PhD Summer School explores cutting-edge computing


Call it the invasion of the computer literati: on the last day of June, 78 PhD students converged on Cambridge to begin five days of networking and knowledge exchanges during the Microsoft Research Cambridge 2014 PhD Summer School.

Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA, writes:

The invited attendees included PhD candidates from universities and research institutions with which Microsoft Research partners—for example, through the Microsoft Azure for Research program—as well as recipients of Microsoft Research PhD Scholarships.

As always, the topics were timely and the atmosphere electric, as the students interacted with Microsoft researchers, academic experts, and one another. One of the PhD students summed it up nicely, noting that the Summer School is “a fantastic opportunity to meet other researchers and listen to a wealth of experience from many speakers.”

The Summer School featured more than 20 talks and workshops, including an enchanting keynote from Professor Jon Crowcroft of the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, who used T.H. White’s The Once and Future King as a metaphor for exploring the history and anticipated future of the Internet. Another highlight was the keynote presented by clinical oncologist Raj Jena of the Cambridge Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who delved into the challenges of deciphering complex imaging data in order to deliver effective radiation therapy to cancer patients. An additional crowd-pleaser was the presentation by Dave Yewman, a strategic communications expert with Dash Consulting, who demonstrated how to deliver a fabulous research talk—one that engages the audience and presents even complex topics in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.

Poster sessions were held during the lunch breaks on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, giving the PhD students an opportunity to exhibit their research and get input from their peers and computer scientists from Microsoft Research and the University of Cambridge. Thursday afternoon’s DemoFest displayed 14 projects that spanned all research groups at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab. Lending a practical note to the agenda, hands-on sessions coached the students on using .NET Gadgeteer to build small electronic devices and showed them how to employ Microsoft Azure to harness the power of cloud computing for research.

PhD student Dylan Hutchison of Stevens Institute of Technology presented his poster to AMC Turing Award winner Tony Hoare of Microsoft Research Cambridge.
PhD student Dylan Hutchison of Stevens Institute of Technology presented his poster to ACM Turing Award winner Tony Hoare of Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Those who appreciate the finer things surely enjoyed the opening day’s high tea at Selwyn College and the formal dinner at Jesus College, which honored the tenth anniversary of the Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) program. Noting the occasion, Andrew Blake, the director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, observed, “This year’s School marks the tenth anniversary of our PhD Scholarship program and underlines our long-term commitment to foster academic relationships in computer science and related fields in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.”

From lectures, to workshops, to demos, to high tea, the variety of experiences makes the annual Summer School a unique event—as eagerly anticipated by Microsoft researchers as it is by the PhD students. Simon Peyton Jones, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and long-standing speaker at the Summer School, captured this symbiotic essence of the program: “Over the years, I’ve seen the PhD Summer School develop into an important annual event at the Cambridge lab. Students appreciate the exposure to our research, the training, and especially the networking opportunities. For us, the PhD Summer School is an important networking opportunity with PhD students from across Europe and the Middle East, some of whom stay for internships over the summer.”

Principal Researcher Simon Peyton Jones addressing the students at the ninth PhD Summer School
Principal Researcher Simon Peyton Jones addressing the students at the ninth PhD
Summer School

Many thanks to all the attendees and presenters, who made this year’s Summer School truly memorable.

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At Microsoft Research in Cambridge, we truly aspire to transform the world through deep research. The bold and inquisitive minds of our researchers and engineers have produced, and continue to produce, significant contributions to Microsoft’s most successful products and services, as well as to the broader research community. The interdisciplinary nature of our lab ensures that we push the boundaries of computing in an inclusive way, resulting in robust and trusted technologies that can be deployed at scale. We have only scratched the surface of what technology can do for us, and I am tremendously excited to be working in a team that is so committed to having a significant impact upon our society.

Microsoft Research Ltd