- Ivan Beckley
- Ivan Beckley couldn’t afford his master’s degree in London so he turned to corporate sponsors; He published a blog post in July explaining why they should sponsor him; DeepMind answered and will now pay Beckley’s £9,560 tuition fees and support his living costs.
Ivan Beckley is the first person in his family to go to university. The 22-year-old is a straight A/A* student and in 2015 he was named as one of the top 10 black students in the UK.
Now he’s caught the eye of Google DeepMind, which has agreed to sponsor him through his master’s degree.
Beckley, born and bred in South London, is currently studying medicine at University College London (UCL), one of the leading universities in the world.
- Pete Spiro/Shutterstock
Earlier this year he was offered a place on UCL’s Data Science for Research in Health and Biomedicine MSc course. But the one-year course costs £9,560 – a significant sum for a student who has just completed an undergraduate degree in London.
“London, although an amazing city, can be financially difficult for any student,” said Beckley, who has already had to take out several loans in order to fund his studies.
Beckley failed to get a scholarship from UCL for his master’s degree so he decided to try to get a company to sponsor him. In a bid to raise awareness, he wrote a Medium post in July and contacted a number of companies directly.
Beckley told Business Insider:
“When I came to the decision to search for industry sponsorship in support of my MSc I made sure I did my research. I knew of a number of companies who had a strong mission of advancing developments in healthcare through technology and in a data-driven manner more specifically. And so began dissecting how I could potentially be of value to each company/organisation, one by one.
“Alongside my Medium post, for each company I crafted a personalised proposal of my intent, hopes and ambitions behind studying an MSc in Data Science at UCL and why as an entrepreneurial medical student with this blend of skills I believed I could be of value to their company/organisation but also the global healthcare system as a whole.
“The goal was then to send these proposals alongside my Medium post to someone I may have been introduced to or had a second connection with at the company/organisation.”
- Medium/Ivan Beckley
On September 20, Beckley wrote a follow up blog post on Medium revealing that DeepMind had agreed to sponsor him.
“It is with immense gratitude and excitement that I am able to share with you that I have been offered sponsorship from DeepMind,” wrote Beckley.
DeepMind is an AI lab in London that wants to “solve intelligence” and “use it to make the world a better place.” It is building self-learning algorithms that have learned how to play Go (better than any human can) and reduce the energy consumed in enormous data centres.
The company, acquired by Google in 2014 for £400 million, is going to pay for Beckley’s tuition fees and contribute towards his living costs.
Beckley convinced DeepMind to sponsor him by emailing one of the company’s execs
DeepMind, which employs around 500 people in London’s King’s Cross, is looking to apply its AI technology to a variety of industries.
One of those industries is healthcare and DeepMind has been working with the NHS on a number of projects. They include an app called Streams – which has proved controversial due to the amount of patient data it has access to – and a study to see whether DeepMind’s AI technology can be used to help spot early signs of eye conditions that human eye care experts might miss. The projects have been led by DeepMind Health clinical lead Dominic King.
Beckley saw that King was due to speak at an event earlier this year and made a deliberate effort to attend.
“If I am very honest, I was blown away by Dominic’s talk. The ambition Dominic, and his team at DeepMind, has for their partnerships with the NHS was just ‘wow.'”
“They were data-driven, design-focused – and did I mention wonderfully ambitious? – for the future of the NHS and healthcare in general. I feel I share that ambition as I begin to understand that we just at the beginning of what the NHS is capable doing as a system for improving patient care.”
Beckley explained how he “had to keep in contact” with King, partly because he felt “he might understand my crazy objectives as a future doctor” but also “hoping one day, in the distant future, I could gain a seat on the DeepMind rocketship.”
He emailed King asking if DeepMind would be willing to sponsor his MSc and said that the company took some time to understand his situation before offering him the sponsorship. As DeepMind did its due dilligence, Beckley was introduced to key people at the company.
Following his MSc, Beckley will undertake a paid summer internship with DeepMind Health before returning to UCL for his next academic year.
DeepMind is competing with other tech giants for the best talent
Technology giants are in a battle to hire the most intelligent graduates possible, especially when it comes to AI.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, OpenAI, and DeepMind are scouting the world’s top universities for talented individuals that they can bring into their ranks. These people often have a computer science background but many of them have also studied subjects like data science, neuroscience, maths, and physics. In the case of DeepMind Health, students studying a mix of medicine and computer science are likely to be highly desirable.
One of the best ways to attract the best graduates is to sponsor them through university and offer them some sort of job or an internship when they finish their studies. Microsoft, Amazon, and other firms also sponsor students.
Explaining why DeepMind decided to sponsor Beckley, King said:
“Ivan is an incredibly impressive student and as soon as I read Ivan’s story we wanted to help. Not just because we share the same ideas on how technology can help the NHS and its patients, but because we were absolutely amazed by his determination to make a difference and help people. Supporting curiosity, academia and the pursuit of knowledge is important to us at DeepMind and this is just one of the ways we’re seeking to do that.”
DeepMind is funding student fees worldwide
Beckley isn’t the first student that DeepMind has sponsored. On January 4, Business Insider noticed that DeepMind was funding PhD students at Oxford.
Later that month, on January 23, Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s CEO and cofounder, wrote a blog post on DeepMind’s website that revealed DeepMind is funding students around the world.
“We’re providing sponsorship for several research labs and their PhD students to pursue their own research priorities in whichever way they choose, including the University of Alberta, University of Montreal, University of Amsterdam, Gatsby Unit at UCL, NYU and Oxford, and others,” he said.
“We see the links between company research labs and academia as central to the future of AI. By continuing to share talent, expertise and breakthroughs – not just on technical subjects, but also on the broader set of questions around ethics, safety and societal impact – we believe we’ll all make better progress in the development of artificial intelligence and its application for positive social benefit.”
Under Google, DeepMind has grown rapidly in terms of staff numbers. However, that expansion hasn’t come cheap. In 2015, DeepMind made a loss of £54.3 million, according to the company’s audited financial statements for the year end December 31, 2015. Of that figure, some £44.3 million went on “payroll costs and related charges.”