Friday, October 01, 2010

Imposter Panel: do YOU belong?

Every year at GHC there is a panel called the Imposter Panel. I remember when I first came in 2006 it was in a medium sized room, and everyone crammed into the talk, stood in the hall, and not everyone could participate. It was so popular! The one in 2008 was similar, but of course each time there are new panelists and some new take on the problem of people feeling like imposters. This year they had moved the panel to the large ballroom where keynote speeches occur. It was great that everyone who wanted to attend could be there this time.

There was a very nice opening speech describing what going to GHC can mean to a student. I think the best point was saying that we need to support a woman who doesn't know yet that she's a computer scientist, or a woman who is the only one in her department.

During the panel the panelists all made very good points about how you can combat the feeling of being an imposter. For instance, the first speaker mentioned that you need to remember all of those great things you've succeeded at even if they are small, and you should really find a mentor and a sponsor whether or not they are the same person. Many of the panelists stressed the need for your network in different ways: they support you, you support them, and you learn from each other. Great advice both about imposter syndrome and overall.

Of course the most popular comment, and probably the most tweeted, is that "there is no recognition fairy!" This point is of course that you need to make it clear what you want and what you've done, because no one will do it for you! Definitely a recurring point here at GHC, and worth the repetition!

The panel was really great, which was evident by how many more questions were left at the end. So many people had great questions, the answers that really struck me are the following:

  • when you do screw up you really just have to eventually get over it. sure, you'll languish in it for awhile, but eventually you have to realize it's not the end of the world.
  • if you aren't taking risks and living outside of your comfort zone, you can't move on.
  • realize it's not just about you, and if it seems like everyone is smarter in class maybe they are just more driven to impress the professor (i.e. they memorize quotes from the textbook).

The last thing that really struck me about this year's Imposter Panel was that all of the panelists admitted that they felt like imposters from being on the panel! What a great example of how easy it is to feel like you aren't ready to do something when you really are the right person, especially when the audience can see that themselves.

I'm so glad the imposter panel has become such a main part of GHC, with no other competing sessions, and now a big enough room for everyone. Hopefully next time they'll do it again and maybe even find more ways to change it to keep it fresh as they have done so far!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thriving in a multidisciplinary world: technical & communication skills are key

So fun! We got to learn how to say good morning in Portuguese to start off the talk on Managing Scientific Data in a Multidisciplinary world by Claudia Bauzer Medeiros. Halfway through we also had a Tolkien reference! If 10AM seems early to you, this was a talk you could enjoy despite sleepiness.

As Claudia says, we are drowning in data and need to be able to help scientists in other areas cope with that problem. This includes models and visualization as well, which is right up my area of interest! Of course, all of this also means that you need not only technical skills but great communication skills, which seems to be the theme of the conference thus far.

Some of the points made really relates to a lot of what came up in the Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems summer school this summer: you need to learn how to work with people from other disciplines and learn to speak their scientific language to have success. Of course, she calls this Data-driven science, which is different from what we call it in complex systems, but that's because she is coming from the data analysis side. I love that she had an image combining experiments, archives, literature, and simulations as facts used to help answer questions but that it's not enough: you also need data and information from collaborators not just your own set of it.

What I really love about all of this was the point that we are in an interdisciplinary world, and this should inform how we teach computer science. The implication, at least from my perspective, seems to be that the future is in collaboration between computer science and other fields and we need to prepare new computer scientists to succeed in this environment. One point here was how to get access to data as often people are not willing to give it up. Thus the Tolkien reference: the data is their "precious!"

I was not expecting, however, a section title slide called "Emotion." But the point was still a great one: you need to get people emotionally involved to have cooperation. This all ties back into the point of communication abilities being key for collaboration, as it is very difficult to have a successful conversation with someone if you can't understand their perspective on the subject.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CRA-W Workshops bring interesting perspectives on research

The CRA-W tracks at GHC have been really interesting so far. I went to the first one of the Early Career Scientist track, where the top was how to start your own research lab. There was a speaker who works in industry research, a speaker from a research university, and a speaker from a primarily undergraduate institution. They really embrace active learning in the panel, as they gave us 2 minutes exercises throughout the panel: define what your agenda is, define your short medium and long-term goals, and define actions you can take toward those goals. What a great way to take teaching skills and bring them to a conference!

