Monday, September 29, 2008

It's almost time for GHC!

3 of us from my school at GHC 2006

In a few days I'll be traveling to Colorado to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). The only other time I've been able to attend was in 2006, so it's great to be returning! The picture above is from that trip, during Sponsor Night, where we gets lots of free stuff from companies, and basically spend the evening having fun!

GHC is a conference primarily for women in computing, although men are welcome to attend as well (only a handful do each year). There are many goals of the conference: bring women together, support women in computing, share tips on finding success, and share research results. It's a fun conference, although many serious topics are discussed. One of the most exciting reasons to attend is to see so many women in one place that all have careers (or future careers) in computing!

I'm participating in the ACM Student Research Competition this year, and I think I have a good shot to at least make it to the next round at GHC. My research is solid, my poster is beautiful (although the poster printer did mess up a subtitle that's fine in the file I printed from...), and I think I've figured out how to describe 3 years worth of work in 5 minutes. We'll see if the judges agree, but I'm ready to be there and go for it! The poster session is Wednesday night (I really hope I don't get a migraine from flying), and everyone who is chosen to move on will give a 10 minute oral presentation Thursday evening.

I met a lot of great women at GHC 2006, so I hope to reconnect with them as well as make some new acquaintances. There's even this new CONNECT project, that allows participants to scan their badges when they meet someone new, and then they'll each get an e-mail with the other person's contact information! It's supposed to make it easier so that you don't have to use business cards. I've still got my business cards ready though, do you?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pandora -- A way to Happiness

I know that for many people Pandora is old news. I've always thought it was a neat idea, but for some reason I only recently started using it regularly. Now that I use it, I think it's great!

For those that don't know, it's an internet radio website that will create a station for you based on your preferences. The people who run the website listen to music and characterize it (supposedly by "400 distinct characteristics"), and those characteristics are used to determine what music you might like based on what songs you've marked as "good" in the past. This is done from radio station to radio station, so you can mark that you don't like a song for a specific station you've created, but it could still show up on a different station.

One of the reasons I love Pandora is that I can create a station based on a single song I love, and then it'll play other songs it thinks are similar. If I don't think the song is good, I mark is negatively, and it readjusts. Since my music tastes are very varied, this is a great way to find new artists I like with little effort. I've already bought a few songs from iTunes that I found on Pandora! Not to mention that I've discovered the names and artists of songs I've heard before and liked, but never could have easily found.

The only downside is that they only have but so much music. There have been a few songs I really wanted to use as the seed to create a station that they didn't have. There is also a newer band I love that I wanted to use as a seed to see what other artists are similar to them, but they didn't have them either. However, all of the other stations have been great, I was even able to make one based on a song by a Japanese artist!

If you've never tried Pandora, you should check it out. If you already use it, please share your username so that we can share stations! I'd love to see what types of stations you guys are making (what few of you there are). You can see my Pandora profile here, my username is vtmegan.

Happy Listening!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting a "good job" -- advice for the graduating PhD student

A graduate student that I considered to be very smart and toward the top of her field recently graduated with her PhD (I won't say from what university or what year, given that there are only but so many of us). I've always wanted my research to be as exceptional as hers. Well, I found out a few weeks ago that she had only received 2 job offers (for academic positions) after she had interviewed! At the time she was interviewing I knew that she had received an offer from an overseas institution that she had decided to turn down due to distance; but I had assumed that she must have had many offers in the US! Turns out she only had 1 other offer, at a relatively unknown school (I assume university, but it may be a college).

This revelation was quite shocking for me (despite the fact of how out-of-the-loop I have been to have only recently learned about this)! Here is this great researcher and student, who ends up accepting a position much below her capabilities. Do any of the rest of us even stand a chance at being hired when we graduate??

Well, talking to others that knew her better, I found out that there is a very likely reason for why this happened: letters of recommendation. Apparently, she defended her thesis AFTER she completed her job search. At the end of her defense her committee were all pleasantly surprised at how astounding her contribution was to her field. From what I hear, it is likely that the letters were not as strong as they would have been had she defended before they were written.

So, the lesson of the day: Defend your thesis BEFORE you go on the job search, even if it could mean 1 more year in grad school. You may get better letters of recommendation, which can make your final set of employment choices much better!

(Although I tagged this as pertaining to women, it pertains to ALL graduate students)