Networking Networking Women (N²Women)
Expanding the Pipeline
As we know, women are a minority in the computer science community. Several organizations, such as CRA-W, ACM-W, the Anita Borg Institute, and the National Center for Women in Technology, have diverse efforts underway to increase the number of women in all fields of computer science. In addition to these field-wide efforts, we should assist women in finding female role models, female mentors, and/or female peers within their particular research discipline in order to reduce the isolation that many women researchers feel. This can best be achieved through communities that connect women in the same discipline, and several recent efforts have been underway to stimulate such discipline-specific communities. For example, CRA-W and CDC have, with NSF support, sponsored workshops targeted at women and under-represented minorities in computer architecture (July 2006) and in programming languages (May 2007).
Networking Networking Women (N²Women) is a new discipline-specific community for researchers in the communications and networking research fields. The main goal of N²Women is to foster connections among the under-represented women in computer networking and related research fields. N²Women allows women to connect with other women who share the same research interests, who attend the same conferences, who face the same career hurdles, and who experience the same obstacles. By the very nature of interactions among such a group of peers, there is naturally mentoring and imparting of advice, even if informally. Furthermore, such a group inherently provides the structure for mentoring and encouraging the younger members of the community (e.g., graduate students and junior faculty) in their career pursuits. These interactions ultimately will increase not only the numbers of women in the communications and networking research areas, but, in some ways more importantly, they will increase the satisfaction that women feel with their careers.
N²Women began in May 2006. Our first meeting was held at the ACM International Symposium on Mobile Ad Hoc Networking and Computing (MobiHoc) in Florence, Italy and was sponsored by ACM SIGMOBILE. Since May 2006, eight other N²Women meetings have been organized at a number of prestigious ACM and IEEE research conferences: IEEE SECON 2006, ACM MobiCom 2006, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2006, ACM SenSys 2006, IEEE Infocom 2007, ACM/USENIX MobiSys 2007, IEEE SECON 2007, and ACM MobiCom/Hoc 2007. N²Women events have been (or are being) organized by several different members of the N²Women community, including the authors, Laura Galluccio (University of Catania), Niki Trigoni (University of London), Yingying Chen (Rutgers, the State University of NJ), Christina Nita-Rotaru (Purdue University), Cecilia Mascolo (University College of London), Qi Han (Colorado School of Mines), and Wenye Wang (North Carolina State University).
Some N²Women meetings have been informal, where attendees use the venue to get to know each other in an intimate environment or discuss a specific topic of interest (e.g., integrating family life into one’s career). Other meetings have included an invited presentation. For example, Dr. Vida Ilderem, Vice President of Motorola’s Embedded Systems Research Lab, spoke at the IEEE SECON 2007 N²Women meeting; and Dr. Margaret Martonosi, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Princeton University, spoke at the ACM/USENIX MobiSys 2007 N²Women meeting. Both speakers provided valuable advice that they had learned from their own careers on topics such as finding a mentor, career planning, and the value of networking.
N²Women has grown to more than 140 members from around the world. The members are mainly female graduate students, female faculty at research universities, or female employees at research labs. The N²Women community has an email list, N²Women@acm.org, to assist in our networking goals. This enables our members to share information about events or opportunities relevant to the group members, such as information about special workshops or funding opportunities targeted at women in communications and networking.
N²Women has received generous support from several sponsors, including Microsoft, Motorola, ACM SIGMOBILE, and the IEEE Communications Society. This financial support has enabled us to hold most of our meetings free of charge to attendees, which has the benefit of enabling many financially strapped students to attend and benefit from the networking and mentoring opportunities provided by these meetings. Our sponsors have been supportive of our mission, and we are grateful for their contributions. In addition to our corporate and ACM/IEEE sponsors, the main organizers of many of the conferences where we have held N²Women meetings have been extremely supportive of our efforts, providing valuable assistance in the organization of these meetings and helping us secure financial support for the meetings. In fact, Fred Bauer, Director of IEEE Communications Meetings and Conferences, first approached us about organizing a meeting at IEEE INFOCOM 2007. We thank all of these researchers for their support of our N²Women efforts.
We are currently developing a survey to poll the N²Women members on what topics and/or activities they would like to have at future N²Women meetings. We are also in the planning stage for an N²Women Workshop, as we have found that the short meetings we have at conferences (typically a breakfast before the conference program begins) do not provide enough time to network and discuss not only the challenges that women in computer science research face, but also potential ways that we, as a community, can address these issues. As part of the workshop, we also plan to include opportunities for the N²Women members to present their research to other members of the community for feedback, and to provide formal programs on topics of interest, such as obtaining funding, leadership skills, conflict management, and mentoring. We are actively searching for sponsors to support the N²Women Workshop as well as future N²Women meetings; please contact the authors for a list of benefits that financial sponsors receive.
We have found the organization of a discipline-specific group to be relatively easy, especially when compared to the benefits received. We encourage other researchers to organize similar communities, and we are happy to provide any guidance needed. In the case of N²Women, we organized an initial meeting at MobiHoc 2006 and then polled the women who attended to see if there was interest in such a group. The response was overwhelmingly positive. We, therefore, contacted two technical organizations for our research community, ACM SIGMOBILE and the IEEE Communications Society, and asked if they would support our mission. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and led to our email service being provided by ACM and our website being provided by IEEE. Once an email list and a website exist for a new community, it is simply a matter of advertising the group to those who would benefit from joining (e.g., email your female research colleagues and relevant research lists). Once the group has been established, members of the group (not just the group organizers!) organize meetings at the conferences that they attend. These meetings, typically breakfast or lunch get-togethers, are fairly easy to organize; we have created a document called “10 Simple Steps to Organize an N²Women Meeting” that we are happy to share with those interested.
For more details about N²Women, to get involved with N²Women, or to get advice about beginning a new discipline-specific community similar to N²Women, please email N²Women-Info@acm.org or visit our website, http://www.comsoc.org/N2Women/.
Tracy Camp (tcamp [at] mines.edu) joined the Colorado School of Mines in 1998 and is currently a Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Wendi Heinzelman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and of Computer Science at the University of Rochester, where she has been a faculty member since 2001.