Monday, April 14, 2008

My Decision to Leave IBM

I was at IBM for 22 years ... I started on June 10, 1985 and my last day was November 30, 2007. I joined the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies in January 2008. I took Dec. "off" to regroup and get prepared emotionally.

I must say it was a big decision ... something I tried not to think too much about but instead went with my gut. I don't have tenure and came in at the Associate level so only have 3 years to get tenure. I try not to worry about this too much but it lurks in the back of my mind!

I joined IBM right after my undergrad but I knew I wanted to be an academic. I had also applied for scholarships and grad school. I received a Canadian gov't scholarship (NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship) that was deferrable for 2 years to go into industry so I took the job at IBM to get some experience (it was in the area of compiler development). I left after 2 years to pursue grad studies (my masters) and my (wise) manager at the time convinced me to take an educational leave of absence. I remember his reaction, “Never say never, Kelly. Things change. You’ll change,” when I told him I was never coming back. When I finished my masters and started my PhD, I went into IBM to resign but they extended my leave (that was almost 20 years ago -- I don't think it would be possible today). After my PhD, I wanted to have children and at the time looking for a faculty job seemed like a stressful process. I was offered and accepted a great job at IBM, had 2 wonderful children, and worked for 13 more years taking advantage of excellent opportunities and jobs I was given at IBM. Then (all of a sudden), I realized I had spent half my life with IBM (!) and I decided academia was now or never so I applied for academic jobs (I had built a lot of contacts in academia in Canada through my work at IBM so that helped).

And, here I am! It's pretty exciting and scarey all at once! People ask me what I miss the most about IBM and the answer is always, "the people" but fortunately, as an IBM CAS Faculty Fellow, I have the opportunity to stay in touch with and continue to interact with many of those tremendous people.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

CASCON 2008 -- A Great Opportunity

Each year, IBM Toronto Centre for Advanced Studies and National Research Council Canada host a conference (CASCON) in Markham, Ontario. The conference is in the broad area of computer science and is considered to be the premier general international computer science conference held in Canada. It attracts international participation and over 1500 people usually attend over the course of 4 days. The first was held in 1991 and I have attended every one since. I started attending when I was a PhD student and I used the opportunity to “demo” my PhD research. The feedback I received from attendees was invaluable in the shaping of my thesis and results. I have also organized workshops and been a member of the Program Committee in the past (I’m on the Program Committee this year). In the last few years I was General Co-Chair so I’ll admit I am quite biased! But it really is a great opportunity for people whose work fits into one of the broad theme areas. Plus, it is free to attend and the lunches are delicious!

There are three main parts of the program: Academic papers (reviewed and selected by an international program committee with ~25% acceptance rate – papers are published in the ACM Digital Library); workshops and tutorials (my personal favourite part of the conference); and demos (another highlight). There are also very interesting and thought-provoking keynote speakers.

CASCON is called a “Meeting of Minds” because it aims to bring together academic researchers with practitioners and government researchers to meet and build collaborations. I highly encourage people (especially students) to take advantage of this local, free conference to showcase your work, engage in discussions, and meet new people.

You can participate as a contributor to CASCON by submitting a paper, organizing a workshop, or submitting a demo or poster. Or, you can participate as an attendee and attend any the workshops, demos, and paper presentations you wish. However, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to participate as a contributor – at least to put a poster or demo on display.

See the CASCON 2008 website for important dates, actual location, link to the call for papers, and description of topics of interest.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Great Pre-tenure Advice

I missed March!! I didn’t post anything to my blog in March. Well, technically, I did create a blog post because I set up a blog for my Service Science class where students could blog about an interesting service innovation that uses social computing technology. It was a huge success, each student blogging on something completely different. We all learned something new. So, I didn’t blog here but I blogged elsewhere.

