A Qualitative Analysis of Using a Virtual Mentoring Program on Black Computer Science Students

A new journal has been accepted for manuscript in the International Journal of Education and Human Developments. Dr. Juan Gilbert and Morehouse Junior, Kamal Middlebrook, are co-authors.


It has been a major goal of the United States government to increase the participation of Americans in the fields of Science & Engineering (S&E), especially in under-represented groups. This research examines the use of an embodied conversational agent (ECA) as a virtual mentor to African American undergraduates who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in computing. Mentoring advice was collected from a group of experts and programed within the ECA. A between-group, mixed method experiment was conducted with 37 African American male undergraduate computer science majors where one group used the ECA mentor while the other group pursued mentoring advice from a human mentor. Results showed no significant difference between the ECA and human mentor when dealing with career mentoring functions. However, the human mentor was significantly better than the ECA mentor when addressing psychosocial mentoring functions.


Gosha, K., Gilbert, J., Middlebrook, K. (2016) A Qualitative Analysis of Using a Virtual Mentoring Program on Black Computer Science Students. International Journal of Education and Human Developments (ISSN: 2334-2978), 5(1).

Typical Graduate School Timeline

Year 1

  • Take graduate level courses
  • Identify a research advisor
  • Join a research group

Year 2

  • Take more grad-level courses
  • Take PhD Exams
  • Complete First Mentored Research & Paper
  • Complete Masters degree

Year 3

  • Identity Specific PhD Topic
  • Complete Preliminary PhD Research & Paper
  • Draft PhD Proposal

Year 4

  • Defend Proposal
  • Complete More Research
  • Write Research Papers

Year 5/6

  • Complete More Research
  • Write Research Papers
  • Write and Defend Dissertation

Identifying a Specific PhD Project


  • Potential Impact: Consider hot topics with care, Make sure topic/problem are important
  • Scale: Need more than one problem; results/finding
  • Scope: Not too narrow or too broad, open-ended

Options for finding topics

  • Read papers and attend talks in your area and others
  • Flash of brilliance (unlikely but possible)
  • Term project
  • Redo, re-invent, refine
  • Apprentice
  • Three to five (or n) papers = dissertation

How is Graduate School Different from College

  • Activities: all CS classes vs. variety of classes
  • Deliverables: Research contributions, papers, posters, presentation, proposals, dissertation vs. exams/class projects
  • Daily schedule: Flexible hours & open-ended deadlines vs course schedules
  • Modes of working: Innovating, experimenting, presenting, writing vs. studying, absorbing, solving known problems
  • Evaluation of success: Research contributions, PhD Exams, publications vs. exam scores, project grades

Masters vs. PhD

Master's Degree

  • 2-3 years
  • Courses + Thesis Project
  • More attractive for industry/lab
  • Minimum for academic instructor
  • Limited opportunities to specialize
  • Often limited graduate study funding

PhD (Doctorate Degree)

  • 3-7 years
  • Courses + Research + Dissertation
  • Minimum for industry/lab research
  • Minimum for Academic position
  • Become expert in a particular research area
  • Easier to obtain RA/TA support


How to Apply to Graduate School

Deciding Where to Apply

  1. What areas of computing interest me?
  2. What type of degree am I considering? MS? PhD? Why?
  3. What type of academic climate do I want to study in?
  4. Do I have any geographic preferences? Any restrictions?
  5. What are my academic credentials? (GPA, research experience, test scores, communication skills)
  6. Who is on the faculty at the school I am applying to? Who would I like to be my advisor?

Preparing Application Materials (Pay attention to deadlines)

EVERY program is different, but most want: Application (basic contact info), Transcripts, Letters of recommendation (2-3), Statement of Purpose (Goals/Research/Intent). Resume, Test scores (GRE, TOEFL/IELTS), Fee.

Engaging Reference Letter Writers

  • Ask "Would you be able to provide a positive recommendation?"
  • Give them materials (transcript, resume, statement of purpose, chart of schools, deadlines, how to submit a letter) at least 2-3 weeks before first deadline.

Taking GREs

  • Take spring junior/fall senior years, retake if needed. If non-native English speaker take TOEFL, TOEIC

Finalizing Applications

Pay attention to deadlines, follow-up with letter writers, report test scores, request official transcripts

Financing Your Graduate Study

After application, apply for financing options like teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships (NSF Graduate fellowship), other grants

Evaluating Offers

Spend time researching programs, visit the schools, meet faculty in your interest area(s), meet current grad students/alumni and ask about their experiences

Making the Final Decision

You will likely do well at any of top choices, make decision and inform schools, write thanks notes to letter writers, CELEBRATE!

CRA-W/CDC Research Programs


Time: Summer 10 weeks
Stipend per student: $7,000, relocation travel assistance
Location: Mentor's institution
Application: Students and mentors apply separately and are matched by the program (Due mid Feb.)


Time: Academic Year (10-15 hours per week), possible summer extension
Stipend per student: $1500 per semester, $4000 per summer
Location: Home institution
Application: Students and mentors submit a proposal to work

Website: www.cra-w.org

When to Apply?

  • NSF Summer REUs (including DREU!): Mid February to mid March
  • Private Companies and government labs: Early January to February
  • Your own college/university: Often early in the calendar year as well

START EARLY! These dates are typical final due dates - many places start accepting applications and awarding positions much sooner.


Why Participate in Research Opportunities?

  • Earn stipends, scholarship or credit
  • Thing through (and even solve!) challenging problems
  • Gain knowledge and expertise
  • Work with accomplished researchers
  • Prepare for graduate school
  • Learn life-long skills
  • Build professional relationships
  • Apply and discover new ideas and methodologies
  • Improve your communication abilities
  • Contribute to a specific area of knowledge