EMEA PhD Award

EMEA PhD Award


Microsoft actively seeks to foster greater levels of diversity in our workforce and in our pipeline of future researchers. We are always looking for the best and brightest talent and celebrate individuality. We invite candidates to come as they are and do what they love.

For updated eligibility criteria details and a timeline for the 2021 Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award, check back on this website in early May 2021.

Provisions of the award

  • Award recipients will receive $15,000 USD for academic year 2020–21 to help them complete research as part of their doctoral thesis work.
  • Microsoft will arrange and pay for travel and accommodations for award recipients to attend the PhD Summit. The two-day workshop is held at one of the Microsoft Research labs in the fall. It will provide award recipients an opportunity to present their research, meet with Microsoft researchers in their research area and receive career coaching.
  • Award recipients will be offered an internship at Microsoft Research’s Cambridge lab.

Eligibility criteria

  • PhD students must be in their third year or beyond in a PhD program to qualify for this award. Funding is for use only during their time in the PhD program; it cannot be used for support in a role past graduation, such as a postdoc or faculty position. Those interested in receiving this award will need to confirm their PhD program starting month and year, as well as their expected graduation month and year.
  • PhD students must continue to be enrolled at the university in the fall of 2020.
  • Payment of the award, as described above, will be made directly to the award recipient’s university and dispersed according to the university’s policies.
  • PhD students submitting a proposal should be able to communicate about their research (both in writing and verbally) in English.
  • Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award recipients subject to disciplinary proceedings for inappropriate behavior, including but not limited to discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment), or plagiarism will forfeit their funding.


  • Proposals and reference letters accepted through April 1, 2020
  • Recipients announced by June 30, 2020


How to apply

For updated eligibility criteria details and a timeline for the 2021 Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award, check back on this website in early May 2021.

PhD students must individually submit the following information. You will need to collect all the information listed under each form before submitting them as you will not have the ability to save the details and return to the online forms. You must use the same email address in both forms.

1. Reference Letter form (student requests reference letters before April 1, 2020):

Contact information for two references (third one being optional) who are established researchers familiar with your research (at least one of which must be from your primary academic advisor/supervisor). We highly encourage you to reach out to your references and submit the reference letter form long before your proposal deadline. Microsoft will automatically provide instructions and request a reference letter from each of your reference contacts separately as you submit your application. The sooner you submit the reference letter form, the more notice they will receive to upload a letter before the deadline. Those auto-generated emails will be sent from Microsoft Research Grants (msrgrant@microsoft.com), which may end up in their spam folder. References will be asked to upload a letter in our online form. Note that all contacts must submit your reference letters by Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 11:59 PM UTC (April 1, 2020 at 4:59 PM PST) in order for your proposal to be considered. Due to the number of submissions, we will not respond to questions asking if your references were submitted in time. You will receive an auto-generated confirmation email each time one of your references submits a letter. You may also log into your proposal to see if a letter has been received or not. It is your responsibility to follow up with your references.

2. Proposal form (student submits by April 1, 2020):

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Thesis proposal or research statement (short and concise is recommended—no more than two pages including references with font no smaller than 10-point)
  • Abstract of the above thesis proposal or research statement (no more than 150 words)
  • Description of how the award would be used, including a budget (maximum one page)
  • Month and year you entered the PhD program and your expected graduation date
  • Primary area of research
  • Proposals must be submitted in English via the online application tool in any of the following formats: Word document, text-only file, or PDF. Email or hard-copy proposals will not be considered.
  • Proposals submitted to Microsoft will not be returned. Microsoft cannot assume responsibility for the confidentiality of information in submitted grant proposals. Therefore, proposals should not contain information that is confidential, restricted, or sensitive.
  • Incomplete proposals will not be considered.
  • Due to the volume of submissions, Microsoft Research cannot provide feedback individual feedback on proposals that do not receive the award.


Eligibility criteria

Can EMEA PhD scholars apply for this award?

Yes, Microsoft EMEA PhD scholars may apply for this award.

What if I'm a student attending a university outside of EMEA?

This award is for students in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Students attending a school outside of EMEA are ineligible for this award.

What if I am not in my third year or beyond during the application period?

