Informatics Newsletter March 2019

Issue 23 of our School newsletter for students and staff.


Informatics Jamboree

Alpacas will be back for this year’s Jamboree on 26th April! Also highly popular pub quiz, silent disco and a tango class. Look out for e-mails with more info coming to your inboxes really soon.

Informatics Jamboree 2019

If you’d like to get involved and help us make the Jamboree 2019 an even bigger success, please email infcomms.

Contact Infcomms

Research successes

Mirella Lapata appointed FRSE

Mirella Lapata has been appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Mirella is a chair in Natural Language Processing. She’s a graduate of Carnegie Melon University (MA) and University of Edinburgh (PhD). In 2009 Lapata became the first recipient of Karen Spärk Jones Award. Her research focuses on probabilistic learning techniques for natural language understanding and generation. She is interested in the general problem of extracting semantic information from large volumes of text. Mirella is among 62 new Fellows from the worlds of business, science, creative arts, health, technology, law, public engagement and international development who were announced on 1st March. They join an existing Fellowship of over 1600 individuals who give their time and expertise for free to support the RSE in delivering its mission of ‘knowledge made useful’.

Miltos Allamanis’ Distinguished Dissertation

Miltos Allamanis, Informatics PhD graduate from 2017 won this year’s Distinguished Dissertation, a prestigious academic award, run jointly by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, in collaboration with the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC). Miltos won the competition for his PhD ‘Learning Natural Coding Conventions’. He was supervised by Charles Sutton and Andrew Gordon. Currently, Miltos is as a researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK and is part of the Deep Program Understanding project. The basis of his PhD was using machine learning to create better tools for software engineers. By learning from existing code, his aim is to create useful machine learning-based software engineering tools, interfaces and insights.

Huawei awards £1.2M to support studentships

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has made a £1.2 million grant award to support studentships in the areas of dialog systems and data systems. These students will be working with Prof Mirella Lapata, Dr Shay Cohen, Dr Alexandra Birch, Prof Mark Steedman, and Prof Chris Williams.  Huawei is actively looking to apply AI technologies in its products.  They are working widely on machine learning and AI methods, including: AI systems that can learn and reason from small data, adapt over time, collaborate with each other, and interact with humans; speech recognition and synthesis, machine translation, natural language dialog, natural language generation and question answering; computer vision, including semantic understanding and reasoning about images; decision making and reasoning, making good decisions and learning to make better decisions.

Horizon 2020 funding for Heafield’s Browser-based Multilingual Translation project

Kenneth Heafield was awarded £750000 from Horizon 2020 for his project Browser-based Multilingual Translation. Many companies and governments need translation but cannot use Google Translate for confidential documents. Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, leaked confidential documents because they used for translation.  In collaboration with Mozilla, researchers are creating a Firefox extension that does translation directly in the browser.  This preserves privacy because the text never leaves the user's machine. However, desktops are far less powerful than servers used by online translation providers, so translation needs to be made more efficient.  The extension also displays to the user how confident it is that the translation is correct and assist the user in filling out web forms in another language, helping them confidently produce answers in a language they do not speak.

Microsoft Research studentship for Christoph Dubach

Christophe Dubach received £37500 studentship from Microsoft Research Ltd for his project High-Level Synthesis of Neural Networks for FPGAs with LIFT. Deep learning applications are transforming our world and are extensively used in areas such as automatic language translation, business data analytic or self-driving cars. Specialised hardware is necessary to achieve maximum efficiency where speed and energy consumption is important. However, developing such hardware is extremely challenging and require many years of engineering efforts. This project investigates techniques to make the design of such hardware completely automatic, reducing drastically the time it takes to develop future machine-learning accelerators.

Magdy to study hate speech

Walid Magdy received £30,000 for his project Human Behavioural Analysis for Better Understanding of Online Hate Speech. It has been reported multiple times that online hate speech can lead to hate crimes in the real world. As online communities play a greater role in real life, detecting and understanding hate speech in these communities grows in importance. This research proposes applying feature analysis of a state-of-the-art hate speech classifiers to better understand: 1) hate-speech and its characteristics, 2) user behaviour and interactions that lead to online hate-speech, and 3) characteristics and background for those users who post hate-speech online. During this project researchers build new datasets that cover hate-speech towards different people groups. They explore hate-speech beyond the used language by including the characteristics of those who use it and their online interactions.

