November 28, 2022

How to create impact through Meta's research intern program

A Q&A with Kevin Lewi and Jasleen Malvai

By: Meta Research

A Meta PhD internship offers university students the opportunity to contribute to the company’s mission by working with top-tier engineers and researchers on projects that provide exposure to real-world problems and the potential to create a lasting impact.

Meta Careers

In this Q&A, we hear from Kevin Lewi, a Research Scientist in cryptography and security at Meta, and Harjasleen “Jasleen” Malvai, a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, both of whom have participated in the Meta PhD internship program. Their experiences set them up to excel academically and have proved pivotal in shaping their early careers.

UPDATE: The publication referenced in this interview — Parakeet: Practical Key Transparency for End-to-End Encrypted Messaging — appeared at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in 2023. In April, WhatsApp announced plans to deploy key transparency using some of the research and technology that resulted from this internship.

Q: You both have been Meta interns. What inspired you to apply?

Kevin Lewi: I applied out of the blue, mainly because I wanted to build my skills in engineering and applied research. I didn’t know much about Meta internships in 2015 — there were very few full-time employees with cryptography expertise at that time. I had a good experience as a PhD intern at Google and I wanted to see what it was like at Meta, in terms of project scope, type of work, and culture. I applied and was hired as a PhD Software Engineer intern on the Data Security Systems team in the summer of 2015.

Jasleen Malvai: I was excited about the prospect of joining a research team that had the potential to impact large communities. Writing code for a PhD is rigorous, but not the same experience as writing code to be shipped to production at Meta. When I was first thinking about applying, there was excitement in the community around Meta’s blockchain project and I hoped to contribute in some way.

Q: Kevin, why did you choose to come back to Meta as a full-time employee after your internship?

KL: During my internship, I had an unparalleled amount of scope in the projects I got to work on. And it was cool to be able to contribute to projects that directly impacted engineering teams at Meta, even when I had only been at the company for a few months.

I also really enjoyed the culture and the people I interacted with. Everyone I talked to was polite, energetic, and eager to try new things — there was a lot of collaboration, without the worry of crossing team boundaries. It really is the perfect environment for exploring research ideas and bringing them into practice.

Q: How did you two first start working together?

KL: Jasleen applied through our research internship program, and our team was actively looking to work with cryptography interns for the coming summer. After a conversation about her interests, I was excited by her energy and enthusiasm for the work.

JM: Kevin emphasized that the most productive summer internship would come from my enthusiasm about the problems I worked on. The prospect of working with a mentor like Kevin significantly enhanced my excitement about both the research problems and being a part of this research community.

Throughout my internship, I experienced the entrepreneurial spirit encouraged at Meta.

Jasleen Malvai
Meta PhD intern and PhD candidate in computer science at the
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Q: What does your research collaboration look like in practice?

JM: My collaboration with Kevin has involved combining both industry and academic best practices. Our field — cryptography — emphasizes that any construction deployed is backed up by rigorous, theoretical analysis.

For example, when we worked together on a key transparency project, we spent time fleshing out security requirements and assumptions, then illustrated how our construction satisfied these requirements. We spent time in technical discussions with security engineers to ensure that our construction would scale. Finally, our code is open source, which allows other security researchers to assess it. Today, we have an academic publication outlining this work in the peer-review pipeline.

KL: The benefits of this academic-industry style internship are twofold. For interns like Jasleen, they can apply their knowledge and bring new research into practice in an applied setting. For Meta, we benefit from using the technology itself, in addition to positioning ourselves as leaders in the space by remaining on the cutting edge of research.

Q: Jasleen, how has the Meta PhD internship program affected you?

JM: I have been exposed to topics I would not have in my own research lab, which has given me greater depth and breadth of knowledge in my field. My PhD adviser has also been open and encouraging of my work with Meta, and as a PhD student, I have pitched project ideas that were motivated by my work as an intern.

I have also been fortunate enough to receive detailed feedback from Kevin and other engineers on my code. All the people I have collaborated with at Meta have been extremely encouraging — they have made me feel that I add value, something that is important for interns in building our confidence as coders and researchers.

Q: What kind of impact can you make at Meta while working as an intern?

KL: For PhD internships — in both research and engineering — there is an opportunity to take risks and aim for longer-term impact. That work may be initiated through the ideas and collaborations introduced during a summer internship, and then realized further through the intern extension program, which allows PhD interns to continue collaborating on a joint publication with their manager after the formal internship ends.

[Meta] really is the perfect environment for exploring research ideas and bringing them into practice.

Kevin Lewi
Former PhD intern and current Research Scientist at Meta

JM: For me, the most significant impact I’ve had was on the key transparency project. The genesis of the project was during my first summer internship: Kevin allowed me to copresent on the benefits of key transparency to a large group of security engineers from various teams at Meta. Throughout my second internship, Kevin mentored me on the build of a prototype, which we open-sourced.

Throughout my internship, I’ve experienced the entrepreneurial spirit encouraged at Meta — the company allows individuals at all levels to spearhead projects that have the potential to reach millions of people.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to a potential intern?

JM: The most helpful thing I’ve learned over the course of my internships is the importance of clear, transparent communication. Communication helps make each step smoother, from finding the best fit in a mentor, to signing on to a project you are motivated to work on, to getting the support you need to succeed and collaborate productively.

KL: I recommend that prospective interns identify what they are passionate about and what kind of work they’d like to do, whether it is solving technical challenges that engineers face, publishing new research, or a mix of both. Then go out and get an internship at a company that exposes you to real-world tech!