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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

    Celebrating diversity in computing

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    Smart managers have long recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. They know from experience what empirical research has shown: diverse teams outperform those made up of individual “all stars,” particularly when it comes to innovation.

    The value of diversity is why Microsoft Research is pleased to join with other groups across the company to support the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (the Tapia Conference), the Association of Computing Machinery’s premier diversity event. The Tapia Conference brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

    This year’s theme, “Diversity at Scale,” celebrates efforts that move beyond conversation and study into full implementation of diversity in all aspects of computing. Befitting our commitment to this goal, Microsoft attendees are a culturally and professionally diverse group of women and men representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and computing careers, including researchers, engineers, interns, and business executives.

    Among the Microsoft leaders playing prominent roles in the conference are Microsoft Vice President Jacky Wright, who will deliver a keynote address on the power of data, and Jennifer Chayes, director of our New England and New York research labs, who will be participating in a fireside chat on big data. In addition, a number of Microsoft employees—including Jessica Lingel, Bhavini Soneji, and Fernando Diaz—will join me in supporting the career mentoring workshops, plenary sessions, poster presentations, and career fair.

    Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
    Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School

    Personally, I’m most excited about the poster session presentations from the diverse undergraduate students who attended the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School (DS3). Designed to encourage participation from New York City area college students who are women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities, DS3 is a hands-on, eight-week introduction to data science. DS3 includes coursework in data science, taught by leading scientists from Microsoft Research’s lab in New York. The students study tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes, and are introduced to concepts in applied statistics and machine learning. DS3 students also participate group research projects, two of which will be represented at the poster session:

    • An Empirical Analysis of Stop-and-Frisk in New York City looks at the social cost of the city's controversial stop-and-frisk program and develops a simple predictive model to aid officers in making better decisions about whom to stop and under what circumstances.
    • Self-Balancing Bikes explores a simple re-routing scheme to improve the availability of bikes while simultaneously reducing operating costs in the United States’ largest bike-sharing program.

    If you are a college student from the New York area, you are welcome to apply for the 2015 Summer School. We will be accepting applications soon, online

    On the last day of the conference, I’ll join academic and industry leaders for a one-day summit where we will map out strategies for graduating more students who are ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the field of computing. We will also discuss methods for increasing their rate of advancement once they have entered the workplace. I’m looking forward to brainstorming some great initiatives for attaining diversity at scale!

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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    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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    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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