our hidden figures

[Proc. IEEE, 105(10):1847–1850, Oct. 2017. Point of View column]

“Your mom made five palačinka [crêpe in Serbian], your brother ate two; how many are left for you?” For some reason, this “sweet” math got etched in my mind as one of my earliest memories. It was my dad, playing number games with me. And many others: card games, puzzles, word riddles, brainteasers, anything where you had to figure out things, he loved. Then of course, so did I.

I grew up in ex-Yugoslavia, a socialist country at the time, where gender equal- ity was guaranteed (or at least that is how it sounded to me). Women were sup- posed to be able to do everything men did; in my family, in particular, run by my fierce Montenegrin mother, that was fully on display. My mom had infinite confi- dence in me and believed I could do anything I wanted. The only time I remem- ber her being disappointed was when I sold myself short. My dad, to this day the most brilliant man I have ever met, was a true intellectual, intensely curious and fearless; he went on to be the Mayor of Belgrade and Yugoslav ambassador to the United States for two years until he was recalled by Miloševi ́c for not promot- ing his nationalist agenda. Instead of collecting a pension from the State Depart- ment, he resigned and at the age 59 became unemployed. He transformed the last 20 years of his life by writing books; he wrote the first English-Serbian and Serbian-English dictionaries of idioms and became a linguistic authority together with books on diplomacy and negotiation. As busy as he was, he left an indel- ible mark on my life; he treated me as an equal even when I was just a little girl, empowering me for the rest of my life.

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commencement speech 2017

So here is where I’m supposed to tell you something deep and share wisdom, to inspire you and make you remember this commencement, be funny, maybe a bit sentimental. And maybe I will say some of these things; but I want to start with something that is bigger than all of us; a sense of responsibility to something outside ourselves and to those less fortunate than us.

You are graduating in challenging times. This past academic year, we have lived through the end of an election and the beginning of a presidency that have been like no others; and I don’t mean this in a good way. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, where you come from and what you believe in, there are lessons we can learn and actions we can take.

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preparing for the academic job search: interview

Once you receive an invitation to the interview, send a polite email thanking the department head/search committee chair (whichever invited you for the interview) and ask for any pertinent details about your job presentation, chalk talk details if there is one, or any other details you feel are necessary to prepare for the interview.  Continue reading “preparing for the academic job search: interview”

preparing for the academic job search: developing a diversity statement

An increasing number of institutions are asking for a diversity statement (either separate or within the teaching/research statements) as part of the package. If they do (as Carnegie Mellon does), assume they are doing it for the right reasons and write as such. Stay away from clichés and generalizations; write instead about your personal commitment to an inclusive environment where every student can achieve his or her full potential. See an excellent article in Inside Higher Ed for more tips and pointers.  Continue reading “preparing for the academic job search: developing a diversity statement”

preparing for the academic job search: developing a teaching statement

While in writing a teaching statement, there is more freedom in how to present and organize the material, it is still crucial to present your vision and teaching philosophy. A great teaching statement will set you apart from the rest of the applicants. A great teaching statement might not lend you the job on its merits alone; a poor teaching statement can certainly disqualify you. Continue reading “preparing for the academic job search: developing a teaching statement”

preparing for the academic job search: developing a research statement

At a major research institution, this will probably be one of the most scrutinized documents you send. The search committee will be evaluating your potential to develop an independent and successful research program, and in long term, become a tenured member at their institution. The stakes are high: search committees hire for the next 40 years, it is up to you to convince them you are worthy. The worst mistake you can make is to write your research statement as a laundry list of small accomplishments without vision and plan for future research. Continue reading “preparing for the academic job search: developing a research statement”

preparing for the academic job search: candidate package

A candidate package is fairly standard; most schools will ask for an up-to-date CV, followed by research and teaching statements, often a diversity statement, list of three to five reference letter writers and some number (typically three to five) representative papers. To this, you should add a cover letter. What is written below is biased towards research institutions; adapting it to teaching institutions moves stress from research portion to the teaching and diversity portions of your package.  Continue reading “preparing for the academic job search: candidate package”

what do electrical and computer engineers do?

Despite the number of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) departments around the country (also EE, EECS), very few prospective students know what electrical and computer engineers do; even on our own campuses, we are typically a mystery. While in high school many students get exposed to various areas of computer science, they rarely do so for areas of ECE. Moreover, the lack of understanding of how we impact the society and people’s lives influences the enrollment of underrepresented students and creates a general misconception of electrical and computer engineers walking around with soldering irons.  Continue reading “what do electrical and computer engineers do?”

how to start writing a paper

Often, we encounter papers we cannot read nor understand; such papers are useless. While they appear on the author’s CV, they do not add to the knowledge base of the community. Even the most important and interesting results are of no use if they are not disseminated. You do not want all your hard work to go unnoticed due to poor content organization, inability to express yourself well in English, or sloppy preparation and writing.  Continue reading “how to start writing a paper”

what, why, how?

One of the key mantras in my group is what, why, how. It is one of the more useful guidelines for explaining your work in written or oral form. It works for an elevator pitch as well as writing an abstract for your paper. For each of what, why, how, try to articulate your thoughts with the fewest possible words that exactly describe what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are doing it.  Continue reading “what, why, how?”