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Making the World a Better Place, One Fellow at a Time


If you wanted to be certain that the best IT minds were focused on research into some of today’s most challenging societal problems, what would you do? How would you ensure that there is a global pipeline of computer-science talent? If you’re Microsoft Research, you would set aside US$1.4 million a year to fund the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship program.

The 2011 Faculty Fellows receive their awards at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.

The 2011 Faculty Fellows receive their awards at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. Left to right: Microsoft Research Senior Vice President Rick Rashid, Brent Waters, Keith Noah Snavely, Anderson Rocha, Shwetak Patel, Alistair McEwan, Jure Lescovec, Krishnendu Chatterjee, Maria Florina Balcan, and Microsoft Research Connections Corporate Vice President Tony Hey. (Courtesy Microsoft Corporation)

Now in its seventh year, this program has named 40 academic researchers whose exceptional talent for research and thought leadership make them stand out in their fields. Each Fellow receives up to US$200,000 to pursue breakthrough, high-impact research. The grant is an unrestricted gift, providing the Fellows the freedom to plan their research, hire graduate students, build labs, and acquire equipment. In addition to the monetary grant, each Fellow also receives software, invitations to academic and professional conferences, and the opportunity to work directly with leading computer scientists at Microsoft Research.

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During the 2011 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, currently in progress in Redmond, Washington (July 18 to 20), we were delighted to announce the recipients of the 2011 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships. These stellar researchers were chosen through a rigorous, multi-tier selection process that involved more than 100 expert reviewers. The reviewers looked for future academic leaders who are at the beginning of their careers. Microsoft’s goal is to encourage these early-career faculty and help them work on the kind of high-risk/high-reward research that often is overlooked by traditional funding mechanisms.

With these goals in mind, the selection criteria included not only the capability to pursue cutting-edge research, but also the personal leadership skills that are necessary to bring those ideas to fruition and to communicate complex concepts in a way that inspires and intrigues. The review process winnowed the list of candidates down to 18 finalists, who were then interviewed in person by a panel of Microsoft Research executives and researchers, along with faculty members from some of the nation’s leading universities.

Out of this arduous process emerged eight of the best and brightest young researchers—men and women who not only have interesting research agendas, but who also have demonstrated the potential to do great work throughout their careers. So, without further ado, here are this year’s Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows:

  • Maria Florina Balcan, assistant professor, Georgia Institute of Technology, for research in machine learning, adaptation, and intelligence
  • Krishnendu Chatterjee, assistant professor, IST Austria, for research in software engineering
  • Jure Leskovec, assistant professor at Stanford University, for research in data mining, web science, and social computing
  • Alistair McEwan, lecturer, University of Sydney, for research in biomedical engineering
  • Shwetak Patel, assistant professor, University of Washington, for research in human-computer interactions, embedded systems, energy, and sensor networks
  • Anderson de Rezende Rocha, assistant professor, University of Campinas, for research in machine intelligence and pattern analysis
  • Keith Noah Snavely, assistant professor, Cornell University, for research on computer vision
  • Brent Waters, assistant professor, University of Texas, for research on security and cryptography

So, how do the newest Faculty Fellows feel about their selection? The following are responses from two of them.

Shwetak Patel, an assistant professor at the University of Washington (departments of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering), conducts research in a variety of areas such as energy monitoring technology for the home and health-monitoring technologies that use mobile phones and a sensing system, and has been collaborating with Microsoft Research on natural user interface technologies.

Reflecting on the Faculty Fellowship, Professor Patel observed that “The biggest benefit of the fellowship is not just the award, but the exposure of my work to the rest of MSR [Microsoft Research] and the MSR connections that come from it. In addition, my students are going to equally benefit from working with MSR through these joint projects.

“This is a great honor and it is very respected by the community. The MSR Faculty Fellowship is probably one the most prestigious junior faculty awards out there and certainly the most prestigious corporate faculty fellowship.”

Anderson Rocha, an assistant professor at the University of Campinas (Institute of Computing), is working on new machine-learning and computer-vision techniques to help solve problems that are related to digital document forensics.

Professor Rocha proudly noted that his selection breaks new ground. “As far [as] I was told, I’m the first Latin American researcher actually working in Latin America to get this award. Therefore, it means a milestone in the sense it can motivate other young researchers in this region to keep working and believing they are also capable of achieving international recognition for their work.

“The award is an extra motivation for me and my students to keep pursuing digital forensics and innovative techniques to investigate solutions for helping law enforcement agencies in Brazil and abroad in their daily fight against organized crime.”

Professors Patel and Rocha exemplify the drive and intellect of all eight of our new Faculty Fellows. We are proud to welcome them into the fold, and we look forward to helping them advance computer science’s contributions to the future of society and our planet.

—Tom McMail, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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