Like everyone, we are asking ourselves questions about the coming year. In particular, we have had lengthy discussions about how best to support and enable ACM Celebrations and ACM-W Student Chapters in North America during the 2020-21 academic year. This also means looking at events related to the move to virtual spaces and asking ourselves how we can use this as an opportunity to bring more Celebrations and Student Chapters to women.
Our answer? We are still working on some of this, including looking at regional areas that have never held a Celebrations or formed a Student Chapter and using virtual means of supporting them. However, we do know a few things. One, existing Student Chapters have already begun to move to virtual spaces, like the University of Oregon’s Women in Computer Science chapter. This spring, they used the move to online meetings to invite UOregon and WiCS alumni, Sierra Battan, to discuss her engineering role at Nike.
Similarly, Arshia Khan, Associate Professor of Computer Science, decided to launch the first virtual Celebrations in North America for the Women in Computing Celebrations at University of Minnesota Duluth (MinneWIC). They condensed the 1.5 day planned Celebrations to 6 hours on a Saturday, with guest speakers and students sharing their research.
As we continue to consider how we can support you with Celebrations and Student Chapters, please feel free to reach out. In the meantime, we plan on announcing some new goals for helping Celebrations and Student Chapters grow in regions that are presently underserved by ACM-W.
ACM-W North America volunteers are the best! We are committed to celebrating, advocating, promoting, and supporting women in tech. Care to join us? We are in particular need of volunteers outside of the United States. If you live in North America and have experience with communications (e.g., interviewing, editing, preparing social media) or advocating for minoritized women, we would love to hear from you. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the newest ACM-W Student Chapter, Marymount University ACM-W Student Chapter in Virginia! Shout out to Rama Najib, the inaugural chair for the Chapter, and the faculty sponsor, Diane Murphy (Professor and Department Chair, IT, Data Science, and Cybersecurity). Thank you both for your time and commitment to in supporting women studying computing!
Student Spotlight: Erica Smith
What’s it like to pivot to online learning as a CS major? Erica Smith is a student from Richmond, Virginia. She is a Sophomore at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NCAT) State University, pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science. She is the ACM-W president for the NCAT chapter the 2020-2021 school year and a 2020 Google STEP intern.
How did you come to computing? What was the “spark” that made you know you wanted to be involved in computing?
I was first exposed to computing through Hour of Code in the eighth grade. This inspired me to sign up for an HTML/CSS course for the following school year. I remember, on the first day of class, we had an in-depth discussion about what a computer was and how they work. I found this conversation enthralling and I knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible about this field.
What is the biggest obstacle you face right now?
The biggest obstacle I face right now, is the current pandemic. Like many other people, I had to leave college early to come home, and since then, I haven’t been out much.
Doing school and work at home has been a constant battle of maintaining motivation and staying positive. I like to keep my spaces very separate, at school for learning, workplace for working, and home for relaxing. Now that they’ve been blurred, shifting headspaces for tasks has been difficult.
To maintain positivity, I just try to see the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing, that one day, things will get back to normal.
What things is your university or is your ACM-W chapter doing to address COVID-19 and keep interaction going?
Like most colleges, my school shut down their campus in March and sent everyone home. Since then, they’ve been regulating communicating to students about developments within the state and likeliness of campus opening for the upcoming fall semester.
Our ACM and ACM-W chapter has been keeping in contact with members of our organization through Slack, giving regular updates and sharing remote opportunities for this summer.
What are you most excited about right now in what you are doing or in computing?
Right now, I’m most excited about my internship at Google. I just started May 18th and I’ve already learned so much. It’s not the experience I thought I would be getting because of COVID-19. I’m making the most of the situation and I know I’m in for a very informative and compelling summer.
What’s something you learned that you’d like to pass along?
Always ask questions.
When it comes to school, jobs, and regular life, there will always be someone around that is willing to help and answer any question you may have.
There is no such thing as a stupid question. I had to learn this in quite a frustrating way. This past fall semester, I was stuck trying implementing a feature of a major programming project for three hours. I decided that I would go ask my teacher about it the next day. After asking my question, I was able to wrap up the entire project in about an hour. Since then, I have asked my teachers, mentors, or peers whenever I get stuck so I never have to repeat that experience.
What advice would you give to a young student in computing to be successful?
Never doubt yourself and your abilities.
I’ve done plenty of that myself and it harms more than it helps. If computing is truly a field you’re interested in, pursue it. Never think that you don’t belong in this field, because you do.
ACM-W India emphasizes on women empowerment in computer-related fields and domains. It focuses on providing a platform for sharing resources, information, ideas, and experiences with its diverse range of activities so that women can effectively tackle the challenges in their computing careers. It aims to promote computer literacy and provide strong networking opportunities, enabling women towards being independent, confident, self-reliant, and successful.
The Computing Research Association-Widening Participation (CRA-WP) is an international computing body that started conducting the Grad Cohort workshops from 2004 in the different educational institutions of the USA. Over the last 15 years, these sessions have guided many women through their academic and professional years. Drawing inspiration from it, ACM-W India decided to adopt this workshop model to the Indian setting. As a result, the first edition was organized at IIT Bombay in July 2018 and the second one was held at IIT Delhi in 2019.
ACM India Grad Cohort 2020, the third installment of this pan-India workshop series, was virtually co-organized by the CSE Discipline at IIT Gandhinagar and ACM-W from 24th – 26th July 2020. It kick started with a warm welcome address by Dr. Neeldhara Misra (faculty, IITGN and member, ACM-W), followed by the opening remarks from Dr. Heena Timani (chairperson, ACM-W India)Cofounder and Director, iAnanya Datalytix Pvt.Ltd, Dr. Nutan Limaye (faculty, IIT Bombay and vice-chairperson, ACM-W) and Dr. Meenakshi D’Souza (faculty, IIIT Bangalore). They highlighted that the long term objective is to positively shape the future of our societies by celebrating and advocating women in computing.
