Young academic wins coveted Google Faculty Research Award

Dr Herman Kamper has received a coveted Google Faculty Research Award, one of only a few made to researchers in Africa so far. He says: “Google would like to build and maintain good relationships with universities and academics and therefore has a programme that focuses on funding world-class technical research in Engineering and Computer Science and related fields. These awards fall into different categories relevant to Google’s products and services. There are over 20 categories and my award falls under the category of Speech.”

Dr Kamper is a young academic in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. His main fields of research are machine learning and pattern recognition, with special reference to speech, vision and language processing.

“To come into consideration for a Google Faculty Research Award, one has to submit a two-page summary of your research project where you propose what you would do with the funding if it was awarded to you. The topic of my research project was Low-resource semantic speech search using visual grounding.”

According to Google, the award is highly competitive – only 15% of applicants receive funding – and each proposal goes through a rigorous Google-wide review process. Google Faculty Research Awards are structured as seed funding to support one graduate student for one year and are awarded as an unrestricted gift.

“I think there were three things that counted in my favour to receive this award,” he says. “Firstly, the fact that I am based in Africa, secondly, that I am a young researcher, and thirdly, my involvement in last year’s Deep Learning Indaba that was held here in Stellenbosch.

“An award such is this is really wonderful as it helps young academics to get started. I have just returned from a research visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I collaborated with peers regarding my Google Faculty Research project. Google also has a PhD Fellowship programme that supports graduate students as they pursue their PhD, and I already have one PhD student on this programme.”

Dr Kamper has been collecting awards since his undergraduate years at Stellenbosch University. These include a Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence (2009), The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Medal for best undergraduate engineering student at Stellenbosch University (2010), and the S2A3 Medal for best Master’s student at Stellenbosch University (2013). He also received a Commonwealth Scholarship for pursuing a PhD in the United Kingdom and received this degree in 2016 from Edinburgh University in Scotland.


 Dr Herman Kamper.