Sunday, November 6, 2011

What to Pack for GHC North America

Whether it's your first Grace Hopper Celebration or your fifth, every conference is a new experience, so we've put together a short list of "must pack" items to make sure that you come prepared for this year's conference in Portland!

1. Umbrella and Rain Gear We're expecting rain in Portland in November, so be sure to come prepared with an umbrella, rain coat, boots, or anything else that you need to keep yourself dry on your way to and from the Oregon Convention Center.

2. Layers, layers, layers With outdoor temperatures in Portland currently predicated in the range of 41*F to 52*F (5*C to 11*C) for the conference days, and the convention center indoor temperature set to 72*F (22*C), you'll want to have plenty of layers to keep warm and adjust accordingly. During our planning trip in August, we found the convention center chillier than expected, so you'll want to have layers to wear indoors as well.

3. Business Cards and Resume
In order to follow up on those connections you'll be making at the Grace Hopper Celebration, be sure to bring along your business cards. Take stock now to make sure you have plenty and then don't forget to pack them in your bag. And be sure to bring copies of your resume to have on hand when you visit exhibit booths and speak with sponsors.

4. Comfortable Shoes
With packed conference days, you'll want to have comfortable shoes to keep you on your feet and walking around the convention center. You'll also want to be sure to wear comfortable shoes to Sponsor Night on Friday so that you can dance to our DJ!

5. Camera
Capture all of the memories--don't forget to bring your camera to the conference.

6. Laptop... Or Just Visit the Cyber Center
Many attendees choose to bring their laptops to the Grace Hopper Celebration, and there will be free wireless internet sponsored by Juniper Networks. If you decide not to, you can access the internet and use a computer at the Cyber Center in Exhibit Hall C, sponsored by the Anita Borg Institute.

Are there any recommendations you would add?

Your GH11 Presentation is Ready -- Now It’s Time to Practice

I’m guessing that most of us have pretty much completed preparations for our Grace Hopper presentations, right? For myself, I have thought a lot about my audience and I’ve made decisions about how much I will be able to say -- and say well -- in the hour that I have been allotted. What now? My presentation is on Friday. I’m done, right? Well --- now it’s time to practice.

There are two fundamental ways to practice: 1) silently and 2) aloud. The first way involves a review of your presentation in your own head. We all do this a lot before we present because it helps us feel comfortable with our story and because we think that we will be less likely to forget what we want to say if we go over and over things in our minds. It is easy to practice this way because we can give ourselves a silent presentation anywhere and anytime.

The second way of practicing asks more of us and leads to different results. I will be very direct here -- I believe that you must practice your talk aloud in order to deliver an authentic and well-paced presentation. And you must practice in a way that simulates the context in which you will speak. (It would probably be ideal if we could all practice giving our talks to a real audience in a real meeting room, but most of us are not that lucky. No worries -- make a commitment to practicing aloud and know that you are preparing yourself for a great result.)

Find a space where you can set up your laptop and project your visuals. I have practiced this way in my living room where the visuals are projected on the wall; and I have practiced this way in a hotel room. Even if you are not able to project the visuals during your rehearsal, you can set up your laptop and use it in the same way that you will use it during your talk. Being comfortable with the physical things you will do during your presentation is very important -- almost as important as being familiar with your story.

Practice introducing yourself and getting into the talk; practice moving around; practice your gestures; practice with the laser pointer if you will use one; figure out when to advance to a new visual and practice the verbal transitions; see how it feels to look around to all parts of the room; play with volume and speed. Also be sure that you time yourself during your rehearsals so that you know where you are and where you want to be during each section of your presentation.

In addition to practicing aloud in a “real” context, you can practice aloud to an invisible listener while riding your bicycle, while cooking, while in the shower. You will be able to hear the speed, the pauses, and the flow in a way that you cannot hear these details when the story is a silent one. Any time you speak aloud, even to yourself, you are incorporating the physical and sensory aspects of presenting, and you are preparing yourself for the real experience of transforming thoughts and ideas into a spoken story.

