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, majoring in Computer Science and specialising in Artificial Intelligence.

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).

Summer Research Scholarships are offered to promising undergraduates, final-year honours and first-year master's degree students. They 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

The opening of G Block

Golden jubilee: 50 years of Computing at University of Waikato

This year, the University of Waikato is celebrating 50 years of Computing, marking a significant…

Ian Witten

Waikato pays tribute to open-source data mining trailblazer

The University of Waikato is mourning the passing of computer software and digital technology trailblazer,…

Three generations of Dr Ritchies

Pioneering Psychology Professor leaves peaceful parenting legacy

The University of Waikato sadly acknowledges the passing of Emeritus Professor Jane Ritchie OBE, at…

Graduates at Te Kohinga Mārama Marae on Monday.

A week of celebration for Waikato graduates

It’s graduation week at the University of Waikato – and that means four days of…

Rhythm and resilience: A deputy principal’s inspiring journey to success

A talented dancer and performer, Caroline Gill has had a long history with the University…

Jackson Mason-Mackey

Alumnus making his mark on the world in the humanitarian sector

Not many people can say they’ve worked in Mozambique, Italy, Afghanistan and Colombia, but Jackson…

A group of people stand outside the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the 50th anniversary celebrations for the School of Psychology postgraduate clinical and behavioural psychology diplomas.

Saving lives: Psychology programmes celebrate 50 years

More than 85 people gathered to celebrate the University of Waikato’s School of Psychology on…

Award-winning soprano and Waikato alumna is branching out into the world

With one of her recent achievements on home soil having been the runner up at…


Scholarship recipient loves learning about people

It takes a special person to receive two scholarships from the University of Waikato but…

Scholarship recipient

Ashleigh Ngow receives Dr Andrew Smith Medal for Academic Excellence

Protecting the environment has always been important to Maketū-raised Ashleigh Ngow who completed the Bachelor…

NY Honours 2023

2023 New Year Honours recognise eight Waikato alumni and former academics

University of Waikato alumni and both former and current academic staff have been named in…

New app allows easy identification of all NZ plants, animals and fungi

Imagine being able to readily identify every plant and bird in your garden, on a…