Orientation Day in Portugal Strengthens Collaborative Network  

Orientation Day 1

On October 19, 2013, the CMU Portugal Program welcomed its new dual degree doctoral students at the Annual Student Orientation Day, which was held in Porto, Portugal. This informal networking event involved students, alumni, faculty and entrepreneurs in Portugal at the time, and had a strong focus on the global graduate education experience provided to the dual degree students. “You have a truly inter-national education, and this is not the same as an education abroad; you are doing joint research between two countries, which is a very valuable and unique opportunity for you to develop and position yourselves for international careers,” said João Claro, the national director of the Program.   
The Orientation Day started with a welcome reception in a “barco rabelo”, the typical boat of the Douro River. During a short cruise in the river, João Claro talked to the students about their role in the Program: “You are our number one priority, our major concern.” On “Student Matters,” Sara Brandão, the executive director of the Program, presented topics related to formal procedures required for the period that the students stay with the Program. The students also had the opportunity to speak about their experiences and expectations, while enjoying the boat trip.    

The group then moved to the facilities of INESC Porto, where the CMU Portugal Program organized an open session about the Google Glass initiative, and the rich and diverse experiences of the Program's community members. The session started with an overview by João Claro about remarkable achievements by the Program’s students, researchers and entrepreneurs, and how the new students can become a part of this dynamics. One of the highlights of the overview was a startup launched in 2009  by three alumni of the Professional Master’s in Human Computer Interaction, jointly offered by the Universidade da Madeira and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Mambu, a provider of microfinance technology services, operates out of Berlin, Germany, and emerged from a capstone project carried out in the scope of the Professional Master’s Program. João Claro called the attention to this case, as it is evidence of “our capacity to transform an idea into a real product, and take it successfully to market at an international level, in a place as competitive as Berlin is nowadays.” Another aspect emphasized by João Claro was the strong collaboration between the Portuguese universities, CMU, and all the Program stakeholders, and how it can be leveraged by students as they acquire new knowledge and skills in the Program’s key focused areas of Information and Communication Technologies.    

Since its creation, the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), has welcomed more than 300 students in its multiple dual degree Professional Master’s and Doctoral programs, 200 of which currently are alumni. The career paths of the Program’s alumni are diverse. Alexandre Mateus and Rita Ferreira, for example, were the first dual degree doctoral students to graduate from the Program, in Engineering and Public Policy and Applied Mathematics, respectively. Alexandre Mateus has since been with the European Commission and Rita Ferreira has been a postdoc at the Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT/UNL). (Other profiles can be found here.) 

João Claro also spoke about both new and existing opportunities for collaboration within the program, including the Faculty Exchange Program, Early Bird Projects, as well as the Entrepreneurship-in-Residence initiative. (Visit www.cmuportugal.org for specific information about each of these collaborative opportunities.)    

The national director finished his presentation focusing on the opportunity that a dual degree Ph.D. program provides. “You are in a position to get the best education in the world in ICT, push the frontier of knowledge, work with top global companies, and contribute to the mission of placing Portugal in a leadership position in this area,“ he said. “But no one can replace each of you in figuring out how to make the most out of this opportunity,” concluded João Claro adding that “the Program and your advisors will help you throughout your studies, but ultimately it is up to you to make your own path.”

 Orientation day 2 

Google Glass and the value of a dual degree

The session proceeded with "CMU Portugal and Google Glass: How the Partnership Predicted an Unpredictable Event," presented by João Paulo Costeira, researcher at the Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica (ISR) and faculty member at the Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade de Lisboa (IST-UL), and by Ricardo Cabral, a dual degree doctoral student at IST-UL and CMU. Ricardo Cabral made his presentation through videoconference due to the fact that he was in the United States at the time. The opportunity to receive one of the early Google Glass prototypes came out of a summer internship that Ricardo Cabral had at Google. His performance, and the relationships that he created, during the internship set him on the path to succeed in a very competitive, but rewarding process that ended with Google Glass in his hands, flying back to Portugal. “This was an amazing adventure,” said Ricardo Cabral adding that it “would not have been possible if it were not for the CMU Portugal Program.”     

