In June of this year, CMD-IT, in collaboration with AccessComputing and CAHSI, hosted our annual Academic Careers Workshop (ACW), where academic mentors connected with participants from underrepresented communities in computing. The workshop aligns with CMD-IT’s overall mission to fully engage African Americans/Blacks, Native Americans/Indigenous, Hispanics/Latinx, and People with Disabilities in computing and IT while simultaneously promoting innovation through inclusion and supporting equity in career advancement.
Keep reading to learn more about this excellent mentorship opportunity. We spoke with two recent attendees–one an Associate Professor and the other a Ph.D. Candidate–about their experience gathering advice and insight into key topics like grant writing, networking, tenure, and more at the ACW 2022.
Key Takeaways From the CMD-IT Academic Careers Workshop 2022
The ACW fosters mentorship of assistant- and associate-level faculty, senior doctoral students, and postdocs in computing about academic careers. Panels of diverse senior faculty discuss a wide range of topics, including the tenure and promotion process, launching a research program, effective teaching strategies, promotion to full professor, effective strategies for proposal writing, and the Affinity Research Group Model for effective research teams. The workshop also included a panel of representatives from NSF, DARPA, and ONR, providing details about funding opportunities in computing.
Dr. Luis M. Vicente, who attended the workshop this year, said, “I decided to attend the workshop to learn about proposal writing and effective teaching strategies.” Dr. Vicente is Director & Associate Professor in the ECECS Department at Universidad Politécnica (Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico).
The ACW includes a 2.5-hour workshop session on proposal writing, given by Dr. Timothy Pinkston, a Professor and the George Pfleger Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Southern California and former NSF Program Director in the CISE Directorate. ACW also holds mock proposal review sessions, whereby participants have an opportunity to review actual proposals. Mock review sessions provide significant insights into effective proposal writing.
Dr. Vicente was able to engage with proposal writing in this way, but also with teaching tips. His biggest takeaways from the workshop were to network and introduce himself to the right funding people.
Another attendee, Obianuju Okafor, decided to attend because she is about to graduate from her doctoral program. Obianuju is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Research Innovations in Software Engineering Lab at the University of North Texas. She was interested in networking with academics, getting career advice, and learning how to write grant proposals. Before attending the ACW, Obianuju was leaning toward a career in industry, but now she sees the perks of being in academia. She learned about research initiation grants, which provide funding to new faculty while they launch their research.
Obianuju reflected, “I learned other important things such as the many benefits to focusing on the teaching side of professorship, in addition to the research side. I also learned not to be shy when it comes to applying for funding or other opportunities. Really go for it. I heard people talk about the opportunities that come when you keep trying.”
ACW Attendees Experience the Power of Networking and Mentorship For Academic Career Success
Many academics have a significant worry on their mind: tenure. Dr. Vicente said, “Time is very limited, and risks are high. One of the greatest challenges professionals in academia face is focusing energy effectively to get tenure.” The ACW dives into this topic deeply to give participants the tools to achieve tenure.
The workshop also includes a panel of representatives from different funding agencies. Dr. Vicente appreciated attending the ACW in person for this reason. He said, “Besides being able to better focus while at ACW, being in-person gives you the opportunity to get to know other faculty and meet important people from the NSF, DARPA, and other funding agencies.”
Obianuju’s experience was similarly fruitful. “My advice is that anyone interested in the workshop go for it with an open mind. I learned a lot. Take lots of notes so that later you can go back and look through what you learned and apply it to your daily life.”
She added, “Another thing was that of sitting with a different person at each of the lunches and dinners. I was able to gather a lot of advice. These interactions were where I was able to learn about the opportunities in academia that I otherwise would have missed. Go out of your way to network.”
Obianuju tied this back to the challenges she faces as a Black woman in research. “There are not that many Black women in computer science. So when it comes to collaboration, you really have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. For an introvert that can be especially hard. The lack of diversity in this field can also stifle your growth. You have to fight for opportunities and hustle for representation because there are not a lot of people that look like you.”
For professionals like Obianuju and Dr. Vicente, events like the ACW provide a safe space to connect with diverse tenured faculty. Obianuju said, “When you try to break into certain rooms, it helps to have someone who looks like you and can advocate for you. Being the only Black woman in a lot of these rooms can be very discouraging. If you don’t have a community that’s going to support you continuously, it can affect your productivity. People also underestimate you a lot. This is how you feel breaking into the industry; you anticipate additional challenges once you’re through the door. It is doubly difficult as an international person, because you are even more limited in your choices.”
At this year’s Academic Careers Workshop, Obianuju, Dr. Vicente, and other participants were able to see the opportunities–rather than just the limitations–that they will encounter in their careers.
You can learn more about the ACW here: cmd-it.org/program/current/academic-career-workshop. We will be posting information regarding how to apply for the 2023 workshop soon.