UCL partners with Facebook AI Research to deliver PhD programme

UCL has agreed a four-year research partnership with Facebook AI Research (FAIR), enabling PhD students to spend time at both UCL Computer Science and Facebook.

This new strategic partnership between UCL and FAIR, sees Facebook’s PhD programme launch in the UK for the first time.

Commenting Graca Carvalho, Strategic Alliances Director at UCL Computer Science, said: "The collaboration has been developed over the last 12 months and it will provide a ’unique opportunity’ for PhD students, benefiting equally from UCL Computer Science, recognised as a top-ranking institution in the Research Excellence Framework, engaging in high-quality research, and FAIR, a word-leading industry AI research laboratory."

In the coming year four UCL PhD students will join the new research AI programme; it is hoped students will continue to benefit from the UCL programme over the next four years. 

Each of the UCL students will be assigned FAIR mentors based at the FAIR London site, well known for its work in 3D computer vision, knowledge intensive and multilingual Natural Language Programming (NLP), and reinforcement learning (RL).

While the partnership’s focus will be on attracting students with interest in those areas, it will also welcome those conducting research in emerging areas of AI, as well as students from diverse backgrounds.

Professor Steve Hailes, Head of Department at UCL Computer Science, said: "The creation of a PhD programme based partly in UCL Computer Science and partly in FAIR offers students a unique opportunity to see the world from two perspectives: building on the depth of expertise in UCL’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence based in our Department to undertake world-class academic research, and gaining an understanding of how to have real-world impact. We believe this holistic view is an extremely powerful model for PhD study and will have wide appeal to all students looking for careers in AI, whether in academic research informed by practical constraints or in innovative industrial positions."

Dr Pontus  Stenetorp, Natural Language Processing group lead, UCL Computer Science, adds: "Through the arrangements of this programme, our PhD students have access to the people and resources from a world-leading academic institution in AI such as UCL, and also from FAIR, a world-leading industrial research lab. This makes the programme something very special indeed, and it should appeal to any student that seeks to kick-start a career in AI." 

Announcing the partnership in a speech to the Oxford Union last night (Tuesday 23 February), Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said: "Working so closely with academia has been a huge positive for us over the last decade, and it’s something we want to do much more of in the coming years. Today we’re announcing another step in that direction - we’re going to bring our PhD program to the UK in partnership with UCL, one of the leading universities in AI." 

The FAIR London site already hosts a number of PhD students, including Patrick Lewis, a  third year research student working on teaching machines to answer any natural language question. Patrick is equally immersed at both UCL and Facebook, noting: "Unlike a summer internship, the FAIR PhD programme provides the continuity that allows for deeper collaboration, enabling us to build out long research visions and execute on them." 

UCL Computer Science is also one of four UK participants in  ELLIS - a European AI network of excellence  comprising 30 different research institutions. UCL’s newly established Centre for Artificial Intelligence in the Computer Science Department and other machine learning-related departments, boast world-renowned AI scholars including Professors John Shawe-Taylor, Lourdes Agapito, David Barber, Emine Yilmaz, and Arthur Gretton. Several FAIR London researchers, including Tim Rocktäschel, Edward Grefenstette, and Sebastian Riedel, also have dual affiliation at UCL.


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