“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could”.
— Zig Ziglar, renowned motivational speaker
Good mentoring can have an outsized impact on the careers of students, especially during early stages of their career. Countless stories that credit the right advice at the right time for launching outstanding career trajectories are commonplace. Today, most of the mentoring that students receive happens within their universities. However, there is great value in cultivating mentors outside a student’s immediate circle (advisors and immediate collaborators) for this can potentially provide holistic inputs in the crucial process of transforming students into independent researchers.
In the computer architecture community, we have recently taken a number of initiatives to help mentor PhD students, however, we believe that there is a need for more mentoring opportunities and especially for focused mentoring opportunities.
Why more mentoring opportunities?
Mentorship can take many paths: providing feedback on research and career opportunities, helping build connections with other researchers, etc. Major conferences are a great venue to facilitate all of these. However, early stage PhD students do not generally have accepted conference papers, usually a prerequisite, to attend conferences. So, they cannot readily avail the benefits of attending conferences. While workshops may help bridge this gap, most workshops focus on a particular research theme and students working on “not hot” or not well established research areas are left out. Furthermore, even if a student does get to attend a conference/workshop, there is no denying that they may be hesitant to approach an established architect to seek guidance.
We are not the first to identify a need for mentoring opportunities and our community has already taken steps to provide avenues for students to seek mentorship. For example, ACM SRC provides students with a mechanism to get early stage feedback, meet a senior architect at ISCA, and keynotes and panels arranged as part of the Career workshop@MICRO are all excellent opportunities for students. However, these efforts happen in isolation and would require a student to attend multiple conferences to receive well-rounded advice. We believe having all of these mechanisms as part of one workshop that specifically targets early stage students would complement existing efforts. Next, we outline what we believe such a workshop should provide its students.
Prefetching reviewer feedback
Conducting and disseminating good research is hard. Early feedback on ongoing work could be immensely helpful in making it less so. While PhD advisors do most of the heavy-lifting in this regard and Steve Swanson’s recent blog on this matter (Want People to Read Your Paper? Consider the Worst-Case Reviewer) is an excellent resource, getting directed feedback on an early stage idea can be very useful. It’s not unusual for even experienced researchers to receive unexpected reviews for their conference submissions. If we can prefetch these reviews and provide students with actionable feedback early, it will greatly improve the quality of their research. As discussed before, while workshops do provide feedback on early stage work, that opportunity only exists for a limited set of research topics.
To provide feedback regardless of research topic, a mentoring workshop should accept submissions on ongoing work from all areas of computer architecture (broadly defined). An important consideration for workshop organizers is to have a large enough PC to have enough expertise on a broad set of topics. Further, reviews provided to authors must factor in the fact that submissions are early stage ideas and focus on providing constructive feedback that help authors with their corresponding conference submissions down the road. For example, a mentoring workshop reviews should answer questions like: “Potential top-tier: Is the problem scope sufficient for a top-tier submission? If possible, please suggest extensions.”, “Showstoppers: What are some important discussions you think a full submission should include absence of which will cause you to rate the paper negatively?”. We believe such directed feedback can help students think of their ideas in a holistic manner.
A key task (and often one that involves some anxiety) in front of an early career student is to form meaningful relationships with researchers outside of his home institutions. Mentoring workshops can facilitate these relationships by arranging 1:1 mentoring sessions for all attendees with established researchers in the field. Additionally, organizers can try to ensure that attendees are paired-up with researchers working in similar research areas, so that beyond general advise, some new collaborations are initiated. Further, attendees should be encouraged to mingle with other attendees helping them form a strong peer network as well.
Learning to be a researcher
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, we believe input from the community can go a long way in guiding a budding computer architect in the art of conducting good research. While articles like Bobbie Manne’s “The Road to Success In Industry” are already a step in this direction, we believe that mentoring workshops should expose attendees to different ways of doing good research and make them aware of the various career opportunities available to them and how to work towards them. Having keynotes and panels are a great way to achieve this.
Introducing the Young Architect Workshop
Based on thoughts stated above, we decided to organize the first Young Architect Workshop (YArch) at HPCA ‘19. YArch aims to provide early-stage graduate students feedback on their on-going work that will improve their chances at major conferences and provide them with opportunities to meet and learn from seasoned architects. If you’d like to join us, please find ways in which you can get involved below:
– Sponsor YArch: We are looking for sponsors to subsidize student participation in our workshop. If you can help us secure funding for the workshop, please contact us!
– Join the PC: We are looking to add more PC members. Please let us know if you’d like to join.
– Mentor students: If you are going to be at HPCA and would like to mentor students, please let us know. We would like to pair you up with a student working in your general area of research.
– Encourage submissions: Please encourage students to submit to our workshop.
– Feedback: If you have any ideas on how to improve YArch, please reach out to us!
– Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the authors
Shaizeen Aga (http://www.shaizeen.com/) is a researcher at AMD Research. Her current work focusses on accelerating interesting workloads using processing in memory paradigm and designing mechanisms to optimize data movement in heterogeneous systems.
Aasheesh Kolli (https://www.aasheeshkolli.com) is an Assistant Professor at Penn State. His current work focusses on next-generation memory systems, particularly on persistent memory and disaggregated memory systems.
Shaizeen is a Researcher at AMD. Her postings are her own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied. GD-5.
Disclaimer: These posts are written by individual contributors to share their thoughts on the Computer Architecture Today blog for the benefit of the community. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal, belong solely to the blog author and do not represent those of ACM SIGARCH or its parent organization, ACM.