Graduate profile: A retreat for women in computer science
“I learned that a lack of confidence will veil our merits and make us inconspicuous.”
The speaker is Yaxuan Wang, a first-year graduate student in computer science (CS) at Rice University, and beneficiary of a 2016 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship. For five days in September, she and other female CS students from around the world met for a scholarly retreat in Hyderabad, India.
“When I was a freshman, boys were unwilling to let me join their project teams. Only after I led three other girls to finish our project perfectly were they able to work with me. Male classmates told me: ‘Girls are not good at coding, but you are different.’ Actually, I knew lots of girls who were skillful in programming. Patience and attention to detail make women create stronger code with fewer bugs,” Wang said.
Wang graduated earlier this year with a B.S. in software engineering from the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin, China, her home town. For two years she worked there as a research assistant in the school’s Massive Data Computing Research Center.
In the summer of 2014, Wang was an exchange student at the University of California, Los Angeles. Among the courses she took was one devoted to social networks from the perspectives of sociology and psychology.
“From this course I noticed the tremendous power of social networks and the importance of the information contained in all this data. By mining this valuable resource, we can transform society, business, policy, the whole world. That’s why most of my research experience is related to data mining,” Wang said.
At the Google-sponsored retreat, Wang took part in tech talks, workshops, hackathons and informal networking. She found the most valuable experience was an event called “Own Your Space.” Each student was paired with another she previously had not met, and the first was instructed to tell the second her proudest achievement. Then the second was asked to introduce not the other student but herself.
“The girls were surprised and confused because they expected to introduce their teammates. When they were told to introduce themselves, they would be shy and would narrow their achievements. We always have bias to judge ourselves,” Wang said.
The Google Anita Borg Scholarship was launched by Google in 2004. Borg (1949-2003) was an American computer scientist who founded the Institute for Women and Technology (now the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology) and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
“After the meeting in India, I think I know what I want. I want to explore all fields. I haven’t chosen a field to specialize in, or even an adviser, but I have much momentum,” Wang said.