This article is published in the January 2011 issue.

Mentoring Across the Pipeline: CRA-W Programs at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

The Computing Research Association Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) continued its central role in the Grace Hopper Celebration of Computing this year. CRA-W provided mentoring across the pipeline in a series of workshops targeted at undergraduates, graduate students, and early career researchers. In conjunction with AT&T, CRA-W sponsored a luncheon for researchers in industrial and government laboratories.

CRA-W’s role goes far beyond these programs. Past CRA-W Co-Chair Lori Pollock was the Program Co-Chair of the Conference and CRA-W Board Member Tracy Camp was the General Chair. Members of the CRA-W Board participated across the spectrum of conference committees with CRA-W filling formal slots on both the academic and industrial advisory committees for the conference. This full participation stems from CRA-W’s role as a founding sponsor of the conference, and its history of having participated in every Grace Hopper Conference in a significant way.

On September 28, 2010, the Grace Hopper Conference opened again to a sold out attendance of 2,147, a 37 percent increase over last year’s sold-out participation. Participants arrived this year from 29 countries and included members of industry, government and academia as well as many students. One could overhear lively discussion about the topics of change and cross-gender collaboration raised by Keynote Speakers Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! and Duy-Loan Le, Senior Fellow at Texas Instruments. The full program included presentations from other executives as well and from experts in industry, government, and academia. Some of the experts were students presenting their work for the first time, and change agents who had made significant positive social impacts with their work in computing.

CRA-W held its career mentoring workshops on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 29. The undergraduate workshops sought to answer the questions:

  • What is research?
  • Is research for me?
  • How do I become a researcher?

In the “What is research?” session, Professor Nancy Amato of Texas A&M, Dr. Dilma Da Silva of the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, and Undergraduate Katie Wolf of the University of Minnesota led a wide-ranging discussion about identifying research questions in the context of industry and academia, and the joy of pursuing those topics. Professor Amato discussed the special challenges of multi-disciplinary research, and encouraged students by explaining that it is not necessary to be an expert in all the disciplines involved. What is necessary is learning to speak the language of other disciplines well enough to converse with collaborators. Katie Wolf connected directly with the audience by describing her experiences in doing research as an undergraduate.

In the “Is research for me?” session, Professor Susan Roger of Duke led a lively interaction facilitated also by Professor Ellen Walker of Hiram University, PhD Candidate Arbrita Chakravarty of Duke, and PhD Candidate Susanna Ricco of Duke. Students gained direct experience of thinking through a research problem, and discussing it with others.

The interaction energized participants for the concluding session on “How do I become a researcher?” Here, Professor Maria Gini of the University of Minnesota, Professor Cecilia Aragon of the University of Washington, and PhD Candidate Katherine Panciera of the University of Minnesota illuminated the process of applying to and starting out successfully in graduate school. Student concerns were laid to rest by a rousing discussion of all the reasons not to attend graduate school and the alternative reasons to attend.

All the sessions highlighted the importance and usefulness of undergraduate research experiences. These experiences help answer the question of “whether research is for me,” and add to the appeal of applications to graduate school. For summer and year-long research experience programs funded by CRA-W, students and faculty can consult the CRA-W web pages ( Students who want to do research and faculty who want to act as mentors are encouraged to apply to the program. Several of these programs are sponsored in conjunction with the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) (, which seeks to encourage the participation of underrepresented groups in computer science.

CRA-W and CDC offer additional support for recruiting undergraduates to enter graduate school through their Distinguished Lecture Series ( The series brings distinguished lecturers from underrepresented groups to colleges, universities and regional conferences. In conjunction with the lecture, a panel discussion is held on the topics of this mentoring workshop.

The graduate workshops sought to answer the questions:

  • How do I enjoy and succeed in graduate school?
  • How do I build my professional network?
  • What’s it take to do great research?

Professor Elizabeth Mynatt of Georgia Tech, Professor Erika Shehan Poole of Penn State, and Dr. Jane Prey of Microsoft Research started the graduate mentoring sessions by leading an enthusiastic discussion of ways to flourish in graduate school. Dr. Mary Czerwinski of Microsoft and Professor Soha Hassoun of Tufts then led students in an interactive exercise on building their professional network. Students practiced elevator pitches, and learned both how to and how not to network. Dr. Nina Bhatti of HP Labs and Professor Mary Jean Harrold of Georgia Tech led the final session on what it takes to do great research. The wide-ranging discussion included picking a research advisor and a PhD topic, finding funding for research after graduate school, and venturing out into new and important research areas.

These three sessions represent a small overview of the full multi-day program in CRA-W’s Grad Cohort for Women ( This program, sponsored by Google and Microsoft, provides both career-building and communitybuilding sessions. Participants gain new skills and new contacts to help them succeed in graduate school and their subsequent careers.

The early career workshop addressed the questions:

  • How do I start my own research program?
  • How do I become a leader in my field?
  • How do I get promoted?

In the first session of the early career workshop, Professor Andrea Danyluk of Williams, Professor Lise Getoor of the University of Maryland, and Dr. Ashley Stroupe of the Jet Propulsion Lab helped participants learn to create a research program whether they worked at a teaching college, a research university or a government/industrial laboratory. Dr. Deb Agarwal of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Professor Carla Gomes of Cornell, and Dr. Irene Greif of IBM’s Center for Social Software followed with a session that led participants through the many aspects of establishing their leadership in the field.

One highlight was Dr. Greif’s discussion of the creation of the computer-supported cooperative work research area. In the final session, Dr. Laura Haas, IBM Fellow and Director of Computer Science at IBM Almaden, and Professor Ellen Zegura, Chair of the School of Computer Science in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, outlined the qualities and activities that lead to being promoted in academia or industrial research.

These three sessions provide a subset of the multi-day program in the CRA-W’s Career Mentoring Workshops ( There are three variations of these workshops: one for research faculty, one for faculty in undergraduate education, and one for researchers in government and industrial labs.

In addition to these programs, CRA-W and AT&T sponsored a luncheon for researchers and others interested in industry and government labs. The meeting spawned the idea of having a half-day session for labs researchers at the next Grace Hopper Conference. Look for details of that in future months. This year’s programs were coordinated by Dr. Joann Ordille of Avaya Labs Research.

Next year’s programs at the Grace Hopper Conference will be coordinated by Dr. A. J. Brush of Microsoft Research.

Dr. Joann J. Ordille is a Consulting Member of the Technical Staff at Avaya Labs Research.

Mentoring Across the Pipeline: CRA-W Programs at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing