Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grace Hopper Celebration 2013

So great to finally be here at Grace Hopper! I found the talks I attended Tuesday to be very informative personally, while they also raised points that I did not foresee. In particular, the "Preparing for promotion" talk was interesting to me being since I am at the early stages in my career, and I wanted to get more perspectives on the career planning process.

Miche started off with an industry view and went spot on to confirming my hunches, mainly regarding the process and hurdles,  while also providing valuable comments from her own personal experience. Her talk was very inspiring, yet practical.

Main takeaways being that you have to figure out what you really want and then start moving towards the goal right away. The path will be riddles with obstacles, be it gaining sufficient and relevant experience for the position/level wanted, and then making a compelling case.
The interesting thing I found was that although companies such Google may have a policy of promoting based on hard proven qualifications, one can ask for the promotion as soon as one feels entitled in order to show willingness to move in that area and to receive feedback.
Another interesting fact was that women sometimes simply do not bring up this topic with their managers, and they would rather move up by moving around, whether in the same company or other.

Julia, the second speaker on this topic, focused more on the research/academia path. I find that as a relatively freshly graduated undergrad, the fact that professors' tenure is not very impacted by their teaching abilities a bit disappointing, although I assumed that for a long time (rant alert). This unfortunately makes professors feel good about being average in teaching, while decreasing the value of an education that students pay for.

Moreover, I had a class, and I am sure I am not alone in this one, where the professor simply uses some slides from the publisher while presenting on a monotone voice, about a topic that he/she has no passion about, thus losing 95% of class participation because people fall asleep. The astonishing fact is that some good students will still do well...and maybe even do research with this professor, of which the research experience is independent of the teaching one. However, for the purpose of higher education, how many potentially good researchers were lost? Seems to me like the educational system performs a bit of self-sabotage. Extrapolating this to the lower grades, the keynote this morning clearly showed that increased interest in even basic courses has a great effect on retention, as her university was able to retain 48% female students in the CS program by making the courses more fun.

Coming back to Julia, she spelled quite nicely the requirements for tenure: high quality papers, strong letters of recommendation, and grants. She also mentions several other pitfalls except the teaching above, such as balancing masters and PhD students, building good relationships and collaborating with others. Her piece of advice for researchers outside of academia was to continue publishing even if the culture at work may not promote it in order to keep options open add far as academia is concerned.

In terms of collaborations and visibility she mentioned that as far as tenure its concerned being the first name on the paper will matter, so publishing individually may be more appropriate in order to make a name for oneself. She also referred to the importance of being timely when submitting papers and grants, as well as collaborating with such researchers. In terms of students, she recommends asking for references from fellow professors about students and to avoid bad students in a graceful manner.

Julia also mentioned a new trend that some people have adopted to ask for early promotions, which reminds me of Miche's comment about reaching out and asking for a promotion when one its due. Communication of caterer objectives is important.

Miche and Julia had both very insightful talks on the topic on promotions and I greatly enjoyed them. As far as the industry goes, one needs to track their progress and broaden their scope as per the "ladder" specifications in the organization while maintaining visibility and incorporating feedback, and as far as academia/research goes high quality papers backed by good collaborations, and strong reference letters backed by good relationships, are very important for a tenured track.

If you want to see my notes from the session, check out the conference notes wiki: