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### Climbing the Rungs: Graduate Students Ascending Towards Cybersecurity Careers

Graduate school can sometimes resemble a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Numerous students from Southwest Virginia specializing in security-related fields are outpacing their peers by actively participating in programs that offer pathways to future career opportunities.

Akshay Bansal, a computer science graduate student who conducted research with a quantum information theory group in Singapore for three months, expressed his interest in continuing his research at the Centre for Quantum Technologies post his Ph.D. He envisions a career that combines research and teaching, viewing them as complementary endeavors.

Bansal was part of the inaugural cohort of the [Program Name], now in its second year. Many participants in the program leveraged the array of resources available to secure internships, publish papers, and present their work at conferences.

Progression 1: Early spring

The [Event Name], held annually, offers students the chance to showcase their ongoing cyber-related research projects to an audience comprising professors, industry experts, and students from various institutions in Southwest Virginia.

Julia Shapiro, a mathematics graduate student, shared her experience from the previous year’s showcase, highlighting the diverse range of security research covered under the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

Progression 2: Mid spring

Following their participation in the showcase, many students, including Shapiro, proceeded to present their research projects at the statewide [Event Name] in Richmond.

Progression 3: Late spring

In collaboration with Virginia Tech’s [Center Name], the [Program Name] guides graduate students and postdocs through the essential steps involved in creating a startup.

Shiva Acharya, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, emphasized the program’s comprehensive approach in assisting individuals to translate research into practical applications, ultimately benefiting society. Participating students also received a $2,000 professional development award.

Progression 4: Summer

While Bansal utilized the award to support his research stint at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, Acharya and Shapiro presented their research at international conferences, leading to subsequent publications.

Participation in these conferences early in their graduate studies enabled students to progress towards their goals swiftly by networking with peers and exploring new opportunities. The innovation fund played a pivotal role in facilitating these experiences.

Progression 5: Mid fall

Shapiro elaborated on her security-focused research at the Graduate Student Summit in the early fall, earning the Most Astute Presentation award.

At the summit, Acharya and Bansal delivered concise talks and received immediate feedback from faculty members and fellow student researchers.

Acharya, recognized for the Most Technically Enlightening Presentation, valued the opportunity to gain insights into other researchers’ work.

End game

Through effective utilization of Commonwealth Cyber Initiative resources, student researchers are forging their paths in the cybersecurity domain while aiding fellow researchers in navigating their journeys and steering clear of setbacks.