Tracy Camp Interview: Selected Quotes


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Unexpected value from studying abroad

And I remember when I started at [Kalamazoo] College, I thought that there was no way I was going to do a foreign study. I was there to take classes, get my education, and then move on. And a foreign study just didn't seem to fit in that plan. It just seemed to be a ... you know ... a frill, I guess. But didn't really seem to be a part of the hard-core academics. But when I look back, those six months in France are six of my most wonderful months of my life. That foreign study was just wonderful. Going to a foreign language and taking classes in French. I had French art and French history and French literature and French language and French, French, French. And I ... looking back, I think I learned more about the United States living overseas than I had in my, you know, 20 years here in the United States. So it was an amazing experience that I treasure. So today, students ... I am always encouraging students to do a foreign study. You learn a lot more about the world. There's a lot more to the world than just the pages in a book for a particular course. And I think a foreign study helps capture that.

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Systers and being part of a women-in-computing community

[O]ne thing that happened when I was at William and Mary that I think had a huge influence on where I am today is I heard about the Systers list when I was at William and Mary. And it was a pretty new list. I joined in ... I think I joined in 1991 or 1992. And I think it only had been around for less than a year. And that proved to be a huge ... a huge influence on my life, being part of that list and being part of a women-in-computing community. And realizing all of a sudden, "Wow! I've been surrounded by men!" but hadn't really given that much thought.

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Do good titles improve cite-ability?

I did write the "Incredible Shrinking Pipeline" paper, which became a paper that has been very well cited. I don't think that ... you know, I wasn't the first person to note that we had this drop in percentage of women in computing. I think I was the first person to give it a cool title. And I truly believe that's one of the reasons why I get cited so much for that, is because I gave it a good title, a title that my husband helped me create. Because my husband, I remember, he said, "Wasn't there a movie about the incredible shrinking woman?" And I went, "Incredible shrinking pipeline, that's it!!" You always have to have a good title. Good titles are so important.

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Gaining confidence, discovering passion, and success as a researcher

I really struggled initially technically. I was the only networking faculty member at Alabama at the time. I didn't have a mentor to help me learn how to write research proposals. My advisor had never helped show me how to do that and I floundered for several years. [...] And then NSF gave me this tiny little $17,000 research planning grant award. You know, dollar-wise, it was insignificant. Confidence level — it was huge! It was huge to get this tiny little award! And so the next year when I applied for a CAREER grant [...] I completely switched topics and threw out everything I had done before and did something completely new. And it worked. And I was awarded the CAREER award. And suddenly realized that I had been trying to do research that I had no passion for. And I moved on to a new field that I got very excited about, that would, I thought, you know, could potentially have an impact on the world. My previous research did not have much impact at all, and so the passion wasn't there. [...] So switching research topics was a huge step in the right direction, because I became passionate about my research and I became very successful at it. But it took me a long time to get to that point.

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My soul is a better fit with a small university

I only applied to three universities and then ending up saying "No" to one interview offer. So I was very, very selective. And what I was looking for was a university that had a Ph.D. in computer science and that was a small university. My soul is just a better fit with the small university than the larger. Because I went to small K-College, large Michigan State, small William and Mary, large Alabama, and now I am here at the Colorado School of Mines, a small university again.

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Imposter Syndrome

This is something else I talked about in my keynote that I learned about recently and boy, did it hit home. It's called the Imposter Syndrome. [...] Oh, my gosh! I was so thrilled when I first heard about it! I just learned about it a couple of years ago. And ... it just struck home for me. Tremendously. I am definitely an imposter at this job. I've been an imposter my whole life. And when you look at the checklist of, you know, who are potential imposters, I can check many of them. I'm a first generation professional, you know, my parents were blue-collar. I'm in a field that is heavily dominated by men. So there's many that I can check. So I'm a huge imposter. I remember when I was accepted to Kalamazoo College and actually went to Kalamazoo College, a little voice inside my head said that I was a test case. You know, "Let's take this idiot girl from the backwoods, you know, and put her in this environment that was very intellectually stimulating with a lot of smart people and let's see what happens!" [laughs] So I really felt ... and I knew intellectually, obviously, that this wasn't the case. They don't have these types of scientific studies to see what you can do in that type of situation. But a little voice told, you know, would sometimes raise up and say, "You know, well, you don't really belong here. And you're just a test case!" Which is very silly, but that's how I felt when I was there. And I've carried that with me my whole life. I definitely feel like an imposter. So learning about the Imposter Syndrome was huge ... was HUGE. [...] So I think it's really good to know about the Imposter Syndrome because then you can start dealing with it and, you know, learning to be more confident. So, yes, confidence has always been something I've had to struggle with. I'm not nearly as successful as my record indicates. [both laugh]

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Teaching and the treasure of having an impact

So I can think of six students off the top of my head that have come to me outside of class to talk about majoring or minoring in computing. And I treasure those memories because part of the reason why I love my job so much is you can have such an impact on someone's life, encouraging them to do this or that or the research or the papers, or whatever — the grant proposals, whatever. I treasure those memories that remind me that the reason why I'm in this job is because of the impact you can have on people's lives. And ... I mean, I think back to some of the faculty members who had such a huge impact on my life and now knowing that there are some people out there that when they think back, they think of me. And that's pretty cool. That's pretty cool.

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The challenge of multiple research communities

But the biggest challenge [of having a foot in two research communities] is, as you mentioned, is the time, because you have service in both areas, you have to keep up with the literature in both areas, networking in both areas, travel to the conferences associated with both areas. I mean, it's almost as if you have two jobs.

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A graceful "No" to professional requests

[W]hen I get asked to do something professionally, the person who is asking me just wants to have a job done. They don't care who does the job, they just want the job done and they want it done well. So if you can give them somebody else who can do the job and do the job well, then there's not going to be any hard feelings — because all they want is their job done! They don't care if you do it, just as long as someone does it. So I'm able to say "No" to a lot of professional requests much easier now. Because I say "No" with a suggestion of who can do the job and do it well. And sometimes I'll give two or three suggestions, just in case they get a "No" from someone on their next request. So I have found that helps me to say "No" professionally a bit more.

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Getting off the treadmill to enjoy the view

I'm a full professor now as of just a few weeks ago [...] And my husband said to me that, "You know, maybe it's time to get off the treadmill and enjoy the view." Because I feel like I have just been racing up the tenure-track ladder and then up to full professor. And getting lots of money. And having lots of students. And writing lots of papers. And I feel like I've been in this race to succeed. And so for the last year I've scaled back a little bit, trying to figure out, "Yeah, where do I want to be?" I actually think ... first of all, I'm switching research directions. Once again. I am going to head into using sensor networks for the health community. So that's a pretty big switch, so I'll be doing a lot of reading this summer. Again, what's driving me is I no longer have a passion for my research that I've been doing. I don't see the impact that it will have on the world anymore. And for me I have to have ... I have to see potential impact. And so anything we can do in the health world, especially as our population is aging, and the whole baby boomers are becoming senior citizens, I think that that could have a huge impact. So I am switching my research career. [...] I think I will do less just trying to get the money and more what do I want to work on.

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I really love my job in academia

I love my job. I think I have the best job in the world. You know, I get to work on what I want, when I want. I set my hours almost completely for myself. I can work a lot one week, very little the next week. My daughter had surgery last week; I took practically the whole week off without giving it a second thought. It's very flexible, the type of job that we have. Yeah, I love my job. I get to travel. I get to meet interesting people. I really love my job.