Renals and Heafield continue their Systems for Cross-Language Information Processing, Translation, and Summarization project

Stephen Renals and Kenneth Heafield received a £320000 supplement from U.S. Airforce for their project Systems for Cross-Language Information Processing, Translation, and Summarization. The project is building a search engine that works across languages. The search engine can also find words in audio and video. Researchers are working with languages like Somali, Swahili, and Tagalog that have large speaker communities but have only modest amounts of translations and close-captioned audio available. Since computers learn from existing translations and closed captions, the challenge is to make the most out of a small amount of data. Researchers hope to make language technologies like speech recognition and translation available for far more languages.

Lexi Birch and Mirella Lapata among AMiner’s most influential scholars in NLP

Lexi Birch and Mirella Lapata have been listed in top 10 of most influential scholars in Natural Language Processing by AMiner, a free online service for academic social network analysis and mining. As of 2018, the system has collected information on over 136 million researchers, 230 million publication papers, and 368,402 venues. The system has been in operation on the Internet since 2006 and has been visited by nearly 8.32 million independent IP accesses. It provides various search/mining services for publishers, NSFC, and research venues such as ACM/IEEE Transactions, ACM SIGKDD, ACM WSDM, and IEEE ICDM.

A word from Research Services

Requirements and support for open access

Research colleagues are reminded and invited to forward notification of acceptance emails to the RDM team. Alternatively, colleagues may complete the publication submission form or create a PURE record themselves (instructions available on InfWeb > Open Access in Informatics).

Contact the RDM team

Informatics publication submission form (secured)

Open access in Informatics

Working with the RDM team ensures Open Access compliance as required by both School publication policy and the REF OA policy.

Informatics publication policy

Summary of REF open access policy

There is a quarterly OA check conducted by the RDM team. This moved online in February, and will be further developed to streamline the process for research colleagues.

Questions and comments on PURE, open access and REF are all welcome.

Contact Victoria via publications email

Contact Victoria directly

Where to find Victoria:

  • Phone 502702
  • Office IF-3.26

Student news

bitgrit Campus Ambassador Program 2019

Our second-year student was selected to represent the University of Edinburgh as a bitgrit Campus Ambassador for 2019. Ioana Buzduga starts the ambassadorship on April 1st for 12 months.  As part of the programme, Ioana was invited to Dubai to attend the bitgrit Summit and the World Data Science Forum, which was held on 25th March.

More about the Campus Ambassador Program

Offer Holder Days 2019

Our Undergraduate Offer Holder Days take place on Wednesday 27th March and Wednesday 3rd of April. Our student ambassadors will be integral part of the day by providing guests an insight into their own experience so far.

Offer Holder Days 2019 programme

Photos from IWD event organised by Hoppers
Photos from IWD event organised by Hoppers

Hoppers International Women’s Day

On March 8th, Edinburgh Hoppers celebrated International Women’s Day with a host of events. The celebration kicked off with lunch, followed by two inspirational talks covering their life stories from roots to success by Dr Laura Sevilla and Dr Kami Vaniea. Students from St George’s School for girls were special guests for two workshops, as part of the society’s initiative to encourage more young girls to pursue computing. The two workshops were blockchain led by Dr Bettina Nissen, and microbits led by the Embedded and Robotics Society (EaRs).

Hoppers hosted a ‘Gender Pay Gap Panel’, which was moderated by the current Hoppers’ president Ojasvi Jalal. Panel members included Prof. Jane Hillston, Prof. Barbara Webb, Fiona Sutherland, Sara Stamenov and former Hoppers’ president Silvia Colombo. The panel gave invaluable insight into the issues they faced as women in STEM and how they overcame them. The day finished with and a fundraising raffle for the Turing trust.

Around the School

Dy's trophy and race
Dy's trophy and race

Dy wins a Cross Country race

Our School Finance Officer Dyane Harvey won the Cross Country race this winter in her age category. She raced 8 races in total, was marked on the best of 4 and came 1st overall. Congratulations, Dy!

Nicola completed Aurora course

Nicola Drago-Ferrante, our Institutes Admin Manager, has completed her Aurora course.

Nicola says of the training: ‘Aurora is a women only leadership programme designed to enable a wide range of women in academic, professional and research roles, to engage with leadership development at an earlier stage in their career. The program involves participating in four individual development days, an action learning set, mentoring and self- directed study via online resources.

