The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Pride in STEM, with Dr. Christian Newman, Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Dr. Newman shares his knowledge based on his experience running the Source Code Analysis and Natural Language Lab, and great advice for LGBTQ+ students and professionals navigating education and career.
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Dr. Christian NewmanI had a strong interest in computers starting from around my pre-teen years. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong with our old machine at the time, because it wouldn’t run a video game I wanted to play. I also spent a lot of time on the internet playing multi-user dungeons (MUDs and MUCKs). My experiences on the internet and working with my parents’ computer made me think that programmers had to be the coolest people around, and I wanted to become one myself.
What Does a Typical Day or Week Look Like for You as an Assistant Professor?
Dr. Christian NewmanAs an assistant professor, my typical day is prioritizing the set of research, teaching, or service tasks that most need to be completed at the time. Some days I will be prepping classes, supporting students (e.g., answering questions), and grading. Other days I’m working on a research project, advising my PhD/Masters students on their research, or reading some papers/books related to natural language processing and software engineering; my areas of research.
What’s Been Your Greatest Professional Challenge as a Member of the LGBTQ+ Community, and How Did You Overcome It?
Dr. Christian NewmanDetermining when to be open about it. Primarily in professional social situations where family comes up, or when anyone asks about my personal life. When I don’t know the person/people I’m talking to well, there used to be times when I’d just stay away from mentioning my significant other. This had less to do with the research community and more to do with societal expectations on a macroscopic scale. I think the thing that helped me overcome it most was becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Growing into an independent person who was increasingly confident in himself made me less vulnerable to caring if someone else had a negative opinion of the things I did/do with my life.
What Is One Piece of Advice You Can Give to LGBTQ+ Early Career Professionals?
Dr. Christian NewmanKeep a personal support group not attached to career/workplace. It can be friends, family, a community that you regularly interact with– anything. They can help keep you on your feet if it ever comes to the point where you’re uncertain about the level of support you’ll receive from your workplace. They can also help you make decisions based on an external perspective that might see more objectively than you can in the moment.
Who Is One Role Model Who You Personally Admire and Why?
Dr. Christian NewmanI don’t have a specific person, but I know many people who fit this bill: There’s a group of people that are incredibly skilled at what they do, and understand their own abilities, but also take a lot of purposeful steps to ensure that the people they are teaching or working with grow as professionals alongside them. Perhaps this should be the expectation, but throughout my life, I’ve dealt with enough people on the other end of the spectrum (i.e., skilled, but arrogant/conceited). For example, a professor that becomes outwardly irritated toward students that require more support to fully absorb what they are learning. Taking the extra step to be patient and help the people around you grow in their own proficiency, I think, is one of the most admirable characteristics someone can have– especially as a researcher. I aspire to be like these individuals in both skill and temperament, and I hope that I have already perhaps exhibited this ideal to someone I’ve worked with.
What Is One Thing in Your Field or within Computing That You’re Most Excited About?
Dr. Christian NewmanThe creation of explainable, personalizable development support in IDEs. I have seen some work, including our own, that focuses on how we can increase the transparency and explainability of model-based recommendation and synthesis approaches– and not just by trying to explain the model, but also by being thoroughly knowledgeable of the data used to create these models. I think this is an exciting direction, as transparency and explainability can help us cater experiences to the user (i.e., a developer) based on their personal needs, and we can explain why these recommendations are being made. This also helps us make higher-quality fixes to these models when the recommendation is wrong, since the user can leverage our explanation to highlight why the recommendation was inappropriate.
About Dr. Christian Donald Newman:
In 2017, he graduated from Kent State University with a PhD in Computer Science and was advised by Jonathan I. Maletic. He is now an Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and works at the intersection of software engineering and natural language processing. He runs the Source Code Analysis and Natural Language Lab, which has had the incredible fortune of being the lab-home for many talented students and researchers. He has a husband who lives in the United Kingdom, and is very much looking forward to welcoming him on a more permanent basis to the United States, hopefully by the beginning of January 2023. When he’s not doing research, he spends a lot of time as an amateur/hobbyist musician, artist, writer, and plays a lot of video games.