Thursday, December 27, 2007

Women in CS a Big Success!

Although it's been a couple of weeks since the event was held, I wanted to update you all on how successful the women's evening I organized ended up being! If you happen to be a female in a computer program at your school, you might be able to get funding from your department to hold a similar event. Trust me, when the girls stay until 8pm on a Friday evening and are excited for the next meet up, it's worth the effort!

Our get together featured a Carleton computer science alumnus named Melissa. She graciously agreed to spend her Friday evening telling the current collection of female students about her experiences both at Carleton and at her new job as a software team lead. The audience was relieved to hear that being one of the few women in the field was not really so bad. In fact, other than the occasional effort on the part of the males to speak a bit less brusque around her, she found it to be perfectly ok to be different!

One really good piece of advice from Melissa was about finding some time to be girly. You won't necessarily have much opportunity to do that nine to five, so trying out some other activities where you either simply get to interact with other women or actually do girly things is important. For example, Melissa sells Mary Kay products because of the meetings with other women who do the same. You might enjoy book clubs, photography groups, and so on.

Of course, this event was made possible thanks to the Google Ambassador Program! Google supplied the pizza and, as an added bonus for this specific event, some neat giveaway swag as well!

Each participant received a Google umbrella and sticky notes with the Google Women logo. In addition, a few lucky winners were drawn for a really nice mug!

A huge thanks to Carleton's School of Computer Science, Google, Melissa, and everyone who attended this event, and hope to see you next time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why I Like Grad School

As I sit here in a momentary pause between one major end-of-semester project and another, at my dining room table because my office desk has become so piled up with 'to-do' stuff that I can't even use it until after the holiday clean-up, I can't help but reflect on my first semester of grad school.

Sure, the work can accumulate pretty quickly and unexpectedly at the end of the term, but here's the good part: this is the work that you pick out for yourself! Term projects, while they obviously have to fall into the realm of the courses they are assigned in, can be also related to anything you want.

Take my GIS class as an example. I could have chosen a project that would help me remember some of the material I learned in the computational geometry grad class I took in the last year of my undergrad. Or perhaps I could explore some interesting user interface programming and design. Or maybe learn a whole new data structure for storing massive amounts of spatial data. Instead, I decided to do a project that uses artificial intelligence techniques. It's an area that I've been somewhat intrigued by but know little about. I'll get into more details some other day, but the teaser is that I will be using Self-Organizing Maps to select relevant roads from a road network.

The other nice bonus about these projects is that you usually only have to choose a journal or conference paper and implement something described therein. In certain cases, this is a godsend, as it is slightly less dangerous (and hopefully less work) than researching something completely new. This is the route I took for the GIS class. On the other hand, you usually can go the research route and try something new. I did this for my other class on Entertainment Technologies, but I don't want to give any details yet on the off chance that I can actually go somewhere with that research.

All in all, it's not so bad being busy working on something you're interested in. Stressful, yes, but also kind of fun. Remember that when selecting a topic for your next school project.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Career Day

A local high school is hosting a career day tomorrow, and I am going to be presenting with my supervisor here at Carleton's School of Computer Science. I am hoping that this opportunity to talk about what computer science is all about in front of two different groups of high school students will help me determine which topics they are interested in and use that information when preparing for the mini-course I'm giving this spring.

The presentation as it already exists is pretty good. The main idea is to show the students various aspects of computer science -- from graphics and geometry to computational biology to networking and security (and a few in between) -- using some fun examples the students can relate to.

I added a few fun slides in hopes that we might be able to keep their attention for the whole 40 minutes we have to talk. For example, after mentioning games and graphics, I stuck in a video trailer for Grand Turismo HD, which showcases the best graphics I've ever seen for a video game. To tie together the slides on networking and security, I added a snapshot of Facebook. I'm hoping to add just a little bit about audio because not many people realize how well computer science and music can tie together.

Here's hoping that we can convince a few young adults to consider pursuing a career in computer science, particularly here at Carleton!