Earlier this spring, the National Science Foundation awarded the Computing Research Association a new grant for a “Second CIFellows Project,” enabling a new set of 47 recent Ph.D. graduates to be supported as Computing Innovation Fellows beginning this fall.
These CIFellows follow 60 other exceptional young researchers who were awarded one- to two-year postdoctoral positions at research institutions throughout the country last fall—as part of a unique partnership between NSF and CRA to retain new Ph.D.s in computing research and teaching during difficult economic times.
For the initial cohort of 2009 CIFellows, the Project has already proved worthwhile, offering them uniquely independent research experiences that have helped them sharpen their skills and enhance their credentials. (The CIFellows Project was first described in the September 2009 issue of CRN1, and we provided an update on the first cohort of CIFellows in the March 2010 CRN2.)
The new call for 2010 CIFellows was announced to the community via the CIFellows Project website3in mid-April, with applications due by mid-May. A total of 218 applications from 78 U.S.-based Ph.D.-granting colleges and universities were submitted, and the applicants listed prospective mentors from 105 organizations, including a diverse range of industry affiliations. Under the leadership of Dr. Greg Andrews, the new award’s PI, a 25-person Selection Committee was assembled and rigorously reviewed all applications over a four-week period. A separate 9-person Steering Committee affirmed the Selection Committee’s recommendations. Applicants were notified of their status in early July, and we expect to be able to announce our 2010 CIFellows by early October after all arrangements are finalized.
As with last year’s application and review process, we sought to ensure that the 2010 CIFellows Project would be broad-based. Awards are being made to CIFellow/mentor pairs; each candidate was allowed to specify between one and three potential mentors, each of whom had to provide a specific mentoring plan for the candidate. This process worked well for the 2009 CIFellows, ensuring highly productive experiences for both CIFellows and their mentors. In addition, to ensure broad participation and to build bridges between diverse institutions via the CIFellows, no more than two awardees earned their Ph.D.s from the same university, and no more than two awardees were assigned to the same host organization. Diversity of other forms – including research areas and individuals, etc. – was also encouraged. About 36 percent of the 2010 CIFellows are women.
Meanwhile, the 2009 CIFellows have continued to enjoy rewarding experiences, achieving tremendous successes over the first year of their CIFellowships. Of the 60 who started last fall, 17 have found other opportunities – including tenure-track faculty positions and permanent jobs at industrial research labs – and will not be continuing in the Project for a second year. Among them, three were offered positions by their host organizations. In several of these cases, the postdoctoral experiences clearly benefited the CIFellows, markedly enhancing their skills, credentials, and already stellar resumes. For example, one CIFellow demonstrated his capabilities through the development of a novel algorithm later featured in The Los Angeles Times4; the algorithm uses Twitter to gauge real-time interest in movies and accurately predict how they will perform at the box office on opening weekend. In another case, the chair of a faculty search committee wrote, “As the hiring officer for this [tenure-track] position, I can attest that [the CIFellow’s] postdoctoral experience … enhanced [the candidate’s] attractiveness to us.”
Three CIFellows—Drs. Miriah Meyer (Harvard University), Andrew McPherson (Drexel University), and Antonina Mitrofanova (Columbia University)—shared their experiences at CRA’s biannual Snowbird Conference in mid-July. Meyer, a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, described how the CIFellows Project enabled her to obtain funds to pursue a new research area for which she would have been unlikely to obtain grant support, given the initial stage of the project. Meyer is developing new ways to visualize genomics data that do not have any inherent spatial or temporal characteristics. For example, she has implemented “Pathline,” which simultaneously overlays gene expression data on multiple molecular pathways and across multiple species5.
McPherson, a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, shared his work on bringing a computational approach to issues of creative expression, enabling new knowledge about human-computer interactions for computer scientists and new tools that go beyond any existing instrument for musical performers and composers. Mitrofanova, a Ph.D. from New York University, presented her research on assembling and mining noisy, poorly annotated regulatory networks for prostate cancer. All three described how the CIFellows Project offered them a unique level of independence and autonomy, as compared to other postdoctoral positions. “Because I write the proposal, the [CIFellowship] gives me a tremendous amount of flexibility to define my own research,” McPherson said.
Meyer, McPherson, and Mitrofanova are among 43 current CIFellows who have accepted a second year of support, bringing the total number of CIFellows to be funded in 2010-11 to 90.
Dr. Erwin Gianchandaniis the Director of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and the Computing Innovation Fellows Project.
5 Meyer, M., et al. 2010. Pathline: A tool for comparative functional genomics. Eurographics/IEEE-VGTC Symposium on Visualization 2010.