This article is published in the September 2012 issue.

Academic Career Workshops for Underrepresented Groups

Brief History of ACW

The first ACW was conducted in the fall of 2005 on a shoestring budget and the beneficence of Texas A&M University.  There were 16 attendees (mostly assistant professors and late-term graduate students) and four senior computer science/computational mathematics faculty.  The panels included navigating the tenure process, starting a research program, and managing work/life balance; in addition, a major component involved research proposal development.  The latter component consisted of a presentation on proposal development by a former NSF program officer, as well as a mock review panel.  We obtained permission from proposers to use their awarded and declined NSF proposals in a mock NSF proposal review panel.  Our assumption was that the best way to learn to write good proposals was to learn to critically read actual proposals.   Proposals were distributed to attendees before the workshop, and they were required to write their reviews prior to arrival.  At least three reviewers (including a lead reviewer) were assigned to each proposal.  During the mock panel, the attendees critically discussed the proposals, and the senior faculty provided feedback on the attendees’ reviews.  At the conclusion of each review, attendees were notified if the proposal had been awarded or declined and, where NSF reviews were available, they were shared with attendees.  This process had at least three major benefits:

  • Many attendees had never participated in an NSF panel.  Thus, they were able to observe the process and participate in review in a somewhat risk-free environment.
  • Some attendees had never written a research proposal.  The workshop gave them the opportunity to examine both funded and not funded proposals, which allowed them to see how proposals can be organized and how investigators articulate the merits.
  • Attendees were able to hone the skill of providing critical review through practice, reflection of comments from other attendees, and feedback from the senior faculty.
  • Another benefit of the ACW workshop is the time provided for informal conversations and networking during breaks and shared meals.  A strong community began to take root.

Growth of ACW

Over the ensuing seven years the annual workshop has grown in both scale and scope.  We now typically have in excess of 60 applications for approximately 35 openings.  The number and range of panels have increased.  For example, due to earlier successes, we now have a panel on “promotion from associate to full professor”.   Beginning in 2007, the annual workshop was funded by NSF; in 2010, it was broadened to include persons with disabilities; and in 2012 it was held jointly for the first time with the NSF-sponsored Workshop on Mentoring Minorities in Engineering.  Since 2011, the ACW has been organized and administered by four organizations, the Center on Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology , the Coalition to Diversify Computing, the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions , and the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers .

Table 1 shows the demographic composition of the ACW workshops since funded by NSF.  No workshop was held in 2008 to allow for the movement of the workshop to the spring time frame.

Table 1:  Demographic Decomposition of ACW Attendees, 2007 – 2012

African American


Pacific Isl./Native Amer.

People w/Disabilities

Mar. 2012 17 (55%) 9 (29%) 3 (10%) 4 (13%)
Feb. 2011 18 (55%) 10 (30%) 1 (3%) 4 (12%)
Mar. 2010 15 (49%) 11 (36%) 2 (8%) 3 (10%)
Apr. 2009 19 (50%) 11 (29%) 7 (18%)
Dec. 2007 22 (68%) 5 (16%) 5 (16%)

Structure and Content of the 2012 ACW Workshop

The current ACW workshop runs for two and a half days.  It consists of a welcome reception and poster session the evening prior to the start of the workshop, seven panel sessions, two  faculty development sessions for tenured faculty, and parallel mock review panel sessions (each session consists of at most 8 participants).  The workshop organizers strive to have individuals from one or more underrepresented groups serve as panelists and lead sessions.  Table 2 shows the structure of content for the 2012 ACW.  As shown in the table, professional and research development are central to the workshop. The leader of the proposal development workshop has always been a former NSF program officer, and for the past several years it has been Dr. Timothy Pinkston, Professor and Vice Dean of Faculty Affairs, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California.  In addition, the organizers have defined the sessions to address the different phases at which participants may be in their career path.  For example, the two faculty development sessions are scheduled to run concurrently with the panels designed for the more senior attendees.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Table 2: Structure and Content of the March 2012 ACW
P1: Launching a Successful Research Program P5: Getting Promoted from Associate to Full Professor
W1: Affinity Research Group Model
Parallel Mock Review Panels
(5 groups of  size 7)
P2: Navigating Through  Promotion and Tenure P6: Getting Positioned for Opportunities in Administration
W2: Writing Competitive Research Proposals
Parallel Mock Review Panels
(5 groups of size 7)
P3: Engaging in Effective Career-Building Networking P7: Alternative Career Choices
P4: Funding Agencies


