Workshop focuses on challenges for women in computer science

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Graduate Women in Computer Science hosted a workshop for women throughout the Triangle.

Saturday, at its first Women in Computing Research Workshop, the group expanded its reach far beyond UNC’s Department of Computer Science to women interested in the field throughout the Triangle.

“We need more women and, more than that, we need to retain the ones who are taking steps toward being a part of computer science,” said Sarah Andrabi, president of GWiCS.

“And I understand it can be hard when you’re one of few women in a class of hundred(s). I was the only one in some of my classes — well, that’s why we have GWiCS and (Women in Computer Science).”

In the UNC Department of Computer Science, only nine out of 38 faculty members are women.

“Just seeing the diversity of the work that women here in the (computer science) department are working on — it’s something that’s motivating. It’s something that should encourage our male colleagues here, as well as up-and-coming women researchers, to know that they can do it too,” said Femi Alabi, a graduate student at UNC who presented on scientific visualization.

Another presenter, Hina Shah, who graduated from UNC in 2014, gave a presentation focusing on markerless motion capture.

She said computer science is not independent of everyday life, even if the concepts seem vague.

“You can do things that really matter to people and daily life,” Shah said.

Shah and Alabi also talked about their undergraduate careers and how their classes consisted of mostly, if not all, men. This pattern carried over to graduate school and the industry field of work.

Even though both Alabi and Shah said they personally have never felt any type of gender discrimination because of their choice of department, both agree that a certain amount of confidence is necessary when dealing with the unbalanced gender ratio.

In the first portion of the workshop, women presented on their own specializations in computer science.

The second portion of the workshop consisted of a panel of women working in research, the industry or academia who answered questions about their day-to-day work and career path from the workshop attendants.

“You don’t really know until you try it,” said Ming Lin, a UNC computer science professor.

The panel discussed everything from the day-to-day routine of a woman working in computer science to the emotional differences between men and women within the field.

“If you’re not passionate about it, it’s not for you,” said Anya Derbakova, a software engineer at IBM.

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