UC/Microsoft internship opens up world for computer science student

29 March 2011

University of Canterbury computer science PhD candidate Stephen Fitchett has recently returned from a placement as UC's first Microsoft intern.

University of Canterbury computer science PhD candidate Stephen Fitchett has recently returned from a placement as UC's first Microsoft™ intern.

Stephen spent two and a half months working for Microsoft™ at the MS Asia Research Labs (MSRA) in Beijing, with Stephen's research mentor in Beijing describing him as the most capable intern he has worked with during his time at the lab.

"Stephen has completed a first-class internship and his two and a half-month project is set to have a great impact," said Researcher at MS Asia Research Labs (MSRA) in Beijing, Dr Darren Edge.

"Stephen should be proud of the work he has done here and I am confident that Stephen has a very successful research career ahead of him."

Stephen's PhD topic is understanding and improving personal file browsing or helping to find better ways for people to locate files on their computer easily and quickly. He said that his internship gave him first-hand experience of research tools and techniques that he will go on to use in his PhD studies.

"The work was quite challenging. It was interesting working for a corporate rather than from an academic perspective but it was still a research activity that I was engaged in. I gained experience in designing, development, simulations, a user-study and a presentation. Even though the content itself wasn't directly related to my PhD topic, the skills will definitely be useful."

Stephen spent his time in the Beijing lab working on a spaced repetition algorithm for language learning which involved building probabilistic models of an individual's memory.

"It came in very handy as I applied the technique to my own language learning while I was there. It certainly worked."

Stephen had an early lesson in the consequences of not speaking the local language when trying to find his way to his accommodation from the airport.

"I arrived in Beijing knowing very little Mandarin. I had to show the taxi driver the written address without knowing what it was in English. When he then got lost it made for an interesting trip. My Mandarin certainly got better as time went on."

Stephen's fellow interns were mostly from China, South Korea or Vietnam and Stephen took the opportunity to make the most of his cultural immersion by visiting popular tourist destinations such as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace.

"I enjoyed learning about another culture. It was certainly a good experience, especially if I want to get a good job at one of the big corporate companies. I'm still deciding between going offshore to try and get a job with a big company and staying in New Zealand where I can be near friends and family."

Meanwhile Stephen is keeping in touch with MSRA and still has some input into the direction of the project he was working on during his internship. He has certainly made it easier for future UC interns to follow in his footsteps.

"I believe that this initial UC/MSRA internship will mark the start of a very successful relationship and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with other UC students in future" said Dr Edge.

UC hopes to nominate two more students to travel to the Beijing lab on an internship later this year.

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