This article is published in the November 2006 issue.

CRA-W/CDC Launch Discipline-Specific Mentoring Programs with Computer Architecture Summer Workshop

On July 19-21, 2006, CRA-W and CDC jointly offered a summer school workshop on Computer Architecture at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ.

The workshop was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation’s program on Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC), as well as generous donations from Intel Corp, IBM Research, and ACM SIGARCH (ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture). This funding supported the participation of more than 40 attendees, including undergraduates, master’s students, Ph.D. students, research faculty, and lecturers—all interested in computer architecture. In addition, we were able to support the travel costs of the roughly 20 panelists—leading computer systems researchers from academia, industry, and government—who participated in the workshop discussions and presentations.

Organizing Committee

Professor Iris Bahar, Brown University, and I co-chaired the workshop. Other professors serving as members of the organizing committee included: Mary Jane Irwin, Pennsylvania State University; Russ Joseph, Northwestern University; Sally McKee, Cornell University; Li-Shiuan Peh, Princeton University; and Kelly Shaw, University of Richmond.

Goals and Agenda

While many of CRA-W’s and CDC’s mentoring programs span the entire computing field, the goal of this workshop was to bring together women and under-represented minorities within a single subfield—computer architecture—in order to give more discipline-specific guidance. In addition, it would encourage technical networking that will knit together a community whose members will see each other repeatedly at computer architecture conferences in the future. Opportunities would be created for attendees to forge ongoing technical connections. We wanted to give attendees a set of contacts both for quick emails of the “how do I get this software to compile?” form, as well as to spur deeper and more long-term research collaborations.

The program included a series of talks and panel sessions, comprising both technical details and career development discussions. Some of the technical sessions included: “Getting started in computer architecture research”; “What architects should know about circuits”; and “What architects should know about compilers and system software.” Other sessions discussed career path options, communication skills, and strategies for proposing and funding research. A lively poster session gave all participants the chance to present and discuss their research, and the wrap-up session for the workshop featured leading researchers prognosticating on the future of the field.

The feedback from participants and panelists was quite positive and enthusiastic. For example, several graduate students mentioned that they appreciated the approachability of the panelists in this slightly less formal setting. At conferences, they felt they might not be able to speak as easily with leading researchers. They also appreciated the long-term career guidance. Even students early in their PhD program, for example, felt that the session on NSF proposals offered useful information on how research funding “works,” and how best to present one’s research ideas.

Attendees also appreciated the diversity of backgrounds and experiences: young grad students were able to learn from more senior and seasoned PhD students, senior PhD students learned more about faculty positions and research funding, and people in lecturer and research scientist positions mentioned learning more about funding issues and different career path options.

The senior members of the field who attended the workshop as panelists were also enthusiastically positive. Several have said this was the most enjoyable technical conference they ever attended. Since many were themselves women or under-represented minorities, they appreciated the chance to interact technically with such a diverse group of computer architects. In addition, panelists appreciated having the time during the poster session and at meals and coffee breaks to hear about the current research and career plans of so many “up-and-comers” in our field. I have already heard of several nascent research collaborations that are emerging from workshop discussions.

Next Steps

Building on the success of this first workshop, we plan to take several “next steps” over the coming year. In summer 2007, we are planning a one-day follow-up workshop on computer architecture. One possible location would be at the Federated Computing Research Conferences (FCRC) in June. The International Symposium of Computer Architecture (ISCA) is one of the component conferences of FCRC. By co-locating a follow-up workshop with ISCA, we can help ensure that attendees can continue to build a network of peers and mentors in their field, and we can offer travel support so more people can attend the leading conference in our field. We plan to include a mix of both returning attendees (from this first workshop) and new attendees.

In addition to a follow-up workshop in Computer Architecture, CRA-W/CDC are also planning to hold other discipline-specific workshops in distinct computing subfields. For example, a workshop in the programming languages area is likely in 2007. The goal is to use this first computer architecture event as a pattern for planning future events in other disciplines, particularly those with especially poor diversity.


When researchers attend conferences like the Grace Hopper Conference or the Tapia Conference, they are almost always struck by the deep emotions of joining together with so many women and under-represented minorities in the field of computing. But often, when we return to technical conferences in our sub-field, we return to a “real world” with very different demographics, one in which women and under-represented minorities feel isolated or marginalized. For many of us, there was incredible emotional impact just from being in a room of computer architects and seeing such vibrant diversity. It was truly a rewarding and unforgettable experience.

Margaret Martonosi is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University.

CRA-W/CDC Launch Discipline-Specific Mentoring Programs with Computer Architecture Summer Workshop