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14 Years of Inspiring Asia Pacific Ph.D. Candidates

October 26, 2012 | By Microsoft blog editor

Posted by Rob Knies

2012 Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship Recipients 

For the past 13 years, the Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship Program has offered the most prestigious computer-science Ph.D. scholarships in the Asia Pacific region. Hundreds of students have been inspired to excel in the interim, and that reputation was underscored yet again in Tianjin, China, on Oct. 25.

As part of the 14th Computing in the 21st Century Conference, co-hosted by Microsoft Research Asia, Nankai University, and Tianjin University, the program recognizes the most outstanding first- or second-year Ph.D. students in the region who are majoring in computer science, electrical engineering, information science, or applied mathematics.

“The fellowship program has helped hundreds of outstanding young researchers launch their professional careers,” says Lolan Song, Microsoft Research Asia senior director responsible for academic collaboration in the Asia Pacific region. “I hope the program will be recognized as Asia’s ‘Junior Turing Award’ someday.”

One way to measure the success of the fellowship program is simply to examine the numbers accumulated since its inception:

  • Number of applicants: 850 Ph.D. candidates.
  • Number of recipients: 341.
  • Number of Asia Pacific universities represented: More than 50.

Why does the lab, based in Beijing, administer an effort of such scope? For Xin Ma, a research program manager with the Microsoft Research Connections team at Microsoft Research Asia, the answer is simple.

“We want to work with academia,” she says, “to foster world-class research talent. That’s the purpose of this program.”

Recipients of the Microsoft Research Asia Fellowships get an opportunity to intern at the Beijing lab and participate in advanced, hands-on research. It’s a chance more than half the award winners have found impossible to resist. Of those thus honored, 36 have joined Microsoft Research Asia, or other groups within Microsoft, upon graduation. Another 26 continue to perform research with research institutes or in academia.

Such a pedigree certainly has captured the attention of this year’s 10 recipients, representing nine universities spread across four nations:

  • Yang Cao, Beihang University, Beijing, China, supervised by Professor Jinpeng Huai, for solid studies of graph-pattern matching.
  • Menglei Chai, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, supervised by Professor Kun Zhou, for impactful research on single-image-based hair modeling and for talent and potential exhibited as a first-year graduate student.
  • Jun Kato, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, supervised by Professor Takeo Igarashi,  for outstanding contributions to making debugging easier for programmers through visualization of variables and processes.
  • Yin-Shi Kuo, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, supervised by Professor Winston H. Hsu, for outstanding research on large-scale visual search and for algorithms developed for solving the problem.
  • Yongxin Tong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Kowloon, Hong Kong, supervised by Professor Lei Chen, for research in managing uncertain data.
  • Xinggang Wang, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, supervised by Professor Wenyu Liu, for outstanding research on object detection and for strong capabilities as a potential research leader.
  • Yizhong Zhang, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, supervised by Professor Kun Zhou, for work on physical-based computer animation that combines theory and experiments for solving challenging research problems.
  • Xin Zhao, Peking University, Beijing, China, supervised by Professor Xiaoming Li, for research on a topic model for extracting topical key-phrase(s) from Twitter and for discovering and summarizing opinions from online reviews.
  • Chong Zu, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, supervised by Professor Chi-Chih Yao, for exciting work on the new frontier of quantum information systems, in particular, on a quantum-mechanics-based random-number generator.
  • Hongjin Liang, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, China, supervised by Professor Feng Xinyu, for world-class work on verification of concurrent-program transformation. Liang’s research paper appeared during the 2012 Symposium on Principles in Programming Languages (POPL) and was the first POPL paper authored by researchers from China.

Each received commemorative medals, presented by Rick Rashid, Microsoft chief research officer and worldwide head of Microsoft Research, and Hsiao-Wuen Hon, Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. The award winners appeared in a group photo along with Rashid and Hon, and they also got a chance to be photographed along with John E. Hopcroft, IBM Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics in the Computer Science Department at Cornell University and the recipient of the A.M. Turing Award in 1986.

As might be imagined, it is not a simple matter to find the 10 top Ph.D. students covering the entirety of East Asia. It represents a significant challenge, Ma explains, and requires a rigorous, three-step review.

“We have a carefully designed nomination process,” she explains.” The first round of the process is not by us; it’s by the department heads at about 50 universities in the Asia Pacific region. They select the top one or two students at their schools and recommend them to us. This first round of nominations is very important. Then, we just need to choose among the top candidates.”

Those top candidates then go through two more rounds of the review process, first by Microsoft Research Asia researchers, then during onsite interviews, in which the final candidates visit the lab to present their research work to a committee of senior researchers in the appropriate research areas. During the latter, candidates get an opportunity to gain valuable feedback.

The program’s proud history has lent the fellowships significant prestige.

“The benefit of the fellowship program extends beyond Microsoft Research Asia,” Ma says, “by helping build the next generation of research leaders in the academic community.

“The program is designed to help and motivate the Ph.D. candidates to grow,” Ma concludes, “and become future research leaders by taking advantage of Microsoft Research Asia’s support and resources.”