What we learned at the 2022 ECEDHA Workshop
The value of negotiation skills, interview skills and mentors among our key takeaways
As two women who are pursuing advanced degrees in engineering, we know firsthand the need for more women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in engineering and the sciences.
That’s why we were so appreciative of the opportunity to attend the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA) iREDEFINE Workshop in New Orleans this past spring.
The purpose of the conference is to encourage and prepare women and underrepresented minorities to apply for faculty roles in ECE departments across the nation. The conference was packed with insightful workshops and panels, plus the venue provided us opportunities to showcase our research to the department heads during poster sessions. Also, the program was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and we were so lucky to have all our expenses covered! For both of us, this was our first time hearing about ECEDHA, and it was eye-opening to network with so many ECE chairs from across the U.S. and Canada.
Here are our key highlights and takeaways from the conference:
The value of negotiation skills
One of the workshops we both particularly enjoyed focused on negotiation skills. In academia, negotiation is such a key everyday skill. Faculty find themselves in daily situations where they need to negotiate for a reduced teaching load, more graduate students and support, a larger office/lab space, etc. Not being able to negotiate can result in lower salaries, fewer promotions and less influence at work.
As Dean Jenna Carpenter from the Campbell University School of Engineering mentioned while leading this workshop, women sadly are socialized to not negotiate starting in childhood. Thankfully, negotiation skills and assertiveness can be learned. You should start by practicing negotiation in everyday situations! Dean Carpenter shared interactive exercises with us on how to practice this skill. It was helpful to visualize different types of negotiations on a chart like the one below. It also helped us be self-reflective and find our go-to negotiation style.
Our key takeaways from the negotiation workshop were:
- Collect information or data prior to negotiating.
- When negotiating, always ask yourself: “What are my top priorities?” Aim to achieve those goals and be willing to compromise on lower priorities.
- There is not one negotiation style that fits all situations, you should be able to use different styles for different situations.
Interviewing for academic positions
In our opinion, the most beneficial part of the entire program was the two-hour period of mock interviews. We rotated through different chairs who reviewed our CVs and gave us sample questions that they would ask real applicants.
Mock interviews were an invaluable experience where we:
- Saw our strengths and weaknesses from a faculty perspective and the steps we need to take in the coming years to prepare for a faculty position even as Ph.D. students.
- Picked up tidbits on what different institutions care about in an applicant.
- Connected with different chairs on their research, teaching interests and potential openings they may have in the future.
Begum: My key takeaways from the mock interviews were:
- Do your research on the universities you are applying to, and find university-specific things to make your application stand out.
- Be ready to answer “Tell me about yourself.” Prepare an elevator pitch that doesn’t just summarize key points in your resume, but explains why you are even in this specific field of research.
- Be prepared to answer how you would fund your research. Do your research on grants and give a solid answer rather than simply stating big funding agency names.
Toluwa: My key takeaways from the mock interviews were:
- Apply broadly but still be specific in your application by researching the universities beforehand. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your mentors!
- Be prepared to answer this question: “What do I bring to this department that in collaboration with the other faculty, we can have more impact?” Identify other faculty members with whom you could collaborate.
- Be specific and prepared on the types of courses you are prepared to teach.
Toluwa: Overall, my key takeaways were:
- Mentorship really is key! Along your journey there are people who will support you in different ways and whom you will also support; learn to recognize and appreciate them.
- Networking is a lifelong process: build up relationships with companies, funding agencies, and other researchers. When answering funding related questions during a faculty position interview, showcasing these relations will give the search committee confidence that you can bring in funding and collaboration opportunities.
- Institutions are diverse: some focus heavily on teaching undergraduates, others research, and still others a mix of both. Identify what your goals are in an academic career and pick the path that suits those goals.
Begum: For me, the takeaways are:
- One should have different mentors for different situations along their journey - some long term and some short term.
- In an uncertain situation, encourage yourself to just “ask.” Never avoid negotiating!
- Know what you, as a potential faculty member, can bring to a university by researching universities. Find the specific thing of which (research, teaching wise) you will be a superstar.
We would like to especially thank our team of mentors at UC Davis for believing in us and nominating us to attend this conference: our advisors Prof. Owens, Prof. Ghiasi, Prof. Rashtian and our department chair Prof. Knoesen. We’d also like to give a shout-out to Sydney Devitt, the program coordinator, for organizing our flights, accommodations, and just taking care of us during our time there. Thank you to all the panelists, moderators, workshop and keynote speakers for sharing their knowledge and experience with us. On top of growing our technical skills and knowledge, this program gave us the chance to explore New Orleans and of course, enjoy some beignets and traditional pralines.