Women in Data Science Conference
What happens when hundreds of talented female data scientists gather in the same place?
In November 2015, the Mobilize Center co-hosted the first Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference along with Walmart Labs, Stanford University’s Institute for Computational & Mathematical Engineering (ICME), and several other Stanford entities, including the department of statistics, the engineering department’s computer forum, and the Office of the President.
More than 400 people attended the one-day conference, which was aimed at inspiring, educating, and supporting women in data science—from those just starting out to those who are established leaders across industry, academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations.
And they were inspired.
“When you are surrounded by successful and talented women in a room full of support, encouragement and inspiration, your dreams and goals burst into a reality that pushes you to conquer it all,” tweeted attendee Diana Riveros Mello during the conference.
Margot Gerritsen, PhD, director of ICME and a Mobilize Center faculty member, organized the WiDS conference because she recognizes the tremendous talent among women. “I see this every day when I am teaching,” she says. “And it would be a real shame if that group of wonderful scientists is underutilized.” Gerritsen wants more women to join the field. “It’s important for society as a whole…to have a very diverse, inclusive team of people working on data science problems.”
Data science involves extracting relevant information from voluminous, heterogeneous, and often messy data streams, and using that information to help inform decisions across all arenas, including research, government and business. “It’s everywhere now,” Gerritsen says.
The impressive roster of all-female WiDS conference speakers exemplified the field’s breadth. About one-third of the speakers came from academia and two-thirds from industry, and the conference covered a diverse set of data science applications, from monitoring individuals with Parkinson’s disease, to cancer genomics, cyber security and online marketplaces.
“Just seeing the array of possibilities makes me think, ‘Yeah, I can do great things too,’” says Shenglan Qiao, a Stanford PhD candidate in physics who attended the conference.
In addition, panels on careers and entrepreneurship offered an opportunity for successful data scientists to reflect on their lives and offer advice to younger women. Most often, they encouraged taking risks and being flexible.
“Don’t let your fear about your own abilities or fear of being an imposter have any bearing on the kinds of decisions you make,” said Jennifer Chayes, PhD, distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New England in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Take that part of your brain and say thank you for sharing and just put it aside. If I’d listened to that part of my brain, I would have led a very boring life.”
Interest in the conference was high: It sold out in less than 20 days with little promotion, and more than 6,000 individuals tuned in to the live-stream.
The vast majority of attendees hope to attend the next conference, which is scheduled for February 2017.
Gerritsen advises women who are interested in computational math or other scientific fields: “Jump in. It’s a fabulous field with lots of opportunity.”
Video recordings of the November 2015 Women in Data Science Conference are available online under the 2015 Conference menu at widsconference.org. The next WiDS conference will be held on February 3, 2017.