The second session I attended was in the grad track, with a focus on how to do networking. I really enjoyed the stories of how to meet the right people. The third session was also in the grad track, on how to do good research. I was actually surprised that much of this session was geared toward early grad students as opposed to those about to graduate. However, a lot of the advice seems to be relevant. For instance, the fact that you should find an interesting and exciting research area and try to figure out where the next big thing is can not only guide your thesis, but also your entire career. Also, you've got to enjoy what you're doing! I think that's always good advice to remind early researchers of from time to time.

Later in the session there was more discussion on how to do research after the phd. Did you know that HP Labs created color match technology where you can match your foundation color to your face by sending a photo through your mobile phone to an HP server? What an interesting project! The person who worked on this research is a networking researcher who built a collaborative team to solve the problem as presented by a cosmetics company. How unexpected, but a great example of how you can take your research knowledge and apply it in an interesting collaboration.

Ending thought: If you already know how to solve it, it's not research. You've got to be willing to go out there and claim you can solve a problem you aren't sure you can do! No one is perfect, but you'll have your expertise and should use it! "Confidence does not require perfection," always keep that in mind!
What advice do you have about how to choose your research topic after getting your phd?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grace Hopper was also a funny lady

Last week there was a lot of tweeting, e-mailing, and Facebooking (is that a verb?) about the Grace Hopper interview on Letterman back in the 80s. Apparently the video has been on YouTube for years, but it seems that at least a large number of us were unaware of it. She is quite the funny lady, and even brought a nanosecond to give Letterman. If you don't understand what that means, please watch the clip to hear the explanation straight from Grace Hopper! Since she is the namesake of the conference starting today, it seems only fitting to share the video with anyone who hasn't had the chance to watch it yet. Enjoy, and see you at the conference!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Poken: A paper-free business card, free at GHC!

Wow. I mean, WOW.

I just learned about Poken, thanks to a tweet about it being at GHC this year. Not to sound like an advertisement, but it sounds really awesome! It's a paper-free business card that works with anyone else who also has a poken. You apparently touch the two together and it exchanges your contact information. When you set up your account you can choose what information to share and what social networking sites to include.

This sounds like a great idea for a conference, especially as they are giving them free to students and $15 for non-students. This sounds much better than the CONNECT project in 2008, where we had to find a CONNECT person to connect us. This year we'll be able to connect digitally without having to go somewhere else first! Conference organizers really seemed to have listened to our complaints and found a potentially perfect solution.

I think it's still worth bringing regular business cards though. Not everyone will have a poken, and not everyone will set it up either. But this product could really be revolutionary! It's much harder to lose digital information than a little piece of paper (at least, if it's stored somewhere easy to access and organized). It would be great if eventually everyone just had one and it could completely replace business cards. That could take awhile though. I'd like to say it would be more environmentally friendly, but the environmental cost of manufacturing the things may outweigh the paper savings (especially with recycled paper and properly harvested forests).

Well, I'm looking forward to trying out this new technology at GHC this year, and maybe it'll become mainstream enough that soon I can use it elsewhere too! I can't believe I never heard of it, but then again it looks like it may have only come out about a year ago, so I don't feel too bad. Hopefully I'll have a good experience to report!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

GHC is just around the corner!

Well, I'm definitely getting psyched about this year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). I've been twice in the past: 2006 (San Diego, CA) and 2008 (Keystone, CO). Both times I met interesting women working in computer science, and I'm looking forward to re-connecting this year and making new acquaintances! Each year I've become progressively more involved. In 2006 I attended, and in 2008 I presented research in the ACM Poster Competition and was a note-taker. This year I am an official GHC Community Blogger (yay!), I'm on a panel called "Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers: Panel on Diversity and Inclusion in CS Education," and I'm presenting some of my dissertation research in the PhD Forum! There is so much to do before heading down to Atlanta (mostly related to making presentations), so time is really flying. At least I was awarded a scholarship again this year, so my main expenses are covered. That is definitely a stress reducer!

