Microsoft Research EMEA and Latin America PhD Awards springboard new ideas across intercontinental research

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The 2020 EMEA and Latin America PhD Award recipients are undertaking research central to advancing today’s technology—training artificial agents to learn faster in new situations, designing new scalable machine learning algorithms for continual and federated learning, and several other compelling projects. Not only is the recipients’ research relevant to enhancing critical computing techniques in areas like data analysis and natural language processing, but their emphases lie in improving these technologies in increasingly influential societal spheres, like social media. These individuals are also pursuing their PhD research at diverse institutions spanning borders and cultures, from the Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto, Argentina to the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

In their inaugural year with reach across five continents, the Microsoft Research PhD Awards support outstanding doctoral students in computing-related fields in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America with funding to support their final year of research. The awards provide recipients with an opportunity to attend the two-day virtual PhD Summit in the fall to meet fellow doctoral students and Microsoft researchers in their research field, receive career coaching, and present their research to a Microsoft Research audience.

Latin America PhD Award recipient Jéssica Soares dos Santos is researching the use of data analysis to better gauge opinions about elections on social media.

Jéssica Soares dos Santos, PhD student at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil, is researching how we can utilize information gleaned from social media to better understand people’s opinions, specifically in regard to elections. Soares dos Santos sees potential in data analysis, which can be faster and cheaper than traditional election polling with the proper tools. “We are working on analyzing opinions on social networks in the electoral scenario, as we understand this scenario still requires computational tools to help better understand people’s behavior in these important processes of democracy,” says Soares dos Santos.

EMEA PhD Award recipient Lukas Burkhalter is researching encrypted data processing tools that meet today’s evolving technology privacy needs.

Recipient Lukas Burkhalter of ETH Zürich, Switzerland, whose research is focused on privacy-preserving data analytics at scale, has no doubt of the benefits inherent in attending the PhD Summit. “I’m excited to meet researchers at Microsoft and fellow scholars who are working on similar and relevant research problems,” he says of the experience. With an expanding number of various network-connected devices and services collecting information from individuals, Burkhalter is working toward creating “a new class of encrypted data processing tools and systems that expand to the requirements of more complex applications.” From his perspective, these systems should include better understandings of data ownership, selective release of information, and computation robustness guarantees.

Latin America PhD Award recipient Segun Taofeek Aroyehun is enlisting deep learning and natural language generation to help identify and address harmful behavior on social media.

The selected students are delighted with the resources this award will afford them— participation in events that help them promote and refine their ideas, the ability to purchase equipment, and precious time to continue their research. This is echoed by Latin America PhD Award recipient Segun Taofeek Aroyehun from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico. “With this funding, I will be able to attend the best conferences … and benefit from the mentorship of top researchers in natural language processing and deep learning at Microsoft Research, a unique opportunity for a student from a developing country!”

Aroyehun’s work also delves into social media issues, centering around the creation of new tools for the detection and prevention of harmful behavior using natural language processing and deep learning methods. He hopes to be an example to other students around the world, who aspire to do great things in academic research and beyond. “Most importantly,” he says, “this recognition of the excellence of our research makes me feel proud for my university and my country, and it will encourage other students like me to set high goals and achieve them.”

Microsoft Research congratulates the 2020 EMEA and Latin America PhD Award recipients.

Each of the six PhD Award recipients is doing important research at the forefront of technology. Find out more about these two awards from Microsoft Research by going to the EMEA PhD Award homepage and the Latin America PhD Award homepage. We encourage you to explore the PhD students’ work further by visiting their professional websites.

2020 Microsoft Research EMEA PhD Award recipients

Lukas Burkhalter, ETH Zürich | website
Siddharth Swaroop, University of Cambridge | website
Luisa Zintgraf, University of Oxford | website

2020 Microsoft Research Latin America PhD Award recipients

Segun Taofeek Aroyehun, Instituto Politécnico Nacional | website
Facundo Molina, Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto | website
Jéssica Soares dos Santos, Universidade Federal Fluminense | website

To learn more about the many Microsoft Research fellowship and grant opportunities for both faculty and students, visit our academic programs page.


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