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Three ECE Students Become Rising Stars in Academia

Atlanta, GA

Women studying electrical engineering or computer science tend to be in the minority in classrooms and labs as these fields are still disproportionally male. A woman who goes on to a career in academics may find the ratios of male to female even more skewed. In 2012, MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) founded an academic career workshop called Rising Stars. The program is intended to identify and mentor top female graduate students who are interested in pursuing academic careers in electrical engineering and computer science and to help fill the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

This year, the program was held October 28-30, 2018, at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT hosted 76 women who were chosen from an international pool of 240 applicants representing 20 different research areas. Three of those women hailed from the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering: Ph.D. candidate Nil Gurel, postdoctoral research fellow Yiying Zhu, and May 2018 Ph.D. ECE graduate Wenjing Su.

The focus of this year’s program was searching for academic positions and how to navigate your first years as a junior faculty member. Beginning with a welcome reception and dinner on Sunday night, the next two days were filled with a variety of sessions that ranged from topics on academic job searches to tenure and were presented by 40 different panelists and speakers. There was also a poster session so that participants could share their research with their peers.

The reasons for attending the Rising Stars workshop varied by participant, but the overarching desire to learn and grow within a community of female academicians was a common goal. Rising Stars aims to be a support system for years beyond an attendee’s workshop participation.

“The value of networking, mentoring, and role models cannot be underestimated. I also believe that we create our own luck, mingling with people who have similar aspirations and networking give us perspective and vision while forming connections that may last throughout our career,” said Gurel.

In addition to networking and learning about academic careers, the women each had their own special “a-ha” moments that resonated for them personally. A workshop session that stood out for Zhu was a “Career Trajectories Panel” with the key takeaway that female academicians should focus on being the best they can be rather than comparing themselves to others. For Gurel, her most thrilling moment was sharing a dinner table with Alan V. Oppenheim, one of the early pioneers in digital signal processing, who regaled her with stories of exchanging signal processing tutoring for card trick lessons.

Overall, the workshop left participants with an enthusiasm for teaching, new ideas for research, advice on navigating an academic career, and perhaps most importantly, a valuable network for support that they can draw on for years to come. To learn more about the program visit the Rising Stars Workshop Website.

Last revised May 15, 2020