Careers: Interviews
World-Renowned Researcher and Educational Leader: Dr. Yan Xu

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Yan Xu.

Dr. Yan XuYan Xu, Ph.D., is a Research Program Manager in External Research & Programs (formerly University Relations) at Microsoft Research, Redmond WA, USA.

Yan joined Microsoft Research in March 2006. Her research has been focused on exploring technologies and pedagogical strategies that facilitate and enhance interdisciplinary computational education and computational thinking. She is responsible for the Computational Education for Scientists program, which enables collaborations with academia for infusing computational thinking into science education to create tomorrow's scientists. Yan is also responsible for applying Microsoft Phoenix technology to computer science education as part of the Phoenix Academic Program.

Yan has over ten years experience working in the software industry. Prior to joining Microsoft Research, she worked for several startup software companies as a senior software architect. She also served as a principle member of the W3C XML Protocol working group. Yan received her Ph.D. in Physics from McGill University, Canada.

Key Resources:

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:28: With a Ph.D. in Physics from McGill, how did you get into computing?
"....My self-taught programming skills served my science research wonderfully well and eventually, I become addicted to software engineering. That was the driving force for my career change...."

:01:58: How did you end up with your current position at Microsoft Research running the Computational Education for Scientists Initiative?
"....For the first ten years of my industry career, I was creating commercial software which was a totally different environment than my academia research.... However, deep down in my mind, I was always looking for an opportunity to put my science and engineering background together to create something innovative...."

:03:10: Why is there a Computational Education for Scientists (CEfS) program at Microsoft Research?
"....The CEfS program is designed to complement our research collaborations with the scientists and facilitate creating a generation of computational scientists. The goal is to make young scientists more successful in their own fields...."

:05:02: What makes the CEfS program unique and what value does it deliver?
"....It aims at bringing real-world scenarios into the classrooms to inspire and stimulate teaching and learning. In the process of doing that, we hope to extract the fundamental computer science concepts and skills from domain specific requirements to form a common core of computational education..."

:06:28: Yan shares some success stories from the CEfS program.
(Note: More information on .NET for Physics at UC Berkeley:

:11:02: What is the current status of CEfS?
"....Currently, we are expanding our proof-of-concept portfolio by extending the collaboration into more computing areas and more disciplines....A mini-RFP on 'What to Teach' was announced last month [because students come from a diversified background in computing] and the purpose was that we could collect more thoughts on this topic...."
(Note: More information on the CEfS initiative see

:13:11: What more should we be doing and teaching? What new CS curricula are needed?
"....I think the essence is to avoid "creating young dinosaurs" by making the teaching and learning directly relevant to the current computational problems in sciences and the latest computing technologies...."
(Note: The ECE498 class by Prof. Wen-mei Hwu and David Kirk is a great example (see

:15:55: With culture changes, what new pedagogies are needed?
"....One of the initial findings we have concluded so far from our program is that the curriculum design must be resulted from faculties of multi-disciplines...."
(Note: More information see

18:33: Yan comments on declining enrollments in Computer Science programs.
"....The message we are trying to send through the CEfS program is that we want to use computer science training to empower students in all disciplines to make them be more successful in their own fields...."

:19:57: What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
"....I hope at the end of the fifth year, with the input from both computing and scientific research communities, we can form a recommendation for curriculum development in terms of computational education for scientists...."

:21:39: Could you tell us a little bit more about how exactly Microsoft Research collaborates with academia in research and education?
"....There is a very special group in Microsoft Research called External Research and the research projects of the people in this group are based on collaboration with universities...."

:26:34: Sounds like the collaboration programs at MSR is about working with faculties. Is there any program that allows you work directly with students?
"....There are many ways we involve students into the picture and interships is one of the bigger programs....Every year we bring in over 250 students worldwide, from all kinds of disciplines and that is only for MS Research. All the other products also hire interns...."
(Note: For more information on Microsoft Research internships, see


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