The 5th annual Undergraduate Architecture Mentoring (uArch) Workshop was co-located with the International Symposium of Computer Architecture (ISCA) 2023, hosted in Orlando, Florida. As with the previous year, uArch was conducted in a hybrid format, combining in-person and virtual elements.
The workshop aims to introduce undergraduate and early master’s students to research and career opportunities in the field of computer architecture. The program covers a wide array of topics, encompassing insights into graduate school lifestyle and technical sessions that explore past, current, and future research directions. Additionally, there are mentoring sessions designed to provide guidance on applying to graduate school and navigating the ever-evolving architecture research landscape. Moreover, uArch fosters opportunities for networking, enabling students to interact with their peers as well as established architects in academia and industry.
A few snippets of the testimonials from the 2023 cohort:
“Getting to interact and hear from people that I read about was an eye opening experience. It introduced me to the cutting edge in the field and confirmed that I want to further explore computer architecture.”
“My biggest takeaway from attending the workshop was that it solidified my interest in applying to graduate school in computer architecture, and instilled confidence that I was capable of this. It was inspiring to see how many experienced architects at the workshop were willing to dedicate their time to share advice and also divulge the struggles they might have experienced throughout graduate school, with us undergraduates…
I definitely took away actionable advice from the graduate school application panel that will be helpful when I’m writing my applications… I also took away tangible, and technical knowledge during the first keynote speaker’s talk, Partha, and by asking him several questions after his talk about hardware accelerator design and how to choose an interesting/relevant topic of study for graduate school.”
“I really appreciated the fact that I was able to meet with people who were in academia”
“I really enjoyed the “Office Hours” session where we did rotations and got to meet many professors during this time. They were all happy to give advice, and passionate about explaining their research areas,”
The goal every year is to attract undergraduates and masters from all corners of the globe, with a particular emphasis on regions relevant to the conference’s geographical location. This was all possible through the relentless outreach by the organizers, where we reached out to faculty in Computer Architecture and Systems to spread the word and extend this opportunity to their students.
For the 2023 edition, our focus was on non-traditional schools, with a primary emphasis on undergraduate Institutions, including liberal arts, historically Black & Hispanic colleges and universities, and women-serving institutions, primarily in North America and some internationally. We collectively reached out to 200 professors from across institutions to provide them with the necessary information to spread the word. To encourage expanded reach and greater participation by students regardless of financial means, we introduced two types of travel grants this year: a matching grant and the full grant. Full grant is sponsored completely through uArch funds.
The uArch workshop alongside the more selective full travel grant, also enabled professors and universities to cover part of the travel and expenditure through matching travel grants. The goal of the grant was to increase participation through partial sponsorship. This allowed us to increase the number of students we could sponsor by 50%. As a result of these efforts, we received an overwhelming response, receiving approximately 260 applicants from across the world.
We got some amazing applications. However, with the available resources we could only support 38 in-person and ~60 virtual attendees. As part of the application, every candidate had to provide a statement of interest, which was reviewed to determine their interest in graduate education and what they would get out of uArch.
Pie chart shows the represented countries in selected in-person applicants in uArch 2023
Pie chart shows the represented schools in selected in-person applicants in uArch 2023
Pie chart shows the represented countries in selected virtual applicants in uArch 2023
There is a lot more work to do here. We want higher representation from universities across the world. For this, support from the entire community is paramount.
How can the community help
Sponsor more matching grant students: if you have some fantastic undergraduates and masters students interested in research kindly consider supporting them to join uArch through the matching grant program.
Mentor the students: many students who attended uArch would significantly benefit from mentors during their graduate application, developing the research interest and agenda, applying to schools, and finding collaborative opportunities for research. If you are interested in mentoring these students please fill this form or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Industry sponsorship: We got some sponsorship from industry and through the matching grant program but alas, it is never enough. We were able to sponsor 15% of the applicants to attend in-person, but we had many more talented students whom we would have liked to support. We as a community need to move forth and promote these students, hence it is important to spread the word so that we can expand the workshop.
Join the organizers club: uArch is always looking for passionate people who are interested in organizing the workshop. This includes, participating in the meetings to determine the logistics of the workshop, decide the agenda, review applications, and facilitate the actual workshop. If you are interested please email us as email@example.com.
Computer Architecture Research Landscape: This technical session covered history, current state-of-the-art research, and challenging open problems in computer architecture. Our first keynote was presented by Dr. Parthasarathy (Partha) Ranganathan who discussed topics on hardware accelerators and designing systems at scale. The second keynote was given by Professor Reetuparna Das, titled “Never Say Never”. Reetuparna not only delivered an empowering talk about never limiting oneself by roadblocks and what may seem ‘impossible’ at the moment, but also provided insights on research in compute cache.
The Route to Graduate School: The students are eager to understand a simple yet elusive question, “How to create a strong application package for graduate school?”. This brought forth an engaging panel discussion on “Applying to Graduate School”, featuring faculty members from various institutions across the globe. During this session, students asked questions about the experiences that could enhance their chances of admission. The panelists provided practical tips on writing statements, rating criteria for letters of recommendation, how undergraduates can get involved in research, and how to identify their “fit” with potential labs and advisors.
Life in Graduate School: This panel comprised senior and junior PhD students who offered their perspectives on what PhD life is all about. This panel provided a valuable sneak peek for prospective students into the world of incoming phDs – how they select their schools, find advisors, conduct impactful research, collaborate with industry, and most importantly, balance their social life with their doctoral program.
Life after Graduate School: This panel included established architects from industry and academia. The discussion then dived into various opportunities PhDs have and different paths students can take, whether it be joining academia or pursuing careers in industry. The panelists answered questions pertaining to their experiences during and after graduation and how they secured jobs after completing their PhD.
Office hours with Professors: To conclude the workshop, we held office hours with faculty. Both in-person and virtual students had the chance to meet with faculty members for 15 minutes in a round-robin fashion. Office hours are a unique opportunity for mutual engagement between students and faculty. On the one hand, the students received dedicated time with faculty to better understand their research areas and how they recruit students. On the other hand, the faculty had a direct avenue to interact with potential students. Our in-person and virtual faculty represented over 35 universities, further enriching the diversity of perspectives and expertise available to the students during this session.
It Doesn’t End Here
The work does not end at the workshop, instead, in the future we plan to: (1) pair these students with senior graduate students who are pursuing a Ph.D. degree in computer architecture and build a mentor-mentee relationship, (2) continue our guidance throughout the graduate application process, (3) introduce them to potential advisors, and (4) extend it to other communities and conferences. More ideas are always welcome.
None of this would be possible without the generous support from our sponsors, ACM SIGARCH, Meta, Google, and AMD, whom we are thankful to. We would like to thank the professors who also generously participated in the matching grant program. We hope we will get more support from both the industry and academic partners to bring forth these outstanding students.
Thank you for the support from the Community
We greatly appreciate the community’s continued overwhelming support. uArch would not be possible without the time, effort, and interest of the keynote speakers, panelists, faculty members who held office hours, and student mentors. This group effort allowed us to involve approximately 100 students. We extend our sincerest gratitude to these community members.
About the Authors
Irene Wang is a PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests focus on designing computing systems for large-scale data center workloads with an emphasis on enabling sustainable computing. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, she completed her Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia.
Divya Mahajan is an Assistant Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology ECE and CS. Prior to that she was a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Azure. Her research interests lie in devising next-generation sustainable compute platforms targeting end-to-end data pipeline for large scale AI and machine learning. Her work draws insights from a broad set of disciplines such as computer architecture, systems, and databases.
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.