Breadcrumbs

Artificial Intelligence graduate makes waves overseas

20 June 2022

Christopher Beckham
Christopher Beckham graduated with a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with Honours in 2016.

Christopher Beckham never imagined his work on one of the oldest machine learning systems at the University of Waikato would find him at one of the largest Artificial Intelligence (AI) research institutes in the world.

While writing software for WEKA (Waikato Environment for Knowledge Analysis), Christopher was recruited by Christopher Pal, a professor on sabbatical from Polytechnique Montréal and MILA - a research institute in AI in Montréal, founded by Yoshua Bengio, one of the ‘godfathers’ of ‘deep learning’, to continue his studies.

The straight-A student jumped at the opportunity and upon graduating with a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with Honours (BCMS(Hons)) in 2016, majoring in Computer Science and specialising in Artificial Intelligence, Christopher landed in one of Canada’s largest cities on Boxing Day.

He went on to get his master’s and is now in his third year as a PhD candidate, working on various topics in fundamental research in AI, while working part-time at ServiceNow Research.

“In 2019, ServiceNow had a commercial interest in a piece of software I wrote for WEKA and ended up buying a sub-license for it since they were interested in using it in their software,” Christopher says.

“The fact that I ended up working at this company was purely coincidental, so I thought that was quite fascinating.”

Growing up in the rural town of Peria, 28km east of Kaitaia, Christopher has been “tinkering” with computers for as long as he can remember.

Attending a University of Waikato Open Day with his Taipa Area School classmates was a great opportunity to see the campus, he remembers.

“The University sits on the edge of Hamilton, and Hamilton itself is not a big city. It's not such a drastic transition from where I grew up, as opposed to moving to a really big city like Auckland.

“You can live on campus or just across the road if flatting. You don’t need to worry about public transport, it’s very convenient.”

Christopher moved into Bryant Hall and made friends for life.

“I met other computer science guys and we struck a balance between nerd and social.

“My main reason for going to Waikato was mainly due to the economic savings and because I heard good things about the Computer Science department.”

Christopher Beckham
Christopher is now in his third year as a PhD candidate at MILA, working on various topics in fundamental research in AI.

Christopher was awarded 12 scholarships throughout his time at the University, which helped finance his studies. These included the University of Waikato Taught Postgraduate Scholarship ($6000), LIC Patrick Shannon Scholarship ($5000), 2degrees ICT scholarship ($5000), Vice Chancellors’ Excellence Award for NCEA ($5000) and the Bryant Hall Residential Scholarship ($5000).

The BCMS Hons is New Zealand’s only computing and mathematical science degree taught over four years, with the extra year giving students the chance to drill more deeply into specialist areas and add papers that complement their main focus.

The degree also offers Summer Research Scholarships that provide students with opportunities to experience the challenges and rewards of research. Christopher did one every year, saying it was “one of the best highlights of my undergrad”.

Yet, it was the passion, animation and the excitement of professors and lecturers, like Dr Tony Smith and the late Associate Professor Tony McGregor, who had the biggest effect on Christopher.

“Their energy rubs off on you, it’s inspiring. I get all giddy when they get giddy.”

In April 2021, the University launched the AI Institute - Te Ipu o te Mahara - which takes an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to the development of cutting-edge AI research.

The Institute’s goal is to build awareness and expertise across disciplines so it can better leverage AI for the benefit of communities and its team is focused on real-time analytics for big data, machine learning and deep learning. It’s created some of the world’s most popular open-source tools for machine learning.

In Christopher’s words: “AI is magic.”


Latest stories

Related stories

Matariki stargazing in Hamilton

Celebrating Matariki at Waikato

The University of Waikato has celebrated Matariki with a number of public and staff events…

Carolyn Gibbs

What's the password? Making maths natural and fun

Maths teacher and University of Waikato alumna Carolyn Gibbs sometimes gives her nieces and nephews…

Former Hillary Scholar switches codes

From basketball to acting – University of Waikato alumnus Connor Johnston is using the skills…

Filipe Manu

Taking on the world stage

Sitting in his Swiss apartment, Tongan-New Zealand tenor and University of Waikato alumnus Filipe Manu…

Transforming companies and giving back

When we last caught up with Distinguished Alumnus Jan Zijderveld in 2018, he was three…

Leading the way through disruptive times

Business leader and University of Waikato alumnus Kevin Kenrick has had a common theme throughout…

Taking on the world in cyber security

A group of computer science students have won a spot to compete in a global…

Blue/Green Tech Lab opens in Tauranga

Tech week – New Zealand’s festival of technology and innovation – kicked off in Tauranga…

Annika and Danny

University and iwi collaborate on waiata app

A collaboration between researchers from the University of Waikato’s School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences…

Laura Tupou

From Waikato to Newshub - journalist Laura Tupou

As a teenager, University of Waikato alumna, Laura Tupou, had a passion for reading and…

Annette Tofaeono

Alumna passionate about education

University of Waikato alumna, Annette Tofaeono’s expertise is in adult literacy, with a strong focus…

Science alumna wins prestigious conservation award

Science alumna, wetlands expert and advocate Dr Beverley Clarkson has been awarded the Loder Cup…