Archive for September 28, 2018

Preparing students for a research career: Gregory Abowd’s 30 PhD Graduates

Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing did an article on my friend Gregory Abowd and his 30 PhD graduates, many of whom have continued in academia. You can find the article here.

The “Abowd family” is a real thing. The article ends talking about how Gregory and his students and their students get together at conferences. I’ve seen pictures of these events. There’s a strong sense of kinship and support in the group, inspired by Gregory.

Here at the University of Michigan, we have just hired two second-generation members of the Abowd family. Gabriela Marcu (see webpage here) and Nikola Banovic (see webpage here) both earned their PhD’s at CMU, working with former Gregory students Jen Mankoff and Anind Dey (who have now moved to U. Washington).  What’s striking to me about both Gabriela and Nikola is that they started down the path to academic research by doing undergraduate research with other Abowd graduates: Gillian Hayes at Irvine and Khai Troung at Toronto (respectively).

What does it take to support future academic researchers while they are still undergraduates?  Obviously, we don’t want all of our undergraduates to become researchers. But we need some. Academic researchers in computing perform a useful and important role. We particularly want more women getting into computing research, and kudos to Google for awarding fifteen grants to promote more women getting into computing research (see article here). We do not have enough CS academics today (as I described in this blog post), and that’s part of the struggle in dealing with the enrollment boom. So we want more — how do we get them?  What do we do at the undergraduate level to make it more likely that we get graduates like Gabriela and Nikola?

We need to expect that CS undergraduates will have careers other than software developers. We often build our undergraduate programs assuming that all of our graduates will become software developers, or will manage software developers. But you can do a lot with a CS degree. We have to build into our programs the features that will help students succeed in the career that they choose, including becoming academic researchers.

One of my colleagues in the Engineering Education Research program here, Joi Mondisa, researches mentoring. She just gave the first EER Seminar, and talked about the importance of being “treated/advised like family.”  Mentors give their mentees honest and valuable advice as if the mentee were a family member.

I suspect that that’s part of Gregory’s success — that the notion of being in the “Abowd family” is something that the members feel and actively participate in. That’s likely a lesson that we can use in the future. Personal mentoring relationships play a big role in encouraging future researchers.  I don’t know how to build personal “like family” research relationships into an undergraduate program, especially at the enrollment scales we see today. But it’s an important problem to think about, both because we should support a variety of outcomes for our CS undergraduates and because one way of managing the enrollment crisis is to grow more CS faculty.

 

September 28, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments


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