OurCS Conference Review: Women in Computer Science

This month I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 OurCS conference at Carnegie Mellon University. OurCS is a 3 day undergraduate research workshop for women in computer science, focused on teaching students about research opportunities, graduate school, and some specialized real-world research problems. It was last held in 2007, although I think they’re going to try and make it an annual event.

If you’re a female computer science undergraduate, reading this because you’re wondering if you should go to this conference next year, my answer is “Yes. Go.” For me, the conference cleared up so many unknowns about graduate school. I had no idea what graduate school was like, whether I wanted to go, or what kinds of research it entailed. I came away with hands-on research experience and full of inspiration.

 

 

To give you an idea on what the conference was like, here’s a little schedule of what my days included:

Thursday

  • Fly in with other girls from my university, check into the hotel, and go explore the Pittsburgh University campus until it’s time for bed

Friday

  • Inspiring keynotes from brilliant, influential women in computer science (Justine Cassell, Jeannette Wing)
  • Research workshops where you find out your research topic for the weekend, and begin working with faculty and other students on a real-world problem
  • After dinner, meet up with other girls from all over the world and go have fun (may I recommend Altar Bar)

Saturday

  • Continue with research workshops, attend faculty / industry / graduate panels where you learn a lot about research and graduate school
  • Student poster presentations (for those who opted to bring posters), dinner social, and out again in the evening once they set us free (we really didn’t get much sleep that weekend… but all the fun was definitely worth it!)

Sunday

  • Wrap up research projects, present them in front of other groups (not as scary as it sounds, and great practice for ‘real’ presentation scenarios) and see what all the other groups got up to. All the research projects that weekend were really fascinating! PDF / ppt summaries are on the OurCS webpage
  • Say goodbye to all the friends you made and fly back home!

So that was just my version of events—if you want the real schedule it’s here. Overall, it’s fun, you learn a lot, and you get to meet so many women in the industry from all over the world (Qatar, Israel, and apparently Canada is an exotic location, too?)

If you’re worried about cost, the conference sponsors generously put everyone up in a hotel, and all meals are provided. So if your school will fund your flight and cab fares, you are basically gaining a free (or cheap) trip to a great networking event.

I hear the Grace Hopper conference is like this, only tenfold. So if you have the opportunity to go to either of these (or another event for women in CS that I haven’t heard about), I highly recommend it.

Header: Ada Lovelace, the first ‘computer programmer’ from the 1800s

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