March 12, 2020

Women in Data Science a global affair

UCalgary's fourth year taking part in worldwide conference of women researchers and scholars

There’s no bigger data science conference in the world, and no better opportunity to showcase the remarkable accomplishments of women in the field.

Stanford’s Women in Data Science conference (WiDS) draws more than 120,000 participants through more than 140 regional events in countries around the world, and for the fourth straight year, Schulich School of Engineering, in partnership with the Department of Computer Science, played host for the University of Calgary’s main campus.

"The goal of this conference is to inspire and educate data scientists around the world, regardless of gender, and to support women in the field,” says Dr. Qiao Sun, PhD, associate dean, Diversity and Equity at UCalgary’s engineering faculty.

“Locally, we showcase the great work of our women researchers and students, while connecting local industry with the immense talent here at the University of Calgary."

Live streaming talks and local keynote speakers

The March 2 event included keynote speakers like UCalgary’s own Dr. Chris Macnab, PhD, and Dr. Mea Wang, PhD, with live streaming talks from Stanford U, including Dr. Been Kim, PhD, a senior research scientist at Google Brain.

As well, local speakers included Sarah Shortreed, industrial keynote speaker from ATCO,  plus Dr. Emily Marasco, PhD, and Carmen Hull from UCalgary.

Schulich School of Engineering was among the first to join in Stanford’s live satellite broadcast event, which started in 2015, and now includes a second Calgary satellite event at Cumming School of Medicine on the Foothills Campus.

A chance for all genders to appreciate great research

Leanne Dawson is one of the organizers for this event, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering Student Branch chair for UCalgary.

She says the WiDS conference is a chance for people of all genders to appreciate great research, and great challenges.

“I hope that people leave the conference inspired by everything that these women are doing,” says Dawson, who is working on her doctorate degree in Electrical Engineering.

“Male attendees can learn about the challenges, and how they can support their female colleagues. It’s one thing for women to advocate for themselves, but if male colleagues say, ‘I also think this is important,’ then more people will listen.”

Inspiration for others

Dr. Laura Curiel, PhD, is co-chair of the Women in Data Science Calgary Conference, and an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCalgary.

She says the annual conference is as much about inspiration as it is a showcase of great research in data science.

“What we really like about WiDS is that they focus on having local keynote speakers and they have keynote speakers at Stanford. They only invite women to speak because the purpose of the conference is to put women in the spotlight. That doesn’t happen normally in data science,” she says.

“With just women in the spotlight, we are getting new role models, and the important things that they are doing, in front of our graduate students and they will continue this themselves.”