With these smart glasses in Portugal, a call for proposals to explore the Google Glass, launched by João Paulo Costeira in September, has already received more than 60 proposals from researchers from all over the country. The researcher is very enthusiastic. He considers that the glasses in the future can be used in many circumstances, and he gave healthcare as an example of an area that he sees as particularly promising. João Paulo Costeira finished his presentation saying: “The students are opening doors; they are further opening and empowering our universities.” For this researcher, who coordinates the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) dual degree doctoral program between IST-UL and CMU, the dual degree students are “ambassadors” of the Program, and they are “really bringing new ideas, concepts, and best practices to Portugal.”     

Community building: a wealth of experiences

Orientation Day 3  The session continued with a research pitch from a dual degree doctoral student in ECE, Saurabh Shintre, who is studying at the Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto (FEUP) and CMU. Saurabh Shintre has been enrolled in the Program since 2010/2011, carrying out research on private communication detection. In this period, he had the opportunity to intern at Cisco Systems, in the area of security and anonymity in wireless networks. He told the audience that his experience in the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program has meant “having the flexibility to choose the research focus that you want,” creating networks “with great researchers and staff members,” and benefiting from “support to help you overcome your challenges.”   

The roundtable “CMU Portugal Community Building: Internships, Job Opportunities and Entrepreneurship Paths” brought together members of the Program’s community with different experiences, but a common deep involvement with the Program. Jerónimo Rodrigues, a dual degree doctoral student in ECE at IST-UL and CMU since 2008/2009, shared the diversity of experiences that he has already had. In the scope of his doctoral studies, he has done two internships, at the Qualcomm Innovation Center and at Google, and has worked on a project led by Honda. Jerónimo Rodrigues stressed the importance of being proactive, networking, and seeking to benefit of the learning opportunities provided through the seminars that CMU organizes, as was his case namely with the VASC Seminars at the Robotics Institute.    

André Martins, after receiving his dual degree Ph.D. in Language Technologies in 2011/2012, returned to Priberam, the company where he had worked prior to starting the Ph.D. During his studies, André Martins also did an internship at Google, and back in Lisbon, developed the concept and launched the Priberam Machine Learning Seminars at IST-UL, and has been part of the organizing and steering committees of the Lisbon Machine Learning School, which had its third edition this year. “All of this was possible, because of the opportunities and the network that I was able to create during my studies as a dual degree doctoral student within the CMU Portugal Program,” said André Martins.      

Inês Freitas de Oliveira, alumna of the dual degree Professional Master’s in Information Networking (MSIN), finished her studies in 2008, and gave a personal perspective of her experience. Inês Oliveira looks back at her time in the Program as a hard and challenging undertaking, but one that was very rewarding for her future. The program was very demanding, but allowed her to strengthen and develop new competences. The opportunity to be immersed in such an energetic environment at Carnegie Mellon, gave her the confidence to “never fear taking on new challenges.” PT Inovação funded the studies of Inês Oliveira, a career investment that has allowed her to move on to her current position in innovation management within the company.   

The roundtable closed with the contribution of Susana Sargento, faculty member of the Universidade de Aveiro (UA) and researcher at the Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT), who recently became co-founder of a spin-off – Veniam’Works. Susana Sargento’s research on inter-vehicular communication, in particular as part of the CMU Portugal Program’s DRIVE-IN project, led to the creation of Veniam’Works in 2012. The researcher showed how her Ph.D. students have been collaborating in research projects and Veniam’Works, and stressed that they have been a “great help on scientific aspects, and have been able to use the collaboration for outstanding theses.”  

Orientation Day 4 

The session ended with all the participants trying out the Google Glass with the help of João Martins, a master student at IST-UL, and member of João Paulo Costeira’s research team.

November 2013
You can see the videos at P3 and Canal Superior.