Today’s cybersecurity challenges require big ideas and bold solutions. You can play a pivotal role in creating both. Here’s the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a cyber fellow within a highly competitive four-year PhD opportunity, uniquely positioned at the intersection of academia and entrepreneurship.
Melding the deep research capabilities and cybersecurity leadership of The University of Tulsa (TU), with Team8’s company-building model and ecosystem, the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows initiative was created to attract, train and educate experts in cyber R&D. Students develop a well-rounded set of skills that prepare them to pursue a variety of career paths, whether in academia, government or industry. One of this year’s cyber fellows, Seth Hastings, said, “TU has really great academics in the cybersecurity realm. When I talked to some of the faculty, I was impressed. This program has all the quals I had asked for and is super unique with Team8’s involvement. There are no other programs like this. It’s pretty special.”
A Passion for Exploration
For cyber fellow Ginger Johnson, the emphasis on research was a huge draw. “For many PhD programs the focus is to get you on a track to teach. Here, you get to explore how you can use your degree for research or industry or government,” she said. “I was excited when I got accepted because it gave me the opportunity to focus on research, which I want to do long term. I’m really glad I made the decision to join the program.”
Team8 brings its corporate network and platform capabilities to transform industry-leading research into solutions for real-life problems. It’s a game changing factor that jump-starts the process of building and scaling companies and realizing dreams as an entrepreneur or business leader.
Although the research is focused on cybersecurity, data science and AI, because of the interdisciplinary approach you don’t have to be a cyber ninja to get accepted to the program. Johnson was a math and English double major, and Hastings has an electrical engineering degree with a math minor.
Professor Sandip Sen, a recognized leader in AI and a TU cyber fellow mentor, explained how it works. “A cyber fellow has the vision to ask a burning research question and the patience and commitment to build a technique that can be applied to launch hundreds of tools in specific domains that have no tools,” Sen said. For instance, he and the student he works with are focused on taking AI to new levels. “We’re developing AI companions that, in targeted domains, can collaborate in real time with a human to achieve his or her goals,” said Sen. “They understand what you’re interested in and can provide actionable information, guidance and feedback.” This project is aimed at online gaming, but imagine the promise of an AI companion to provide information that could improve outcomes in fields like medicine, transportation, cybersecurity or emergency services.
That’s just one exciting aspect of this program that’s unique in so many ways. Students receive full tuition remission as well as an annual living stipend/salary and the benefits provided to university graduate student employees. If you remain in Tulsa for at least two years after graduation, you’ll be eligible for a substantial bonus. These financial opportunities are made possible through a collaboration with the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Tulsa Innovation Labs. The Cyber Fellows initiative augments the research-intensive PhD experience by fostering an entrepreneurial perspective through Team8’s expertise.
It Takes a Village
Team8 offers the knowledge, know-how and networks to build fulfilling, meaningful careers that make a difference in our digital world.
One avenue is through Team8 Village Forums that provide the opportunity to meet renowned leaders from startups, enterprise and government in intimate settings where you can guide the conversation and discuss the future of cyber, AI, data science and entrepreneurship. For Hastings, “The Village Forums are a great way to align my perspective on entrepreneurship and tech, the qualities you need and what the industry’s top leaders are saying.”
Interactions with experienced founders, C-level executives and technologists from the Team8 innovation ecosystem are eye-opening. “The Team8 guest speakers that come in from the cyber field give us the opportunity to learn about all the different avenues of cybersecurity and the many different places you can go,” added Johnson.
Four years may seem like an accelerated timeline for a PhD, but with the high caliber of students the program is attracting, an interdisciplinary approach that inspires student innovation and the committed academic and industry resources, it is achievable. The Village Forum and internship opportunities are great examples of the enhanced student experience the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows program provides. Internship opportunities through Team8, Tulsa Innovation Labs and the regional business community further extend students’ opportunities to build and grow their tech and business skills.
Life in Tulsa
The spirit of the program is embodied in its home base city — Tulsa. “One of the best things about Tulsa is you get a mixture of everything,” said Johnson. She points to the heavy culture and arts scene, including plenty of film, music and concert venues, and the Gathering Place — an award-winning riverfront park that reflects the activity, energy and diversity that is building in Tulsa. Hastings adds that as an avid cyclist, Tulsa provides a large community of biking enthusiasts and great areas to discover.
There’s a lot that’s special about the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellow initiative. It’s a unique collaboration that provides students the space to learn and grow. “There’s a passionate, honest exploration of ideas that excites you and drives scientific work that we organically support … We work hard. But it’s those ah-ha moments and lifelong relationships we nurture that make it all worthwhile,” said Sen.