Author Archives: Cori Grainger

One researcher’s take on Google’s mentorship program

As a sophomore at Howard University, Leslie Coney discovered what would soon become her “superpower” while she and a friend were washing their hands in the bathroom. Attempting to use the hand dryer, they noticed it worked without issue for Leslie, but not for her friend, who had darker skin. Leslie shared this experience with a professor, who introduced her to the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), the study of how humans interact with technology.

Leslie started questioning who was actually considered when designing, building and testing technologies. This kicked off her computer science (CS) research journey in Human Centered Design and Engineering, specifically exploring how Black people can influence and are impacted by technology.

Today, Leslie is a PhD student at the University of Washington with a focus on Black maternal health. She’s also a recent graduate of Google’s CS Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP). Through mentorship and peer-to-peer networking, CSRMP supports undergraduate and graduate students from historically marginalized groups pursuing computing research. The program aims to increase the diversity of PhD graduates in computing-related fields and ensure the broader community of CS researchers includes the experiences, perspectives and concerns of people worldwide. Since 2018, CSRMP has hosted more than 730 students across more than 230 institutions. And our next class of nearly 300 students starts in just a few weeks.

Reflecting on her CSRMP experience, Leslie shared more about its impact on her career and her advice for future participants.

How did you get into the research field?

I focused on building community, seeking guidance from my professors and taking advantage of as many resources as possible both on and off-campus. For example, I received funding through Google’s Conference Scholarships program to attend conferences like Tapia and Grace Hopper Celebration, where I connected with other Black women researchers.

How did CSRMP prepare you for the next step in your research career?

My mentor helped me think critically about my research interests and what makes a program and advisor a good fit for me. He encouraged me to ask the tough questions when figuring out where I could be most successful in graduate school. He also helped me better understand what rigorous research looks like in academia and what to expect as a PhD student.

Were there any challenges you had to overcome during your time in CSRMP?

I wasn’t the most comfortable in my pod at first, given that I was the only Black woman in the group. My experience at a Historically Black University influenced me to focus my research efforts on the Black community — which was something I was proud of but nervous to share with folks who aren’t Black. There is an unnecessary pressure placed on researchers from marginalized groups to validate why centering marginalized experiences is sufficient and valuable. However, my CSRMP mentor and podmates reaffirmed this decision and supported my pursuit. Also, there are very nuanced experiences in academia that are specific to Black women, and while my mentor couldn't fully prepare me for them, he still encouraged me to seek relationships that could close that gap.

You just published your first piece! Tell us about it.

Yes, I did! My article, “Why you being WEIRD to me?: reflections of a black researcher on WEIRD-ness in HCI,” started out as a final assignment last fall. I was tasked with writing about common threads throughout readings on diversity, or the lack thereof, in HCI. Afterward, a peer and fellow Black woman researcher invited me to write something for the next edition of the Association for Computing Machinery XRDS series. Writing the paper was so much fun — I got to exercise my critical thinking muscles, incorporate cultural references and prioritize accessibility so people outside academia could engage, too.

What advice do you have for students who are underrepresented in CS research and getting started in this field?

More likely than not, you gravitate toward your lived experiences. So be confident in your identities and take advantage of programs like CSRMP to help you back up those lived experiences with practical knowledge. Next, treat the graduate school application process like dating — once you’re accepted, the ball is in your court to decide whether or not that program is a good fit for you. You have to be sure that you will feel safe and supported being yourself and conducting your research. Lastly, pace yourself and have fun! A PhD is a long commitment, so be sure to find a balance between work and play.

Congratulations to all the students who graduated from CSRMP in the first half of 2022. We look forward to supporting future students like Leslie, who are taking charge in computing research. Applications are now open for the January 2023 mentorship cycle — spread the word and apply by October 26, 2022.

Rajavi Mishra on becoming a computer science researcher

Rajavi Mishra first knew she wanted to become a computer science (CS) researcher when she was a high school junior in Delhi, India. After studying electricity in her physics class, she was hooked on learning even more about the field. Rajavi spent her summer interning with a lab supervisor to design experiments that studied the mechanical life deterioration of electrical contractors, and then expanded that work into a research paper that was published during her senior year of high school.

Today, Rajavi is a senior studying CS at the University of California, Berkeley, and is one of the most recent graduates of Google’s CS Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP). Growing up in India, Rajavi felt like her dream of completing a computer science internship as a high school student and pursuing a career in computer science would be daunting and difficult to achieve. But, thanks in part to the relationships she built during CSRMP, she’s enjoyed every bit of it.

Started in 2018, CSRMP provides mentorship, networking and career exploration to undergraduate and graduate students from historically marginalized groups (HMGs) who are interested in pursuing computing research. The program’s fifth class of students — which included Rajavi — graduated in December 2021, adding 201 students from 109 institutions across the United States and Canada to an alumni community of more than 500 CS researchers. Here’s what Rajavi had to say about her CSRMP and computing research experience:

How has CSRMP impacted your research journey?

