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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

    Dreaming big at SXSWedu


    I am totally psyched to be here in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest Education (SXSWedu), a spinoff of the world-famous SXSW festivals of music, interactive, and film. I’m excited not only because it’s a chance to hear some great music and eat some unbelievable food. What really has me excited is the opportunity to promote computer science and information technology as a career option for young women.

    Big dreams for girls in computing

    SXSWedu will screen Big Dream, an inspiring film that tells the intimate stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers as they follow their passion in science, technology, engineering, and math—the acronymically named STEM fields. After the screening, I will be part of a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for girls who want to pursue STEM studies and careers. My fellow panelists are Kelly Cox, the director of the film, and Meredith Walker, the executive director of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an organization that encourages young people to “change the world by being yourself.” Moderating the panel is longtime STEM advocate Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin.

    SXSWedu fosters innovation in learning and brings together a community that’s passionate about changing education. What better place to deliver the message that computer science is creative, collaborative, impactful, and a great field for girls! I want to tap into the electrifying energy here and empower young women, showing them that they can help solve the world’s greatest problems by pursuing computing careers. I want them to understand that we need their talents in STEM.

    How badly do we need their talents? Well, according to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, computing occupations rank among the fastest growing and highest paying jobs in the United States. The Bureau estimates that the number of computing jobs will grow by about 18 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, they also project that many of these positions will go unfilled, due to an insufficient number of college graduates with computing-related degrees. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013.)

    As you may have heard me say previously, encouraging girls to take computer science courses is crucial to boosting the number of college graduates with computing-related degrees in the workforce. The need is critical. But don’t just take my word for it. Consider these facts:

    • Despite high school girls accounting for 56 percent of all students who take advanced placement exams, they make up only 20 percent of the students in AP computer science classes. (Source: AP Program Participation and Performance Data 2014. New York, NY: National Center for Women & Information Technology, 2014.)
    • At the college level, women receive just 18 percent of all computer science degrees, despite their earning 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. (Source: Women and Information Technology: By the Numbers. National Science Board, 2014.)
    • Women hold only 26 percent of computer and mathematics occupations, even though they make up 47 percent of the total workforce. (Sources: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor; College Board, 2014; Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation, [NSB 14-01].)

    These statistics demonstrate that the talents of half our population are underutilized in computer science and information technology occupations. Furthermore, achieving gender balance in computer science increases the likelihood that computer software and hardware, and the myriad products and services they support, will be better aligned with the needs of all members of society. The addition of new talent and broader perspectives will have a positive impact on our economic growth and international competitiveness.

    We know that the personal stories in Big Dream can excite young women, their families, and friends about opportunities STEM. Already this year, there have been more than 30 screenings of the film, and every day more organizations are signing up to show it. Learn how you can host a screening.

    I want to acknowledge my colleagues on the Microsoft team—and our partners who are supporting our presence at SXSWedu. If you’re in Austin, check us out at the following sessions:

    In addition, I can’t wait to hang out and meet educators and students at our Microsoft Lounge in the Hilton.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research  

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    The human touch in computing


    The following is the last in a series 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 joint lab operated by Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)—officially, the China Ministry of Education–Microsoft Key Laboratory of Human-Centric Computation and Interface Technologies Laboratory, Chinese University of Hong Kong—which we’ve abbreviated as the CUHK-MSRA joint lab in this blog.

    Computing involves more than sitting at a keyboard writing code. Interactions with computer technology have become an integral part of many everyday activities, from driving a car, to learning new skills, to monitoring one’s health. These scenarios require technology with a human touch—computing that recognizes natural human gestures and voice commands and responds accordingly. Adding that human touch to computing is what distinguishes the CUHK-MSRA joint lab.

    The CUHK-MSRA joint lab started in 2005, and within just a year, it had earned designation as a “key lab,” the highest level of recognition conferred by China’s Ministry of Education (MoE). For 10 years now, CUHK faculty and students have been working with Microsoft Research Asia’s top researchers on vision, speech, multimedia, and other aspects of human-centric computing.

    Professor Helen Meng plays a critical role in directing research at the CUHK-MSRA joint lab.
    Professor Helen Meng plays a critical role in directing research at the
    CUHK-MSRA joint lab.

    Speech recognition and processing is a prime area of research at the CUHK-MSRA joint lab. Professor Helen Meng, the lab’s associate director of research, is currently working closely with Microsoft researcher Frank Soong on a project to develop speech signal processing and phonetic recognition technologies that can identify and analyze speech and voice problems. Once perfected, these technologies could assist speech clinicians in assessing and treating people with speech disorders. Their joint research team includes both CUHK doctoral students and Microsoft Research interns, which typifies the joint lab’s commitment to nurturing talented young computer scientists.

