Two UW-Madison Computer Sciences graduate students, Suchita Pati and Swati Anand, had the honor of attending the 2019 Computer Research Association-Women Grad Cohort Workshop. The goal of the program is to build and mentor communities of women in the first three years of graduate study. At the workshop, current grad students are connected with senior and renowned women researchers and engineers from academia and industry.
“Grad Cohort also gave me an avenue to meet and discuss my research with Prof. Margaret Martonosi and Prof. Sandhya Dwarakadas, renowned scientists in the field of computer science,” says Pati. “They are an inspiration to me both for their research and their contributions towards women in tech.”
Pati also had the opportunity to present her ongoing research during a poster session at the workshop: “Presenting my poster led to fruitful discussions and helped me solicit feedback and ideas for future work.”
The workshop included sessions on both professional and personal issues faced by many women in graduate programs, providing an avenue for discussion and advice. Building self-confidence, building your professional persona, strategies for human-human interaction, and entrepreneurial opportunities and skills were addressed, as well as more personal topics such as sexual harassment, raising children while doing PhD, and imposter syndrome.
“As a student transitioning from the Master’s to the PhD program, I feel the sessions were tailor-made for me. There were sessions on how to choose an advisor, how to choose a research topic, and how to write a research paper, which are fundamental concerns of any graduate student, especially in their first three years of graduate school,” says Pati.
All the sessions included Q&A at the end, which led to discussions about topics that are very rarely discussed in most classrooms, such as how/when to change a research advisor – a rather tough but crucial decision in a graduate student’s PhD career.
“As a first-year student, I found this workshop extremely useful, as I could get to hear a lot of viewpoints about career opportunities after earning an MS or PhD,” says Anand. Industry experts from IBM, Facebook, Microsoft, and VMWare conducted sessions on job interviews and when/how to find and successfully pursue summer internships. Representatives from research labs at IBM, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg, etc. actively recruited students and were available for conversations during breaks.
Towards the end of the workshop, everyone had a chance to participate in a one-to-one career advising and resume review session, which was extremely helpful for students seeking any specific guidance or those who could not ask questions during the sessions.
“The support and encouragement we received at the workshop filled me with a lot of positive energy and confidence to do the right thing, as I know there is a strong community always having my back,” says Anand. She continues, “I have embraced keynote speaker Radhika Nagpal’s words, ‘I am not here to encourage you to be in computer science. I am here to encourage you to be in power!’ so often since the workshop that I have felt empowered even in situations when my confidence was a bit swaying.”