University of Texas at Austin


Big Bang as Rising Stars Returns To In-Person Event

By Olivia Shaffer

Published May 17, 2022

Attendees and panel members of the 2022 Rising Stars Workshop. Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.

Rising Stars in Computational and Data Sciences brings together outstanding women who are interested in pursuing academic and research careers in computational or data sciences. Attendees participate in research presentations, poster sessions and interactive discussions about academic and research careers. Only about 25% of nominations are accepted to participate in the conference.

A total of 32 women were selected to attend the 2022 Rising Stars workshop series in Computational and Data Sciences in Albuquerque, New Mexico between April 20-21. The Oden Institute was proud to partner with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to host the first in-person workshop since 2019, with the event being held virtually in 2020 and  cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic. The workshop also received sponsorship from the U.S. Association for Computational Mechanics (USACM), Springer and the NNSA’s Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP).

Many faculty, researchers and industry experts came together to participate in the Rising Stars panels, workshops and presentations, including three Oden Institute core faculty, Karen Willcox, Rachel Ward and Omar Ghattas. A 2020 alumna from the Oden Institute’s CSEM program, Teresa Portone, currently working at SNL, was one of the primary organizers of the event. Other organizers included James Stewart from SNL, Jeffrey Hittinger from LLNL, and Rachel Ward and Karen Willcox from the Oden Institute.

Rising Stars is a workshop for women graduate students and postdoctoral appointees that are in either the final year of their PhD or within three years of completing their PhD. “This is a critical time for those seeking a career in research because you must decide whether you want to work in an academic institution, a government or National Lab, or industry,” said Oden Institute Director, Karen Willcox, one of the co-organizers of the event.

“This is also a time when you must think about how you sell yourself—how you build your research brand, how you network and communicate with people, how you write proposals. There are many new skills you must acquire that you didn’t necessarily get trained on during your PhD.”


Heather Wilber, an NSF postdoctoral fellow at the Oden Institute, speaks during a discussion. Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.

The workshop has a research element, with research presentations and poster sessions, but what sets Rising Stars apart from many other conferences is the career-mentoring focus that includes panels, workshops and networking.

One of the aforementioned activities included a panel on building your research brand, where Omar Ghattas, Professor of Geosciences and Mechanical Engineering at UT Austin and core faculty at the Oden Institute, shared his seven elements of a successful proposal.

“It's always a great honor and pleasure to participate in these Rising Stars events,” said Ghattas. “I've benefited considerably from the wisdom of mentors over my 33 years in academia, so this event was a great opportunity for me to share my insights—in particular on proposal writing. One of the highlights for me was learning about the research of this group of incredibly talented, accomplished and enthusiastic young researchers. We will be hearing much more about them in the future.”

There was also a workshop on writing and communicating effectively and a panel on research careers with speakers from academia, research labs and industry who discussed their experiences in these different career trajectories.

Rachel Ward, professor of mathematics at UT Austin and core faculty at the Oden Institute, chaired a panel on building your research brand with a focus on funders, other scientists and potential employers, and she participated in a panel about research careers in academia, government and industry.

“I was excited to attend the event to hear talks by an incredible group of talented rising stars in data and computational sciences,” she said. Being in a room filled with a majority of women, especially after two years of virtual talks and relative isolation, is incredibly invigorating and inspiring.”


A group of women took Sandia Peak Tramway and hiked in Sandia heights after the Rising Stars event.

Willcox stressed the benefits of having the event in-person. “Networking and getting to meet the other women in their field is so much more powerful in person. In fact, a group of the women went hiking together in the mountains in Albuquerque after the event. Opportunities like that are just not possible over Zoom.”

“Having said that,” she added, “I’m glad that we did the virtual one in 2020 because the alternative to virtual was to do nothing at all. Even though it was not in-person, shorter and less intense I know that it was still valuable to the women who attended.”