University of Texas at Austin


Rising Stars Workshop Brings Early Career Researchers Together

By Joanne Foote

Published May 23, 2023

2023 Rising Stars Workshop attendees and leaders.

The Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory welcomed 33 attendees to this year’s Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences Workshop on April 13-14. The event, which took place at the Peter O’Donnell Building at The University of Texas at Austin, included research presentations in addition to interactive panels and discussions on topics ranging from communications, networking, grant proposals, and academic and research careers. 

Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences brings together outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral researchers interested in pursuing academic and research careers in the field, with a focus on increasing the participation of underrepresented genders in computational and data sciences. 

One of the primary focuses of the workshop is to encourage networking opportunities. Nicole Aretz, a Peter O’Donnell Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oden Institute, was a Rising Star participant in 2022, and provided local organizing support for this year’s event. Aretz said a big part of the workshop is community building. “Attendees share hotel rooms which supports continued networking even after the day’s sessions, making stronger connections from uniquely different universities. Creating an environment for attendees to mingle and network is important. Since this is a much smaller environment, it fosters a place to find community.”


Nicole Aretz (standing) and panelists Nadine Miner, Jeff Hittinger, and Karen Willcox. Credit: Joanne Foote

As the two-day workshop unfolded, participants attended sessions on a variety of topics. The session on communications offered tips on the importance of not only verbal but also written communications. Panelists Nadine Miner, of Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Campus Partnership Manager for UT Austin, Jeff Hittinger who is the Director of the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Karen Willcox, Director of the Oden Institute, shared their tips on both verbal and written communication skills.

Willcox described how presenting to an audience can be intimidating. “Early in my career, I was terrified of speaking in public. However, you cannot underestimate the value of honing your communication skills – it is important to learn not only how to communicate your ideas through public speaking, but also by creating quality visuals. Working with a graphic designer taught me the value and science of good design.”

Hittinger, who is part of the workshop organizing committee, said the event gives up-and-coming leaders in the field an opportunity to build community within their cohort and gives both Lawrence Livermore and Sandia Labs, respectively, an opportunity to make connections to these rising stars. “We’re always looking for future employees and collaborators to advance the state of the art in computing and to help us deliver on our national security missions.”

Chuning Wang, a UT Austin Ph.D student in the mathematics department said the panels were extremely helpful. “I learned how to be impressive during an elevator pitch, and how to develop my early career in academia.”

Community is so important to feeling like you belong and to having the support you need to thrive in a research environment where you are often ‘the only one in the room.’

— Teresa Portone, Sandia National Laboratories

During the session on research branding, panelist Omar Ghattas talked about grant writing and proposals. He reminded attendees that not all grants will be accepted. “Often the early ones are thrown in the garbage. That’s been true for all of us. Have other peers or faculty review your proposals. One of the biggest parts of grant writing is showing the larger impact of your work in a relatable way.” Ghattas leads the OPTIMUS Center at the Oden Institute.

Teresa Portone, with Sandia National Laboratories, was a 2019 attendee and joined the organizing committee for the 2022 and 2023 Rising Stars events. “The workshop is a wonderful chance for people with gender identities historically underrepresented in Computational and Data Sciences to build a community that could last for the entirety of their careers. Community is so important to feeling like you belong and to having the support you need to thrive in a research environment where you are often ‘the only one in the room.’ I haven’t experienced another workshop or organization where all the participants are so well aligned in their career goals and life experiences. It makes the Rising Stars event a truly unique and valuable opportunity.” Portone is a Senior Member of the Technical Staff in the Optimization and Uncertainty Quantification Department, located in Albuquerque, NM. 


Teresa Portone visits with attendees. Credit: Joanne Foote

Jim Stewart, of Sandia National Labs, served as a chair for one of the research talk sessions at the workshop. “There is a tremendous breadth of very high-quality technical research being performed by women PhD students and postdocs. It is reassuring to see the high quality of the research and the passion of the participants to change the world both through their research and their commitment to serve their community.” Stewart is the Senior Manager of the Computational Science and Math Group with Sandia, and a co-organizer for the workshop since 2019.

Anna Yesypenko, a graduate student at the Oden Institute said the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. “The session on developing a research brand was especially valuable. The speakers discussed how to write a successful grant, and at the core, the session focused on building a unique identity as a researcher and effectively communicating the significance of your work.”

“Rising Stars provided an excellent opportunity to meet many enthusiastic young professionals in just two days. I believe we left a positive and lasting impression on each other, and I am excited to reunite with many of them at upcoming conferences,” said Yesypenko.


Anna Yesypenko (R) meets other Rising Star attendees. Credit: Joanne Foote

Professional networking sites allow for continued connecting of past, present and future attendees. “My experience as a Rising Stars participant is already paying dividends, and I expect the benefits of this experience to only continue to grow throughout my career,” added Portone.

The 2023 Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences workshop was sponsored by the Oden Institute, Sandia National LaboratoriesLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the U.S. Association of Computational Mechanics, and the UT Austin Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP) center. Previous Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences workshops have been held in 2019 (Austin), 2020 (virtual), and 2022 (Albuquerque).