I am finding it exceptionally rewarding to be serving on the Grace Hopper Conference Scholarship Committee, that is, reviewing Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference travel grant applications. I’ve served on this committee in 2015 and 2016, and plan to continue doing it in the foreseeable future.
Grace Hopper Conference travel grants are for students (undergraduate, Masters, and PhD), postdoctoral researchers, and junior faculty members from all over the world. For students, travel grants cover all expenses. For faculty members, travel grants subsidize conference registration fees. Student applications include an essay and letter(s) of reference; faculty applications — only an essay. Scholarship committee members review 10 or more travel grant applications; the corresponding time commitment for the committee members is approximately 5 to 10 hours, which to me is relatively small compared to its benefits.
The primary benefit, to me, is supporting a great cause. Grace Hopper Conference, the gathering attended by 10,000+ female technologists, is a transformative experience for many. Being surrounded by so many female technologists, of all stripes, is special; so is seeing different possible role models, from both academia and industry, and so is attending the buzzing job fair, where great companies recruit heavily and even go as far as making job offers on the spot. The experience of attending the conference is special; but the very experience of receiving a grant could be precious as well. For many students the Grace Hopper Conference travel grant is the first non-university fellowship they’ll ever receive. I know first-hand the importance of this very first fellowship. My own first non-university non-admission fellowship was a small grant from a corporate foundation; I got it in the 3rd year of my B.Sc. studies, and to date I remember how elated I was to receive it. It wasn’t the money that had me overjoyed (although money did not hurt either) — it was that my story (I had to write a brief essay for this grant application, just like students do for Grace Hopper Conference travel grants), it turned out, was compelling enough for people to support me! I volunteer on Grace Hopper Conference Scholarship committee because I want to contribute to giving young female students this kind of reassurance and support.
The secondary benefit of serving on this committee is fine-tuning one’s senses of what constitutes a good application, for this fellowship, and, by extension, for other funding opportunities as well. To me, the exposure to the range of letters of references, that accompany student travel grant applications, has been particularly instructive. Serving on this committee, I see letters of reference that strengthen the student’s application (“Let me tell you, dear reviewer, how strongly I believe that by giving this scholarship to this person, you are changing her life and the lives of many other people in our school and our broader community“); I also see letters that unfortunately weaken it (“Dear reviewer. The following is the letter I wrote for this applicant’s summer abroad program. It contains no useful information,” and “Dear reviewer. I obviously know very little about this applicant; I can’t say much about her at all“). I am definite that having served on this committee, I’ll be able to write better letters of reference myself.