By: Veena Krish
The Grace Hopper Celebration is an annual conference sponsored by the AnitaB.org Foundation that brings together women in tech for a week of training and networking. I was fortunate to be able to attend last September; although the conference went virtual, the organizers put together a packed week of talks, workshops, and recruitment sessions. The 2021 conference date has just been announced, and the student scholarship application should open soon. I highly encourage women at SBU to apply for a scholarship, and I hope the following account helps!
Why you should attend:
This conference is invaluable for women studying engineering, interested in tech, or passionate about diversity & inclusion in general. Attendees are largely undergraduates and early graduate students looking for mentors and jobs in tech, and a good number of students receive scholarships. The conference also boasts one of the largest career fairs for tech jobs — sponsoring companies see the conference mainly as a prime recruiting event. I’m an early PhD student in Computer Science, although I didn’t study CS in undergrad. I’d heard of the conference vaguely, but I never considered applying; nor did I appreciate how vital this conference is for helping underrepresented students land jobs in STEM. I highly encourage undergrads to apply in particular — whether you’re just starting out or looking for a job after you graduate, the network you gain from attending is invaluable (even virtual).
While the conference occurred in September, the application for the student scholarship opened back in February. It needed a letter of recommendation and 2 very short (a paragraph or so) essays. The applications haven’t yet opened for this year’s conference, but you should submit the interest form to be alerted. I was asked (1) Tell us why you want to attend GHC. What type of impact will being at a celebration focused on women in computing have on you? (maximum 200 words), and (2) How will you share your experience at GHC with others? What type of impact will your experience at GHC have on others in your community? (maximum 200 words). I chose to focus my first answer on how I’d take advantage of mentorship opportunities and the second on my ideas for supporting women in STEM at SBU. (If you’re a student at SBU reading this, please feel free to reach out to me/GWISE if you want feedback!). I was notified of my scholarship in June, which kick-started the networking opportunities and mentorship.
Leading up to the conference:
As a scholarship recipient, I was invited to a private Slack workspace (about 500 other scholars) where participants shared events (talks and workshops) and asked for advice (“how do I get started learning data science?”). I was also matched with a sponsoring company (Citibank) and invited to recruiting sessions. (I wasn’t the prime audience for this — they were looking for undergrads for internships/full time positions, but I imagine it was helpful for the majority.). There were also opportunities to match mentors/mentees based on interests. (Since the organizers were translating the conference to a virtual format for the first time, early organization was a little erratic. They got the hang of things close to the conference date, and I’m inclined to believe that things will go more smoothly this year.)
Most memorable aspects of the conference and tips for next year:
- While the conference is packed with talks (Serena Williams!) and workshops, its prime offering is recruitment. The virtual format allowed us to enter Zoom breakout rooms with recruiters from various companies. I found that representatives were eager to offer referrals and pass on resumes to hiring managers. (Many job portals even ask if you heard of the position via GHC.) The main career fair was cancelled last year as things got off to a rocky start, but plenty of recruitment sessions remained.
- The conference program was packed and difficult to navigate; it’s easy to get lost and regret not attending certain sessions. I’d recommend deciding ahead of time what you want to get out of the conference (a job? a mentor?) and focusing on that.
- Some sessions required advance registration, which did not go smoothly. Most workshops filled up immediately, which caused some chaos on slack/facebook (primary means of communication). I’d recommend not worrying so much about registering for workshops and instead prepare more for the recruitment sessions.
- Assume that you’ll be busy most of the days of the conference. Between recruitment sessions, talks, and networking, it’ll be hard to attend classes/work and get the most out of the conference.
I again encourage you all to apply — and I’m happy to help with the process!