associated discoveries. In some cases, dissemination and use of specific data sets are necessary to meet high priority scientific, policy, economic, or societal goals, and thus should be supported by relevant government agencies. In other cases, there are opportunities to create a tool or service infrastructure that enhances the value of data and allows the provider to monetize access at a level sufficient to cover the investment made in creating or maintaining the data archive. We emphasize that in determining which data to share and how, it is important to recognize that consumers of a particular data set may be outside of the research community that created it (for example, in another scientific field or at a commercial enterprise). These consumers should still help define the value of the data and drive the creation of tools to facilitate its cross-domain use. They must also share in paying for its maintenance costs. Overall, we stress the value that innovations in information technology, including emerging cloud services, can bring to facilitating data sharing and analysis and enabling collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and international science.

    While the Microsoft response to the OSTP RFI on access to digital scientific data focuses on a few specific areas, it builds on collaborative work already done by the research community and Federal agencies in this area. Experts from Microsoft participate regularly in and support such efforts. In particular, we remain committed to the conclusions of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure’s Task Force on Data and Visualization and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. We also agree with many of the challenges described and conclusions reached in the National Science Board's draft Data Policies Report released on January 5, 2012.

    The above reports and activities focus on the policy side of realizing the value of scientific data. Microsoft is also working to create, demonstrate, and implement the technical side of these challenges. In the book The Fourth Paradigm, the authors identify a range of opportunities where access to data is fundamentally changing the way science is conducted. Microsoft, in partnership with the academic community, is working to put these ideas into practice. Examples include WorldWide Telescope; the new earth-science data explorer, Layerscape; the Eye on Earth network for environmental maps; and data analytics tools such as Daytona and Excel DataScope.

    Elizabeth Grossman, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft Corporation

    January 31, 2012, update: The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) has publicly posted all of the responses to the RFI.

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Readers’ Choice: Top 10 Blogs of 2011


    Microsoft Research Connections: Top 10 Blogs of 2011Recaps of the top 10 news stories of the year—it’s a New Year’s tradition that rivals Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show. So who are we to buck convention? Therefore, without further ado, here are the top 10 Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2011, as chosen by your clicks.

    Number 10:
    Kinect for Windows SDK Beta Refresh Available 

    Who can resist building apps for the latest and greatest Kinect sensor? Apparently not the developers who are avid readers of our blog. So let’s raise a cup of cheer, or eggnog, to the intrepid innovators who are using the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) to push the boundaries of natural user interface applications.

    Number 9: Night at the Museum—sans Ben Stiller

    A planetarium show plus a demonstration of the new earth-sciences applications of Microsoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) took center stage at the California Academy of Sciences. If you thought turning your computer into a world-class telescope was cool, you’ll be blown away by WWT’s ability to create earth-science narratives.

    Number 8: Introducing Chemistry Add-in for Word

    The ancient Egyptians had nothing on us: using chemistry symbols in digital documents can be every bit as cumbersome as carving hieroglyphics into stone. And then came Chemistry Add-in for Word, which makes it easier for students, chemists, and researchers to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas, and 2-D depictions, from within Microsoft Word.

    Number 7: Digital Research Libraries Get a Boost with Latest Zentity Release

    Research archivists, librarians, and others who have grappled with organizing and accessing voluminous research collections asked for it—and Microsoft Research Connections delivered: the 2.1 release of Zentity. A repository platform designed to manage research objects—such as journal articles, reports, datasets, projects, and people—as well as the relationships among them, Zentity supports arbitrary data models and provides semantically rich functionality that enables users to find and visually explore interesting relationships between elements.

    Number 6: Parallel Processing Software Gets a Boost in Barcelona

    Today, it seems that everything—from smart phones and tablets to PCs and supercomputers—is sprouting extra cores so users can do more. Can Microsoft Research Connections help create parallel code to make the most efficient use of these ubiquitous multi-core processors? Need you ask? A joint venture of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Microsoft Research Centre (BSCMSRC) is bringing together the expertise of hardware and software researchers to do just that.

    Number 5: Building a .NET Quality Control Tool for Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies

    Quality control—it’s vital in food inspections and DNA sequencing. Unfortunately, not all sequencing technologies produce reliable and accurate results, and experimental data will always contain varying rates of error. That’s where Sequence Quality Control Studio (SeQCoS) can help. A Microsoft .NET software suite designed to perform an array of QC evaluations and post-QC manipulation of sequencing data, SeQCoS generates a series of standard plots that illustrate the quality of the input data.

    Number 4: Women in Technology Hop to It in Portland

    Every year, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. This past year was no exception, as some 2,000 attendees descended on Portland, Oregon, to hear about the latest research and explore the roles of women in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering. Microsoft Research Connections was there, too, offering support and free epiphytes (really)!

    Number 3: Chinese University Students Push the Boundaries of Kinect for Windows

    Chinese university students took the Kinect for Windows SDK and pushed it hard, applying the sensor’s depth sensing, voice and object recognition, and human motion tracking capabilities to diverse topics: from education to commerce to culture and history. Their creative and elegant applications far surpass traditional games, demonstrating Kinect’s potential in diverse areas.

    Number 2: Microsoft Research and the Kinect Effect

    Our blog readers are very interested in Kinect! And why not? Thanks to contributions from Microsoft Research, Kinect has state-of-the-art audio, skeletal-tracking, and facial-recognition capabilities. Microsoft built Kinect to revolutionize the way you play games and how you experience entertainment. But along the way, people started applying the “Kinect Effect” in ways we never imagined—from helping children with autism to assisting doctors in the operating room.

    Number 1: Unlocking Academic Success with Frame Games for Learning

    Drumroll please: the top-ranked Microsoft Research Connections blog explored—what else?—a game. But, surprisingly, it isn’t Kinect based! Instead, it’s a learning game that was developed in collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology. Called Just Press Play, the game helps students earn a digital reward for the ultimate achievement: collegiate success. Just Press Play encourages students to venture out of their comfort zone and get involved in all aspects of school—including (gasp) interactions with school faculty and staff.

    So there they are: 2011’s most-read Microsoft Research Connections blogs. Why Robots Invade Upstate New York didn’t make the list is beyond us. Go figure. Happy New Year from your friends at Microsoft Research Connections!

    —Lisa Clawson, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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