Mentor–Protégé Matching at SC is an opportunity provided to all student volunteers and aims to support the growth of a vibrant high-performance computing community by connecting students with experienced mentors. Matches are based on multiple factors, including research interests, career goals, long- and short-term plans, and general interests. Once the pairs are made, they are connected and off they go—engaging before, during, and after the conference.
Mike Lam (far left), the Mentor–Protégé lead for SC20, is a computer science faculty member at James Madison University, specializing in program analysis, compilers, systems tools, and HPC. Lam began his involvement at SC as a graduate student at University of Maryland in 2009. Since then, he has been a faithful participant, missing out only on SC14. When the Mentor–Protégé program (now Mentor–Protégé Matching) started in 2016, Lam was happy to take part in it.
“I wanted to give back,” he explained. “I had been unofficially mentored for many years, so I felt I could do this. I am also so excited to be running the program as I am sure it is a great opportunity for the students.”
To take part in the program, students and mentors need to sign up and fill out a survey. Lam offered specific advice for the process.
“Both mentors and protégés fill out the linked questionnaires,” he said. “It is very important for applicants to be very precise while filling out the surveys. They have to be very particular when they write about what they want to be matched on, such as field or domain, demographic, entering topics, work-life balance, and so forth. The pairing process is mostly automatic, using a Python script, though I will verify them before they are communicated.”
Since 2016 he has had four protégé experiences. Lam’s 2018 match with Srinivasan Ramesh (left), at the time a first-year doctoral student at the University of Oregon, particularly stands out. Lam said: “We were paired because of our similar interest in performance tool research, and Srinivasan’s desire to learn more about academia and teaching in this field.”
Ramesh added: “My primary question with Mike was about teaching. At that point in time, I was contemplating between research and teaching. Thus far, I have always been a research assistant and have never had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant. Mike helped me to try out teaching and encouraged me to apply for a fellowship offered by my department at the University of Oregon. I need to finish my candidacy exams before I can apply for it, which I will be ready to do fall/winter of 2020.”
While Lam reassured Ramesh “that R1 does not have to be the sole goal,” he also validated Srinivasan’s interest in teaching in addition to research, as that is what being a mentor means.
“We continued to correspond throughout the year, and our relationship grew,” Lam added. “At SC19, we went to the Technical Program Reception together, which was held at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. This was a really fun event for me as I have always loved planes. I was more than a professional mentor. Srinivasan was facing difficult life decisions that we also openly spoke about.”
For Ramesh, the connection started by the Mentor–Protégé program has had lasting impact.
Beyond the incredible human connection that this program enables, Lam would like to start Mentor–Protégé Matching in the summer this year. These virtual events will be programmed, where all members will be able to participate in ice-breaker activities, as well as career goal sessions. The objective is for everyone to feel connected before the SC20 conference.
“The Mixer and Speed Mentoring will be on Monday, like past years,” Lam said. “The Resume and CV Review Workshop also will continue, as well as other social opportunities, with an extended group, such as virtual trivia nights. We are still working on the program, and nothing is set in stone yet. So, if any protégés or mentors have ideas, they should share that with us, so we can develop that for them.”
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