PEARC22: Overwhelmed by Greatness!

By Anna Little, US Air Force Academy Cadet

Boston was the perfect setting for the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing (PEARC22) conference since it drew upon local industry and academia quite well. Riding the “T” was convenient; you could easily get from the Boston Park Plaza Hotel venue to various parts of the city in order to visit companies and campuses. I was grateful that even with all the opportunities the conference provided, I still had time to visit Kessel Run, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus to see the MIT Artificial Intelligence (AI) Accelerator. These experiences were especially valuable for an undergrad who is exploring grad options. Without the financial support I received to attend PEARC22, I doubt that I would have had this opportunity.

I was overwhelmed by the talent of students in my cohort. My undergraduate education had not exposed me to high performance computing (HPC). I had never heard of a cluster, let alone tried to work with one. Fellow PEARC22 students had competed in cluster competitions and one built the first HPC cluster for their university. When surrounded by such great minds, it is almost impossible to not be inspired to learn.

Democratizing Access to NSF Supported Research Cyberinfrastructure BoF. Photo by Anna Little (USAF Academy).

I was overwhelmed by the content discussed in the various talks. Being a total newbie, following along in workshops was, at times, above my comfort level, but I found the plenaries to be inspiring and informative. I was particularly excited by Dr. Ayanna Howard’s lecture on robotics systems that my own university uses for capstone projects, and because Dr. Howard is the Dean at the College of Engineering at THE Ohio State University, my brother and father’s alma mater.

The most exciting plenary was by Dr. Jack Dongarra – you know – the ACM A. M. Turing Award recipient Jack Dongarra. Having had discussed his work with professors and seeing his face on the magazines in my department’s lobby made it all the more thrilling. His mention of quantum computing, potentially augmenting HPC with quantum processors, was especially interesting.

I was overwhelmed by the generosity of time that the co-chairs and mentors of the student program exhibited. It was obvious how much time they had put into preparing for this conference. They had thoughtfully considered what would be most beneficial for students who would soon enter the job market. The resume clinic and elevator pitch workshop prepared us for professional interactions with vendors and HPC professionals later in the week. The mentor dinner was fun – it seemed as though my mentor was a hand-picked kindred spirit. Dr. Liwen Shih (U-Houston at Clear Lake, and DoE Visiting Research Faculty Affiliate on Quantum-Accelerated HPC at Berkeley Lab) and I share a passion for quantum computing.

I was most overwhelmed by the relationships I formed at PEARC22. On the first night, a large group, led by students who study at nearby universities, bonded over dinner in Chinatown. They were a reoccurring joy throughout the conference, as we ate meals and explored Boston together. The networking event held at Kings Dining & Entertainment was the defining moment of those relationships, as I, embarrassingly, roped three others into singing karaoke with me. I was grateful for the friends I made in Boston, and I know that I will meet them again at future conferences; I look forward to watching their careers bloom.

Part of being overwhelmed by PEARC22 was my lack of exposure to the field, but more-so by the wonderful people and opportunities that the conference provided. Even if you aren’t acquainted with HPC, or especially if you aren’t acquainted with HPC, I recommend that you attend future PEARC conferences to check it out for yourself!

Thank you!

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