Celebrate gratitude! You Belong @ CICS
Celebrate gratitude! You Belong @ CICS
You Belong At CICS: Diversity & Inclusive Community Newsletter
Erika Dawson-Head

Reflections on Gratitude


“Gratitude opens the door to … the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe. You open the door through gratitude.” — Deepak Chopra
Thanksgiving is a holiday in the United States when many of us will reflect on the people, pets, situations, and things we are thankful for. For those of us who celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving! For those of us who don't, I wish you peace,  companionship, and reflectiveness.
In my life, one of the most important things to express is gratitude. Life is full of surprises and opportunities. This season, I hope that we will all put "more gratitude into our attitude" and take advantage of the opportunity to make someone’s day better. If you are thankful for another person, don't hesitate to let them know. Opportunities to share your thoughts and feelings don’t last forever. 
Thank you for all of the great things you do as a part of our CICS community. May you and your family be safe and well this holiday.
Sincerely,
Erika Lynn Dawson Head
CICS Director of Diversity and Inclusive Community Development

Student Spotlight


Saakshaat Singh
Sophomore, CS
Grateful for: My friends, family and the UMass community. A remote semester is difficult to get through, particularly as an international student away from home. But being able to meet so many people (virtually) gives me something to look forward to when we go back on campus and I'm very grateful for that.
Working on: I'm currently working as a software engineer at the Center for Youth Engagement, an NSF research group helping underserved youth access education and career opportunities. I work on backend systems and cloud infrastructure for multiple NSF grant projects.
Akanksha Atrey
PhD Student, CS
Grateful for: My family.
Working on: My work focuses on developing and evaluating explainable, generalizable and privacy-preserving machine learning models. I intend to make machine learning more available, usable, and scalable for resource-constrained applications such as mobile computing and the Internet of Things.
Karishma Jain
Master's Student, CS
Grateful for: For all the great friends I met this year who turned out to be like family <3
Working on: I did a summer internship in eviCore healthcare as a software engineer and had a fun and really knowledgeable experience. 

Parul Gupta
Master's Student, CS
Grateful for: Friends that have become my family. Thankful for the super amazing roommates I got.
Working on: I am working under Professor Philip Thomas on fairness in machine learning using Seldonian framework and exploring various possible extensions to optimise the bounds.
Mano Dakshin
Freshman, CS
I'm grateful for my family and my friends from my high school.
I am excited to join virtual social gatherings with my friends and join clubs.
Dmitry Petrov
PhD Student, CS
Grateful for: I am alive.
Working on: I work on 3-D Computer Vision.
Next semester, hopefully I will see my girlfriend and start a new research project.
Corinne Greene
Junior, Informatics
Grateful for: My family and my pets.
Excited for: Taking more classes in CICS, especially web programming and mobile health sensing and analytics.
Srisuma Movva
Junior, CS
Grateful for: My family.
I am working with Professor Eric Poehler to extract data from records of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. I aim to build a digital model of the city using natural language processing models.
Emily First
PhD Student, CS
Grateful for: I am grateful for being able to spend more time with friends and family. I have started baking and cooking more, which has been a great activity to do with others.
Working on: My research is at the intersection of software engineering, programming languages, and machine learning. Specifically, I'm working on building tools and models for automating formal verification of software correctness.
Prerna Agarwal
Master's Student, CS
Grateful for: love.
Excited for: Starting a new chapter of my life after graduation.
Michelle Trim and students from FAT 2020

