Opportunities for Undergraduate Research in Computer Science (OurCS)

OurCS 2007.

Opportunities for Undergraduate Research in Computer Science (OurCS) is a three day, hands-on, research workshop. It offers undergraduate women from around the world an opportunity to work with leading CS researchers in academia and industry.

The first OurCS workshop (October 2007), sponsored by Microsoft Research attracted participants from Denmark, India and Qatar, as well as women from across the United States.

Now three attendees, Sunayana, Iris, and Sarah, are back in Pittsburgh to pursuing graduate degrees in the School of Computer Science at CMU!

Sunayana Sitaram was born in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. In 2007, eager to meet Turing award winning scientist Fran Allen, and excited about an opportunity to present her speech and language research, Sunayana traveled the 7,700 miles from Surat to Pittsburgh.

Sunayana Sitaram presenting.

Iris Howley speaking.

Sarah Loos presenting.

Frances Allen with OurCS participants.

Exploring robots.

OurCS 2007.

"My favorite part was the research workshops - I had never done research in a group before. It was amazing to see different people with different skills all coming together to make contributions to the research problem. The conference was even better than I expected, and I had very high expectations!"

This fall Sunayana retraced those 7,700 miles to return to Pittsburgh as a graduate student in the Language Technologies Institute of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon.

"OurCS definitely convinced me that grad school is something I wanted to do. It also convinced me that CMU was the place I wanted to come to for it!"

Iris Howley and Sarah Loos also selected Carnegie Mellon for graduate study after attending OurCS.

Iris grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended Drexel University as an undergraduate. As president of Drexel's Women in Computing Society (WiCS), she felt a responsibility to the other women in the organization. She wanted to lead a group of her fellow undergraduates to CMU so that they could all broaden their research abilities.

OurCS definitely convinced me that grad school is something I wanted to do.

"Our undergraduate co-op program generally exposed our students to industry experiences, but I thought it might be worthwhile for our WiCS members to get some research exposure as well.

The affordability of the OurCS workshop allowed her organization to send ten participants to the workshop, and "It fulfilled our desire for a conference that introduced our members to other females in the same area, while opening them up to opportunities that they may not have otherwise considered."

Iris remarks that she was "already pretty intent on applying to a PhD program before I attended OurCS... OurCS was simply another opportunity reinforcing the great reputation, environment, and resources available at Carnegie Mellon."

Sarah attended OurCS in 2007 so that she could present the research she did in an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) the summer before. "The workshop gave me a chance to present my research in a very encouraging environment. I got lots of great feedback, which was invaluable when I presented the same material for the ACM Student Research Competition."

Another aspect of the workshop which had a profound impact on Sarah was the opportunity to meet other women interested in computer science research. "Even though I had done research before, working in a group of seven female scientists was a wonderful experience which is unique to this workshop. It made me realize just how important it is to recruit and retain female researchers in our field."

The second OurCS workshop will take place March 4-6, 2011 at Carnegie Mellon University. It is presented by the School of Computer Science and Women@SCS. Keynote speakers include 2009 Turing Award winner, Barbara Liskov and 2006 Turing Award winner, Frances Allen; Interim Department Head of Mathematical and Computer Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines, Tracy Camp; and CMU Computer Science Department Head, Jeannette Wing. (For those outside of CS the Turing award is the Nobel prize in CS!)

In addition, and what makes OurCS so unique, is that throughout the workshop, participants will work in teams to solve real research questions in various areas of computer science. The teams are led by faculty researchers from Carnegie Mellon and researchers from industry. At the end of the workshop, each team will have the opportunity to present their results.

OurCS organizers welcome students like Sunayana who grew up exploring computers: "My father had access to some of the first computers available in India and to the Internet in the 80s...[so] I had exposure to computers since age 3..." and are equally excited about attracting students who are newly interested in the field.

Hotel accommodations and meals are provided, so students only require funding for transportation to the workshop. Students are encouraged to look for travel funding from their own universities or organizations like the ACM-W, which sponsors scholarships for attendance at research conferences. In 2007, Sunayana's university partially supported her travel to OurCS. Sarah's travel was supported by her Women in Computing group and funding from her undergraduate advisor.

Dr. Carol Frieze, Director of Carnegie Mellon's Women@SCS, and her team of OurCS organizers, extend this invitation to undergraduate women in CS everywhere: "Come, explore, and learn what computer science research is about!"

OurCS Sponsors:
OurCS 2011 is sponsored by Microsoft Research and a number of CMU entities: Carnegie Mellon Qatar, the School of Computer Science, the Microsoft Research-Carnegie Mellon Center for Computational Thinking, the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, the Machine Learning Department, the Institute for Software Research, the Lane Center for Computational Biology, the Robotics Institute and Women@SCS. .

Article by:
Mary Widom
Women@SCS Administrator
Computer Science Department