With a mix of full-time employees (essentially all with Ph.D. degrees), graduate students, and faculty consultants, the GSL feels more like a typical academic environment than an industrial research labortory. One of our goals in starting the lab was to create an environment in which the graduate students would be encouraged to engage the full-time staff in their research activites. This has worked better than anyone ever hoped with essentially all the staff involved with at least one of the graduate students. Sometimes it is just help understanding the source code for SQL Server or critiquing a paper or presentation but more frequently the graduate students and staff find themselves working together as peers and without the (sometimes strained) dynamics of the typical professor/graduate student relationship.
The fact that the GSL RAs have access to SQL Server source code as part of the legal agreement between Microsoft and the University of Wisconsin has proved to be beneficial in ways that we never anticipated. In particular, a number of the RAs have done summer interships with the MSR database group or with SQL Server develpment teams. Typically the scope of an intern project must be constrained that the project can be completed by the end of the intership because access to source code is lost with the intership completes. With their access to source code the common pattern seems to be for the GSL RAs to continue working on their projects after the end of the intership. In one case the collaboration between the student and the MSR researcher has continued for two full years. We are very excited about the benefits that such long-term collaborations can provide including allowing the graduate students to interact with a wider circle of experienced researchers and developers than they might normally would and Microsoft having exposure to new ideas very early on.