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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

    Scholarship aims to increase women in computing

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    Women are woefully under-represented in computing fields. I know; you’ve heard me say this before, but the statistics bear repeating: In 2014, women made up less than 20 percent of those graduating with computer and information science degrees, despite the fact that women overall accounted for more than half of all baccalaureate graduates.

    This dearth of women pursuing computing degrees is doubly unfortunate. First, it deprives the economy of much-needed talent: the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that, at present rates, only 39 percent of the estimated 1.2 million computing-related jobs in 2022 will be filled by computing graduates. Second, women bring a unique perspective to male-dominated computing fields, providing the team diversity that executives value.

    Microsoft Research is committed to increasing women’s presence in computing, which is why we established the Graduate Women’s Scholarship. These scholarships offer vital support to female computing students during their second year of graduate studies: a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance—resources to help the recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the ever-growing cost of graduate programs.

    Here are the winners of the 2015 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

    • Alexandra Schofield, Cornell University
    • Hannah Gommerstadt, Carnegie Mellon University
    • Jane E, Stanford University
    • Jiaqi Mu, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    • Kaitlyn Becker, Harvard University
    • Kellie Ottoboni, University of California, Berkeley
    • Lisa Gai, University of California, Los Angeles
    • Olga Zamaraeva, University of Washington, Seattle
    • Sulekha Kulkarni, Georgia Institute of Technology
    • Wenjie Xiong, Yale University

    In addition to the Graduate Women’s Scholarships, Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which 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. Learn more about the Seed Fund and the recently announced 2015 award recipients.

    Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2015’s women in computing.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Building the talent pipeline: the HKUST joint lab story

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    The following is the second of three blogs on the contributions of the Microsoft Research Asia Joint Lab Program (JLP), which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The JLP brings together the resources of Microsoft Research and major Chinese universities, facilitating collaboration on state-of-the-art research, academic exchange, and talent incubation. This blog focuses on the Microsoft-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology joint lab.

    Professor Ni, at 2014 Asia Faculty Summit in BeijingCollaboration between the computer science department of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Microsoft Research Asia extends back more than decade, predating, in fact, the establishment of their joint lab. Professor Lionel Ni still remembers coming to Beijing to meet with colleagues at Microsoft Research when he joined HKUST in 2002. “Even then,” he recalls, “Microsoft Research Asia was making lot of contributions to our work, not only research-wise but also by nurturing new talent.”

    It was only natural then, that HKUST would be interested in a new joint lab program when it was proposed by Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese Ministry of Education (MoE) in 2004. “When we heard about this idea, we were tremendously excited. We thought HKUST must become one of the first members of this joint lab program,” says Professor Ni.

    He and his colleagues submitted a proposal that differed from those of other applicants, in that it offered collaboration across a broad front of IT domains. “Other joint labs—like the ones with Harbin or Tsinghua—focus their research in a special area. But our joint lab is different; we don’t operate in one particular area. We actually have different domains working together, such as graphic visualization and data mining,” notes Professor Ni. “People say, ‘Wow, IT is so broad; you’re covering so many things.’ That’s what we want to do—and what we proposed from the onset. And clearly Microsoft Research and MoE liked the idea: we were one of the first five labs accepted into the program, and the only one in Hong Kong.”

    “This joint lab really helps us a lot,” continues Professor Ni. “It enables our faculty members to collaborate even more closely with Microsoft Asia researchers, and it provides great opportunities for our PhD students.” Those student opportunities derive largely from the joint PhD supervision program, which provides young PhD students with long-term internships at Microsoft Research Asia, where they conduct projects together with Microsoft researchers. “I believe we were the first lab to propose joint PhD supervision,” says Professor Ni, clearly pleased with the program’s achievements.

    At the time of the joint PhD program’s establishment, many talented young computer scientists with master’s degrees were working for Microsoft Research Asia. Despite their admirable contributions, the career growth of these young researchers was likely to be limited without a PhD. Under the joint PhD supervision programs, students selected by Microsoft Research Asia join HKUST’s doctoral program. During their first year, they live in Hong Kong, meeting their course requirements at HKUST. The next year, they return to Microsoft Research Asia to pursue their research further. HKUST and Microsoft Research Asia jointly oversee the program, assigning each student a supervising professor from HKUST and a supervising researcher from Microsoft Research Asia.

    Talented HKUST students also enter the program upon recommendation by the university; selected second-year PhD students travel to Microsoft Research in Beijing to work on projects. Both the university and Microsoft Research are pleased with the synergistic results of the program, viewing it as a success that equally benefits both of the organizations and the students.