    This research has also helped Soong and fellow Microsoft researcher Yao Qian in modeling the accents of native Mandarin speakers who are learning English. By using cross-lingual text-to-speech (TTS) training, they have mapped the acoustic-phonetic differences between Mandarin and English, a feat that a popular YouTube video highlighted (over a million views!) showing real-time speech-to-speech translation from English to Mandarin in the speaker’s own voice. Now Soong and Professor Meng are co-supervising a doctoral student who is working on the next generation of cross-lingual TTS. Their joint paper will be presented this April at the 2015 IEEE ICASSP International Conference in Brisbane, Australia.

    This project is just one example of the collaborative nature of the CUHK-MSRA joint lab framework, notes Professor Meng. She points to other valuable outcomes, such as the recognition of CUHK students as Microsoft Fellows, the availability of Microsoft Research grants that allow the faculty to develop their own research ideas, and the opportunities for CUHK faculty and students to visit Microsoft Research Asia labs and be part of their research groups, all while exploring the latest technologies and research findings.

    Professor Meng at the Fifth Microsoft Research Asia Joint Laboratory Symposium in 2013, seated next to Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia
    Professor Meng at the Fifth Microsoft Research Asia Joint Laboratory Symposium in 2013, seated next to Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia

    Amidst all this support, Professor Meng asserts that freedom is what she and her CUHK colleagues most appreciated about their collaborative association with Microsoft Research Asia. “They never dictate how the project should be done,” she says, “so we really have the freedom, the space, to engage in blue-sky research. But at the same time, they’re always there to support us. This relationship is what has made our joint lab really successful.”

    Based on their solid achievements, we look forward to an even brighter future for the CUHK-MSRA joint lab

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

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    2015 Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship projects announced


    Microsoft Research Cambridge has long engaged in collaboration with academic researchers through research projects, Joint Research Centers, internships, and event sponsorships.  As part of this, the Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship Programme, has, since 2004, awarded annual grants to fund more than 200 academic research projects in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region. The project proposals are submitted by PhD supervisors, who then collaborate with an assigned Microsoft Research co-supervisor to support a PhD student for up to three years, as he or she carries out the proposed research project.

    We are pleased to announce that 19 PhD projects, split across six EMEA countries, have been selected for 2015 scholarships and will receive funding and collaborative assistance, starting in the academic year 2015–2016. Among these were seven proposals that grew out of our ongoing collaborations with University College London and Edinburgh University (see Initiative Celebrates Industry-Academia Collaboration; Sound the Bagpipes: Joint Initiative in Informatics Announced).

    Below is a list of the selected projects, including the PhD supervisor and the institution:

    • ByPASS: Building Programming Abstractions for Packet Processing on CPUs, Graphics PR
      Evangelos Markatos, FORTH-ICS, Greece

    • Designing for Spatial Sharing - Architectural Thinking as an Approach to Technology Design
      Marianne Graves Petersen, Aarhus University, Denmark

    • Designing the Design of the Internet of Things
      Ashley Hall, Royal College of Art, UK

    • Fast, Flexible and Functional Software
      Anil Madhavapeddy, University of Cambridge, UK

    • Global Fitness Maximising Approaches to Evaluate the Trade-Offs Involved in the Evergreen and Deciduous Conundrum
      Peter van Bodegom, Leiden University, the Netherlands

    • History-Aware Testing
      Andreas Zeller, Saarland University, Germany

    • Model Worlds - Interacting with Machines which Read the Future
      James Auger, Royal College of Art, UK

    • Preference Elicitation and Mechanism Design for Complex Dynamic Systems
      Sven Seuken, University of Zurich, Switzerland

    • Real World Data with Dependent Types: Integrity and Interoperation
      Conor McBride, University of Strathclyde, UK

    • Reasoning about Racy Programs under Relaxed Consistency
      Susmit Sarkar, University of St Andrews, UK

    • Safe, Natural, and Efficient Probabilistic Programming
      Frank Wood, University of Oxford, UK

    • Sequential Structured Prediction
      Peter Gehler, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Germany

    Joint Initiative with University College London:

    • Capture of Real-World Non-Rigid Scenes from a Single RGB Camera
      Lourdes Agapito

    • Constructing Robust Synthetic Gene Feedback Systems using a Combined Experimental and Bayesian Approach
      Chris Barnes

    • Controlled Malleability in Cryptography
      Sarah Meiklejohn

    • Image Quality Transfer
      Daniel Alexander

    Joint Initiative with Informatics with University of Edinburgh:

    • Formal Decompositions of Strongly Coupled Systems
      Vincent Danos

    • Self-Optimising Internet Services
      Hugh Leather

    • System-Level Support for Persistent Memory
      Stratis Viglas

    You can learn more about these projects on the 2015 projects page. PhD supervisors are actively recruiting for these projects; candidate selection should be complete by the end of March 2016.

    We’d like to thank all of this year’s applicants, and we’re looking forward to September 1, 2015, when the submission tool for the 2016 applications will open. Remember, no researcher is an island, especially when it comes to applying computer science for the benefit of society.
    —Dr. Daron Green, Director, Microsoft Research

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