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NSF-Funded Conference Opens New Career Options for Grad Student

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A conference on smart computing set halfway around the world has opened a realm of new career possibilities for second-year School of Information Studies (iSchool)  Information Management Master’s student Marina Polachek.

2017 Alumni Awards Winners
Graduate student Marina Polachek sightseeing in Italy during a break from the SmartComp 2018 conference.

The Scranton, Penn.,-area native attended SmartComp 2018 on a National Science Foundation-funded conference travel grant last month. The IEEE conference drew students, academics, and professionals from around the world who presented a range of smart computing innovations, technologies, and applications. They included pervasive/ubiquitous computing, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, security and privacy, cyber-physical systems and smart grid operations, network edge and sensors, Blockchain-X and Cryptocurrency X, information security. and privacy issues in smart homes.

Though many of the topics covered were new to her, the experience opened her thinking to a wider range of potential career tracks, Polachek says. “The whole conference was valuable. This was the first time I’d heard about some of these topics. Some of them are going to become big news stories and big areas of interest in the tech world, because they are talking about how to solve problems that there are really no solutions for today,” she explains.


Cyber Interests

So far, Polachek’s interests have focused on the area of cybersecurity and the iSchool’sflexibility has allowed her to customize a multidisciplinary, cross-school curriculum. While her program is iSchool-based, Polachek has taken policy classes at Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. In addition to her Information Management master’s degree, which she anticipates earning in May 2019, she’ll also have a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Security Studies through the College of Law at Syracuse and its Institute of National Security and Counter-Terrorism. Those graduate credentials will augment the bachelor’s degree in Information Management and Technology that she earned from the iSchool in 2017.

Her interest in the cybersecurity arena was piqued after taking classes with and later working as a teaching assistant to Frank Marullo Jr., an iSchool adjunct faculty member. It was augmented from a Washington, D.C. trip to various organizations and law firms with iSchool Associate Professor Lee McKnight and her current summer internship with Hu-manity.co, a company that works to create decentralized human rights using proprietary technology and legal innovations on blockchains.  


NSF Grant Funding

Polachek applied for funding earlier in the spring semester, although it was the first week in May before she received news of her application’s success. Her plans for a more routine summer – golf, concerts, a family wedding, and her summer internship – quickly shifted as she prepared for an international trip in just four weeks’ time.

Once in Italy, Polachek took particular interest in a student presentation on redesigning traffic grids using IoT sensors, traffic cameras, and geographical layouts of the roadways in Milan. The students were hoping to redesign the city’s road system to accommodate its overabundance of vehicles. That exposure widened her thinking about smart grid planning as a career path, and began consideration of whether she’d want to work in the private sector, the public sector, or even consider pursuing a doctoral degree, Polachek says.

She previously visited various companies on the iSchool’s Spring Break in Silicon Valley and had attended an event in Washington, D.C. with professor McKnight relating to the security of U.S. carrier power grids. McKnight also helped her coordinate a U.S. Department of Commerce virtual internship for the fall semester, where she’ll interact with the people there who work on smart grid and smart city planning. Polachek says working with a government agency is appealing, and the experience will be valuable.  While many international cities are already working on smart grid systems, that’s not yet the case yet in the United States, she adds. “We don’t really have that many smart grid models here in the U.S. They’re trying to modernize, and working with the area of smart cities and the smart grid is really cool.”


Be Open…And Ready

“I had a fabulous time there,” Polachek reflects of the conference. “I didn’t even know this kind of thing would happen – a conference in Italy, meeting professionals and students from around the world, getting to see their points of view on things and not just our point of view, seeing what their countries are able to invest in and take on as initiatives.”

She advises other students to be open to different experiences as well as career options, and to look into unique opportunities such as National Science Foundation travel grants. She urges students not to be daunted by the application process, but to simply read the application carefully and just follow the directions. And – in case your hopes come through – “make sure to have your passport ready,” she laughs.

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