Gratitude is Just the Beginning


Saying “thank you” to someone for holding a door, helping with a difficult task, giving a gift, or doing a job well is good manners. Expressions of gratitude like these might just be ethical as well. It doesn’t matter if gratitude is a virtue or not; saying “thank you” acknowledges the contributions of others that enable our successes.
We make computing better when we thank those whose work resulted in a better grant proposal, a more effective lesson, an advantageous opportunity, and a chance to reduce inequity by teaching us to see the world through different eyes. The fact is that without the collaboration, cooperation, and connections that others bring, none of us can achieve much at all. So when people say “it takes a village” in their awards acceptance speeches, they are not just acknowledging the number of people who participated in a project—they are drawing attention to the ways that success is a shared achievement.
This idea of gratitude is easiest to see when we look at our college mission: Computing for the Common Good. What is the “Common Good?” Whose benefit concerns us? How do we decide what is “good?” And where does computer science fit in when so many think of it as a neutral landscape of impartial logic? Computing has a social obligation to the people it serves. Responsibility might be a good place to begin to answer some of those questions. Responsibility, accountability, obligation … these are ideas that connect nicely back to gratitude.
When we are grateful, when we acknowledge the contributions of others that make our livelihoods, our joys, and our successes possible, we satisfy an ethical obligation to be honest and give credit where credit is due. The more we demonstrate that honesty and dismantle the notion of the lone wolf inventor, the self-made "man," and the rugged individual, the more we undermine those creativity killers and signals of a fixed mindset. Cultural myths of individual success are holding people back, keeping people out, and putting people down. Computing for the common good cannot happen without gratitude, and saying thank you is the first step toward embracing the growth mindset necessary for success to be achievable by all.
Graduate students who want to learn more about computing’s social responsibility, to better recognize and understand important ethical considerations in computing, and to answer some of the questions raised above are invited to sign up for Ethical Considerations in Computing, offered Spring 2021.
Sincerely,
Michelle Trim
Informatics Associate Program Director
Co-Chair, CICS Committee Against Racism and for Equity

Shout outs

Shout-Outs to Our Community

Studying computer science and informatics can be hard sometimes—very hard. We asked students to tell us who helped them get through a difficult class, encouraged their career or internship searches, edited their work, took extra time to check in on them, helped them navigate student resources, or simply made their day better.

Here's what they said ...

Eileen Hamel has been on top of things and quick to respond with any questions I have at a personal and college level. I appreciate the work she puts in for the college and graduate students even more during this remote process.

Paul Sihvonen-Binder has been very helpful with machine-related issues. At one point I lost some important files and he was able to assist with getting them back and preventing the issue from occurring again. He went above and beyond to help in this remote-learning environment and I appreciate that.

One of the things I'm sure many students will miss about being on campus is that in person lectures can be pretty hilarious. Personally, I found these moments of comedy crucial in breaking up the monotony that can materialize late into the semester. In his prerecorded lectures this semester, Joe Chiu managed to teach effectively while maintaining a tastefully lighthearted attitude. I think many of the students in his class will agree that Snorlax was a guiding light through our online classes this semester. In all seriousness, I really appreciated the effort he put into his lectures and office hours this semester and I hope he is recognized for his hard work.

David Fisher has been one of my favorite professors at UMass Amherst. I loved COMPSCI 546 (Applied Information Retrieval) in Fall 2019. During this pandemic, he kept in touch and checked in on me every now and then. It made my day when I received such warm messages. Also, I popped in on Zoom for his first class this semester as I missed his teaching. Probably I was there for around 20 minutes. He noticed and pinged me later. I felt really nice but a little embarrassed as well. Fisher has always been there for any of the academic doubts and questions I have. During this pandemic, when we are living away from family, it gets really lonely at times. The coursework keeps me busy most of the time but getting messages from Fisher now and then feels like that there is someone here who cares about my well-being during this time.

Rachel Lavery (grants and contracts coordinator) has been great in that we get to share news, thoughts, and complaints with each other. It has been hard, but in a weird way the pandemic also provides a priceless opportunity to meet and get to know others like her!

Mehmet Savasci (graduate student) is a friend, peer, and colleague. I feel he and I have triumphed over our TA journeys, lives, and classes. We talk, communicate, and share laughs. Good times!

Emma Anderson has always been the most supportive source of encouragement for my teaching goals. This semester was no different and I definitely credit her with my growing confidence and joy in teaching. Thank you, Emma, for being an exceptional role model. You always make my day better.

The best thing Alexandra Camero Bejarano (graduate student) told me is to persist and be persistence and everything else will be cool. And I learned that we both like horror and sci-fi!

I am incredibly fortunate to have an advisor, Rod Grupen, who is empathetic and supportive. I've had a tough year with a myriad of health issues and it gives me such peace of mind to know and hear that my advisor has faith in me and has no misgivings about my dedication. Thank you Rod. I'm just going to say this, you are practically a father figure to all of us at the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics.