Have fun with your preparations and rehearsals. I will see you next week in Portland!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Getting the Most out of Twitter for Grace Hopper!

I admit it, I'm addicted to Twitter. The social media site where you can share your thoughts in 140 characters or less.  This tool is a very powerful one for conferences. It's a great way to connect with other people you're attending sessions with, follow along on a another session you just couldn't make it to, and capture great quotes from speakers.

This year at the conference, there's only one official hashtag: #ghc11. Speakers are encouraged to suggest additional hashtags for their session, but we do ask everyone to always use #ghc11, as well.

As you can see on the Grace Hopper Bloggers site, we scroll the live #ghc11 feed on the right hand side. Another great way to see what everyone is saying at the conference is to use TwitterFall and just watch all tweets tagged with #ghc11 scroll by in a tab in your browser.

You can also use your Twitter client to follow the Twitter list of GHC11 attendees.

I've been able to meet up with like-minded women in the industry when I've seen a woman tweet about an evening meet up in a nearby bar or restaurant. This is a great way to network and meet new people.  To make it easier to meet people, update your profile picture to something recent.

If you've already got a slew of followers, you may want to let them know you'll be going to a conference, so your tweet volume will increase greatly.  A lot of my followers, though, enjoy participating in the conference vicariously through my feed.

If you're new to Twitter, check out Ashley's post to the blog last year that will help you get set up and teach you all of the Twitter lingo! (Note: we don't have all those other hashtags mentioned in last year's post, we've simplified!) BJ also had a great post on Twitter, too.

You can find the official Grace Hopper Twitter account at @ghc and me @bubbva.   Stop in and say "hi" to us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PhDoula: Five do-overs since my first Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing

This post originally appeared on the blog PhDoula and is re-posted here with permission from the author, Alexandra Holloway.

Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing is an annual event bringing together thousands of women from different technical computing specialties and at different stages of their career. Attendees include undergraduates considering computer science as a major, graduate students choosing their research direction, recent graduates looking for a job, women in industry, professors, researchers, and recruiters. It is a diverse, funky, exciting, inspiring, and nurturing environment of two thousand women, all of whom are smart, brilliant, beautiful, and different in their own right.

This year will be my fourth time attending, which makes me a Grace Hopper veteran. I first heard about Grace Hopper Celebration from my room mate from CRA-W Grad Cohort -- a similar but much smaller mentoring program for graduate student women -- when I asked my room mate how on earth she knew all these people. She was saying "Hi," calling people by name, and giving hugs to everybody!

"How do you know everyone already?" I asked her.

"Some women I know from last year's Grad Cohort," she replied. "But some women I see basically twice a year: at the Grad Cohort and then again at Grace Hopper Celebration."

"What's that?" I asked. Casually hiding her surprise that I had neer heard of Grace Hopper Celebration, she explained it to me, and that night in our hotel room I looked it up and bookmarked it.

When Grace Hopper Celebration came around that year, my advisor asked if there are any women that would like to go, because our university was a sponsor and received a few spaces for student attendees. Of course, I replied immediately in the affirmative, and off I went!

Now that I have been three times to Grace Hopper Celebration (this year will mark my third time as a contributor) and twice to the CRA-W Grad Cohort, I can look back on my first Grace Hopper Celebration visit a bit critically.

My first year, Grace Hopper Celebration was held in Keystone, Colorado, a small resort town situated in the mountains among an aspen forest. The trees were just starting to turn in ones and twos: blots of color among a sea of green leaves. I was driven from the airport in a shuttle and looked out onto the picturesque landscape with wide eyes. I was young, impressionable, and pregnant.

Yup, I was about 24 weeks along in my pregnancy. I knew I was carrying a boy, and I had just returned from a trip abroad -- a delayed honeymoon -- before having time to buy clothes that fit me. My belly had just started getting too big for my pants. It happened so suddenly that I was ill-prepared, wardrobe-wise, for the change in my figure. I was a hot mess, unbuttoning my jeans and praying that my fitted t-shirts did not bust into holes stretched over my growing belly. When my mother saw me at the airport on my return from Grace Hopper, she was shocked at my fashion sense, but at the time, I figured that is just an extension of the typical graduate student lifestyle. Right? Please tell me I am right.

