Because of a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Mississippi State University (MSU) and Argonne, the COAR group (Roland Varriale, Mike Thompson, Nate Evans, and Amanda Joyce) got a chance to visit the campus to meet with potential collaborators and interview students.
Our first day was a whirlwind of multimodal traveling that took us from Chicago to Starkville, MS by way of Birmingham, AL. After a brief lunch, we interviewed our first set of students for the following four hours, and again on the afternoon of our second day. What amazes me every time I go to a college campus and speak with perspective students is the myriad of personalities and experiences that are present within the same program. Some students came from extremely technical backgrounds and have been programming from a young ages whereas others have completed other degrees and found computer science or security as a passion of theirs and went to pursue it. Security is a unique field because you can approach it from a number of different directions and uncover facets that may have gone unnoticed. This variety of talents gives the interviewers a sort of puzzle where you try and embrace the interviewee’s diversity and try and place it into the security solution you are trying to form.
Although asking technical questions can be rewarding, and sometimes entertaining, I feel like I get to know a person better by asking more problem solving type questions that give me some insight into how the person would approach a solution. I like this for several reasons: (1) in computer security there certainly are best practices but they are more of a recommendation and are definitely not one size fits all; (2) in research interesting and difficult problems do not have clear cut answers and we do not know if we can even solve the problem; and (3) there is often an enumeration of possible solutions to a given problem and some are drastically more feasible than others, suggesting a very naïve approach to a problem can show some technical inexperience or lack of problem solving skills. That being said, it was very nice to meet the breadth of students that MSU had to offer. There is clearly some very good work in cybersecurity education being done and I look forward to seeing (and hopefully working with) students in the near future.
On the second day of our visit, we met with some faculty of the High Performance Computing (HPC) Center to find areas of collaboration within our respective research domains. Since I am a relatively new member of COAR I wasn’t really sure how these meetings would go. Most of the lingo surrounding this visit was foreign to me(I had no idea what an MOU was before this trip); however, I was lucky that we both were fluent in science. Once we sat down at a table and started discussing our research interests the talk immediately changed to trying to fit together work and create synergistic projects.
Overall, it was a valuable experience to be able to see where high performance computing (HPC) research was heading and how we could contribute to its success. Moreover, there are aspects of HPC that I had never considered for inclusion into security, but it seemed like a natural application to the HPC researchers once we explained what we were doing. Interactions such as this strengthen both fields and allow us to travel down paths that we may not have forged on our own.