Corporate

Adobe Invests Over Half a Million Dollars in University Research

October 11, 2017

Industry and academia can often times feel like different worlds. But here at Adobe, we work to build bridges that connect these fields of work together.

But how did this collaboration even begin, and why?

To get to the bottom of this question we went straight to the source—Anil Kamath, Fellow & VP of Technology. “What the biggest problem facing data science in marketing today?” we asked him.

He laughed. I mean, where do we start?

“There’s just so much data—last year alone we tracked over one hundred trillion data points. So it’s all about getting good data and then finding out how we can make it useable in the right way to solve the key problems our customers have.”

As for the best way to do this, we need to partner with the best minds in algorithms, statistics, marketing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Thus, industry and academia joined forces and the Data Science Symposium and Adobe Research Awards were born—all with the goal of finding new ways to solve some of the riveting challenges that plague today’s marketers.

This year we’ve made even greater strides in this collaboration. Adobe awarded a record total of $750,000 to 15 Universities across North America! We spoke with Anil and some of the winners to further gain insight on the Research Awards and what advice they have for other Universities looking to submit their own proposal.

Data is King, Collaboration is the Castle

When we asked Anil why the partnership between industry and academia was so important, the answer was easy. “Academia is usually in the cutting-edge of research. They can explore new challenges, but they oftentimes don’t have all the resources they need. That’s where Adobe comes in. We have so much data and can offer lots of insights into the market.”

One of this year’s winners, Edward McFowland III, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, couldn’t agree more, “I value the partnership very much. We write a lot of theorems and algorithms but we typically create our own theoretical problems to test. With my partnership with Adobe, I’m allowed to develop tools that actually have immediate impact and work on problems that real organizations are facing.” Professor McFowland’s winning proposal explores anomalous pattern detection and discover, and tries to make sense of them from a marketers point-of-view.

“There’s no denying that there’s a gap between academia and industry. Adobe is really concerned with what industry and academia can collectively offer and we value that tremendously,” said Wreeto Kar, Assistant Professor at Purdue University. Professor Kar, along with his colleague, Professor Mohammad Rahman, Associate Professor also at Purdue University, developed a proposal that will look at why and how consumers vary in the type of knowledge they seek and what drives the differences in the consumption patterns.

Finding a Way in

So, what kind of advice do these talented group of winners have for those looking to submit in the future? When we pried a bit, there was a common theme. Find a way in.

“Be very persistent and begin to engage with researchers at Adobe. They can give you valuable feedback into the business and the real problems industry is facing. I had the opportunity to go the Data Science Symposium and that was a great way to connect and network with the employees,” said Professor McFowland.

Alternatively, Natalie Mizik, Professor at the University of Washington, said that another good way to gather feedback is through previous Research Award winners. Professor Mizik was originally informed about the Research Award from one of last year’s winners, “I depended on her word of mouth and she really encouraged me to submit.”

And in the case of Professor Kar and Professor Tianshu Sun, Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California, both were previous interns. Through their internship, they grew close to the business and were able to learn about the problems that Adobe was facing. And they wanted to help.

“Winning the award feels like coming back home!” said Professor Sun when asked how it felt to go from intern to Research Award Winner. “This award gives me a very good opportunity to work with Adobe again after 5 years, and I have a lot of thoughts and ideas that I can’t wait to discuss with different teams at Adobe,” he said.

“I still can’t believe it. It feels phenomenal. It’s hard to believe because when you’re an intern or at the Data Science Symposium, you’re in awe of the faculties that have won the award,” said Professor Kar. “As for my piece of advice. Adobe values original proposals. If you have a good idea, reach out to a researcher at Adobe and see what they think.”

Research Never Stops

As for what’s next for these winners. The possibilities are endless.

“I already have regular meetings planned with an Adobe researcher who’s going to help develop my work,” said Georgia Perakis, Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “And I would like to have some of my PhD students have the opportunity to intern at Adobe. This partnership is great and continuing it will likely lead to new and interesting questions, and hopefully solutions!” she added. Professor Perakis and her PhD student, Lennart Baardman, developed a proposal that would help advertisers manage their portfolio through uncertainty. 

And as for Anil on the future of Adobe’s collaboration with Universities. “We have another deadline coming up in February for new proposals. Go on our website and start exploring the types of proposals we’re looking for and reach out to the team to float ideas and work with us to see how your idea can be tailored to the problems we’re looking at. Then submit your proposal! You could be the next grant awardee.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Find out more about the Research Award program on our University site and submit your proposal by February 16, 2018!