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Microsoft Research Blog

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.

Microsoft Research Dissertation Grants: Broadening the PhD pipeline to increase innovation

June 19, 2018 | By Meredith Ringel Morris, Principal Researcher and Research Manager

Research shows that diverse teams are more productive teams. Diversity, particularly in the area of computing research, means including unique perspectives that otherwise might not have a voice, fueling innovation. These are some of the key reasons that Microsoft is committed to diversity. One aspect of demonstrating that commitment is that, for the second year in a row, we are awarding Microsoft Research Dissertation Grants to talented PhD candidates from groups that are under-represented in computing. The goal of these awards (up to $25,000 each) are to widen the narrow pipeline of women, African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and those with disabilities who earn PhDs in computer science or related fields. These awards are given to students in the “last mile” of their PhDs, where a little money can push them over the finish line by helping them to complete their dissertation research.

I am pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grants:

  • Cynthia Bennett, University of Washington, “Toward Disability-Informed Human-Centered Design”
  • Eric Corbett, Georgia Institute of Technology, “Trust, Technology and Community Engagement”
  • Ryan M. Corey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Array Signal Processing for Augmented Listening”
  • Maria De-Arteaga, Carnegie Mellon University, “Quantifying and Mitigating Risks of Algorithmic Decision Support”
  • Jane E, Stanford University, “Artistic Vision: Providing Context for Capture-Time Decisions”
  • Sahar Hashemgeloogerdi, University of Rochester, “Computationally Efficient Modeling and Audio Enhancement Algorithms for Reverberant Acoustic Systems Using Orthonormal Basis Functions”
  • Francesco Pittaluga, University of Florida, “Privacy Preserving Computational Cameras”
  • Ramya Ramakrishnan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Human-Guided Reinforcement Learning in Real-World Environments”
  • João Sedoc, University of Pennsylvania, “Hierarchical Approaches to Improve the Flow, Style, and Coherence of Conversational Agents”
  • Mina Tahmasbi Arashloo, Princeton University, “Programmable Network Monitoring and Control”
  • Sarah Tan, Cornell University, “Methods in Interpretability and Causal Inference for Better Understanding of Machine Learning Models”

From the almost 200 research projects submitted, these PhD candidates were selected as grant recipients based on review by scientists at Microsoft Research of the quality of the students’ dissertation research, the potential impact of their research, and the uses toward which they would put the grant monies awarded.

For example, Ryan Corey’s grant proposal included funds for purchasing high-quality recording equipment to capture and separate sources of audio to prototype products that augment people’s ability to hear, and also to fund outreach efforts for him to go into community schools to demonstrate his research. Ramya Ramakrishnan will use her grant to hire undergraduate women as research assistants, so she can further amplify the mentoring she receives from this award. Cynthia Bennett, who has a visual disability, is using her grant to increase the ability of people with disabilities to design products that other people with disabilities will use.

There were interesting themes running across this year’s set of awardees, including the ethics and sociological impact of their research. Eric Corbett’s research on using technology to increase public trust and Maria De-Arteaga’s research on mitigating risks of algorithmic decision support in the criminal justice system are two such examples.

In addition to monetary grants, each award comes with an all-expense paid trip to a two-day Microsoft Research workshop in Redmond, Washington, in the autumn of 2018. There, the awardees will present their research, meet with researchers in their field, and receive career coaching.

For a complete list of awardees and their projects, visit our Dissertation Grant Program page.

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