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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

SIGDA PhD Forum: a Perspective on the Future

August 14th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena

SIGDA is ACM’s Special Interest Group on Design Automation. They do lots of great stuff including organizing workshops and conferences, distributing and maintaining tool benchmarks, supporting the ACM Transactions on Design Automation, and perhaps most importantly, encouraging graduate students to pursue productive careers in EDA by way of the University Booth and PhD Forum at DAC.

This year’s SIGDA PhD Forum was held Tuesday evening, June 3rd, in San Francisco at DAC. Basically a large poster session, Room 104 in Moscone Center was packed from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm with students, professors, and industry colleagues. It’s well-known that grad students come running whenever there’s free food, so given that a buffet dinner was part of the evening’s entertainment it’s not surprising there was a lively turnout for the event. However, grad students also love a good competition and the PhD Forum had that as well.

phdforum_2014_1Prizes were awarded for Best Poster Research and Best Poster Presentation, these two awards determined by the PhD Forum Technical Program Committee before the evening commenced. But there was also a third prize, one that was voted on during the actual event.

You were given a ballot when you entered Room 104, asked to peruse as many posters as you could over the next hour, and talk with as many presenters as possible, and then mark your ballot with whichever poster you thought was best overall.

The ballots were tallied up and the winner was announced, along with the first two awards, as dinner was winding down.

As fun as all of this sounds, especially when enjoyed over dinner and beer, these awards actually carry some weight. To have a poster deemed Best Poster in any category – Research, Presentation, or Crowd Favorite – is something that looks very good on a CV and adds weight to an application, be it for a position in industry or academia.

phdforum_2014_2The committee who organized this year’s SIGDA PhD Forum at DAC know all about such things: Dr. Laleh Behjut from the University of Calgary, Dr. Shiyan Hu from Michigan Technological University, Dr. Xin Li from Carnegie Mellon, and Dr. Zhuo Li from Cadence can certainly look back on their own transitions from graduate school into academia/industry and know that a Best Paper or Best Poster nod helps open up opportunities for interviews.

No doubt that’s why they gave generously of their time to make this year’s Forum a success, and they were not the only ones.

In a recent email exchange regarding the June event at DAC, Prof. Behjut noted: “The PhD Forum is a SIGDA event and we had a lot of support from the SIGDA Executive committee, especially Dr. Gi-Joon Nam from IBM.

“[In addition], the technical program committee this year consisted of 56 academics and industry leaders. We had 65 poster submissions from 15 countries and accepted 30 of them, with each submission [receiving] 3 or more reviews.”

That’s a lot of people contributing their time and wisdom to sorting through dozens of submissions addressing system-level design, pre/post silicon validation, and emerging technologies from an international group of enthusiastic young researchers.

It was a wonderful experience to be at the PhD Forum in San Francisco, as many of them – committee members and students alike – were there enjoying the evening’s events. And it wasn’t just people who were on display in Room 104 on June 3rd, it was companies as well.

Cadence donated a whopping $10,000 to making the event a reality, while IBM, Oracle and Mentor each donated $2000. Per Prof. Behjut, “All the money raised was used to pay for travel grants to the students.”

phdforum_2014_4Importantly, Prof. Behjut also pointed out that “the whole [SIGDA] event was held in conjunction with the Richard Newton Young Fellows, which is a DAC event.”

Actually I already knew that, because when I submitted my ballot that evening for what I deemed to be the Best Poster in Room 104, my ballot was refused.

I had unknowingly chosen a grad student who had already been singled out as a Newton Fellow, and as such was ineligible to participate in the evening’s competition. Happily, I received a new ballot and got to go out and choose again.

If you were at DAC in June in San Francisco, it’s highly unlikely that you were at the SIGDA PhD Forum. There were many events taking place on that Tuesday evening including the Synopsys Press Dinner, the Stars of IP Party, and the Denali Party. Confabs that were all about the here and now, gatherings where the present players in the industry could be found.

phdforum_2014_3But having made the lucky choice to spend the early part of the evening at the PhD Forum instead, I came away feeling that I’d just met the future players in the industry, the future leadership.

Years from now, when the impact of the various DAC 2014 industry dinners and parties have long since faded away, the impact of the gathering in Room 104 will still be profoundly felt.

If the energy, intelligence, and good cheer of that lively group of students is any indication, you can rest assured that the coming decades for the EDA industry and its adjacencies will be even more productive than what’s come before.


The 2014 PhD Forum at DAC Award Winners …

* Best Poster – Research: Shupeng Sun from Carnegie Mellon University
* Best Poster – Presentation: Xiuyuan Bi from University of Pittsburgh
* Most Popular Poster – Jeyavijayan Rajendran from New York University


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