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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

    Hopping with enthusiasm at the Grace Hopper Celebration


    Day one of the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing: I’m here in Phoenix, Arizona, anxiously awaiting the keynote from Shafi Goldwasser, one of the most honored women in the field of computer science. As I survey the crowd, I can’t help but think about my first Grace Hopper conference. It was 1997, and I was a graduate student. I remember sitting in a large hotel ballroom with hundreds of attendees, blown away by the sheer number of women in computer science. (I was also amused that the hotel had made several men's restrooms available to women attendees—another first in my experience.)

    Making it real at Grace Hopper Converence 2014

    It’s been wonderful to watch the conference and Microsoft's involvement in it grow over the years. At Grace Hopper 2007 in Orlando, Florida, the sponsor tables fit into a hotel foyer, and probably fewer than 20 Microsoft employees attended. This year I am one of 460 Microsoft attendees (women and men), a contingent that includes 12 executives, 50 women in senior positions, and 25 scholarship winners. What’s more, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and president of Harvey Mudd College, Maria Klawe will have a fireside chat on Thursday, and Bonnie Ross, Microsoft general manager of Halo, is an invited technical presenter. Watch the live stream of Satya’s opening session on Thursday, October 9, 8:20–9:45 A.M. PDT.

    Just as the conference has grown and changed over the years, so have my experience and my role at the event. I was a student attendee at my first Grace Hopper conference. Now, as a board member of the Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) for the past three years, I organize the CRA-W Career Mentoring Workshops. I also serve in a variety of other ways, such as judging the Student Poster and Student Research Competition, chairing sessions, and speaking at workshops. This year, in addition to running the CRA-W workshops, I’m excited to participate in a panel on "Visibility Everywhere: Building a Web/Social Media Presence for Women in Computing," organized by Susan Rodger of Duke University, one the leaders in computer science education.

    I also work shifts in the Microsoft booth, which is a great way to meet other women technologists and to show them some cool Microsoft technology. Visitors to our booth can participate in an engaging “creature-maker” activity. Curious? If you’re here, come visit us at booth #515.

    Other notable events that Microsoft is sponsoring include the International Women's Hackathon on Saturday, October 11, when over 100 women will “hack for good” in collaboration with several thousand other women participating virtually around the world. We will also pre-screen the documentary, Big Dream, which shows how computer science careers are exciting, collaborative, fun, and impactful. We hope the conference goers will get excited and host free screenings of Big Dream to help spread this message!

    Surrounded by accomplished professional women and students who seem to have boundless energy and enthusiasm for computer sciences, I have always found the Grace Hopper Celebration to be the perfect time to step away from my day-to-day work and reflect on my own personal and professional goals. I look forward to spending the next several days inspired by the conference, to think hard about my research and career, while having a blast with old and new friends.

    A.J. Brush, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Literome: extracting knowledge from biomedical publications


    As any researcher knows, keeping up with scientific knowledge isn’t easy. This is especially true in the field of medical genetics, where advances in DNA sequencing technology have led to an exponential growth of genomics data. Such data hold the key to identifying disease genes and drug targets, because complex diseases inevitably stem from synergistic perturbations of pathways and other gene networks. Many of these interactions are known, but most of this knowledge resides in academic journals, the number of which has undergone its own exponential growth. It thus has become increasingly difficult for researchers to find relevant knowledge for genomic interpretation and to keep up with new genomics findings. Fortunately, help has arrived with the Literome Project.*

    Literome is an automatic curation system that both extracts genomic knowledge from PubMed (one of the world’s largest repositories of medical and life science journal articles) and makes this knowledge available in the cloud, with a website to facilitate browsing, searching, and reasoning. Currently, Literome focuses on the two types of knowledge most pertinent to genomic medicine: directed genic interactions, such as pathways, and genotype-phenotype associations. Users can search for interacting genes and the nature of the interactions, as well as for diseases and drugs associated with a given gene or single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). Users can also search for indirect connections between two entities; for example, they can look to see if a gene and a disease might be linked by searching for known associations between an interacting gene and a related disease.

    Literome builds on Microsoft Research natural language processing (NLP) technology, extracting information from PubMed abstracts via our Statistical Parsing and Linguistics Analysis Toolkit (SPLAT), and uses the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store, analyze, and disseminate the information.

    Scientists can use Literome in a number of ways, from exploratory browsing, to corroborating or refuting new discoveries, to programmatically integrating pathways and genotype-phenotype associations for making discoveries from genomics data. Literome is freely available for noncommercial use through an online service, or downloadable web services. It is our hope that Literome will help researchers search genomic medical findings that can lead to new understanding and treatment of genetically mediated diseases.

    Hoifung Poon, Researcher, Microsoft Research

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    *The Literome Project is a joint project from Hoifung Poon, Chris Quirk, Charlie DeZiel, and David Heckerman of Microsoft Research.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Internships pay big dividends


    Each year, Microsoft Research Asia welcomes a new group of Korean interns, who spend three months or more conducting exciting research. Like all Microsoft Research interns, these talented young scientists derive several benefits from their internships, not the least of which is the mentorship of top Microsoft researchers in their field of interest, and exposure to the most advanced technology and best databases. Moreover, they get real-word experience as they collaborate with leading researchers on cutting-edge projects and innovative ventures. As the brief stories that follow reveal, internship is an exciting, mind-opening experience that reveals new opportunities for the interns.

    The challenges and achievements of internships
    Taesung LeeTaesung Lee, a PhD student at Pohang University of Science and Technology, has had three internships at Microsoft Research Asia, which have totaled more than a year and a half and have involved research in web-scale taxonomy cleansing and de-noising, and the attributes of knowledge bases.

