SC17 Denver, CO

Women in HPC: Non-Traditional Paths to HPC and How They Can and Do Enrich the Field

Authors: Dr. Rebecca Hartman-Baker (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center)

Abstract: There is often the unspoken expectation that those best equipped to work in HPC have studied computer science or a physical science to PhD level. However, those who have not taken such a 'standard ' or 'traditional' route to HPC can and do contribute meaningfully to the field. In this BoF we examine how to broaden the community's perceptions to access a more diverse talent pool. We will hear from three women who came to HPC from non-standard directions, followed by discussion with audience participation on how to recruit from non-traditional backgrounds, broadening the HPC talent pool.

Long Description: Are we accessing as many potential sources of HPC talent as we could be?

Many of us in the HPC community have a background in either computer science or a physical science and have obtained a PhD in these disciplines. Consequently, there is the unspoken expectation that such a background is a prerequisite for working in HPC. Furthermore, this is reinforced through, for example, job descriptions that stipulate PhDs from these traditional fields as a mandatory selection criterion. This creates several problems, including:

Limiting the pool of potential applicants by excluding those who are fully capable of providing meaningful contributions to the HPC community because of their non-traditional background; Potentially excluding novel and exciting contributions from non-HPC communities or from those who have taken a non-standard route through education; Continued reinforcement of a stereotype that inhibits the progress of those from non-traditional backgrounds, whilst contributing to the community's unconscious bias against those from such backgrounds; Limiting HPC’s ability to expand and reach disciplines outside of computer science and the physical sciences, continuing a lack of knowledge of other domains in HPC.

This BoF will discuss non-traditional routes to HPC and how they can and do enrich the HPC community. There will be a particular focus on how this impacts the careers of women, who remain more likely than their male peers to come from outside traditional disciplines and to have had a more circuitous route through education such as re-training, career breaks or a change in discipline.

The BoF will consist of a panel presenting three case studies, followed by discussion with audience participation to share ideas on how to improve representation of those from non-traditional backgrounds, irrespective of gender, or any other protected characteristic.

The three panelists are

Kristy Kallback-Rose, a storage systems engineer at NERSC, who earned her first degree in Japanese; Asmae Mhassni, an engineer at Intel, who started her career designing medical devices and now designs clusters for Intel; Fernanda Foertter, a member of the data group at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, who returned to school after an 8 year break to earn a PhD in data science whilst working full time.

Straw polls will be used to identify how to get people from non-traditional backgrounds interested in HPC. We will ask the panel and the audience to help formulate survey questions that would help extend the HPC community. This will be used to launch a community survey across HPC pipelines in collaboration with Women in HPC and the SC Inclusivity program.

The Women in HPC BoF has a history of engaging audiences on how to improve the representation of women in the HPC community, attracting diverse participation not limited to women. This year’s BoF will continue the conversation, encouraging engagement from those interested in improving the representation of women as well as those who wish to expand HPC's reach beyond the traditional fields that have dominated HPC thus far.

Conference Presentation: pdf

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