There is a joke that says torture is attending a party where you don’t know anyone present. Now, that sentiment may be hyperbolic, but it has an element of truth — as an undergraduate student attending my first computer architecture conference, I absolutely felt like I was an interloper in a stranger’s party. I knew no one present but my former REU advisor, and it felt like everyone else knew more than me and belonged. As an underrepresented minority woman, such a feeling is only magnified.
Our community has advanced since that conference in 2009, however. Technological tools such as Whova and Slack (not to mention this blog!) help us connect, even when we’re not physically together—something more crucial now than ever. Better yet, community efforts such as WICARCH, CARES, and CWWMCA have matured and helped promote inclusion within computer architecture.
However, we also have experienced loss. Last year, the computer architecture community lost Huixiang Chen, a PhD student in Computer Architecture at the University of Florida. Many have found this incident to be a wake-up call.
At MICRO 2019, Raghavendra Pothukuchi and I had a shared sentiment that more could be done to help students within our community. While some students may have a healthy support system—be it friends, family, or fellow students—not all are so fortunate. Due to the inherent challenges posed by PhD programs, students are most vulnerable to stress, feelings of alienation, and not belonging.
For this, Raghavendra and I have worked since October 2019 on the creation of a graduate (undergraduate students are welcome!) student group. We hope such a group can foster a sense of community for students within architecture, and can help future students not feel as out of place as I once felt when I first attended a conference.
We hope to have events where graduate students can meet their cohort, both in a professional capacity and not, so we can learn about each other’s work and help foster not just collaboration, but friendship. So that the next time a first-time student is at a conference, a friendly face is quick to find among the crowd.
For example, we propose pairing first-time student attendees with veteran students, something akin to ISCA’s Meet-A-Senior-Architect program, but at a more informal, peer-like level. Another of our proposed programs are student-geared social events at conferences, with sponsorships by industry and/or academia. For most of the year when we are not at conferences together, a dedicated web forum can help students not only share tips/technical advice but also raise issues they may not be comfortable—or capable—sharing elsewhere.
Most importantly, we propose a representation setup that allows students to have a voice within the organizing structures in computer architecture. Student liaisons—voted by the group—will report student-sourced issues and concerns to our technical committees. This ensures that our opinions help steer the future of this community.
With proper status monitoring and a good feedback loop, we hope such steps can help grow our community to be more receptive to the needs of our students. Because a happy student is a productive student!
About the Author: Elba Garza is a 4th-year PhD student in computer architecture at Texas A&M University, working under Daniel Jiménez. She hopes to enter academia after her PhD program, specifically as a teaching professor.
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.