Participating in Aurora has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The development days were intensive and stimulating, packed with keynote speeches, group activities and discussions, and most importantly, they gave me the opportunity to network with a group of like- minded women from across the UK.   The action learning set provided an opportunity to analyse issues, and ask questions to help others find their own solutions.  One of the most valuable elements of the programme has been the chance to work with a fantastic mentor; a person who challenged me to take a more proactive and constructive approach to leadership challenges and to reflect on my own experiences and possibilities.  Aurora has taught me that leadership is a mind-set that can have an impact in any role at any level of an organisation.  It's about taking ownership or responsibility when necessary, and recognising that you have something important to contribute.  At a time of transition in my own role, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I am now equipped with a number of practical tools that I will start consciously incorporating into my everyday work.’

Congratulations to Nicola!

Informatics special edition Turing Trust Hoodies

In conjunction with the Turing Trust, Informatics has created a co-branded top that will raise money for the Charity.

Tops can be ordered here and are £25 each, with at least £5 per purchase going to the Trust:

If you’re not sure about size, we are ordering these through the University Visitor Centre so if you pop in there you can see the general sizing convention they use for clothing.

Deadline for purchase is Friday 5th April, with anticipated delivery three weeks later.

Buy your hoodie

Any questions, ask Neil Heatley!

Contact Neil Heatley

Life in the UK – pub quiz

Since a significant fraction of the Informatics populace will soon be facing changes in their residency status in the wake Brexit we asked ourselves: why not pass the afternoon with a bit of light-hearted fun that also serves a very useful purpose - with a citizenship test-themed pub quiz!

The organisers will present a variety of questions related to the "Life in the UK" test that is part of the normal permanent residency/citizenship application process in the United Kingdom, full of interesting trivia and little-known tidbits about this country we all love and cherish. Join the event, test your knowledge and find out if *you* could settle in the UK!

Come as a team or find your group on the spot, whether you're British, a EU/EEA citizen or from anywhere else in the world. There will be novelty prizes to win!

Date: Friday, March 29th @ 5.30pm

Location: MF2, Informatics Forum

Snacks/Beverages: Will be provided; donations appreciated

Drinks: BYOB

There will be a group of participants meeting up on the ground floor at 5pm and buying their own beverage, feel free to join in. While spontaneous turn-ups are very welcome to join we encourage you to shoot us a mail if you intend to participate, for ease of planning.


Severe Weather Policy

There has been some important updates to the severe weather policy.

Severe Weather Policy

Outreach and Public Engagement

Check out the College of Science and Engineering PE group blog for more info.

Public Engagement at the CSE

Call for contributions: Discover! programme - Edinburgh City Council

Edinburgh City Council runs a programme that addresses the experiences of poverty over school holidays that many young pupils go through. In particular the Discover! programme aims to reduce food stress during school holidays, and provide fun learning activities for children and experiences for families to share.

There is currently a call for any staff that can provide a session either during the upcoming Easter programme or the summer one.  A class would last for roughly 60 to 90 mins.

The dates for Easter are 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th of April. There are four hubs running over Easter at Firrhill High School, Portobello high School, Craigroyston High School and Liberton High School.  Summer dates to be confirmed.

If you have any questions or are free to deliver a class on one or more of these dates at one of the school locations – drop Neil Speirs an email by Thurs 7th Mar (this week) and he will put you in touch with the organisers.

Contact Neil Speirs

Call for contributions - Williamston Primary School mini-science festival, 28th April

Williamston Primary in West Lothian is looking for scientists willing to provide fun demonstrations and activities for kids aged 5-11. The science festival will be held in one of their school halls on 28th Apr (2-4pm) and tables will be available.

Williamston Primary School is a 10 minute walk from Livingston South station in West Lothian and a 40 minute drive from Edinburgh. They are expecting around 600 children to pass through coming from local primary schools.

If you are interested in further details or to offer some activities, please contact Tiffany Wood in the first instance.

Contact Tiffany Wood

British Science Association, Edinburgh, Sci-Screen events

The Edinburgh branch of the British Science Association host monthly “Sci-Screen” events, which involve a short talk by a researcher (around 15-20 minutes), followed by a film screening of a related film.

Some examples of previous Sci-Screens

They are currently looking for speakers for later in the year. If this is something you or a colleague would be interested in, they’d love to hear from you. It is a great opportunity for someone who is new-ish to public engagement.

You can get in touch via email, see below.

Contact the British Science Association


List and feedback on training page

We now have a page listing training attended by staff, including a form to submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended. 

List and feedback on training (secured)

Unconscious Bias: the neuroscience

Friday April 26 12:30 - 13:30 (bring your sandwiches) Bayes G.03


This lunchtime event will present some recent results on how we respond when facing a new situation and need to make a decision quickly. This is a lunchtime event, so bring your sandwiches.

