Above and Beyond Scholarship – Adriana Wilde, PhD

Dr Adriana Wilde

Year of Scholarship and Conference Attendance: ICST 2013 7th International Conference on Sensing Technology​​

Country of Origin: Venezuela

Country of residence at the time of receiving the ACM-W Scholarship: United Kingdom

Dr Adriana Wilde charted a very unconventional career path over the years. Her background is multidisciplinary but with a strong dual interest in education and technology. Following her B. CompSc. (Hons) degree at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, she delivered several computer science courses at this university. She also holds several teaching qualifica/dtions from the UK, including a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education and Training. She has taught in diverse educational environments, including primary schools, further education colleges as well as universities. She has been awarded an MSc in Computer Science by the Universities of Berne, Fribourg and Neuchâtel in Switzerland (with a specialism in Distributed Systems and a minor in Education) and was a Mayflower Scholar for Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, becoming a PhD candidate and a Teaching Fellow in the same department. She was an Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews and then a Lecturer in Computer Science and Cyber Security at the University of Winchester, where she was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Her PhD in Computer Science allowed her to study learner engagement within peer-supported digital environments, but her broader research spans aspects of computer science education, human-computer interaction and sensing technologies. She is also a keen advocate for women in computing and is now a Lecturer in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton with the Digital Health and Biomedical Engineering research group.

What has been a highlight of attending the conference (utilizing the ACM-W Scholarship)?

The successful presentation of our research paper, “Developing a low-cost general-purpose device for the Internet of Things”, was, of course, the main highlight. This paper was the result of my first supervision of an undergraduate project during the early days of my own PhD research. On attending the conference, I was requested at short notice to chair a session (which was also the first time I had ever done so) and was commended on my timekeeping and the way I fostered discussion. The best paper of the conference was presented in this session, which made it a very memorable experience. I was able to engage in discussions with many researchers in related fields. Some of these discussions were regarding women’s participation in their own institutions, which I found interesting, and it compelled me to do more work in this space. I was then approached by the organisers to join the organisation committee for the next edition of the conference, which gave me valuable insights into event organisation, which I later put to good use.

How did attending the ACM-W-sponsored conference impact your career?

Although, eventually, the research I presented at the conference did not make it into my PhD thesis, in the big scheme of things, the experience was extremely valuable for my career. I understood the value of networking, not necessarily for short-term gains but for community-building. Also, I discovered soon enough that obtaining a PhD in a top institution would not be sufficient in a competitive job market and that I needed to do much more to distinguish myself from all the excellent people around me. A lot of the work I did alongside my research was intended to further my professional development and also towards issues of inclusivity and gender balance, many of which (I had not yet realised at the time) were real barriers to my success and many others like me. This is when I became aware of ACM-W (as I was looking for funding to attend a conference on the other side of the world to talk about my research), and became an active member of ACM-W Europe later on, attended womENcourage and then became part of the steering committee, helping to shape the direction of this initiative as a poster chair in several of its editions. I have wanted to give back, but in fact, through this journey, I actually received much more! I gained very valuable leadership experience in helping run the celebrations and collaborating with colleagues across the globe.

The scholarship experience enabled me to have my voice heard at an international venue, expanding my networks and gaining opportunities for leadership and influence. Having received such a generous scholarship and being recognised amongst stiff competition gave me renewed self-confidence in my abilities as a researcher at a crucial time in my professional development. It also made me sensitised to the need to “pay forward” and help other early career researchers, which I have been able to do through my active participation in ACM-W Europe.

What has been your career highlight? What are you most proud of?

This is a very difficult question. My ACM-W leadership badge is certainly one of the things I am very proud of. It was a lovely recognition of the work I had put in over the years as part of an incredibly amazing team, supporting, advocating, and celebrating women in computing.

Still, one of the things I am most proud of is to have been able to complete my PhD, even if it had to be part-time, taking me longer than I had originally wished for. However, I was able to do so whilst teaching in top CS departments (first through my teaching scholarship, then as a full-time member of academic staff) and also having to navigate through serious health and personal issues. These were difficult times that made me resilient as I developed my capacity to overcome challenges. I must confess, however, that I am even prouder of the success of the students I have supervised during my career, who continue to give me plenty of career highlights to reflect on! A memorable example was my mentoring of a new lecturer who had been my student at a previous institution and then joined mine to become my colleague.

If I may add one source of pride to me, I would say it is my recent return to my Alma Mater on a balanced pathway. Having more time for research feels quite a luxury, having spent most of my working life in teaching-intensive roles. I am very much looking forward to making new contributions to digital health and biomedical engineering as part of my new role.

What aspects of your career have you found challenging?

There are still many challenges both in accessing opportunities for professional development in the field and in retaining talent. At a personal level, the two-body problem is one that I experienced, and it is far more common than is widely recognised. The expectation that early-career academics should be ready to uproot themselves and their lives (partners, children, life!) is sadly too widespread. Still, there are rewards given to institutions taking steps towards true inclusivity and diversity, some of them explicit (such as incentives from funding streams), but others are not immediately obvious in the short term. Unfortunately, over the years, I have been witness to (and experienced first-hand too) some unpleasant side-effects of less diverse working environments, and it is difficult to stand up against these. I am very fortunate that I have an excellent working environment now, where inherent to our department’s culture is to be supportive of one another, with room to develop and grow.

What would you recommend to young people thinking of a career in computing?

This is an exciting time to jump into it, as it is increasingly becoming a broad church in that there is something for all, and you should be able to find something interesting to work towards and make contributions in.

So my first piece of advice is to work on dispelling any unfounded myths around computing and all the preconceptions you may have about it. Study maths, though (even if you may or may not apply them in your day-to-day, depending on what area of computing you end up developing your career in). And be curious! Continue to be curious.

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