I also missed posting something I really wanted to post about in February. On February 12, I attended an informal presentation by Professor and Vice Provost, Academic, Edith Hillan for women faculty who are pre-tenure which was hosted by her office and the Status of Women Office. It was a wicked cold day and there were fewer people there than expected but Professor Hillan delivered a great presentation, providing key tips for women faculty who are pre-tenure. She gave advice and suggestions based on her own experience and on the fact that she reviews between 100 and 150 tenure files per year. Here is what I took away from this very informative and useful event (the numbering and text are my own based on the notes I took during Dr. Hillan’s presentation):

1. Time and Task Management: she asked us to think about what we are doing to save time and provided suggestions:

a. Arrange your teaching so all classes meet on the same 2-3 days per week. You are only required to teach in 2 academic terms per year so don’t volunteer to teach in your “off” time. Make it very clear to students in your class which times you are available and set clear expectations about when they can expect a response from you (eg, within 48 hours). Don’t put off doing things that look too overwhelming (eg, the exams or papers you have to mark) – get started and make progress.

b. Set limits on the amount of time you spend on each thing. Set boundaries, stick to them, and say, “NO!” if necessary. Closely organize your work week. Work in brief, regular sessions instead of binges.

c. Don’t go for perfection!! This is a tough one for me because I’ve been practising being a perfectionist for over 45 years now!

d. Don’t always answer the phone or emails – let them go to the next day, or set up specific regular time when you deal with email and at other times, don’t. I tried this when I was at IBM for a while and it really does work but it is extremely hard for me to be disciplined about this (I, by habit, check email every few minutes).

e. Do double duty (also known as “leverage”). Find opportunities where your teaching links to research and where engagements with students (both undergrad and grad) link to your research. For example, co-author papers with students, and participate in service that gives you leverage somewhere else.

f. Take your holidays. This is an important one!

2. We talked about classes and teaching and she said that student responses to teaching are important so offered the following advice:

a. Make sure you are well prepared for classes. Provide good course outlines and bibliography. Present what will be covered at the start of the class.

b. Be very clear about what is expected from students (assignments, when they will be due, how they will be marked, how to contact you, etc.). She said the biggest complaint from students is that it wasn’t clear what was expected from them.

c. Leave time each lecture for student interaction and questions.

d. Take the pulse of student opinion mid-term and make adjustments. Show the students are you are interested in what they have to say. Clearly explain to students why they are completing final course evaluations and how it will affect your future.

e. Be open about your course being a “course in development” if it is one. But make sure you are able to teach courses again in the future (prepare once, reuse). Beg for and borrow course syllabi, exams, etc. from those who have taught the courses before.

3. We talked about service to the department through committees:

a. Try not to do too much committee work but you have to balance being a collaborative colleague with being a productive scholar and an effective teacher. Be a good department citizen.

b. Volunteer for the things you want to do then say “No!” to the others. Don’t wait to be invited if there is a committee you want to be on – ask for it.

c. Don’t try to “run the department” until after you have tenure! Similarly, don’t get involved in outside consulting until after tenure

d. She said a good committee to be on is the “PTR” committee (Thanks to Steve, I now know that stands for "Progress Through the Ranks"). The reason this committee was considered a good one was the fact that serving on it would help you understand what is needed to progress.

4. Research:

a. Make statements now to put in your dossier – your “story” – where you came from, where you are now, where you are going to go, research-wise. In your research statements, explain how you are building your program and where you are going next.

b. Publish, publish, publish (I think we all knew that one!)

c. Present at department seminars and organize seminars for your department, bringing in well-known researchers.

d. Manage your professional image. Develop a “marketable” record. View tenure as a political process: meet the candidates, the voters, ensure they know and understand your message.

e. Have regular conversations with your department chair or dean. Set objectives for the year and use these discussions to get feedback on those objectives.

f. Add something to your resume / CV every month (I love this one –it’s great advice).

5. Be assertive. This is an important piece of advice for many women I know. It applies in several of the points above with respect to committees, teaching, etc. In general, ask for things – don’t wait for things to be offered to you.