Although Boyu Zhang had attended SC for a couple years already, at SC14 she decided to
participate as a protégé in the Mentor-Protégé Program. She was pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Delaware at the time and, in anticipation of graduation, was starting to explore possible research career paths in data science. She didn’t have any direct work experience, so she had many questions about her options. She chose for her SC14 mentor Carol Song, a senior research scientist and scientific solutions director at Research Computing at Purdue University.
The pair met first at the SC14 Mentor-Protégé Mixer and hit it off. Song had a lot of knowledge about research both at Purdue and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where she worked previously. She articulated what it’s like working as a research scientist, but not teaching. Zhang was considering both industry and academia, but not sure about having a heavy teaching load at a university. She learned from Song about opportunities for funding proposals, choosing faculty to collaborate with, what projects she might choose and how to build a team to work on projects of interest.
“I got a lot of information from people who were 10 steps further from me in their experiences,” Zhang said of the Mentor-Protégé Program.
Song introduced Zhang to a number of people of interest, one of whom was the director of research services and support in Research Computing at Purdue. After Song sent Zhang’s resume to the director, when a data scientist position opened up, Zhang applied and interviewed with the director that she met at SC14. Zhang graduated with her Ph.D. in June 2015 and is now a data scientist at Purdue.
At SC15 the following year, Zhang decided it was her turn to mentor someone herself. She was paired with Samia Shafique, a computer science student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who was participating in the SC15 HPC for Undergraduates program. New to the conference, Shafique met with Zhang at the Mentor-Protégé Mixer and a few times after that for coffee. They spoke about the Student Volunteer program and the possibility of Shafique applying the next year. Zhang gave suggestions about what to look for on the exhibit floor and in the Tutorials Program.
“Boyu gave me pointers on what sort of career path someone in this field might have,” Shafique said. “I found that helpful in understanding what opportunities I might have if I study supercomputing. I liked this idea of mixing with a mentor because it gave me a more welcoming feel to this conference and a research field that was completely new to me.”
Zhang feels the Mentor- Protégé program is “a really great program” and encourages anyone to sign up. “It gives you the feeling of being included and not being intimidated by such a big conference, she said.”
In particular, Zhang appreciated that she had the opportunity to be mentored by another woman as it gave her the idea that she was not alone in a field made up mostly of men.