This article is published in the May 2016 issue.

2016 Grad Cohort: Strengthening the Community of Women in Computing

Grad Cohort Logo

CRA-W recently hosted its latest Graduate Cohort Workshop (Grad Cohort) on April 15-16, in San Diego, Calif. Thanks to support from various sponsors, more than 550 female graduate students in computer science attended the event, up from 365 in 2015. Despite its significant growth, the program remains selective; more than 1,000 students applied for this year’s workshop. At the gathering, 31 speakers from industry, academia, and government shared their advice and strategies for success in graduate school.


Participants at the 2016 Grad Cohort Workshop.

This year’s workshop included plenary sessions as well as three tracks for first-, second-, and third-year students. After a warm welcome from the workshop co-chairs Lori Clarke (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Sandhya Dwarkadas (University of Rochester), and Ayanna Howard (Georgia Tech), participants learned about how to make the most of the event during the Grad Cohort Alum panel. Assistant Director for CISE at NSF Jim Kurose delivered the keynote address, “Growing the Future of Computing: It takes a community,” and answered questions from the audience. He even captured the overwhelmingly positive response to the query, “How many of you have been supported by the National Science Foundation?” Also, many students took advantage of the opportunity to share their research and sharpen their presentation skills during the poster session, which was split into two sessions this year. And CRA-W used the gathering to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding.

Hands Up

Students raised their hands if they have been supported by the National Science Foundation. (Photo Credit: Jim Kurose)

Imagine going to class or work everyday and rarely seeing anyone who looks like you or shares your cultural experiences or background. This is a situation many women in computing face today; sometimes, this leads to feelings of isolation, because they often experience being the only woman in a room full of men. Now imagine walking into a conference filled with people who share many of these same experiences. Grad Cohort brings together both female graduate students in their first three years of graduate school and senior computing researchers to build and strengthen the community of women in computer science. And the result: students are better prepared to succeed, and the support network simultaneously diminishes feelings of isolation and encourages many students to stay in the research field and pursue an advanced degree.


A Grad Cohort participant asks the speakers a question.

It’s great that we bring all of these people together, but how do we evaluate the success of the workshop? CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP) conducts comparative evaluations on Grad Cohort and other projects. Its evaluations reveal that terminal M.S. students who participated in Grad Cohort showed an increased interest in pursuing a Ph.D.

Grad Cohort advances the talent development pillar of CRA’s mission, by helping students develop valuable skills that prepare them to achieve success throughout their research careers. In 1991, the CRA-W committee was created to increase the success and participation of women in computing research and education, and at the Grad Cohort reception, CRA-W celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding.

The 2016 CRA-W Grad Cohort Workshop was made possible through generous contributions by Microsoft Research, Association for Computing Machinery, Computing Research Association, The U.S. Department of Energy–Office of Science, National Science Foundation, Google, IBM, Intel, a private foundation, Two Sigma, Yahoo, AAAI, Amazon, ACM SIGACT, ACM SIGARCH, ACM SIGCHI, ACM SIGCOMM, ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM SIGIR, ACM SIGMICRO, ACM SIGOPS, ACM SIGPLAN, ACM SIGSOFT, D. E. Shaw Research, a private contributor, and, in many cases, department funds from participating universities and institutions.

To get a feel for the conference, check out this time-lapse video (shot by CRA’s Peter Harsha) and the CRA-W Flickr gallery. We are looking forward to Grad Cohort 2017. Click here to sign up for workshop updates, and consider becoming a sponsor.