January 22, 2020

Probability and Programming request for proposals 2020

This Research Award is now closed


At POPL 2019, we launched the Probability and Programming research awards with the goal of receiving proposals from academia that addressed fundamental problems at the intersection of machine learning, programming languages, and software engineering.

For 2020, we are continuing this momentum and broadening our slate of topics of interest. We anticipate awarding a total of ten awards, each in the $50K range. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university as an unrestricted gift.


In the past few years, we have seen an explosion of interest in topics at the intersection of programming languages and machine learning. This is not a coincidence, as there has been a growth in real-world applications that need probabilistic thinking. Additionally, the community has realized that probabilistic methods play a genuinely useful role in program analysis—for example, in the ranking of deduced facts in static analyses, in type reconstruction, and, in general, in building explainable generative models.

Machine learning techniques such as efficient automatic differentiation are no longer esoteric and form the basis for popular deep learning frameworks, such as Tensorflow and PyTorch, and differentiable programming languages, such as Swift For Tensorflow, Julia, Jax, and others. Deep learning also relies on compiler and code generation techniques to target GPUs and special-purpose accelerator hardware.

At Facebook, we do forward-looking research and put concrete results from several of these threads into production. Building on our work on HackPPL, we are developing a probabilistic programming language that exploits model structure in order to achieve faster and more interpretable inference. We also have various ongoing language-centric projects around acceleration and differentiable programming. More recently, we have started studying neural networks and other probabilistic models with the goal of better understanding their generalization and robustness characteristics.

Last but not least, we have a portfolio of projects in the “big code” space, exploring several topics such as code search and recommendation, automatic bug fixing, and program synthesis using machine learning. Our work goes beyond just the code artifacts—to bring data-driven solutions to all aspects of the software development lifecycle including issue reporting and resolution. Together, this work is already having impact across all of Facebook’s infrastructure.

Applications are now closed

Application Dates

Notifications will be sent by email to selected applicants by June 2020.

  • Launch Date January 22, 2020
  • Deadline May 1, 2020
  • Winners Announced June 2020

Areas of Interest

To foster further innovation in these topics at the intersection of machine learning, programming languages, statistics, and software engineering, and to deepen our collaboration with academia, Facebook is pleased to invite faculty and graduate students to respond to this call for research proposals pertaining to the aforementioned topics.

We are inviting proposals that advance foundations or practice of any of the topics mentioned above. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Differentiable programming
  • Probabilistic programming
  • Programming tools built using “big code”
  • Applications of machine learning to troubleshoot and optimize systems
  • Robustness and uncertainty management for ML models


Proposals must include

  • A summary of the project (1-2 pages) explaining the area of focus, a description of techniques, any relevant prior work, and a timeline with milestones and expected outcomes.
  • A draft budget description (1 page) including an approximate cost of the award and explanation of how funds would be spent
  • Curriculum vitae for all project participants.
  • Organization details, including tax information and administrative contact details


  • Awards must comply with applicable U.S. and international laws, regulations, and policies.
  • Applicants must be a current full-time faculty at an accredited academic institution that awards research degrees to PhD students.
  • Applicants must be the Principal Investigator on any resulting award.
  • Applicants and all individuals involved in the preparation of the proposal or use of any resulting award must reside in the Territory.

“Territory” is defined as any area, country, state, territory, or province where applicable laws do not prohibit applying for or receiving a grant in this RFP and excludes China, Cuba, Crimea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Syria, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Belarus and any other area or country designated by the applicable agency that designates trade sanctions. Government officials, political figures, and businesses politically affiliated (all as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion) are not eligible to apply for the grant.

Additional Information

Winners will be invited to the annual Programming Language Enthusiast Mind Melt (PLEMM) held in Fall 2020 (location TBD). Facebook will pay for the winners' travel and accommodations (one representative per winning proposal) to attend PLEMM and present during a workshop on probability and programming.

We encourage the winners to openly publish any findings/insights from their work. Successful awardees will be listed on the Facebook Research website.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most of the RFP awards are an unrestricted gift. Because of its nature, salary/headcount could be included as part of the budget presented for the RFP. Since the award/gift is paid to the university, they will be able to allocate the funds to that winning project and have the freedom to use as they need. All Facebook teams are different and have different expectations concerning deliverables, timing, etc. Long story short – yes, money for salary/headcount can be included. It’s up to the reviewing team to determine if the percentage spend is reasonable and how that relates to the decision if the project is a winner or not.

We are flexible, but ideally proposals submitted are single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt font.

Research awards are given year-round and funding years/duration can vary by proposal.

Yes, award funds can be used to cover a researcher’s salary.

Budgets can vary by institution and geography, but overall research funds ideally cover the following: graduate or post-graduate students’ employment/tuition; other research costs (e.g., equipment, laptops, incidental costs); travel associated with the research (conferences, workshops, summits, etc.); overhead for research gifts is limited to 5%

One person will need to be the primary PI (i.e., the submitter that will receive all email notifications); however, you’ll be given the opportunity to list collaborators/co-PIs in the submission form. Please note in your budget breakdown how the funds should be dispersed amongst PIs.