Erika Dawson-Head, Emma Anderson, Elizabeth Parolski, and Eileen Hamel: I think this year would be horrendous without you four. I would have quit long ago or not been around this semester.  I am thankful to you for allowing me to cry, cuss, and laugh with you all. There was so much I got to participate, contribute to, and learn beyond the books. In my book you all are the real life heroic Fantastic Four!

Spring semester was my first time as an instructor. Teaching the class with David Barrington, who basically created the material, was something I had thought would be intimidating. But I never felt discouraged or undermined, and that has been the biggest reason why this year has been pivotal to how much confidence and certainty I have about my academic career. Thank you for being the most wonderful mentor I could have asked for and thank you for continuing to believe in me.

When my wife was sick, Amee Trivedi (graduate student) taught me how to cook some healthy recipes for my wife. And she always makes sure that I treat my wife well. My family is all happy and healthy now thanks to her. Thanks, Amee.

The pandemic mixed with graduate school has unfortunately been a recipe for disaster for me. I lost two grandparents during the first lockdown during the Spring 2020 semester. I just lost another grandparent in November. I am typically a self-motivated person and I pride myself in committing to doing work at my best the first time. As of March, that hasn't been me; it's impossible when my heart feels emotionally raw all the time. My productivity and motivation to learn is terrible. And I feel guilty about it. But after chatting with Elizabeth Parolski during her office hours and appointments, I increasingly learned that what I'm experiencing is okay. It's OKAY to not feel my best as I learn to accept the reality that has befallen my loved ones. It's OKAY to not feel 100% immediately after a funeral or after you're told to say goodbye over Zoom for the third time. She connected me with resources to speak to people who could support me and they have. She helped me recalculate my graduate school journey every time I felt like the road got longer with every hardship and bump in the road. And never once did she make me feel like the journey would be impossible. During the Spring 2020 semester, I failed my first ever course in my life. Since high school, I've dedicated my time and effort towards school. That was true then and during undergrad at UMass Amherst. As a result, I thought I'd never come back from failing a course during graduate school. I thought my academic career was over. And this semester, it's looking like the pandemic and my grief will DEFINITELY have some say over whether or not my brain will have the bandwidth to think AND excessively cry at the same time. It's looking like it won't. But if there's one thing I'll remember from my conversations with Elizabeth is that there is ALWAYS something that can be done by the university to support me. There aren't any dead-ends here. And if I have to take time away to cope and grieve, the university will still be here. Uncoupling my sense of worth from my academic performance and productivity like that is not something I expected to get from Elizabeth. But I am forever grateful. It's because of her that I feel comfortable sharing my plight with others so that they don't feel alone in this endeavor. Going to school (and work) when the sky is falling should not be trivialized. It truly is something that Elizabeth made me feel better despite the circumstances. Thank you for emailing me just to check in. Thank you for always being so cheery in an effort to uplift students. Thank you for making the impossible feel tangible. THANK YOU.

Seeing Gratitude

In the spirit of practicing gratitude this fall, students were invited to submit photos showing people, memories, and things that make them grateful. Here's what they sent!
Collage: photos of family, friends, pets, partners, and favorite things

Be An Undergraduate Research Volunteer

CICS Careers is expanding on its Undergraduate Research Volunteer program. They will match 30 undergraduates with 10 PhD students for this program, giving undergraduates an opportunity to assist with projects such as data collection and analysis, reviews of existing research, or even contributing to a publication.
Undergraduates, please look out for the student application, beginning Friday, Nov 20!
If you are a PhD student interested in contributing to this program, please reach out to Dale Osef at dosef@umass.edu for more information.
Events
Banner: CICS Social Justice Roundtable

CICS Social Justice Roundtable

Join our ongoing conversation about how CICS and industry partners can improve diversity, equity and inclusion. The roundtable discussion will be led by Erika Dawson-Head, with support from Dale Osef and Brian Krusell from CICS Careers. 
Friday, November 20, 1:00–2:00pm
Have a great break!
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