Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NSBC 2016 - The Final Hoorah

Here's a recap of the highlights from Day 3 (or Day 2, depending on how you look at it) at NSBC 2016:

The final day of NSBC 2016 started with an eye opening keynote on the State of the Academy, given by the Dr. Gilbert. Statistics from his keynote came from the CRA Taulbee Survey, which annually collects salary and demographic information for faculty in Computer Science and Computer Engineering from departments that are members of the CRA. Although I expected the numbers to be low, the most interesting point made was that at this conference, those in a CS PhD program, represented ~10% of all the African American enrolled in CS  PhD programs. This doesn't seem like such a big deal until you consider the fact that in 2015, there was only 150 African Americans total enrolled in a CS PhD program in the US. The numbers for CS faculty was even lower...and got lower as the rank increased (i.e. Assistant --> Associate --> Full). And it's not just African Americans...there are even fewer Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.  This keynote made it clear just how important initiatives like NSBC, SHIP, etc. really are.

Following the keynote, we split up into our tracks again (me going back to the Future Faculty track). If I hadn't mentioned it, one nice things about these tracks is that you could bounce between them; graduate students could go to the future faculty track, undergrads could go to graduate track sessions, etc. The future faculty track broke down the various stages of getting an academic position, starting with applying.

Dr. Shaundra B. Daily led the discussion on applying for academic positions. Again, the same theme of more panel or round-table style session dominated (which, again, I just love). The application process is a common topic at workshops for students interested in faculty positions, so it was one I expected. What I didn't expect was how much detail she, and other faculty in the room, would go into about the minutia behind the process. Here are some of the stand-out questions/responses that (again) from my experiences stand out:

Q: If not looking for your specific research area, but they need faculty, do you apply? 

A (Dr. Seals): Be creative, see if you can find a way to fit your research in (i.e. other similar research)
A (Dr. Gilbert): Dr. Gilbert used an interesting analogy, which I heard for the first time when he brought it up. He compared applying to academic positions with the NFL draft. If you're the best "athlete" in the pool, regardless of what they're looking for, you may get an offer for being the truly better athlete. He also suggested making your cover letter as general enough for you to shine without having the specific qualifications they're looking for.
A (Me): Just to chime in based on advice I've gotten previously, focus on the skills you've gained and how they could be applicable to the position they're looking for.

Q: How do you stand out coming from HBCU when you want to work at an R1?

A (Dr. Gilbert): His recommendation is to rely on who you worked with and what you do; even if you can’t get into one today doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow. Do great work wherever you go and you can move up. Dr. Gilbert ended up at Auburn because ran into a PhD student at a conference that said “we’re hiring”; had it not been for that encounter, he wouldn't have even applied. He also noted that, at the end of the day, you don’t know who’s reviewing your stuff.
A(Dr. Seals): She recommends you apply, but also apply places where you feel more likely to get offer. They’re looking to see your pedigree to see if you will increase the university's pedigree (i.e. getting awards). She noted you should also consider research intensive HBCUs, to ease the transition to an R.

Follow-up Q: Are we saying that an HBCU degree is not golden?

A (Dr. Gilbert): Most of who will look at your application don't know about your institution most likely. Certain universities they’re looking for, but your pedigree can trump any preconceived notions they have about you or your institution.

A(Dr. Seals): Get on larger institutions’ radars early; get post-doc fellowships to have money to go to the institution of your choice.

Q: Can a post-doc increase your pedigree?

A(Dr. Seals): She hired mostly post-docs who performed well during post-doc AND came in with money

A (Dr. Gilbert): It goes back to who did you work with; this is opportunity to boost that.

Next, Dr. Gilbert gave an (impressive) impromptu talk on the interview process. This is a topic less frequently covered, especially in detail, at future faculty workshops. Despite using no slides, Dr. Gilbert was able to give detailed, insightful advice on how to prepare before the interviews, what to expect during the interviews, and even what to do once you have offers. Rather than going into too much detail on the topics here, I may add some details to a future blog post on my experiences at future faculty workshops. OR I might hold out to encourage folks to attend ;).

The future faculty sessions concluded with a talk on Preparing in Advance for Tenure, given by Dr. Raheem Beyah. This was another stand-out session in that most future faculty workshops that I've been to haven't focused on the tenure process too much (outside of speaking on the balance between research, teaching, and service). My only complaint is that I wish we could have spent more time talking about the tenure process, particularly what happens once you have tenure (i.e. options for those interested in working at "mentoring-focused" universities). Maybe something I'll put that in the post-survey I still need to submit *embarrassed face*.

The final session, prior to the dinner and keynote, was unexpected but made perfect sense in hindsight. A major part of life in academia, or life in general, is being smart about money. Issac Roach of Issac Roach Consulting spoke with us about financial planning and investing. I love an interactive talk, and this one was another one of those. He handed out worksheets for budget planning that, although I did not fill out then, I plan to use to help improve my budgeting skills (because as a grad student I have so much money floating around :D). He discussed everything from investing to setting financial goals; super valuable as I'm about to be (hopefully) managing a lab, which means managing funds.

For the dinner keynote, Joe Johnson provided some "mentally decapitating" words to conclude the conference...this includes giving away $20 to one of the members of the audience! He, along with meeting the aaphdcs listserv founders, made for a perfect ending to an amazing three days. I can't wait to see what's in store next year...NSBC 2017 here I come! XD

Other resources:
- "Building a House for Diversity" by R. Roosevelt Thomas, JR; Majorie I. Woodruff

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