I gained insight into a breadth of research domains during speaker series and hands-on workshops. One of our small-group pod sessions had panels with researchers from various Human and Computer Interaction (HCI) sub-domains, which helped me get a taste of different skills, roles and projects in the space.Our pod sessions were real-world learning-focused, and explored different research tools and methodologies in HCI, interesting case studies of projects, and what life as a researcher at Google is like.

What was the highlight of CSRMP?

One-on-one sessions with my mentor were the highlight of my experience. Through discussions with my mentor, I was able to gain solid feedback on my work — from grad school applications and industry research experiences to my current research project at Berkeley. I have a much better understanding of computer science industry research positions and future opportunities for the role.

What were some challenges you had to overcome during the program?

The biggest challenge was letting go of my internal inhibitions and taking the initiative to connect with peers and mentors. To make the most of the program, I had to communicate expectations with my mentor and not feel ashamed for not knowing something. In the end, being a curious learner helped me broaden my horizons and network.

What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

As part of my EECS honors thesis, I have been working with Professor Chasins to study how people interact with digital assistants, which we hypothesize do not sufficiently fulfill all possible user queries. While the current research focuses on what people ask their assistants, we wanted to explore how people want to be able to express themselves to their voice assistants. With this in mind, we designed a seven-day in-situ diary study where we asked people with no voice assistant experience to record requests they would ask their assistants. I am using open-coding and language processing techniques to analyze study data, categorize diverse user needs and build an ecologically valid benchmark suite of queries that current voice assistants fail to fulfill. As I wrap up my senior honors thesis, I’m excited to see how my skills have grown since I published my first paper as a high school senior. I'm also thrilled about graduating next semester and joining graduate school as a master’s student to further explore the research area of HCI.

What advice do you have for students like you who are curious about becoming a researcher in computing?

A mentor who can help you identify, shape and strengthen your interests in computer science is pivotal. Learning from my mentors has been invaluable to my progress as a learner, researcher, problem solver and human being.

Congratulations to all of the students who graduated from the CS Research Mentorship Program in the second half of 2021! If you’re interested in joining students like Rajavi Mishra to explore what the world of CS research has to offer, then be sure to apply for the September 2022 mentorship cycle in July when applications open.

Mentorship inspires Deyrel Diaz and future researchers

During his undergrad, Deyrel Diaz attended a VR hackathon where he tried out an aircraft training demo. While Deyrel, a computer science (CS) student, had experience with 3D modeling and coding, seeing the results in action was all new. “This was the first time I’d seen the two mediums interact on such an immersive level,” he says. “Seeing how this simulation was used for real world training and research...I wanted to be a part of that.” Today, Deyrel is a PhD student studying Human-Centered Computing at Clemson University with a focus on mixed reality (AR/VR) research. He’s also a graduate of the most recent class of the CS Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP), one initiative by Google Research to support students from historically marginalized groups (HMGs) in computing research pathways. 

Recognizing that the work CS Researchers are doing has broad implications for billions of people across the globe, CSRMP aims to ensure that the community of researchers represents the experiences, perspectives, concerns and creative enthusiasm of all the people of the world, by supporting the pursuit of computing research for undergraduate and graduate students from HMGs through mentorship, peer networking and career exploration.

In June, CSRMP graduated a class of 281 students from 110 universities across the United States and Canada. We spoke with Deyrel to learn more about his experience and plans for his journey in computing research. Here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to participate in CSRMP?

Through programs and conferences, I learned just how important it is to have representation in the development and design of technology. When I read about CSRMP, I saw the opportunity to not only help expand that community by connecting with other professionals in the field, but to also learn alongside some of the best and brightest students from around the world.

How has CSRMP influenced your research journey?

The pod meetings influenced my journey the most. I was able to build relationships with other phenomenal student researchers and my CSRMP mentor. We discussed the challenges we face while conducting computing research, and we shared lots of helpful tools and resources. These meetings were also a place to find inspiration and motivation, and helped me learn about other career fields, which I might incorporate into my future research.

What are you proudest of?

I’m proudest of winning two national fellowships that will fully fund my PhD studies. The support system my mentors created for me really helped guide me in the right direction, so it’s thanks to this strong mentorship I was able to accomplish this. Plus, having these fellowships gave me the time to take part in programs where I can mentor other up-and-coming underrepresented students and expose them to not only computing research, but graduate school in general.

What advice do you have for students like you who are curious about starting their journeys as researchers in computing?

The field of computer science touches anything and everything, and if there’s something it hasn’t, you could be the person who makes it happen. That said, there’s no reason for you to pursue something you don’t love, so seek out professors, hack-a-thons, demos or certificate programs to learn more about different fields and how you can use them in personal projects. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do, just start tinkering and create something you’d have fun using.

Congratulations to all of the students who graduated from the CS Research Mentorship Program in the first half of 2021! We look forward to supporting future students who are taking computing research by storm like Deyrel Diaz. Applications are now open for the September 2021 mentorship cycle – apply by July 28, 2021.