Paving the way: Women in Research

Almaden researcher Tara Matthews is used to being the only female in the room. She also occasionally stands out as the only woman in male-dominated meetings, classrooms, offices, and technical conferences. In early October, however, Tara experienced quite a shift - she attended the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing and claims "the most amazing thing about attending [the event] was seeing so many women computer scientists."

Over 80 female IBMers took part in this 4-day conference where they immersed in the company of 1400+ women, half of which were graduate students. See what some of the women of IBM Research had to say about the event.

Laura Haas
In computer science, women are a tiny fraction of the population (less than 15%), and female Ph.D. researchers are even more rare. Most women go through their technical education and enter the workforce surrounded by men. Events such as these remind us that we are not alone, and that we can create and make connections to help leverage in our careers. They are also a good source of practical advice on career management, as well as offering an opportunity to learn about new areas (increasing our technical breadth). I was amazed by the energy levels and the incredible spirit at Grace Hopper. I have been on many mentoring and career panels both inside and outside IBM, most recently at Grace Hopper, and will be attending and speaking at the upcoming Career Advancement Program (CAPP) workshop sponsored by the Computing Research Association's committee on Women (CRA-W).

Tara Matthews
I appreciated the diversity among the women and the fact that there was no "stereotypical" woman computer scientist. The other aspect I liked most about Grace Hopper was the openness and honesty of the women who shared during panels and talks. A very candid panel focused on the "imposter syndrome," where women feel as though they do not belong in their jobs, are not qualified, and will soon be "found out" and asked to leave. The women on the panel, all of them extremely successful researchers, expressed their personal doubts and made the hundreds of women in the audience feel empowered to confront and overcome this issue.

Cathy Lasser
This event is one that brings such excitement to women in our field and provides wonderful opportunities. I was on two panels that were standing room only, one on mid-year course corrections and the other on technical leadership. Also on these panels were women from other companies such as Intel, Google, and Sun, to name a few. The sharing of ideas and issues with the panel members and the audience made for rich content. I was stopped a number of times during those few days by people that attended the sessions, thanking us for having such open and honest discussions. The ability to network with peers from other companies and students from universities is a key benefit of this conference. New alliances are formed and we find wonderful students that we want to nurture and hopefully hire in the futue. Today, I still have a group of women I met there that I can call up if needed. I will continue to be involved with this conference as we are always striving to ensure success to our Women in Computing and this conference has the highest quality technical women to help IBM in the future.

Tessa Lau
I feel like I've mostly "outgrown" Grace Hopper now, so I attend primarily to "give back" to the community. I meet with lots of students, some of whom I mentor (e.g. on MentorNet) and have never met before in person except at the conference. I spent a lot of time at the IBM booth talking to women about what it's like working in this industry since what it’s like here is so invisible to most students. All their experience is with academia and working with professors, so most of them don't know what it's like to be in a research lab. I try to communicate to them the excitement I feel about my job and how much I love working with fantastic people at IBM. During one of the breaks I sat at a table and pulled out my knitting, and one of my colleagues from IBM Watson sat down and pulled out her knitting too.

What I love most about Grace Hopper is the honesty. I've been to other women-in-CS conferences, but this one is the best because people let their guard down and acknowledge that everything isn't always roses - that sometimes life as a woman in technology can be pretty bad, and they give you strategies for dealing with it.

And rather than giving up and facing the world alone, we're carving out a space where we feel comfortable, and finding strength to support us as we go back to our lives where we are a minority.

Jane Snowdon
I attended the Grace Hopper Conference for the first time this year. The event was an excellent experience and enabled me to engage with colleagues in academia and industry on topics of mutual interest and to expand my network. I was very impressed with the record high attendance of nearly 1,500 enthusiastic women, all working in the field of computing, gathered in a single location! I was a panelist on "Green Data Centers" with women from Intel, NetApp, and Symantec. We shared what each of our companies are doing in areas such as chip technology advancements, energy efficient servers and storage, virtualization, and data center redesign, to name a few. We then challenged the audience to respond with what more could be done. A continuous queue of 5 people lined up during the Q&A session and many stayed afterwards to continue the conversations. I also presented a paper on "Developing a Collaboration Platform based on Web 2.0 Technology." This talk described how business partners are evolving their businesses in response to several increasingly influential IT trends (eg. Web 2.0, SOA, and collaboration) and provided insights into how data analytics and business intelligence tools can deliver key insights into partner-partner collaboration.

I feel passionate about contributing to the future and success of women in computing in several ways. I am a leadership catalyst for the Watson Women's Network (WWN) and serve as the WWN representative to the Watson Diversity Council. I get actively involved by chairing events and mentor researchers in the United States and China. I’m also part of IBM's Makocha Minds initiative for mentoring African university students.

The Fran Allen Award

Last year, IBM created a new Ph.D. Fellowship Award to honor Fran Allen, a pioneer in computer science.

Fran Allen is a leader in simplifying programming for high performance computing, making complex computer languages more accessible to the masses. She is the first female to receive the coveted A.M. Turing Award, which is considered the Nobel Prize of computer science. She is also the first female to earn IBM’s highest technical honor — IBM Fellow – and has made mentoring students and colleagues in science and engineering a priority throughout her career.

“Fran is a tremendous inspiration to all scientists, engineers and mathematicians around the world,” said Nick Donofrio, Executive Vice President, Innovation and Technology, IBM. “Her dedication to developing the next generation of technology leaders, and in particular to serving as a role model for female students, sets a new standard for mentors. We can all learn from her experience and her actions.”

This year, Fran's award went to Cornell University student Animashree Anandkumar, who is studying Adaptive Communications & Signal Processing.


New Ph.D. Fellowships and Faculty Awards Honor Legendary IBM Employees

About the conference

We Build a Better World

Keystone Resort, Colorado
October 2008

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a series of conferences designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Presenters are leaders in their respective fields, representing industrial, academic and government communities. Leading researchers present their current work, while special sessions focus on the role of women in today's technology fields, including computer science, information technology, research and engineering.

One-liners: Words of Wisdom

Attend Grace Hopper.

Everyone feels intimidated, even the men -- they just hide it better.

Find a more senior woman mentor.

Act as if you are confident, brilliant, and know what you are doing, even when you don't feel that way. You wouldn't be where you are today if weren't brilliant and the more confident you act, the more confident you'll be.

Have fun, do your best, and success will follow.

Don't go it alone! Reach out to friends, family, mentors and create your own support group to help you through the low points and celebrate with you the successes.

Follow your dreams ... there are many opportunities to seize in the field of computing.