This session is an introduction to the underpinning principles of unconscious (implicit bias) which examines the way our brains categorise and assign value to people based on characteristic such as Age, Bodyweight, Disability, Ethnicity, Gender and even facial hair.  It explores the way these assignments impact processes such as listening, recruiting, performance management and work allocation.  It ends with some 'top tips' on bias mitigation. It responds to the recent review by Atewolgun, Cornish and Tresh (2018) which suggested that; understanding the underpinning principles of unconscious bias coupled with bias testing (which will be offered to all delegates post-session), and having cognitive strategies for action may reduce unconscious bias.

Unconscious Bias: strategies for reducing bias

Friday April 26 14:00-16:30 Bayes G.03


This workshop will explore the issues and impact of unconsicous bias in more detail. A key focus will be on strategies for avoiding poor decision making based on the biases that we all have.

This course is valuable for anyone who has to make decisions about people: job interviewing, PhD examining, PhD selection, promotions, task allocation, etc.

This workshop is designed to take delegates from a basic understanding of unconscious bias to having the capacity to apply bias mitigation techniques in recruiting.  It assumes no prior knowledge although delegates may already typically have completed an in-house e-learning module or similar training.

Mental health and well being

Informatics Staff and Students

If you feel that you are being mistreated at the University because of a factor such as gender, race, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, etc, you are welcome to confidentially contact the InfHR team in person (Informatics Forum room 5.39) or via email at any time.

Contact InfHR

You can also speak to Aileen McKie in the College Office.

The University has a number of HR policies, including the Dignity and Respect policy, and staff are encouraged to review these.

A to Z of HR policies

You can find information about mental health and wellbeing on the Informatics external website.

Mental health and wellbeing

Yoga in Informatics

From 4th March, we will have two yoga sessions every Monday led by yoga teacher, Kerry Ross, in G03.  The sessions will run 12:15-1:00 and 5:15-6:00.  There will be spaces for 16 participants at each session and places will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve, but participants must sign up in advance not just turn up at the session.  Each participant must bring along their own yoga mat.

To sign up participants should speak to Julie (or Aleks) on reception on Monday morning, and pay the £2 charge.  Sign up will be closed at 12:00.

Support for Physical Activity Programme (SPA)

If you would like to be more active, but feel as though you could use a little support and motivation, the Support for Physical Activity Programme (SPA) will help you build your confidence and get you started.

The SPA programme is a completely free service available to all students and staff of the university, and is now offering 1-1 consultations at Kings Buildings. At your first consultation we will have an informal chat, and set some manageable goals for you. You will have access to regular 1-1 catch ups to monitor and discuss your progress, and work through any difficulties or barriers you might be facing.

If you would like to book in for an appointment, simply contact Jocelyn and we will get you booked in for your first session!

Contact Jocelyn


Informatics Open Artspace

When? Tuesdays, 6pm to 8pm

Where? At the tables in MF1

What? We will have materials for acrylic painting, lino cut and origami. If you have you own project to work on, you can bring it, too!

Everyone is welcome, just come by, hang out, make some art! 

Auld Alliance French Movie Club

Come watch French movies (with English subtitles) and socialise with like-minded folks - the Auld Alliance French Movie Club is back this Thursday 28th at 6pm in MF2.

About the movie

This time, we will be watching 'L'aile ou la cuisse' by Claude Zidi, starring the one and only Louis de Funès!

More information

For more information / to register attendance / to sign up to the mailing list, please check the club's page.

More about the Auld Alliance French Movie Club

Informatics Readers Club

Calling all Informatics bookworms! If you are interested in meeting up and chatting about books you have recently read and/or your favourite ones, please get in touch with Infcomms. We are looking to set up a discussion group, that wouldn’t be your usual book club with prescribed readings. We invite everyone, irrespective of what language you’re reading in!

Contact Infcomms

Guess who?

... once played violin at one of Edinburgh’s best-loved music venues, Queen’s Hall?

André Rieu's got nothing on her!

Best of inf-general

We really enjoyed Amos’s light-hearted musings on coffee machines, but even more Charles Sutton’s wonky limerick response:

'There once was a machine for espresso.

It's now broke, it won't work, what to do now?

Frothy drinks are now nixed.

There's no one who can fix

That wand that once made cappuccino.'


Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.


Keep in Touch

For all the latest news, keep an eye on our website and social media channels!

Informatics Communications team website



Edinburgh Informatics Alumni group on LinkedIn


The newsletter is produced by the Communications team.

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