SIAM CSE15 Testimonial: Melissa Romanus

I was initially attracted to the SIAM CSE15 conference based on the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration and exciting research at the intersection of physical sciences and computer science. As a joint-PhD student between the departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computational Biology & Molecular Biophysics, my work forces me to devise solutions that not only improve the efficiency of high-end computing systems but also provide easy-to-use solutions that domain scientists can understand and utilize.

I knew that SIAM BE was going to be different from the very first meeting – when the icebreaker was engaging, not awkward. Human Bingo got people to really open up and find things out about one another. This conference really helped me to break out of my shell. I am usually very shy and introverted, but at this conference, I tried to push myself to contribute to conversations and network with as many people as I could. I wound up forging great relationships with my peers (whom I still keep in touch with), as well as making some great contacts at national labs. This fall, I may be traveling to Berkeley Labs for an internship, which was the result of networking that occurred at BE SIAM.

The Broader Engagement program at SIAM was hands-down the best conference program I have ever participated in.  This conference helped me to rediscover my passion. It forced me to hone my ‘research elevator pitch’ and think about my long-term goals in graduate school.  In talking to my new BE friends, a lot of us have found that this conference had such a positive impact on us, whether by opening the door for full-time jobs, internships, collaborations, or friendships. Having the BE students participate fully in the conference was a great opportunity that was mutually beneficial to more established presenters as well as the students. The willingness of the BE students to learn as much as they could and get the most out of the conference kept the conference exciting and introduced new ideas from fresh minds.

I am not very good at art projects in general, but it was really therapeutic to be creating artwork and to be able to give it to someone else. Also, the Wilderness project gave me plenty of time to interact with my peers. While we were all working on our projects, we were also chatting about our fields, our experiences, etc. It was amazing to find out how much we had in common, even though our backgrounds were so diverse. The Pathways to Success workshop helped me realize that the route to your goals and dreams does not have to be perfect. In fact, it can be REALLY ‘hilly’ with ‘sharp and unexpected turns.’ But even if the path is non-traditional, you can still get to that endpoint as long as you keep pushing forward.

I would participate in another BE program without hesitation. It really helped me believe in myself and trust that I can make it on the path that I am on. However, if I want to go down a different path, that’s okay too. It reminds me of a quote by George Eliot: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” I wish all STEM environments and conferences could be as inclusive and collaborative as the SIAM CSE15 BE program.