    For Taesung, these internships have been invaluable experiences in the ups and downs of the research process. “I tried many ways to attack these challenges and explored positive and negative evidence,” Taesung recalls. “I learned that communication in research is extremely important; without it, the validity and feasibility of your project can be affected by your own prejudices.”
    While analyzing and solving problems, he said that he was very grateful for his collaborative partners’ help. When he encountered experimental failures, his mentors and colleagues gave him useful suggestions and support. All of which has helped him succeed, having two papers accepted for major conferences: VLDB 2011 and ICDE 2012.

    Taesung is especially appreciative of his Microsoft Research Asia mentor, Zhongyuan Wang. “Zhongyuan is not only my academic mentor but also my friend, always inspiring, giving me the courage and positive feedback to explore further. When we have different views on an issue, he offers many constructive suggestions. As I tread the road of research, Zhongyuan has given me a lot of positive energy.”

    Research with real-world impact
    Ji-Yong Shin“When people think of industry research labs in computer science, Microsoft Research is one of the first to come to mind. So when I first applied for an internship in 2008 while pursuing my master’s degree, Microsoft Research Asia was one of my top choices,” says Ji-Yong Shin, currently a PhD student at Cornell University.

    Like Taesung, Ji-Yong has served more than one Microsoft Research internship: in Beijing in 2008, Redmond in 2009, and Silicon Valley in 2011. Although it has been six years since I first interviewed Ji Yong for a Microsoft internship, he still remembers me asking him what kind of impact he thought he could make at Microsoft Research Asia.  

    “At that time, I was working on NAND flash memories, and I knew there were very few researchers at Microsoft Research Asia who were working in this area. So I said I could collaborate with the researchers and help them solve flash-related research questions,” Ji-Yong recalls. However, he learned the true meaning of “impact” after he actually started his internship.

    “I started working at the Platforms and Devices Center, which is currently part of the hardware computing group in Microsoft Research Asia, and I was surprised that the research topics my group were working on were not only academically meaningful but also produced results that other product or research groups wanted to use immediately. Before my internship, I was happy just writing papers in the lab and didn’t think much about how my research would affect people in the real world. Actually seeing others use my research results at Microsoft made me realize the real joy of research and made me think deeply about how to choose investigative topics that can make a difference in the world.”

    Learning on the rebound
    Youngho KimUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst PhD student Youngho Kim first interned at Microsoft Research Asia in 2007. In 2012, he obtained a second internship offer from Microsoft Research. When talking about his internship experiences at Microsoft Research Asia, Youngho describes it as “learning from rebound.” 

    “I was highly confident and proud of myself at first,” admits Youngho. “I was eager to prove my brilliance by successfully completing my project on semantic-level paraphrasing generation. However, halfway through the project, I realized that the data I was using, which consisted of web texts, had more noise than I could possibly filter out. I struggled to solve the problems by myself, but the data variation was too large to be generalized. Running out of time with no tangible results, I was devastated. Finally, I went to my mentor and confided my problem to him.”

    After much discussion, they agreed that Youngho should drop his own project and join his mentor’s for the remainder of his internship. “I was disappointed in myself. I had let my pride get the better of me. This experience forced me to take an honest look at my weaknesses and gave me a chance to grow further as a researcher.”
    Back at school, Youngho felt like a new man, as he enthusiastically initiated novel research, employing the new attitude he had acquired at Microsoft Research Asia.
    Youngho’s current internship project is going very well. “I understand that I have a long way to go before I’m a leading researcher in my area, but I’m a passionate scientist who’s always eager to learn. My Microsoft internship experiences will support me as I move ahead, and I appreciate the great opportunities they have given me.”

    The guidance of a top researcher

    Hyunson SeoWhen Hyunson Seo received email from Frank Soong from the Speech Group at Microsoft Research Asia, suggesting they talk about her internship application, she was thrilled. A PhD student in electrical engineering at Yonsei University, Hyunson still remembers her first phone call with Soong—who is a top researcher in Hyunson’s field—and her excitement at boarding a flight to Beijing for her internship in September 2011.

    “Though Microsoft Research interns enjoy many benefits and privileges, the most precious for me was the one-to-one mentoring system. I learned a lot from Frank. He always encouraged me and provided the big picture perspective that I might have missed. Whenever I encountered a problem, he was there to help me work through it. “

    “The project I took part in was about factoring speaker and environmental variability in speech recognition systems. I mastered many algorithms during the process and I learned how to achieve results in a short period.”

    “Knock on the door of Microsoft Research, and you will see the world,” Hyunson concludes.

    Long-term collaboration with Microsoft Research Asia
    Yohan ChonAs a recipient of a Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship, Yohan Chon was offered a four-month internship at Microsoft Research Asia, where he worked under Nic Lane and Feng Zhao in the Mobile and Sensing Systems (MASS) research group. That experience was the beginning of a long-term, ongoing collaboration with Microsoft Research.

    "I have had outstanding research experiences at Microsoft Research Asia, thanks to three great factors: my mentor, my team, and the environment. It’s really been an honor to get mentoring from pioneer researchers. They’ve inspired, guided, and encouraged me, making me a better researcher,” says Yohan. “It is also important to collaborate with passionate interns from other countries. Their desire and attitude have motivated me to work even harder.”

    Yohan continues to collaborate with researchers on the MASS team. “The internship at Microsoft Research Asia opened new opportunities for me. It has allowed me not only to improve my research ability but also to meet a great research team. I’m still working with researches in Microsoft Research Asia, and we’ve made great contributions for mobile sensing research communities.”

    Yohan’s final words capture the essence of the Microsoft Research intern experience: “It seemed a small opportunity at the beginning, but it significantly changed my research life.”

    Miran Lee, Principle Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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