Monday, June 20, 2016

NSBC 2016 - Day 1

For anyone interested in what went down at NSBC 2016, this blog post summarizes the sessions I attended during the conference. There were many others, but as I stated in my previous post I focused on the future faculty track.

This conference started in the evening when everyone arrived with a reception at the hotel. This was a great chance for folks to get acquainted in a casual setting before the sessions began the next day. I got a chance to meet some people the very first day (and re-connect with some I'd met previously).  This set the tone for the rest of the conference; friendly faces, intelligent conversations, and GREAT food :).

The next morning, Dr. Juan Gilbert kicked everything off with a great welcome message. Not only is he one of the people who started NSBC and helped organize the conference, he brought a CONGREGATION of University of Florida current and future CS PhD students. A one group inspiration (seeing as I'm willing to bet for any given institution, you won't see that many African American CS PhDs) that contributed to the overall message of the convention. 

The keynote was given by Nancy Douyon, Googler and all around bad-ass. She gave an engaging keynote on building your personal brand and putting the best you forward. Now, this is a common topic among conferences targeted at minorities. However, Nancy not only stressed the importance of personal brand and online presence, she provided unique (and sound) advice for managing your brand. She made suggestions such as using Google Alerts to manage your search results, publicly tweeting what you want others to find, keeping your LinkedIn up to date, and using a website or portfolio to tell your story.

Next up, Coach Sandra Roach gave an interesting talk on prioritizing values and setting life goals. One theme for this conference, which I very much enjoy, is the focus on work/life balance. Coach Roach's talk, as well as others', focused on various facts of this topic. We tend to talk about these things in passing, but knowing our values and how we prioritize the things in our lives is important for growth (and sometimes necessary change). 

She made some great points, including but not limited to the following:

  • Emotions affect productivity, so good to be aware of your feelings and things that could affect your emotions
  • Organize things you have to do (lots of software available to do it); the Priority Satisfaction Model (depicted right) can help with organizing.
  • Take action on value prioritization by setting P.O.W.E.R. Goals (Purpose-driven, Outlined, Written-down, End-date, Results-oriented)
  • Always fight for your priorities - and they will change over time!
  • Celebrate your successes!

At this point, we all broke up into our sessions. The first future faculty session was focused on finding the right institution for you. I was particularly interested in this session; my biggest struggle as I'm getting closer to finishing has been decided where I want to go when I graduate. The panel consisted of three heavy hitters in the CS community: Dr. Elva Jones (Winston-Salem State), Dr. Gloria Washington (Howard University), and Dr. Cheryl Seals (Auburn University). We were also fortunate enough to have other faculty in the audience that could chime in with additional advice (Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Shaundra Daily to name a couple). As usual, everyone had a different path to how they got where they are today, so it was definitely great to hear different perspectives. I won't go into too much detail on this here, perhaps later in a blog post on what I've learned from the various future faculty workshops I've attended :).

The last session of the day was for everyone again, and focused on building professional networks. As I stated in my previous blog post, there was a HUGE emphasis on networking at this conference. And not just networking inside your peer groups, but also networking outside you peer groups (and sometimes comfort zones). This session was a panel; NSBC had a lot of panels, which I LOVE. The panel consisted of Dr. Gilbert, Nancy Douyon, and Dr. Shawn Gittens and was moderated by Joe Johnson himself (kinda cool!). I didn't get to catch the beginning of the panel, but I did catch the end of it. Here are a few points that stood out to me from this panel (some are direct quotes and some are my attempts at paraphrasing panel responses):

Q: What advice do you have for dealing with more difficult personalities in CS or situations where you may truly be the only one?

A (Dr. Gilbert): “Understand ignorance is alive and well and put it in its place. Take the opportunity to show them who you are and what you’re capable of.” 

A (Nancy): Find some way to connect with them; try to appreciate who they are and help them appreciate who you are.

Q: How do you blend in in an environment where you stand out?

A (Dr. Gilbert): For him, it turned out to be the best thing that he didn’t have other African Americans around. He hung out with who he was around and learned all he could about and from them. As a result, he is where he is now. He also learned how much harder it was for other students (i.e. international students) to get their degree. He recommended we embed ourselves with them and learn their ways; you’re going to deal with people like that no matter what. It might not seem like it at the time, but it’s an opportunity.

A (Dr. Gittens): "Don’t be afraid to make friends outside your department if needed."

Q: How do you be consistent when building relationships while being resilient in real life situations?

A (Nancy): Some networks are seasonal; not all networks are meant to grow with you. Be aware of the relationships and if they’re helping or hurting; the structure might have to change.

A (Dr. Gittens): You don’t have to talk to everyone in your network everyday; some might be frequent while others are only every once in a while.

Finally, to close the day, we took a group picture (see pic in previous post)! It's pretty hard to see everyone in the picture, but just the sight of so much techy melanin is beyond beautiful! And of course, thanks to my signature red hair, it's not too hard to find me :)

Stay tuned for the last installation of my 3-part post on NSBC 2016!

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