An extensive evaluation of the 2012 ACW was designed and carried out by Susan Geier of Purdue University.  Her description of the evaluation follows:

The workshop evaluation consists of three surveys administered during the four-day workshop (pre-workshop, post sessions, and post workshop) and focus groups held at the end of the workshop. Using a combination of rating scales and open-ended items, workshop surveys were designed to gather participants’ 1) demographics, 2) factors perceived by participants that are important to their professional development, 3) expectations of the workshop, 4) level of institutional support, 5) participants’ perceptions (pre-workshop and post-workshop) of abilities and knowledge related to academic career success and making professional connections. The surveys also sought to capture the effectiveness of individual workshop sessions, community building efforts and the overall value of the workshop. Moreover the data collected will provide insights into participants’ successes and challenges in their career progressions and inform future mechanisms (workshops, virtual communities, research collaborations etc.) to support the overall goals as stated above.

Susan’s final evaluation report for the March 2012 workshop will be posted at the CMD-IT website; however, the preliminary report shows extremely positive results.  Below are a few post-workshop survey comments from her report:

“Excellent workshop. Informative and encouraging. The focus on tenure-ship and research was both beneficial and enlightening.”

“Being a PhD candidate at this conference not only exposed me to the world of the academy in its “uncut” view, but it also showed me how to manage my career decisions.”

“I gained the confidence to reach out to network and collaborate for progress in an academic career.”

“The information I learned helps in terms of writing proposals, research papers, and research statements because I understand how to articulate research thoughts more clearly to a general audience.”

“I will be on a review panel later this spring & will make sure to prepare focused, succinct critiques of papers. I will also be confident in my critiques and I’ll make sure to make my opinion known.”

Personal Success Stories

It is difficult to really know what experiences and activities actually contribute to an individual’s professional success.  The dominant components are clearly the individual’s talent, work ethic, personality, and dedication.  In Table 3 we provide (with their permissions) a sample of 11 individuals who attended early ACW workshops, listing their positions in 2005 and now in 2012.  The sample represents approximately 6% of the total number of participants in the ACW workshops to date. The date given in parenthesis identifies the year of the individual’s participation in ACW.  These individuals have all become strong contributing members of the academic computing community.

As organizers of the ACW we take pride in the fact that we were able to contribute to their success in some way.

Position in 2005

Current Position 2012

Table 3: Tracking of ACW Participants
Raheem Beyah, Asst Prof, Georgia State (2007) Associate Professor, Georgia Tech
John Cavazos, Postdoc, Edinburgh (2007) Assistant Professor, Delaware
Wei Ding, PhD student, Houston (2009) Assistant Professor, UMASS – Boston
Juan Gilbert, Asst Prof, Auburn (2005) Ideas Professor Chair, HCC Division, Clemson
Charles Isbell, Asst Prof, Georgia Tech (2005) Professor, Senior Assoc Dean, Georgia Tech
Russ Joseph, Asst Prof, Northwestern  (2005) Associate Professor, Northwestern
Jose Morales, PhD student, FIU (2007) Researcher, SEI, CMU
William H. Robinson, Asst Prof, Vanderbilt (2007) Associate Professor, Vanderbilt
Cheryl Seals, Asst Prof, Auburn (2005) Associate Professor, Auburn
Hakim Weatherspoon, PhD student, University of California, Berkeley (2007) Assistant Professor, Cornell
Damon Woodard, Postdoc, Notre Dame (2005) Associate Professor, Clemson


We conclude with three important points:

  • Although similar skills development is prominent in other workshops, the authors believe that the ACW workshops fill a critical, underserved niche that provides attendees an environment in which they can relate both academically and culturally to workshop presenters, panelists, and other attendees.
  • Many of the ACW presenters and panelists are former participants with current faculty or administrative positions at majority institutions.  Thus, during informal networking, they are able to comment on both academic and cultural experiences at their current and past institutions.  Although the ACW does not directly focus on the recruitment and retention of minority graduate students, the informal networking does provide some opportunity for these kinds of conversations.
  • CRA and CRA-W faculty can be supportive by helping their colleagues understand the importance of community-building (both cultural and academic) to the recruitment and retention of graduate students and faculty who are underrepresented minorities or persons with disabilities.  The resulting communities might be real or virtual, leveraging social media technology.

Official announcement of the dates and location for the spring 2013 ACW workshop will be posted at CMD-IT website by the end of September.

Academic Career Workshops for Underrepresented Groups