Anyway, back to the point -- I could have done a better job. As an early(ish) graduate student, my main role was to be receptive to mentoring and to meet people that would help me in my career path. I see that now, in hindsight, but at the time I did not recognize these goals. Here were my top five mistakes from the first year. Every year I go back, I get a do-over and do my best to avoid these.

Do-Over #5. Eat lunch and dinner.

At CRA-W Grad Cohort, one of the rules was that no two women from the same university could sit together at lunch. You had to learn to network, and to meet other women. But here, at Grace Hopper Celebration, there was no such rule, and even if there was, there is no way to enforce it with 2000 attendees. So attendees would sit with the people they knew more often than not, and I, seeing this social norm, followed suit. Not a good idea. Now I know that it is best to sit at a table where you know no one. Even better: sit at a table where you know no one, and everyone is different from you. Is everyone older? They have more experience. Is everyone younger? Maybe they have questions. But if everyone is exactly like you, there is no way you can broaden your experience. Challenge yourself.

Do-Over #4. Use the room mate.

I was at Grace Hopper Celebration on an underwriter scholarship, and, like all scholarship recipients, I had a room mate. Actually, in this year, we were in a three-room cabin in the mountains of Keystone, Colorado, and I had two house mates. My house mates were amazing. They asked me about pregnancy and married life, about the proverbial work-life balance (as if there is one), about what I will do once I have the baby (hint: stay in school). On our last night in Colorado, we all went shopping to the outlets nearby and my lovely room mates bought me a shirt that actually covered my entire front. Maybe it is silly, but I was moved.

But most of the day, my house mates (who knew each other) would be off on their own, and, in pregnancy-related discomfort (more on this later), I left them to themselves. I did not go to see their posters at the poster session; I did not ask for introductions to other women; I did not sit with them and their colleagues at lunch. But this was wrong. Use your room mate (or room mates, if you are lucky enough to have two) -- use them as mentors if they are more experienced at Grace Hopper Celebration than you are; use them as friends if they are new like you; use them as a sounding-board for your elevator pitch for your research.

My room mates approached me on the second day and said, with a sly grin, "We are thinking of taking a drive up to the summit, instead of one of the sessions. Are you in?" I considered for a moment, wondering if it is OK to skip sessions, and if we could leave the conference grounds without arousing suspicion among the organizers. Hesitating a little, I said that it sounds like great fun, and that I would certainly come.

As we arrived to the summit, the weather shifted dramatically, from cool and clear autumn to cold and foggy winter. Not another person and not another vehicle was within sight: it was just us. It began to snow in large, fluffy flakes. The electricity in the air made our hair stand straight up, and lightning bolts noiselessly crashed all around us. We giggled and photographed and huddled in our insufficient jackets -- and bonded. We formed relationships which would survive the test of time and geography -- relationships we could later fall back on in our professional and personal lives, because we had this shared experience.

Do-Over #3. Couch potato networking.

During the course of Grace Hopper Celebration, my baby, whom I called Galahad ever since knowing I was pregnant, grew as well. I would like to think it is because of my rock hard abs that, one day into the Celebration, I started getting rib pain. My ribs were expanding to fit my high-carried fetus and I was in pain from the pressure in my ribcage from about noon until I went to bed every night. I did not tell anybody (except my amazing room mates) because I had never enjoyed complaining, especially to strangers. Even strangers that are there for the express purpose of caring for and mentoring me.

Half the day, my ribs would hurt so much that I could not sit up. Sometimes I would go back to my room and lie down; other times, I would sprawl out sideways on one of the low arm chairs in the conference area and try not to moan. Both of these were missed networking opportunities. Now I see that it is OK to sprawl in pain rather than attend a session, as long as I am doing something to further my career.

