Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant Program

Dissertation Grant

Region: North America

Below are the answers to frequently asked questions about the 2021 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant.

Eligibility criteria

  • Yes, if you are a full-time international student attending a school in the United States or Canada and meet the eligibility requirements.

  • This program includes only schools in the United States and Canada. If you are a student attending a school outside the United States and Canada, you are not eligible for this grant. You may be eligible for other academic research awards found on our Academic Programs page.

  • Students must still be enrolled in their PhD program during the fall of 2021 in order to receive and use the grant. Grants are for completing dissertation research only, and cannot be used for support in a role past graduation, such as a postdoc or faculty position.

  • Students must be in their fourth year or beyond in a PhD program when they submit their grant proposal. Students must have started their PhD in September 2017 or earlier to be considered in their fourth year of the program, and must continue to be enrolled through the fall of 2021. If you do not meet this criteria, you may be eligible for other academic research awards found on our Academic Programs page.

  • Employees and directors of Microsoft Corporation, and its subsidiaries and affiliates are not eligible, nor are persons involved in the execution or administration of this grant, or the family members of each above (parents, children, siblings, spouse/domestic partners, or individuals residing in the same household).

Research areas

  • There are plenty of both hardware and software projects currently in Microsoft Research. The reason the areas of research are broad is that Microsoft Research is very broad, and there are a number of people reviewing the fellowship proposals across a wide range of areas. Look at the work, people in Microsoft Research are doing by clicking on the areas noted in the Our research tab above which will give you some idea of the focus areas within the broad areas to guide your focus area choice. In the end, propose the work you are interested in doing.

  • It depends on the individuals involved in reviewing the proposal, and it is hard to say what is going to be of more interest. The trends of the industry are probably going to be reflected in what is interesting in general. Guiding question: Imagine you succeed. Tell us how someone’s life changes as a result.

  • Your choices of primary and secondary areas help us choose who reviews your proposal. Pick areas that align with conferences/journals where you would publish.

  • Microsoft Research is interdisciplinary, so it is something we understand. What you choose as a research area is a “soft” preference and will simply help us better route your proposal. Utilize the primary and secondary research area option to help capture and communicate your research area the best you can.

    Here are some suggestions and guiding questions to help you choose a research area:

    • Do you have a home conference? Are there one or two conferences you go to in a more specific area?
    • Who do you want to be reading your proposal?
    • Who would you want to network with? What area of research are they in?
    • Who would be most excited about my topic? What area of research are they in?
  • Your work should be of interest to researchers at Microsoft; however, it doesn’t need to directly line up with an existing project or topic. It is important for your work to be related enough that researchers at Microsoft will be able to review it and have interest in supporting it. Microsoft Research is large and interdisciplinary, and covers a broad area — use the Our research tab above as a guideline for the areas we cover. When in doubt, we suggest you browse the webpages of researchers who look like they may be related to your area and see if they have papers in the similar topics or publish in conferences you publish in and/or attend. If you find one or more such researchers that share these connections with you, then you can feel confident that your work is related enough to submit a proposal.


  • Accomplishment, impact, and alignment with the work that we are doing at Microsoft Research. Highlight papers you have published and any awards you have received and describe the impact that your research will have on others and how the Dissertation Grant will enable your research.

Letters of recommendation

  • Given you have three letters, it would be good to include a letter from one person who can speak about your current research and one person who has known you longer, even if it may not be in your current research area. The longer-term perspective is definitely important and valuable. The value of a letter is evaluating how you work, how you collaborate with people, and what your process is as a researcher. This transcends what your particular topic is. Keep in mind that one letter doesn’t have to address all things; across all three letters, we want to get a full picture of who you are over a longer term, but also insight into your recent work.

  • The purpose of a letter of recommendation is to provide us with the bigger picture of what you are doing, how you work as a researcher, how you learn, how you approach projects, and how you collaborate with others. The letter will also provide us with insight from people who have been working with you and observing you for some amount of time.

  • At least one recommendation needs to come from an advisor/supervisor, but letters of recommendation from collaborators are allowed. We are looking for people who can speak to you, your work as a researcher, and your character.

  • Those you provided as references in our system will be sent an auto-generated email with instructions to upload their letters of recommendation.

Review process

  • Reviewers will rate proposals based on the technical/scientific quality and the potential impact of the proposed research.

  • Proposals will be reviewed by researchers at Microsoft with appropriate topical expertise. The three to six Microsoft researchers identified as someone with topical expertise to evaluate the grant proposal could be among those asked to review that individual’s submission. You can identify researchers by selecting your primary research area from the Our research tab at the top of the page. Then provide keywords related to your research to filter. Do not contact the researchers for the purpose of listing them as a potential reviewer. We strongly suggest restricting your suggestions to people whose title is Researcher, Senior Researcher, Principal Researcher, or Senior Principal Researcher (i.e., if you list someone with a title like Corporate Vice President or Director it is very unlikely they would be available to review your proposal). Your choice of primary and (optional) secondary research area descriptors in the proposal will also help us select researchers at Microsoft to review your proposal (i.e., researchers whose own work falls under those research categories).

  • Selected proposals will receive notification no later than June 30, 2021. Due to the volume of submissions, Microsoft Research cannot provide individual feedback to those individuals who do not receive research grants.

  • There were over 200 proposals submitted last year.

Award details

  • Persons awarded a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant in June will receive their financial awards by September of that year. Microsoft sends the payment directly to the university, who will disperse funds according to their guidelines.

  • No. This award will be provided as an unrestricted gift with no terms and restrictions applied to it. No portion of these funds should be applied to overhead or other indirect costs.

  • The tax implications for the research grant are based on the policy at the university and applicable tax laws.

  • The Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant is not subject to any intellectual property (IP) restrictions.

  • If you accept a Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant, you may receive another fellowship from another company or institution during the same academic period. However, if your tuition and/or stipend are being covered by a fellowship award, then you should not request tuition/stipend funds from the grant as part of your budget.

  • Absolutely! There is no limit to the amount of grant funding that can be used for childcare.