FAIR unveils U.K. PhD program in partnership with UCL

February 23, 2021

The field of artificial intelligence benefits immensely from open science and collaboration among researchers. That’s why one of our missions at Facebook AI Research (FAIR) is to foster collaboration in the field by open-sourcing our work and sharing our data, as well as by supporting fundamental and applied AI research taking place in academic institutions around the world.

Today, we are announcing a four-year AI research partnership with University College London (UCL) as part of the expansion of our PhD program to the U.K. Our PhD programs support PhD students undertaking cutting-edge AI research at leading universities. Students in our program spend time both at their universities and at Facebook, pursuing projects that not only get published but are also regularly open-sourced.

UCL is a natural partner for our PhD program: the university’s Computer Science Department has been recognized by the Research Excellence Framework as a top-ranking institution engaging in high-quality research in the U.K. It is also one of four U.K. participants in ELLIS - a European AI network of excellence comprising 30 different research institutions. UCL’s newly established AI Center, as well as its Computer Science and other machine learning–related departments, boast world-renowned AI scholars such as John Shawe-Taylor, Lourdes Agapito, David Barber, Emine Yilmaz, and Arthur Gretton. Several of our FAIR London researchers, including Tim Rocktäschel, Edward Grefenstette, and Sebastian Riedel, also have dual affiliation at UCL.

Professor Steve Hailes, Head of Department at UCL Computer Science, has been working with Facebook to set up the new program: “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 AI Center 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.”

To commence our U.K. PhD program, we are hosting four UCL PhD students in the coming year, with the opportunity to add more students every year for the next four years. Each of the students will be assigned FAIR mentors based in our FAIR London site well known for its work in 3D computer vision, knowledge intensive and multilingual NLP, and reinforcement learning (RL). While our focus will be on attracting students with interest in those areas, we also welcome others conducting research in emerging areas of AI, as well as students from diverse backgrounds.

Our FAIR London site is already host to several PhD students, including Patrick Lewis, a third-year PhD student working on teaching machines to answer any natural language question. Patrick is equally immersed at Facebook and UCL and enjoys contributing to the working environment of both. “FAIR affiliation really helps propel your research, whether it be through access to powerful research tools, like the FAIR compute cluster, or world-class researchers in your field always willing to provide feedback. The emphasis on ‘bottom-up’ research at FAIR is also a great fit for PhD students, and the management team are excellent at supporting both your growth personally, and facilitating the research you want to do,” he says. “Unlike a summer internship, the FAIR PhD program provides the continuity that allows for deeper collaboration, enabling us to build out long research visions and execute on them.”

Pontus Stenetorp leads the NLP group at UCL's Computer Science Department and is looking forward to welcoming more PhD students through this more formal partnership arrangement. “Given the current rate of progress, pushing the limits of AI is a team effort, where connections between groups and across industrial and academic boundaries is key to success,” he says, adding: “Through the arrangements of this program, 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 program something very special indeed and should appeal to any student that seeks to kick-start a career in AI.”

This strategic partnership between FAIR and UCL brings our PhD program to the U.K. for the first time, adding to the programs we already have in France, the United States, and Canada. We are aiming to develop relationships with more partners in the U.K., and around London in particular, in the future.

Written By

Sebastian Riedel

Facebook AI Research Manager

Pierre-Louis Xech

Facebook AI Program Manager