On Day 1, the first keynote lecture was delivered by Dr. Sunita Sarawagi (professor at IIT Bombay and the Infosys Prize 2019 winner), during which she talked about the journey of machine learning models, starting from their birth and going all the way to how they are serving the real world in the current times. Although they have an amazing number of applications, a lot more still needs to be done and this is the reason ML continues to be a fascinating area for further research in computing. The next talk was given by Dr. Manik Gupta (faculty, BITS Pilani-Hyderabad), where she provided her perspectives on how women can plan and progress in their computing careers. The key is to embrace womanhood, be focused, work hard, carve our own career paths, and define our own success. In another session, Dr. Bhavana Kanukurthi (faculty, IISc Bangalore) spoke on choosing a research advisor, topic, and group. According to her, the process should be well-planned, align with our skills, and exhibit practical relevance. Dr. Aparna Taneja (software engineer, Google research) described the practical aspects of this topic by sharing experiences and insights from her own thesis and present job responsibility.
Jaya Sreevalsan Nair (faculty, IIIT Bangalore) gave examples of some eminent minds in various fields and discussed the latest topics of online presence and personal branding. She stated that the trick is to maintain a proper combination of one’s online and offline persona. This was followed by a captivating panel discussion that shed light on some aspects of remote working and maintaining a proper work-life balance. The panelists of this session were Dr. Tulika Mitra (Provost’s Chair Professor of Computer Science, National University of Singapore), Dr. Joycee Mekie (faculty, IITGN), Dr. Hemangee Kapoor (faculty, IIT Guwahati), Dr. Rekha Singhal (senior research scientist, TCS) and Dr. Akanksha Agrawal (postdoctoral researcher, Ben-Gurion University, Israel).
Talking about their personal and professional experiences, they motivated the participants and advised them on how to carve their own niche in computer science.
Day 2 opened with the second keynote lecture of this event that was delivered by Dr. Meena Mahajan (professor, Institute of Mathematical Sciences). An eminent contributor in Discrete Algorithms, Complexity Theory, Matching Theory, Combinatorics, and Proof Complexity, she recounted some interesting experiences from her life and expressed that she grew increasingly fond of theoretical computing with time and proceeded to pursue her Ph.D. in this domain. She described some fascinating facets of this field. In her words, every unknown in complexity theory is like a creative puzzle yet to be solved and there is a place for everyone to work in this exciting area of education and research. The next session was given by Dr. Prajakta Nimbhorkar (faculty, Chennai Mathematical Institute), where she discussed the background preparation (breadth and depth) for Ph.D.
Dr. Ranjita Bhagwan (senior principal researcher, Microsoft) talked about confidence and encouragement by narrating some instances from her life and emphasized that failures are our path to success since they teach us how to firmly believe in ourselves and live positively. Akanksha Agrawal gave a session on quantity versus quality in publishing from the viewpoint of research in theoretical computing, and Tulika Mitra highlighted this topic with respect to the early career researcher level, giving examples from systems research. A thought-provoking panel discussion moderated by Dr. Lipika Dey (principal scientist, TCS) included Meena Mahajan, Dr. Uttama Lahiri (faculty, IITGN), and Dr. Arpita Korwar (faculty, IIT Goa) as panelists. They shared their life-journeys and provided quality guidance to the participants on how to cope up positively and effectively with uncertainty and other related challenges. After this, all the participants enjoyed the online screening of an inspirational documentary movie that is based on the life works of Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman and the first Iranian to win the greatest prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal.
The third and final day of this workshop was initiated with an interactive session by Dr. Sushmita Gupta (faculty, National Institute of Science Education and Research). She discussed whether going for a post-doctorate is really a hit or a miss based on her experiences in theoretical computing. Next in line was a process-oriented talk given by Arpita Korwar, during which she explained the process of managing a job hunt and stated that it is all about constantly and actively being in the game. Richa Singh (faculty, IIT Jodhpur) and Anasua Bhowmik (Fellow Design Engineer, AMD Bangalore) provided valuable guidance on post-Ph.D. career options in the industry and academia respectively.
The ACM India Grad Cohort 2020 offered a perfect place for women in computing to connect with one another via several virtual platforms such as zoom, gather.town, WhatsApp, and social media.
Moreover, it also housed three major contests for women participants, with a chance to win exciting prizes. The last date for entry-submissions was 31st July 2020 and the goodies were sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services. The results were announced on 10th August 2020 over email, on the event website, and on different social media platforms.
With an attendance of more than 195 registered participants (students, researchers, and leading experts from industry and academia), the workshop was a huge success and concluded on an optimistic note. It proved to be an excellent platform for women in computing and its allied areas to build discussion forums with some of the most eminent minds in this field. Several participants voiced their views on how enriching it was to meet their women role-models. We received very good response of the participants on virtual format of Grad Cohort workshop. Opinion was taken using menti.com.
The next edition of this Grad Cohort will be conducted at IIT Jodhpur, with Dr. Richa Singh being its organizer. Dr. Heena Timani also shared the list of some upcoming interesting ACM India events. In their concluding remarks, Dr. Neeldhara Misra, Dr. Nutan Limaye, and Dr. Meenakshi D’Souza thanked IIT Gandhinagar, ACM-W, Google, TCS, the team of volunteers and all the Participants for massively supporting this event and making it a smashing success. Everyone bid adieu with the promise of staying connected to each other through these events, as a supportive and strong women community in the field of computer science education, research, and industry.