Students must be in their third year or beyond in a PhD program when they submit a proposal. Students must have started their PhD in 2018 or earlier to be considered for this year’s application process.

In what language should the proposal be submitted?

All documents should be in English.

Award review process

How will applications be judged?

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

Who will review the proposals?

Proposals will be reviewed by researchers at Microsoft.

What are you looking for in 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 this award will enable your research.

When will I know the outcome of the review process?

Selected proposals will receive notification no later than June 30, 2020. Due to the volume of submissions, Microsoft Research cannot provide individual feedback on proposals that do not receive research awards.

Award details

If selected, when will I receive the award funding?

Students will receive their financial award by July 2020. Microsoft sends the payment directly to the university, which then disperses funds according to its guidelines.

Are there any tax implications for me if I receive this research award?

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

Is childcare an approved use of award funding?

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

Will intellectual property be an issue if I am awarded a research award?

The Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award is not subject to any intellectual property (IP) restrictions.

Can I simultaneously receive fellowships from other companies?

If you accept a Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award, you may receive another fellowship from another company or institution during the same academic period.

Am I required to accept the internship offer?

No, we offer it as part of the award, but it is up to you if you wish to accept the internship.

Can I choose the team I want to intern with?

We will do our best to connect you with the researcher that you requested, but that cannot be assured.

If selected for the year 2020-2021, when can I intern with Microsoft Research, Cambridge?

Internships are typically for 12 weeks. We will work with you to determine the optimal timing for your internship.

Award recipients

2020 Award Recipients

2020 EMEA PhD Award: Lukas BurkhalterLukas Burkhalter

ETH Zürich, Switzerland

Thesis title: Privacy-Preserving Data Analytics at Scale

Recent years have seen unprecedented growth in networked devices and services that collect increasingly detailed information about individuals. With this trend comes the problem of ensuring the privacy of user data. To resolve this issue, many recent research efforts are exploring how to build data processing systems that follow the end-to-end encryption paradigm, where data is encrypted at the source such that services never see data in the clear. Existing encrypted data processing systems show great promise by allowing for confidential computation, but they are often limited to a few aspects of the system design. Important functionalities such as notions of data ownership, selective release of information, or even guarantees about the robustness of the computations are missing. In this thesis, we aim to design a new class of encrypted data processing tools and systems that expand to the requirements of more complex applications. Hopefully, this work will facilitate more adoption of end-to-end encrypted systems.

2020 EMEA PhD Award: Siddharth SwaroopSiddharth Swaroop

University of Cambridge, UK

Thesis title: Continual Learning and Federated Learning with Neural Networks

Current machine learning systems excel at training on centrally available batch data. My research considers two scenarios that are more representative of many real-world applications. In continual learning, data arrives sequentially, and past data cannot be revisited (because of computational or privacy constraints). In federated learning, data is split among many different clients and cannot be shared (such as private data on mobile phones). Current approaches to handle these real-world constraints tend to be expensive and inaccurate. My research looks at designing new scalable algorithms for these two fields, exploring and taking advantage of the similar technical challenges faced in both. I will apply Bayesian deep learning methods to do so. These have the potential for good calibration for decision making and uncertainty propagation for continual learning. Previous methods almost exclusively focus on parameter uncertainty, but I will develop methods that represent function uncertainty, considering changes in the network output directly.

2020 EMEA PhD Award: Luisa ZintgrafLuisa Zintgraf

University of Oxford, UK

Thesis title: Rapid Adaptation of Artificial Agents

Deep Reinforcement Learning methods have led to exciting successes in many areas, such as robots learning to pack boxes or artificial agents playing (video) games at human level. Often, however, these agents are trained from scratch on a single domain, without the ability to adapt to environmental changes. In this thesis, we propose several theoretical and practical advances to enable agents to rapidly adapt to changes in their environment, such as new game levels or maps, or new players in a multi-agent game. The first part of this work focuses on enabling agents to maintain a belief about how the world works, do strategic exploration in unknown environments, and incorporate their uncertainty into the decision-making process. The second part focuses on skill adaptation when agents encounter new situations that cannot be solved with their existing skill-set alone. Our work allows agents to adapt faster and more efficiently than previously possible.