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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

    Inspiring Computer Science Students in Our Backyard


    Students from Kent Technology Academies enjoy a day of computing innovations at Microsoft Research.

    As Microsoft’s “point person” for increasing women’s participation in computing, I am passionate about attracting talented young women to careers in computer science. Perhaps you’ve seen these statistics, which underscore the need:

    • The percentage of computer science graduates who are women has declined from 37 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 2009. (Source:
    • High school girls comprise 56 percent of Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers across all subjects, but only 19 percent of AP computer science test-takers. (Source: The College Board, AP National Summaries, 1999–2009)
    • By 2018, there will be nearly 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States, but at the current graduation rates, only 29 percent of those jobs could be filled by American graduates. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment by detailed occupation, 2008 and projected 2018.)

    We know that young women want meaningful careers—vocations that make a social and economic impact—and I believe they understand how deeply technology influences our modern lives. However, many may not recognize how careers in computer science can advance societal improvements. We think it is important that they realize that computer scientists support and develop tools, services, and devices that can change the world for the better—and also that they understand the necessity of taking advanced science and math courses to prepare them to help change the world as a computer scientist. 
    Fortunately, there are organizations, companies, and universities throughout the United States implementing programs to interest the next generation in computing careers. My Microsoft colleagues and I have had the opportunity to participate in some of the great programs here in the Puget Sound (Washington) region. Here’s a quick overview of three of these programs that expose young women to the potential of careers in computing.
    A Word to the WiSE
    The 2012 WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) Conference, for which Microsoft Research was both a participant and a sponsor, took place on February 25 at the University of Washington. Cathyrne Jordan, the director of WiSE at the University of Washington, and her team brought together women from industry, universities, community colleges, and high schools throughout the Pacific Northwest for a day of exploration, discovery, and empowerment. The event was the twenty-first annual WiSE conference, and like its 20 predecessors, it encouraged female students to continue their studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects and worked to build the attendees’ self-confidence, ease their transition from school to work, and provide greater awareness of career opportunities in engineering and science. Inspirational keynote presentations were followed by industry-related workshops, a resource fair, soft-skill training sessions, and preparation for graduate school. Professional engineers and scientists facilitated workshops where students could learn about opportunities in specific fields and receive valuable mentoring. I had the opportunity to speak with all the high school students attending WiSE who are part of the Making Connections Program and answer their questions about computer science’s role in solving world problems. It was exciting to see how the event changed the young women’s perceptions of STEM subjects and to witness their enthusiasm about preparing for computer science studies in college.

    Getting Witty at NCWIT Competitions
    The National Center for Women & Information Technology, better known as NCWIT, is a nonprofit coalition that works to increase diversity in IT and computing. An important component of this effort is the national and regional affiliate competitions for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These competitions honor young women at the high school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education. This year, NCWIT will host 31 award events, recognizing 624 young women across the country, and Microsoft Research is excited to sponsor all the affiliate regional events.

    Last Saturday, several of my colleagues participated in the Washington regional event, which honored 20 Aspiration Award winners in Washington State. We were pleased to partner with Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington in support of girls’ interest in computer science and to have Microsoft’s own Cheryl Platz discuss the role of computing in the Puget Sound region. In addition, Microsoft researchers joined representatives from Google and HTC in a panel discussion of careers in computing. The young women viewed demos and heard from university computer science students about the work they do in school. The enthusiasm generated is apparent in these quotes from young women who attended the event:

    • “Because of this award, I am less shy with my passion. Now I enjoy showing off my computing talents and sharing them with others.”
    • “This event made me feel amazing. It made me want to do even more with computing.”
    • “This award has inspired me to further my education in computer science.”

    I am pleased to have the opportunity to be the keynote speaker for the Northwest Regional Women in Computing Celebration 2012 on April 14 in Portland, Oregon. Watch for a future blog I will write about this experience after the event.
    Kent Get Enough of this Program
    Lastly, I want to update you on a program I blogged about a few months ago: our partnership with the Kent Technology Academies, where we are working to generate enthusiasm among Kent students—both female and male—for careers in STEM. We initiated the partnership the Friday before the beginning of Computer Science Education Week in December 2011 with a day-long event that was designed to reach every seventh- through twelfth-grader at Kent’s two tech academy campuses. Our primary goal was to help students understand that computer science can help solve many of the most difficult problems in the world and to excite them about the interesting career opportunities in STEM. On March 22, 2012, we hosted all the seventh- and ninth-grade students at Microsoft Research headquarters to show them computer science in action and encourage them to attend more advanced science and math courses next year. The students heard from a panel of Microsoft Research leaders, including Peter Lee, Tony Hey, and Lili Cheng. Then they had the opportunity to engage in hands-on research demonstrations and to join the Epiphyte Research Project led by Donald Brinkman.

    Kent students learn about the potential of natural user interfaces.

