Posted on September 20, 2013

Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) commemorated the end of a successful 2013 summer internship programme on Wednesday with a closing ceremony and speech from guest speaker Dr. Tarek El Fouly, from the College of Engineering at Qatar University.

This summer, QCRI welcomed 22 students –18 from universities in Qatar and four international students- to participate in the intensive eight-week programme.

Dr. Ahmed K. Elmagarmid, Executive Director of QCRI, described the importance of the programme to the mission of Qatar Foundation Research and Development. “At QCRI, we believe that it is essential for our country’s development to identify, teach and nurture students who are interested in, and have an aptitude for, science and research. Our summer internship programme is designed to prepare these young students for such opportunities by having them work closely with our scientists to solve real computing challenges. The internship programme this year was the largest it has ever been, and the students worked on a varied range of projects – each one having societal impact.”

The programme kicked off in early June, with an orientation session that introduced the students to QCRI, its priority areas of research, and the programme’s mentors. Throughout the summer, the students teamed up with QCRI’s scientists and worked on twelve projects that helped progress research in areas including humanitarian computing, optical character recognition, speech translation for meetings, next-generation elastic databases, socio-graphic mapping, and biomarkers in diabetes.

At the closing ceremony, the students presented the results of their work during a poster session, where they had the opportunity to answer questions posed by a judging panel.  The recognition for best research was awarded to Mona Thowfeek, a recent graduate from Qatar University and Syed Ali HashimMoosavi of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, who worked with the Arabic Language Technologies team on a project that evaluated optical character recognition systems for historic Arabic documents.

Describing her summer experience, Mona said, “There are internships, and then there are QCRI internships. Unlike most places where interns shadow staff or are carted around departments and given an overview of the workflow, QCRI interns wade right into the deep end and work hands-on with cutting edge research projects. Our mentors are passionate scientists who never cease to amaze me with their depth of knowledge and experience. Working closely with them has inspired me to explore, learn and work with new concepts. It is a great learning environment.Even as an intern,I feel this unique inclusion and connectivity in the work culture.”

For AlKuzama Al Harimi of Qatar University, this was her second summer internship with QCRI working on the computer assisted language learning application. "Working at QCRI is a very unique experience,”she said. “I was able to gain many new research and algorithm design skills while working on character recognition. Our mentors and the comfortable environment encouraged us to do our best. I was motivated to work harder and this experience has shown me the great career opportunities for my major here in Qatar.”

Sidra Alam, a recent computer science graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, worked on a project in bioinformatics with QCRI’s Computational Science and Engineering team. “My project involved coding an algorithm that helps to identify genes that are strongly related to the behaviour of a tumour. I did this in MATLAB, which is an environment that allows for high-level numerical computations. With guidance from my coach, I learned to think about concepts abstractly before starting to code. I have had an enriching learning experience here at QCRI and am delighted to have used my CS skills for a practical application.”

During the eight-week programme, the summer interns also enjoyed cultural excursions and team building activities.From a private tour of the Qatar National Library to a fun-filled bowling tournament and an Iftar at the St. Regis hotel, the students had a number of opportunities outside the classroom environment where they interacted with each other and exchanged insights into their projects.

Francisco Guzman Hernandez, a scientist in QCRI’s Arabic Language Technologies team, was one of the programme’s coaches this summer. “This is my second year being involved as a coach of the internship programme. It is gratifying to observe the interns learning new skills and maturing during the internships. To see them so motivated and excited about the work makes the experience very rewarding,” he said. “As a coach, the internship is also a learning experience: how to communicate ideas, how to delegate work and how to deal with people. Every day is a learning experience for the coaches and mentors as well.”

Students in this year’s summer internship programme hailed from Qatar University, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Texas A&M University at Qatar as well as the University of Wales in the UK, the University of Alexandria, Egypt, and NMAM Institute of Technology from Udupi, India.