2015 Microsoft Summer School inspires top PhD students

28/07/2015

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The first week of July didn’t just see the arrival of extraordinarily high temperatures across Europe — it also brought extraordinarily high energy to Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK, as 81 top PhD students gathered for the tenth annual Microsoft Research Cambridge PhD Summer School.

Hailing from 35 research institutions spanning 16 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the students brought huge diversity to the Cambridge Lab, not just in terms of national origin and culture, but also in their research backgrounds, which extended beyond computer science and engineering into the realms of design and various natural and social sciences. The event’s attendees included recipients of Microsoft Research PhD Scholarships, along with students whose work involves our EMEA Joint Research Centres and those who are collaborating on Microsoft Azure for Research projects or are otherwise partnering with Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Microsoft Research Cambridge Laboratory Director, Andrew Blake, opened the Summer School, welcoming the students before they launched into an ambitious four-day agenda—a carefully designed mix of scientific talks and demonstrations, training sessions and other practical activities, and social events that offered lots of opportunities for networking.

Following are the highlights of this year’s PhD Summer School.

Talks from invited experts

The invited talks began with considerable excitement when Hermann Hauser, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of such high-tech companies as Acorn Computers (famous for the BBC Micro, which dominated the UK educational computer market in the 1980s, and later spun out ARM and a number of other companies), gave a talk entitled “Technology Development.” Hauser first described earlier waves of computing, before concentrating on machine learning and artificial intelligence as technologies that could transform not just our economy but every aspect of our future lives.

Other invited speakers included Marta Kwiatkowska, professor of computing systems at the University of Oxford, who explained aspects of DNA computing in her talk entitled “Computing Reliably with Molecular Walkers,” and Bernhard Schölkopf, director of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, who delivered a talk on “Empirical Inference in Intelligent Systems.”

Researcher talks

The researcher talks and demonstrations gave a broad overview of the activity in the Cambridge Lab, from environmental science and computational biology, to various aspects of core computer science, design and human-computer interaction. The students were especially attentive—you might even say awestruck—when Microsoft researcher and Turing Award winner Sir Tony Hoare spoke on “The Laws of Programming with Concurrency,” giving a historic account of his work on Hoare logic and communicating sequential processes (CSP).

Researcher talks gave the students an overview of the cutting-edge work underway at Microsoft Research Cambridge.
Researcher talks gave the students an overview of the cutting-edge work underway at Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Code Hunt

A special highlight was the Code Hunt contest, during which the attendees could demonstrate their C# or Java programming ability by solving a series of increasingly complex coding puzzles. About half the students participated, and the winners received special acknowledgement at the formal dinner on Thursday evening at Jesus College Cambridge.

Training activities

The training activities are an all-time favourite in the Summer School agenda. Besides professional coaching on how to deliver a research presentation and how to present a poster at an international conference, students heard lectures from senior Microsoft researchers, who shared their general learnings on research and how to pursue a successful research career.

Poster sessions

 

Lunchtimes provided food for the brain as well as the body, as the PhD students presented their posters to the 100-plus researchers (and almost as many summer interns) of the Cambridge Lab. Presenters got invaluable feedback from their peers and the Microsoft researchers, and also benefited from the insightful advice of poster coach Sue Duraikan from Duraikan Training, a consultancy that provides support in designing and delivering learning strategies.


Even PhD students need to eat, and they dined in style at the formal dinner at Jesus College Cambridge. Ah, and you thought this was a photo from Hogwarts!


The 2015 PhD Summer School closed with a packed lunch on Friday—not every meal can be as refined as the dinner at Jesus College! As in other years, I was sorry to see the event end, since I really enjoy getting caught up in the excitement of these students who are on the cusp of great careers. Fortunately, I can look forward to next year’s event, and hope that the weather will once again put the “summer” in the Microsoft Research Cambridge Summer School.

Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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Microsoft Research Ltd

The Microsoft Research Cambridge laboratory was set up in July 1997 and was Microsoft Corporation's first research laboratory established outside the United States. Today, 100 researchers, mostly from Europe, are engaged in computer research at the lab.

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