    Professor Ni at the joint PhD supervision agreement signing ceremony in 2005
    Professor Ni at the joint PhD supervision agreement signing ceremony in 2005

    Over the past several years, Microsoft Research Asia has hosted 15 HKUST interns through this program—and hired seven graduates as full-time employees. Now they are working in a variety of research areas, from computer vision and graphics to visualization and data mining to search and multimedia. Yichen, who graduated from HKUST in 2006, is now a lead researcher at Microsoft Research Asia where he heads the computer vision group. “I was one of the HKUST graduates who joined Microsoft Research Asia in the early years. Thanks to the Joint Lab platform, in my second year as a PhD student, I participated an important Microsoft Research Asia project and published my first SIGGraph paper, which inspired and enlightened my research career. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity, when many other students at a similar age are not sure about how to do good research and where to obtain industrial experiences,” Yichen says.

    Another successful participant in the program, Weiwei Cui, now a researcher in the visualization group, recalls, “When my professor learned that Microsoft Research Asia recruited a top researcher in visualization in 2010, he sent me to the lab right away for an internship. There was not much research in this area in Hong Kong or China at that time. Since then, we started our deep collaboration that has continued for nearly five years. My professor kept sending his best students to Microsoft Research Asia.”

    The joint lab has witnessed many such successes in the past years and we are confident that it will continue to foster outstanding talent development and research advancement in the coming years.

    —Tim Pan, Director of University Relations, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Joint lab marks 10 years of collaborative research in natural language processing

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    The following is the first of three blogs on the contributions of the Microsoft Research Asia Joint Lab Program (JLP), which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The JLP brings together the resources of Microsoft Research and major Chinese universities, facilitating collaboration on state-of-the-art research, academic exchange, and talent incubation. This blog focuses on the Microsoft-Harbin Institute of Technology joint lab (Microsoft-HIT; officially the China Ministry of Education–Microsoft Key Laboratory of Natural Language Processing and Speech, Harbin Institute of Technology).

    Professor Sheng Li talks about joint labs at the Microsoft Research Asia Summer School, hosted by the Microsoft-HIT lab in 2005.Think of countries that have more than one official language. Which ones come to mind? Canada, with two official tongues? Switzerland with four? How about China, which has no less than eight official languages and more than 50 unofficial but widely spoken indigenous tongues. Each of these languages is cherished as a cultural treasure in China, but the multiplicity of minority languages seriously impedes economic, technological, scientific, and educational exchanges between minority groups and the Mandarin-speaking Han, who make up a majority of China’s population.

    Resolving this linguistic tangle is exactly the sort of challenge that prompted the creation of the Microsoft Research Asia Joint Lab Program (JLP), and it is the research focus of Microsoft-HIT. Since 2004, Microsoft-HIT researchers have published over 500 academic journal papers and, during just the last five years, presented more than 30 essays at such high-level events as the ACM-SIGIR Conference and the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI).

    The fruits of this labor can be seen in a Microsoft-HIT project called Minority Language Machine Translation. The project’s goal is to bridge the linguistic and cultural gulfs that separate different ethnic and national groups, both in China and around the world, and, potentially help preserve endangered minority languages. The project prototype is based on Microsoft Research’s Microsoft Translator Hub, a platform for machine translation between different languages. Utilizing the Microsoft Azure cloud-computing service, the prototype allows users to upload language and translation data and thus build a repository of lexical and grammatical information that can facilitate bilingual translation. While the work to date has focused on machine translation between Mandarin, English, and Uyghur, the underlying principles can be applied to translating between any two languages.

    But this project isn’t the only focus of Microsoft-HIT. The joint lab also aims to serve as a talent incubator, mentoring the young researchers who will be the leaders of tomorrow. Microsoft-HIT not only employs a large number of the university’s faculty and graduate students, it also holds an annual summer seminar on natural language processing. Since 2004, the summer seminar has provided more than 2,000 students an opportunity to develop their skills and laid the foundation for advanced research in language processing and speech technology.

    Professor Sheng Li, seen here at the 2014 Microsoft Research Asia Faculty Summit, was instrumental in establishing the Microsoft-HIT joint lab.
    Professor Sheng Li, seen here at the 2014 Microsoft Research Asia Faculty Summit, was instrumental in establishing the Microsoft-HIT joint lab.

    Although the Microsoft-HIT joint lab dates from 2004, it antecedents stretch back to last century, when, during the 1990s, Microsoft Research Asia worked with Harbin Institute of Technology professor Sheng Li to set up a laboratory on machine translation. In 2000, it became one of the first labs in the Microsoft Research Joint Lab Program and in 2004, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) accorded official recognition to this joint effort, designating it as a MOE-Microsoft Key Laboratory.

    Professor Li, who is still deeply involved in the joint lab, credits it with having provided valuable experience to many young faculty members and promising students. He notes that many of these talented researchers have gone onto careers in related industries, but that a significant number choose to stay in the joint lab as either HIT professors or Microsoft researchers.

    With the past 10 years of this program as a guide, we look forward to the next decade and beyond, confident that the Microsoft Research-HIT joint lab will foster even greater talent cultivation and research collaboration.

    Tim Pan, Director of University Relations, Microsoft Research Asia,

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