Friday, April 18, 2014

2014-04-18: Grad Cohort Workshop (CRA-W) 2014 Trip Report

Last week on April 10-11, 2014 I attended the Graduate Cohort Workshop 2014 that took place at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara. While there, I enjoyed the nice weather of California and saw the home to the headquarters of several high-tech companies.

CRA-W (Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research) sponsors a number of activities focused on helping graduate students succeed in CSE research careers. These include educational and community building events, and mentoring.

The event was part of CRA-W, which has several goals, including (1) increase the number of women in computing (2) provide strategies and information on navigating graduate school (3) early insight into career paths (4) meet others, speaker, graduate students, networking among others and among others.

Women students in their first, second or third year of graduate school in computer science and engineering or a closely related field, who are studying at a US or Canadian institution are eligible to apply to attend the event. This year was the eleventh year of the workshop, which started in 2004.  In that first workshop, there were only 100 applicants and all got accepted, this year there were 503 applications and only 304 that got accepted.

There were general sessions for all audience and there were three simultaneous sessions, for students in their first, second, third year of graduate school. The audience could attend what ever they think is relevant.

The program agenda is available in the Grad Cohort Workshop website, previous agenda and slides are available. They will be uploading the slides from the talks from this year as well.
Friday morning started with the registration process, then breakfast was served where I got to meet some wonderful graduate students and we all shared our personal experience in graduate school and we also got to exchange our CONNECT ID's, which provides conferences a searchable online attendee list. It  allows us to upload our picture, name, school, year in graduate school, interest, personal website link and share it with other attendees. CONNECT allows us to look at other attendee profiles, and people with similar interests and send messages.
After that there was a welcome session that explained what was the workshop about, how important it is and why we are there and how we were selected to be attendees.

Dr.Tracy Camp from the Colorado School of Mines presented the first session, Networking. She started by introducing her self and talked about her professional and personal background. The she provided some information about networking strategies, and that it is not genetic it is a skill that could be developed. Then she discussed how networking takes all direction top, down and across. At the end of the session she made us practice one to one conversation with the person seated both in front and behind each attendee.
In the second session, Dr.Yuanyuan Zhou, a Professor at University of California, San Diego presented on Finding a Research Topic. She first talked about her personal experience on struggling to find what she wanted to work on, and what she was passionate about.
During her talk she noted that zigzag path in finding your research topic is fine and not to expect to find it in only one shot. Some pointers to help you find your right path is (1) find your own strength and what to look for in a topic (2) what is your interest? Pick your strength (3)set your goals and milestones so you can successfully finish (4) think out of the box Also, show showed some of other graduate student experience in finding a research topic.

After that there was lunch break where we found tables with research topic tags. For me, I  sat at the visualization  table, but were able to talk about web archiving as well. It was interesting to talk to both graduate students and professors with similar interests.

Next, I attended the session on “Balancing Graduate School and Personal Life”, presented by both Dr.Yanlei Diao an Associated Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Dr.Angela Demke Brown  an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto. The talk was about how to set long and short term goals achieving them and enjoy each day at a time. Always set target dates and manage time. The main tip introduced was to management and choosing activities carefully. Also, to treat grad school as a job that is separate work and personal life.

After that Dr.Farnam Jahanian  who leads the US NSF's Directorate on Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) talked about “Future of Computer Science”.  In the talk, he mentioned who belongs in the CISE community, which is comprised of is 61% Computer Science and Information Science & Computer Engineering, the rest is 24% Science and Humanities, 12% Engineering (excluding computer engineering), and finally 3% Interdisciplinary Centers. Also, he pointed out the divisions and core research areas.

Then he mentioned the six Emerging Frontiers: (1) Data Explosion (2) Smart Systems: Sensing, Analysis and Decision- such as Environment Sensing, People Centric Sensing, Energy response and Smart Health Care (3) Expanding the limits of Computation (4) Secure Cyberspace – Securing our nation cyberspace (5) Universal Connectivity (6) Augmenting Human Capabilities.
In addition in his talk he mentioned some awards that were granted each year to explore the frontiers of computing.
After that there was a poster session where there were about 90 posters that displayed different research topics that were interesting. The  primary research areas were Networking, HCI, AI, Database, Graphics, Security and many other computer research areas.

Between sessions there was breaks where snacks are provided and the sponsors had some information on their work and job availabilities.

Saturday morning started with breakfast and a session on “Strategies for Human-Human Interaction” presented by three speakers Dr.Amanda Stent Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo, Dr.Laura Haas  IBM researcher and Dr.Margaret Matonosi  Professor at Princeton University.
The session started with small introduction about all the speakers then the talk focused on (1) interaction strategies between faculty and students (2) the challenges of being a women in a computing technology field (3) examples of uncomfortable situation that may occur and how to response.
After that I attended a session on “Building Self Confidence”, presented by Dr.Jullia Hirschberg a Professor and the Department Chair at Columbia University. The talk mainly focused on (1) how to recover from not doing as well in a course as you expected (2) frustration of not knowing what your specific research project (3) feeling that you don’t know as much as your fellow graduate students (4) some examples on situations that may occur and how to help yourself build your self confidence in your own way.

Then there was Wrap-up and Final Remarkswhere all the speakers and attendees were thanked for coming, after that lunch was provided.

Finally, there was a Resume “Writing Clinic” and an “Individual Advising” session where all the speakers provide one to one help to the attendees if needed.

It was nice to attend this kind of sessions and to meet all the wonderful women both professors and students in computing from all over the world, sharing our thoughts and experiences in graduate school.

--Lulwah Alkwai

Special thanks to Professor Michele C. Weigle for editing this post

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