Story by Leslie Kolodziejski | Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
For the fall term 2022, 6.9930 New Women in EECS Seminar is off to a terrific start! The seminar, originally offered in 2005, is now starting its 18th year of supporting women PhD students in the first semester of the EECS doctoral program. There are a number of goals for the seminar including (1) providing an opportunity for networking among the women, (2) providing support in the first semester as the women transition from their undergraduate programs to graduate school, (3) providing information regarding EECS, MIT and the surrounding New England metropolitan area, and importantly (4) chatting with guests from around the institute, or guests who are also on the PhD journey or guests who have completed the PhD in EECS. The seminar meets Fridays at 9am with breakfast and lively conversation!
On October 7, the seminar attendees welcomed a very special guest: EECS Department Head Professor Asu Ozdaglar, herself an alumna of the EECS program at MIT (2003). Professor Ozdaglar shared her story of completing her undergraduate degree in Turkey, coming to the graduate program in EECS to earn her PhD degree, then taking on a leadership role as Director of LIDS, then Associate Department Head, and on to Department Head of EECS and Deputy Dean of Academics for the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT.
Professor Ozdaglar openly shared her strategies, advice and wisdom regarding how she leads and manages the largest department at MIT. Students asked, “Would you do it all again and what might you do differently?” Professor Ozdaglar reflected that, although she never anticipated or planned such a journey, she would do it again as she is continually learning and greatly enjoys working with so many talented, dedicated and amazing people in the EECS department and across the rest of MIT. Of things she might do differently, she replied that she would be more strategic in networking with colleagues while working toward her PhD degree; Professor Ozdaglar shared that she worked very hard and focused much of her time on her research as a graduate student. Now, she wishes she would have taken more time to engage with her lab-mates and other graduate students to create more community and friendships while on the PhD journey.
Other topics in the conversation included work-life balance and making time for both family and herself, and also managing her sizable (10 person) research group. Professor Ozdaglar carves out blocks of time in her week to ensure opportunity to engage with and mentor her group members and to help advance their research agenda. As the seminar hour drew to a close, attendees were grateful to meet Professor Ozdaglar and to learn about her and her experiences, and to benefit from her sage wisdom and advice. As one graduate student attendee left the room to begin her Friday, she shared that she was very inspired by the conversation and happy she woke up so early to attend!
Prepared each morning, 8-minute soft-boiled eggs are a standard item on the 6.9330 breakfast menu, making a great, nutritious way for attendees to begin their Friday and to end the week! Photo credit: Janet Fischer.
As Thriving Stars ended its first year, officially being launched on October 12, 2021, the incoming class of EECS PhD students identifying as women is the largest in the history of the department; EECS is welcoming 47 new women (this number also represents the largest-ever percentage of women in the incoming graduate class, at 30%). The seminar therefore has the largest number of registrants at 23 first-year PhD students. Other topics addressed as part of the seminar curriculum include: the importance of networking and mentoring, thinking outside of the lab and striving to be a whole person, and survival tips while navigating MIT. Many various guests will join the seminar from the department, around the institute, and also alumni will come back to share their advice.