Did you know there are a lot of resources out there about GHC? Not only is there a wiki with notes from each year's sessions, but there is also a Facebook page to keep in touch with other attendees. If you can't attend this year, you can always follow updates on the GHC Blog or community Blog Roll, and Twitter feeds. They are definitely building a great community online in addition to in person.

I only wrote 6 ghc blog posts in 2008 but I'm anticipating more this year. You can also follow my tweets at @umasshokie. Just over a week until Atlanta!

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm Back!

Well, after a not-so-short hiatus from the Blogger world, I'm back! I decided I needed to take some time away from the blog to work on another time sensitive one, whose time has now passed. I'm looking forward to getting back to chronicling my graduate school adventures, as I am hoping I will graduate within the next year! I have a lot of exciting things happening this year, and I can't wait to write about them!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

White Christmas

I experienced my very first white Christmas this year! A week before Christmas a blizzard hit the east coast, including central Virginia. My parents' house had about a foot and a half of snow by the end of the storm. The last time I can remember us having that much snow there was over ten years ago, I think it might have been 1996? In that storm I remember us measuring out 21" and getting out of school for quite awhile. In this new storm, my sister and nieces were visiting and ended up staying until Christmas because the roads weren't clear enough to drive home (an hour away) until 2 days before Christmas! So instead of driving home and then back again the next day, they just stayed.

When we arrived a few days before the holiday, there was still about a foot on the ground. It wasn't until we left on New Year's Day that it was really disappearing and looking more like what we expect a VA winter to look like. I was joking to Tim when we arrived there that usually we get rain on Christmas instead of snow. Ironically, we had freezing rain which turned to rain on Christmas day. Good old Virginia.

In contrast, it has been snowing in MA most of the time since we returned Friday night. It looks like we will have quite the snowy winter this season. I don't expect VA to get MA-like snow again this season, but it looks like MA certainly isn't going to get any less than usual. At least we have the plows and infrastructure to deal with constant snow; I can't imagine being snowed in for more than a day at most!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Productive Semester

Well, despite the lack of updating, this has been a rather successful semester. Everything for the TA is rounding out in the next week, I've submitted multiple papers, and I'm working on additional papers that will hopefully be finished before Christmas. I'm well organized for conference deadlines starting in January, and looking forward to a productive rest of the winter. I even start a new project soon, which will be a nice change from the norm.

The next week is going to be really busy, but what else is new?? The rest of December will be spent on visiting family, planning my wedding, and working on research. I'm really quite OK with that, and I'm looking forward to getting it all done so I can move on to the next to-do list!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Actually Help the Undergraduate Program

It's interesting what types of cuts our university is willing to make in order to keep the quality of the undergraduate education. Obviously education is the goal, and when you have over 25K undergraduate students they are also the priority to some extent, even in a research focused university. However, one of the cuts the university makes in order to maintain the apparent quality of undergraduate education (i.e., keep from increasing tuition even more or cutting too many classes) is to decrease the funding given to departments for Teaching Assistantships for graduate students.

I can't imagine I'm the first person to consider that this can't possibly keep the same level of education, when students suddenly have fewer TA office hours to attend, and fewer TAs (and therefore less TA time) to answer e-mail or grade homeworks. This is why I say it is keeping an "apparent" quality of undergraduate education, even if it's not really keeping actual quality. As the sole TA for a class of 40+ students, I can say from just a few months of experience that this definitely impacts the undergraduate students. Luckily we were able to hire another graduate student as a grader for 10 hrs/wk, so I have more time to tend to the students' questions, design their homeworks, and put together the lectures I'll be teaching. But I still don't have enough hours in the week to help them. I can't imagine what TAs do when they aren't lucky enough to have just one other person to help with grading! Even spending the 20 hrs/wk I'm technically paid for isn't really enough. I enjoy what I'm doing, and don't want fewer responsibilities; but I'm really overworked, which is NOT good for my students!!

I wish this cycle was more apparent to the upper level "management" of the university. If you want good undergraduate education, pay your graduate students! We do more than research, and we're often a great resource for students. When there is 1 TA to 40 students, the number of minutes they can spend helping each student is minuscule. How does that keep the quality of undergraduate education?