Meet Sylvia Christie, our education partnerships manager who’s played a leading role in expanding our scholarship programme, which has just celebrated its five-year anniversary.
What was your path to DeepMind?
Before DeepMind, I worked for a social purpose startup that increased access to mental healthcare. Then I got a job at a university alongside academics and students. At that point, I realised I was looking for a ‘Goldilocks’ role that brought together everything I loved about these different environments – the speed and excitement of a tech startup, impact-focussed goals, and the fascination of working with brilliant researchers. It seemed impossible to combine all these things. Then, enter stage left: DeepMind.
During the interview process, I was surprised by how much the interviewers wanted to get to know me and how I related to the culture DeepMind was building. People from all different backgrounds, disciplines, and approaches find their way to DeepMind, and having such an open discussion about the environment I’d join as a new employee made me feel at home.
What drew you to the education team?
I believe in ensuring that people from all walks of life, and especially those from underrepresented communities and backgrounds, are able to contribute to the development of AI. I’ve had the chance to work on some really special projects at DeepMind, but the scholarships programme is – by far – the most personally rewarding programme I’ve ever been involved in. Every academic year, we get to see the new crop of talented AI scholars become part of an international community of students and mentors. It’s an incredibly special moment – and I can’t wait to see what they all achieve in the future!
How would you describe the scholarship programme in one sentence?
The DeepMind scholarship programme aims to remove barriers for students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue postgraduate studies in artificial intelligence (AI) and related fields.
What’s your typical day like? And your team?
My days are always a mix. I like to have a bit of focus time every day to advance project-based or planning work, but the rest of the time can be crammed with meetings, team catch-ups, or speaking to students and our partners at universities around the world. It’s super varied, and never boring.
We’re a relatively new team, so we’ve had the opportunity to create our group culture from the start. Personally, I find the education partnerships team to be thoughtful, respectful, and fun! We’ve grown a lot too. In the last year, we’ve welcomed team members to help launch six new partnerships and expand our education programmes.
What’s the biggest challenge your team faces?
Finding the right ways for DeepMind to make a positive impact is the most important challenge. We need to make sure that our work drives real change in the wider community and for AI education more generally. It’s a good challenge to have because it’s an opportunity as well.
How did you celebrate the five-year anniversary?
We held a Scholars Summit. It’s a virtual celebration of the programme, and the amazing mentors, students, and alumni. It was a great week with fantastic panel discussions with DeepMinders and industry and academic speakers.
We also launched our AI By You film series, where some of our scholars shared their ideas and insights on what AI means to them. The series also includes the short cinematic film below as a new way of speaking to audiences about the scholarship programme in a creative way. I’m so proud of the scholars involved and the amazing work of our team. Watch all six films at deepmind.com/scholarships.
What’re your biggest learnings now that the scholarship programme is five years old?
How important collaboration is. The Scholarships programme wouldn’t be possible without our amazing university partners around the world, plus contributions from people across DeepMind – including those who initiated the programme in 2017 and the mentors who volunteer each year. And of course, the hard work of the scholars themselves.
To date, we’ve had over 335 scholars come through our programme. This academic year, we’ll be welcoming up to 115 new scholars at 26 academic institutions in 13 countries, so it’s really exciting to see the programme going from strength to strength each year.
Any advice to students interested in applying for a DeepMind Scholarship? Or a role at DeepMind?
Prospective scholars – keep checking our website! The scholarship application process and deadlines vary, university by university, so our website is the best place to stay updated.
To those looking for a role at DeepMind – don’t count yourself out. I often hear from people who say it feels intimidating. The imposter syndrome is real, and it is for me as well, to this day. But if you care about the mission, and are passionate about your work, go for it!