The 4th annual Undergraduate Architecture Mentoring (uArch) Workshop was co-located with the International Symposium of Computer Architecture (ISCA) 2022 held in New York City. This was the first hybrid uArch after being purely virtual for the last two years.
The workshop introduces undergraduate and early master’s students to research and career opportunities in the field of computer architecture. It covers a broad range of topics, including graduate school lifestyle and student resources. The program includes technical sessions that cover past, current, and future research directions, mentoring sessions on how to apply to graduate school and navigate the architecture research landscape effectively. uArch also offers networking sessions that create opportunities for students to interact with their peers and established architects in academia and industry.
uArch meets at the Big Apple
We had a full-day workshop on June 18, 2022 including:
Computer Architecture Research Landscape: This technical session covers history, current state-of-the-art research, and challenging open problems in computer architecture. We began our workshop with a keynote by Professor Samira Khan on “How to be a Dragon in the New Era of Computer Architecture”. The talk was as fierce as the title. We learnt about systems of the future with a more data-centric design. The keynote covered how to design the cloud and edge, focusing on data storage, movement, and processing. The second keynote was given by Professor Prashant Nair, on research in industry and academia. Across the two models of research, Prashant offered some astute insights on how the research across industry and academia comes together, the type of problems they tackle, and the impact they have.
The Route to Graduate School: Undergraduates are very keen on understanding a simple yet elusive question, “how to create a good application package for graduate school?” For this, we had a panel on “Applying to Graduate School” comprising faculty from across the globe. The students asked questions on what experience can increase their chances to get admitted, how to write statements, how are the letters of recommendation rated, and how undergraduates can get involved in research.
Life at Graduate School: This panel comprised senior and junior PhD students to provide their perspectives on what PhD life is all about. This panel gave a sneak peek to prospective students on how incoming PhDs find advisors, decide on the school, do impactful research, engage with industry, and have a life outside of their doctoral program.
Life after Graduate School: This panel included established architects from industry and academia. The panelists answered questions pertaining to their experiences during and after graduation and how they got a job after PhD. This panel dove into opportunities PhDs have and different paths students can take to either join academia or industry.
Office hours with Professors: Next, were the office hours with faculty. Both in-person and virtual students met with faculty 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 got some dedicated time with faculty to better understand their research areas and how they recruit students. On the other hand, the faculty got an opportunity to directly interact with potential students. Our in-person and virtual faculty represented over 50 universities.
In-person Office Hours with the Faculty
Part of Our wonderful uArch 2022 Cohort
Nothing makes us happier than to see students enjoy the workshop and the conference. A few snippets of the testimonials from the cohort:
“uArch was a great experience where I got to meet a lot of people and learn a bit more about what it’s like to be a graduate student in the world of computer architecture. This made the idea of pursuing a PhD in this feel less daunting…..It was quite interesting to sit down with professors from all over. This is not a common experience, especially as an undergraduate student….. Bonding with the community made ISCA less intimidating as a newcomer.“
“The uArch mentoring workshop was very useful to me since I considered doing my graduate study. I’m a 4th year undergraduate student from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and the program helped me to connect with many expert researchers.”
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but uArch 2022 was incredible! It was such a privilege to meet fellow undergrads passionate about computer architecture, and I came away with new friends and mentors. I felt so welcomed by the architecture community–thank you!”
“the coolest part of uArch was I got to meet many faculty outside of my school who gave such honest advice and quality 1:1 advice!”
“uArch was my first engineering related experience outside of school. I was lucky to be advised by my professor to attend it, …It was an eye-opening experience that motivated me to pursue engineering in this field. I learned a lot about the current problems our community is trying to solve, …..Perhaps the best thing about uArch is the social aspect. I am now a member of CASA, and I made many friends and acquaintances, to whom I still talk to this day, and it seems our connection will last for long ….”
Outreach and Applications
The goal every year is to attract undergraduates and masters from all over the world, with a focus on regions based on the conference’s geographical location. In 2020 and 2021, especially the former, when there was hope to have an in-person conference in Europe, we focused on the EMEA region. This was all possible through the relentless outreach by the organizers, where we reached out to faculty in Computer Architecture and Systems to share this opportunity with their students.
For the 2022 version, we focused on non-traditional schools, primarily 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. We also enabled the professors to endorse their students. All in all, we received ~260 applicants from across the world.
As expected, we got some amazing applications. However, with the available resources we could only support ~32 in-person and ~70 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 applicants in uArch 2022
Pie chart shows the represented schools in selected applicants in uArch 2022
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.
When I think about the undergrads who get to attend uArch, I wish I had the same exposure and opportunity to meet the top researchers in the field before I decided to do a PhD. However, another thought is seeded; how would an undergraduate student from a non-STEM major, for whom English is not the first language, feel being in a room with highly accomplished top-researchers? The thought “how will I ever get into a PhD program with my current credentials” was a common one across our students. To counter this, we held extended office hours to discuss diverse paths to success and provided concrete instances of the same. The journey to success is a varied and personal one. Nonetheless, we as a community have some food for thought “how can we make our conferences conducive for undergraduate attendees?”. An idea for this, can researchers provide stories of their own journey, both failures and successes, to help prospective and current students to gain some perspectives.
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, ACM SIGMICRO, Meta, Google, and Microsoft, whom we are thankful to; but alas, it is never enough. We were able to sponsor 13% of the applicants 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.
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 students mentors. This group effort plus the transition to a hybrid workshop allowed us to involve over 100 students. We extend our sincerest gratitude to these community members.
About the Author: Divya Mahajan is a Senior Researcher in Microsoft Azure’s Cloud Accelerated Systems & Technologies. 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.