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The Microsoft Research blog provides in-depth views and perspectives from our researchers, scientists and engineers, plus information about noteworthy events and conferences, scholarships, and fellowships designed for academic and scientific communities.

Class of 2018-19 PhD fellows to push frontiers of AI

January 9, 2018 | By Sandy Blyth, Global Managing Director, MSR Outreach

Class of 2018-19 PhD fellows to push frontiers of AI

By Sandy Blyth

A graduate student working on technology that leverages human brain signals to accelerate robot learning and another student who is developing models of human conversations that capture what is explicitly communicated and implicitly conveyed are among the diverse group of ten fellows accepted to the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program for the 2018-2019 academic year, Microsoft’s research organization announced on Tuesday.

“These are incredibly talented students, the top students from across North America,” said Bill Dolan, a principal researcher and research manager at Microsoft’s research lab in Redmond, Washington, who directs the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program.

The program provides 100 percent of tuition and fees for two consecutive academic years and an annual stipend of $28,000 plus $4,000 annually for professional conferences and seminars. All fellows are also offered the opportunity to interview for an internship with leading Microsoft researchers who are working on cutting-edge projects related to their fields of study.

The fellowship program was established in 2008 to promote the careers of promising students in computer science, mathematics and electrical engineering. Since the inception, the program has supported 122 fellows, many who have gone on to perform pioneering research in the technology industry or accept faculty appointments at universities around the world.

“The program was initially set up to make sure that the students doing top-notch work in these areas are recognized and that their careers are helped along as much as we can help,” said Dolan.

For the first time, Microsoft Research put out a specific call for students working on doctoral theses in fields related to systems & networking and artificial intelligence, areas that have generated strong interest at Microsoft. Dolan and his team received a strong slate of applicants and were able to create a 2018-2019 fellowship class that will generate impact in these areas.

For example, Columbia University robotics researcher Iretiayo Akinola’s work on human-in-the-loop robot learning has the potential to accelerate how quickly robots learn new skills that complement and augment human capabilities. Cornell University natural language processing researcher Justine Zhang’s computational models and analysis of complex conversational dynamics are bringing insight to how conversations shape everything from political outcomes to community identities.

In the fall of 2018, Microsoft Research plans to accept applications for the 2019-2020 academic year for graduate students in their second or third year of study. Applicants must be nominated by the chair of the computer science, electrical engineering or mathematics department at their university. Up to three applicants per eligible department per university are accepted, for a maximum of nine applications per university.

The university-level winnowing provides a rarified group of students for Dolan and his colleagues to select from, allowing them to find students they believe can generate positive and lasting impact.

“We really do want to promote the careers of these great students,” said Dolan. “It is good for all of us.”

The 2018 winners of the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship include: The 2018 winners of the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship include: Iretiayo Akinola, Columbia University; Naama Ben-David, Carnegie Mellon University; Vincent Josua Hellendoorn, University of California, Davis; Vikram Iyer, University of Washington; Natalie Klco, University of Washington; Manish Raghavan, Cornell University; Julia Romanski, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Haijun Xia, University of Toronto; Dong Xie, University of Utah; Justine Zhang, Cornell University.


Learn more about the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program and the 2018 Fellows.