Lauren Gillespie

Being able to attend GECCO 2017 was the experience of a lifetime. From getting to meet experts in the field of evolutionary computation to learning about new, cutting-edge research, attending GECCO changed the way I see computing and research. Initially, I was nervous about attending since I am an undergraduate student and this was my first conference, but after e-meeting with my ACM-W mentor, Dr. Aniko Ekárt, and hearing about her experience and recommendations, I felt a lot more confident about how I would get the most out of the conference and also enjoy my time there. The first two days of the conference, which were tutorial sessions, were very enlightening to me, as it gave me a solid introduction to other areas of evolutionary and genetic computation that I had never experienced before. Also, the first day of the conference included the Women@GECCO session, which was a fantastic experience. There, I was able to meet other women and hear about their experiences in research. The attendees ranged from experienced researcher to undergraduate students attending for the first time and getting to meet and talk with these women helped me better understand my own journey and feel more included at the conference.

After the tutorials and once the paper sessions began to get underway, my excitement for the conference only grew, as now I was learning about cutting edge research within my field. Hearing about revolutionary new work, such as tangled graphs in the Atari Suite, only heightened my enthusiasm for continuing work in this field. Also, I had my own new research to present to the community as well. My presentation occurred on the last day of the conference, and I was understandably very nervous leading up to it. However, once I got up in front of the audience and began giving my talk, everything became a lot less scary and my presentation went without a hitch. Afterward, one of the leaders of the area I work in came up to me to give some ideas about how to enhance my work going forward. Not only did I appreciate his great suggestions but I also appreciated how such a leader in the field cared about my work and wanted to help me improve my research for future work. Overall, GECCO left a great impression on me and has helped solidify my decision to attend graduate school and also to continue research in evolutionary computation. I am also very grateful to ACM-W for helping me attend this life-changing experience that will shape me in the years to come.