Fostering Research through Collaboration: CIS Collaboration Grants
The CIS Collaboration Grant was established to foster the initiation of CIS Research Pillars, specifically within the domain of Intelligent Systems federating Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics research.
Jan Kerschgens, the Executive Director of CIS, emphasizes the significance of these grants in facilitating inter-laboratory and inter-faculty dialogues within EPFL. "These grantees, under the mentorship of professors associated with CIS, play a pivotal role in the conception, submission, and execution of expansive collaborative projects between EPFL and its strategic partners via CIS," he notes.
Upon the inception of the EPFL Center for Intelligent Systems, which amalgamates research in Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and robotics, we discerned a pre-existing momentum in AI research across all five schools of EPFL. To catalyze the emergence of pioneering research avenues, we initiated an internal EPFL grant aimed at postdoctoral salaries. This approach was designed to incentivize labs from disparate schools or consortiums of labs to collaboratively draft project proposals.
To date, six grants have been awarded, each resonating with distinct research pillars, namely: AI for Healthcare, AI for Intelligent Assistive Robotics, Edge AI, Digital Twin, AI for Molecular Design, and AI for Multi-agent Reinforcement Learning for Robotic Construction.
A significant number of these grants have been instrumental in laying the groundwork for subsequent successful research proposals submitted to both Swiss national and European funding bodies. Numerous publications have emanated from these grants, and a vast array of student projects have been under the tutelage of collaborators financed through this grant scheme.
Based on the AI priorities set by EPFL, there is potential for the introduction of additional thematic calls or initiatives in sectors deemed of strategic significance both to our institution and to Switzerland at large.
Let's delve into the experiences and insights of some of our talented grantees to understand how the CIS Collaboration Grant has shaped their research journeys and careers:
Anastasia Bolotnikova - Grant II: Intelligent Assistive Robotics
When asked about her expectations when applying for this highly interdisciplinary program, Anastasia highlights the challenges she anticipated, not only in research but also in leading collaborative projects. She emphasizes the valuable skills she gained, from team management to project writing, which are not typically developed during a Ph.D.
Anastasia also underscores the richness of being affiliated with two labs, emphasizing that it broadened her perspective on research and leadership styles. She sees it as a "mind-opening experience" that has greatly helped her in developing her own leadership skills. As for her new career move, she has secured a permanent researcher position in France, supported by the skills and mentorship gained during her CIS grant.
Nataliya Yakimets - Grant III: Decentralized Edge AI Infrastructure
For Nataliya, the interdisciplinary nature of the CIS Collaboration Grant was a perfect fit for her background and interests. She saw it as an opportunity to combine her expertise in nanotechnologies and safety-critical systems with AI and edge technologies.
Nataliya's experience was enriched by the need to explain technological terms to experts from different fields, fostering knowledge transfer and collaboration between teams. She initiated master and semester projects and involved postdocs, further enhancing collaboration.
In terms of her future career, Nataliya is considering moving into the industrial sector, leveraging her experience to focus on safety and risk management in healthcare, particularly in the areas of edge devices and digital twins.
Mary-Anne (Annie) Hartley - Grant III: Decentralized Edge AI Infrastructure
Annie, a medical doctor with a passion for applied interdisciplinary research, saw the CIS Collaboration Grant as an opportunity to lead her own research group called Intelligent Global Health. In this capacity, she supervised numerous students in various projects for decentralized health technologies specifically designed for low-resource settings.
Working under the supervision of Prof Martin Jaggi also allowed her to appreciate the value of theoretical machine learning in medical applications, a direction that she had not previously considered.
Annie is immensely grateful to CIS for the chance to fund applied research that she has seen improve directly improve health care delivery in her clinical sites in Sub-Saharan Africa.
She is now a tenure-track assistant professor at Yale University, retaining a visiting professorship at EPFL where she will continue her long-term projects and lead a student exchange program between the institutes.
Dimitri Goutaudier - Grant IV: Digital Twin
Dimitri's project focused on developing a digital twin for a small-scale gas bearings supported turbocompressor. The interdisciplinary nature of the CIS Collaboration Grant allowed him to combine practical application with theoretical detours, expanding his skills in AI and reduced-order modeling.
Having two supervisors and working in two different environments provided Dimitri with twice as many opportunities and a rich research experience. His career move after the grant concludes is to become a full researcher at CNRS in Paris, where he will continue interdisciplinary research in developing frameworks for digital twins with diverse engineering applications.