    Here are a few of the comments from the Kent students:

    • “Today was fabulous. It blew my mind what you can do in computer science!”
    • “I thought programming was boring, but to make cool things like you showed, I can’t wait to learn more!”
    • “I am so going to take more advanced math and science classes in high school now!”

      And my favorite:
    • “I want to be a computer scientist now!”

    These three programs help inspire the next generation to change the world through computer science. Seeing participants’ enthusiasm, their increased confidence, and their passion to learn more, I know we’re headed in the right direction. I’m confident that by working with universities and organizations like those described above, we will make notable progress. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing the number of female computer science graduates surpass those of 1985. Visit this blog again in late April to read about more programs and organizations working with Microsoft Research to inspire women to pursue careers in computing.

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

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    Innovation in Software Research Recognized in 2012 SEIF Awards


    Microsoft Research Software Engineering Innovation Foundation 2012Today, research in software engineering encompasses a wide range of computer science and engineering disciplines. These include systems and networking technologies, hardware design, programming languages, security, and privacy, to name a few. Microsoft Research actively engages with researchers across these disciplines to advance the state of the art in software engineering applications and tools. The areas of mobile and cloud computing are of particular recent interest, and are where some of the most exciting and innovative work is being done. Today smartphones and cloud services, are being used in complex scenarios pushing the envelope of what software can do. The design of such scenarios introduces challenges unique to this new paradigm.

    The Microsoft Research Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF), a forum for collaboration among software engineers worldwide, presents its annual awards to promote these efforts. The SEIF awards provide seed funding to innovative research in software engineering, recognizing projects that aim to advance the state of art in software engineering.
    Now in its third year, SEIF is pleased to announce the winners of the SEIF 2012 request for proposals. This year, the awards have focused on the application of software engineering to mobile and cloud computing.

    As in past years, SEIF winners are spread across the world—with projects as diverse as their backgrounds. For instance, Harald Gall of the University of Zurich plans to create a collaborative tool that uses Microsoft Team Foundation Server to assess software quality. Mayur Naik of Georgia Tech plans to develop an automated test-generation methodology for mobile apps, doing so by advancing a program analysis technique called dynamic symbolic execution while making heavy use of the Microsoft Z3 automated theorem prover. Arno Puder from San Francisco State University intends to develop a toolkit called XMLVM, which can cross-compile a commercially available Android application to Windows Phone 7. Unusually, we have two awards going to the same institution this year. Alexey Gotsman from IMDEA in Spain will be working on a project to specify and validate memory models for Windows Phone. Mark Marron, also at IMDEA, Spain, will be working on finding and fixing memory usage problems.

    These are just a sample of the innovative software engineering projects recognized by this year’s awards. You can read more about them and the rest of the SEIF winners on the SEIF website.

    Congratulations to the 2012 winners!

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, and Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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    COSBI Researchers Hunt for Obesity Factors at the Molecular Level


    What do residents of rural Arkansas and researchers in Trento, Italy, have in common, aside, perhaps, from a love of good food? Well, in the case of an ongoing major research program, food is the common link. Well, not exactly food—the good folks in Arkansas aren’t exchanging recipes with the scientists in northern Italy—rather, both groups are actively involved in the Delta Obesity Prevention Vitamin Study, which seeks to unravel the complex molecular nutritional interplay of diet, exercise, genetics, and obesity.

    The study’s long-term goal is to create dietary guidelines that will reduce the incidence of obesity and its related chronic diseases among the residents of the Lower Mississippi Delta, a region of the southern United States that is plagued by corpulence and its complications. The research program is among the first of its kind, since it combines community-based participatory research with translational biomedical strategies that include molecular genetic nutrition research. The results could have far-reaching implications, not just for the rural populations of the Lower Mississippi Delta, but also for national and international public health agencies that seek to prevent and treat obesity.

    Study participants at an Arkansas summer campStudy participants at an Arkansas summer camp

    The study tracks the health and habits of a group of adults and children in Marvell, Arkansas, looking for links between obesity and diet, physical activity, genetics, and body chemistry. A joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit, the study has turned to The Microsoft Research – University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI) for analysis of the complex molecular data.

    Data on the Arkansas participants were compiled at the outset of the study, at the end of a five-week intervention with a more nutritious diet, and one month after the completion of the intervention. The joint analysis of the resulting extensive and complex body of data has been possible thanks to the network biology competencies of COSBI. By using their unique capabilities in molecular nutrition, the researchers at COSBI are analyzing data about the participants’ genotype, habitual diet, blood metabolite levels, and DNA methylation to help elucidate the molecular bases of obesity. If successful, the project could eventually make it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with dietary advice that is tailored to each person’s specific genome.

    COSBI is a joint venture between Microsoft Research and the University of Trento; established in 2005, the centre focuses on the convergence of the life science and computer science, with a goal of understanding biological principles at all levels, from molecules to ecosystems.

    Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)

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