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Facebook turns to the ivory tower

A fellowship program for computer science and engineering Ph.D. students will give five participants a $30,000 stipend and the opportunity to apply for an internship.

Its CEO might have famously spurned college in favor of Silicon Valley, but Facebook announced on Friday a new outreach to academia: a "Facebook Fellowship Program" for Ph.D. students, designed "to foster a strong relationship with the academic community and help solve some of the complex technical problems facing the social Web."

In other words, Facebook is looking to align itself with some top-notch academic talent.

Until February 15, full-time Ph.D. students for the 2010-2011 school year in U.S. universities are invited to apply for the program, which will ultimately award five selected students with tuition and additional expense coverage (including computer equipment and travel) as well as a $30,000 stipend. They'll also have an opportunity to apply for a paid internship at Facebook.

A blog post by Facebook engineering director Greg Badros says the company is interested in "a wide range of academic topics, including Internet economics, cloud computing, social computing, data mining, machine learning, and systems and information retrieval." They must, however, be in fields related to computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, or system architecture--something that'll likely be disappointing for anthropology, sociology, and psychology students who may be interested in studying the developments and complexities of the social Web. Maybe next year?

Facebook has already held grant programs for developers through its FBFund program, which identifies and incubates developers building with its Facebook Platform product or the Facebook Connect tool.