See, I had no idea where my academic career was going. Here I was, not even half-way through my first pregnancy, not even two years through grad school, and with no idea where my research interests were. Every class I took was fascinating for the first three weeks; every project I undertook was interesting only for the first half. I knew I was a fantastic teacher but had never undertaken any serious research project. I knew I wanted to be a professor eventually -- but a professor of what? How do you find the one thing that really turns you on?

These are all questions that, though they cannot be answered by someone else, they can point you and your mind and heart into a direction. Other women's experiences can influence how you experience yourself. Maybe I am getting a little hippy-dippy. But my point is that I was not using this time to the best of my abilities. I could have been meeting women in a higher position than myself and asking for advice; I could have been meeting my future mentor; I could have been learning with others, rather than suffering alone!

Do-Over #2. Tell your secret.

Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones talking, but I posted an anonymous advertisement on the bulletin board:
Looking to connect with other pregnant graduate students and those with kids.
I added my e-mail address and hoped for the best. The truth is that I did not know what I was looking for. Support? Advice? Encouragement? I did not have any concrete questions but I wanted to know that I was not alone, that my experience was not unique. In some ways, I suppose, I wanted validation. I wanted someone to say, "I know things will get rough, but you can do it, because I did it." Though I did receive a few notes, mainly by other participants pinning replies to the same bulletin board, I never replied to them, in part because I did not know what I wanted to say, and in part because I did not want to give away my secret.

I had only told my room mates, and mentioned it once at lunch. One of the women, another student, lit up: "Do you have maternity leave at your university?" I answered honestly that I did not know. She persisted: "You know, it should be covered by the union. They bargained for it just last year. It is brand new this year. You should look it up." After lunch, she and I both went to the computers and found the relevant sections. She was glad to help me, and I was glad for the help, because until then, I had never considered my rights and my future as an employee of the university.

It was not until the last hour of the last day, when several of us were loading the bus, that I told one more person about my pregnancy. She was a young woman with a large baby, and introduced herself as a professor. We chatted briefly about pregnancy, and exchanged information. It seemed so natural and inconsequential at the time -- especially as I had such a reverence for professors because of what I now see was mild impostor syndrome -- but I was calmed by her easy nature and friendly manner. This small event which I had put out of my mind as an impossibility because of the difference in rank, this easy exchange of words and information, this event was probably the best thing that happened to me at Grace Hopper Celebration that year. Today, the professor who befriended me continues to mentor and support me through my final years of graduate school. I told my secret to the best person I could possibly meet.

Do-Over #1. Meet the speakers.

I had attended a great many talks, but one in particular still speaks to me today. It was a talk I had heard before, at CRA-W, given by a graduate student that had changed direction several times in the course of her studies. She was explaining the same feelings I was having: She would take an introductory class and enjoy it immensely, but not enjoy the follow-up class. It took her a long time to find a dissertation topic. She explained several ways that dissertation topics come into existence: the extended course project, the advisor's list of unfinished work, the stroke of genius, and others. She struck me as someone I would love to be friends with -- but she was so smart! so accomplished! What would I have to offer by speaking with her?

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Now that I am also a speaker at Grace Hopper Celebration, I know that speakers are people too. I love it when people attend my talks, and I love it even more when they stay afterwards to tell me that the talk was useful to them, my nervousness did not show, or even that my animation skills in the slides were top-notch. Which, I assure you, they are not. I love it when people tweet about my talk. I love it when people come to ask me for advice, or ask for my contact information in the case they have questions about something I said. I love just knowing that someone, somewhere, was affected by my talk.

I did approach this particular speaker, and I told her that I had heard her talk before and I really admired her. She was surprised: "What, me?" Laughing heartily, she chatted with me about grad school, clearly expressing that she considered us equals. She and I are still friends today.

Since then, I make it a point to meet every speaker that inspires me. Even if she is the president of some fancy corporation, or the first author of an influential paper, or simply the woman that said something that really resonated with me. I introduce myself and say, "What you said just now, I really took to heart. Thank you for a great talk." If we happen to meet again, I can say, "We met at Grace Hopper last year. I loved your talk." This usually leads to an invitation to join her lunch table, which -- by the way -- I always gladly accept.

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