[Published originally in the May 2004 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 16/No. 3, pp. 2, 23.]
CRA-W's Graduate Cohort Workshop
By Ishwinder Kaur, Julie Weber, Jan Cuny, Lori Pollock, and Mary Lou Soffa
Across all academic fields, the percentage of women who earn doctorates is gradually approaching parity with the percentage of men who earn doctorates. If the rates of increase continue as in the past 10 years, women will reach parity with men with respect to earned doctorates across all fields by 2007-08, and across science and engineering by 2012-13. However, women will not achieve parity with men in Computer Science until 2088! . CRA-W's newest program, the Graduate Cohort Program, aims to address this underrepresentation by building cohorts of graduate students and mentoring them through their graduate years. The kickoff event for the program was a workshop sponsored by Microsoft, with additional support from the National Science Foundation and the ACM SIGS.
In this article, we describe the goals and structure of the Graduate Cohort Program, and include student responses to the first Cohort workshop held on February 6 and 7, 2004.
Excited by the "incredibly cool" prospect of joining the first cohort, 102 women from 63 academic institutions across North America attended the Grad Cohort Workshop in Seattle, Washington. The attendees were all in their first year of graduate school in either computer science or computer engineering programs. Two participants commented:
The goals of the workshop were to provide the students with access to information, a variety of female role models, networking skills and experience, and a peer support community.
Many departments do not have standardized means of relaying information to students, but instead rely on informal social networks. For various reasons, women may be less likely to participate in these networks; their male adviser may be more comfortable engaging in outside social activities with students of the same gender, for example, or the student may be reticent to join groups and activities they perceive as male-dominated. The Cohort Workshop included a number of formal presentations covering topics such as how to: 1) get through the first years of grad school, 2) build a research project, 3) finish a thesis, 4) become established in a research community, and 5) get involved in the professional communities beyond your department. Attendees commented:
Graduate students need to see a variety of female role models with a range of attitudes and approaches to life. They need to know successful women who have been able to balance the demands of career and family life, and they need to be exposed to the many rewards of a research career. Eighteen senior women from academics and industry provided these role models. Students commented:
Networking is clearly important. It gives students a chance to meet others with similar interests and concerns, find role models, build a trusted group of advisers, experience a wider range of research, make technical contacts, and become known. The workshop included a session on Networking Skills and a number of social events (breaks, lunch, and a reception with additional guests from Microsoft and the University of Washington) that provided opportunities to practice newly acquired skills.
Peer support has a significant impact on persistence in CS&E graduate programs, and perhaps beyond. Women may well have close professional relationships with men in their home departments, but there is a special value to having a critical mass of female colleagues as well. The primary goal of the Cohort Project is to create self-sustaining peer-support groups among the participants. Many participants listed the knowledge that they were "not alone" in their experiences as the most important result of the workshop.
Over the next few years, the Graduate Cohort Program will provide ongoing mentoring and support to the students who attended the workshop. Plans include both electronic activities (e-mail discussion groups, virtual panels with senior women participating, electronic poster sessions, research overviews by senior women, etc.), and face-to-face, research-related activities (regional meetings, matching mentors with mentees for specific conferences, using bulletin boards to connect cohort members attending the same conferences, etc.). Our goal is to continue the Cohort Program by inviting the 2004 Cohort along with a 2005 Cohort to a second workshop next year. In addition, we would like to expand the program size. This year more than 200 students applied for our 100 openings; ideally we could welcome all interested students. CRA-W is currently looking for additional funding to support the Graduate Cohort Program.
Thanks to this year's speakers and sponsors (Microsoft, NSF, and the ACM SIGS) for making the workshop possible!
Ishwinder Kaur is a graduate student in the CIS Department at the University of Oregon and Julie Weber is a graduate student in the EECS Department at Tufts University. Jan Cuny (University of Oregon, CRA board vice chair), Lori Pollock (University of Delaware), and Mary Lou Soffa (University of Pittsburgh and CRA board member) are coordinators of the Grad Cohort for Women.
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