Pablo Samuel Castro, a member of the Google Brain team in Montreal, says he ended up in computer science by chance. “Growing up in Ecuador, I was fascinated by our first computer,” he says, “but I didn’t really receive guidance that what I was interested in was computer science.”
At first, Pablo explored math — and even jazz performance. But after a mentor urged him to join a master’s and eventual PhD program, he pursued a career in machine learning. In his career, he says, he’s been surprised by the lack of representation of Latin Americans in the field.
“In 2018, there was a group created for Latin Americans attending the International Conference on Machine Learning, and we decided to meet for lunch,” he says. “Out of 8,000 in attendance, there were 20 of us. We were shocked,” says Pablo. Statistics like that are why earlier this year, we committed to the development of digital infrastructure, digital skills, entrepreneurship and inclusive, sustainable communities in Latin America. And today, we’re announcing three ways we’re acting on that commitment, especially across the research community in Latin America.
First, we’re launching Google’s PhD Fellowships for students attending Latin American universities. The fellowships are eligible to incoming, first, and second-year PhD students to help them get established in their programs full-time and persist through to their dissertation work. In addition to $15,000 of funding for up to three years, Fellows receive mentorship from a Google researcher to support their career development in CS research.
Second, we’re sponsoring key computer science conferences, organizations and events in the region. We’ve partnered with LatinX in AI since 2016 to support their workshops that aim to promote and increase the representation of Latino researchers at key CS research conferences. We invite Latino researchers to join us at NeurIPS 2022, where they can connect with us at our sponsor table, at the main conference exhibit, or with the Googlers who will be participating in the LatinX in AI workshop as mentors, panelists and speakers. We sponsored RIIAA’s fifth event this fall, which was co-located in Mexico City, Quito and a virtual conference space; the event was attended by over 700 registrants across students, faculty, and the private and public sectors in 37 countries. And in March, we look forward to attending KHIPU 2023 at Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay. “To be in proximity with these big AI researchers, to have them visit your poster and give advice – that personal connection is transformative for students who, like me at that stage, don’t know what AI research is about.”
Third, we’re growing our outreach to encourage participation in our faculty funding and collaboration programs. As we continue to grow our interactions with current and future CS researchers in Latin America, we’ll end the Latin America Research Awards and graduate the program to invest further in these three research needs. In 2020, we launched the Award for Inclusion Research, which supports faculty whose research is creating a positive impact for the state of the art and communities in need, and Research Scholar, which provides funding to early-career professors. In July, we expanded eligibility globally for exploreCSR, which funds faculty to expose students from historically marginalized gender, race, ethnicity, and ability groups to topics and career paths in CS research. Across these three programs and collaborations with faculty and students, we’ve awarded over $550,000 to Latin American researchers this year — but we’re looking to boost the number of Latin American applicants.
What outcomes does Pablo want to see? “More research happening in Latin America that is visible in these big conferences, and that focuses on problems and characteristics local to Latin America,” he says. “With Google being more involved in that space, I hope we can support that local understanding, and have the Latin American community present at the design table.”
Applications are currently open for Research Scholar (through December 1) and the Latin American PhD Fellowships (through January 11). We encourage early-career professors and incoming through second-year PhD students in Latin America to apply, and all members of the Latin American research ecosystem to connect with us at NeurIPS 2022 and KHIPU 2023.