For School of Information Studies (iSchool) Information Management master’s student Smirity Kaushik attending the world’s largest gathering of women technologists resulted in a wealth of new information, a range of unique opportunities and a fresh perspective about potential career directions.  

Smirity was one of about 20,000 people at the fall 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. The event is sponsored by the Anita Borg Institute in conjunction with the Association for Computing Machinery.   

Both male and female undergraduate, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from around the world are eligible to attend and are encouraged to apply to the Institute for conference scholarships. Smirity was one of just a few women worldwide to receive a GHC Student Scholarship, an award that typically covers all conference expenses and travel. The award was made on the basis of her excellent academic record, continuous research work and commitment towards the advancement of women in computing.

While Smirity received sponsorship to attend, she believes that the event was so beneficial in terms of the information presented, the people met, the confidence gained and the encouragement experienced that it’s a not-to-be-missed lifetime opportunity.   

The second-year graduate student has already created quite a few opportunities on her own. Smirity is an Information Management Faculty Engagement Award scholar, the graduate student representative for the iSchool’s Board of Advisors and events chair and Executive Board member for the school’s Women in Technology (WiT) Club. She also works as a research assistant at the iSchool’s Social Computing Lab where she focuses on digital, social and legal challenges in the field of privacy and security for emerging technologies.  

Still, the company of students from all over the world, the chance to hear noted women in technology as speakers, the ability to talk one-on-one to top tech-world business executives and the occasion to meet representatives from dozens of universities and research centers was an exciting, inspiring and empowering experience, Smirity says.    

Finding Fits 

Citing its “#WeAreHere” theme, she says the conference provided a huge boost to her professional confidence. Before that, Smirity faced challenges that are common for women professionals, such as underplaying her skills, being defensive about her actions, acting too politely or saying ‘I’m sorry’ too much, she says. “Women tend to underappreciate themselves and have problems with the imposter syndrome. Before going to the conference, I was struggling with questions about where does my background fit, what kind of jobs can I apply to, those kinds of questions,” she says. “The message of almost all the keynote speakers was that, as a woman, don’t wait for others to come and offer you something. Be brave and be bold, and go out there and get what you want. This event gave me the confidence, a lot of confidence, to go out there and get what I want.” 

One of those positive outcomes for Smirity is believing that she truly can apply her background in law and policy, coupled with her interest in research work, to a range of information technology careers.

With an undergraduate degree in history from Lady Shri Ram College of the University of Delhi and a juris doctorate equivalent from the Faculty of Law at that University, Smirity thinks she may enjoy user experience research and privacy analysis. She sees opportunity ahead for people who are able to bring novelty in social aspects of emerging technologies (such as the Internet of Things and machine learning) by being able to identify the similarities in interdisciplinary fields, such as law and technology or healthcare and technology.  

“Particularly for those who are trying to work at the intersection of law and technology, the interesting challenge is to be able to bring feasibility to the techno-legal policies so that they can be implemented by the companies effectively without additional cost. When a techno-legal policy is successfully implemented by a company, it ultimately benefits the consumers (the end-users) to be able to productively use the technology, fulfilling the original intention of using technology to make our lives easier but now without any grave repercussions,” she notes. 

After meeting attendees at the conference who work in the research space, plus talking with others who entered Ph.D. programs and later went into industry, Smirity says she also is now considering entering a doctoral program to further explore her research interests.  

Meeting Movers, Shakers 

The conference also was highly valuable for the exposure it offered “to a large slice of the range of things happening in the industry—new types of projects, innovations and how people of differing backgrounds can find good fits in technology careers,” Smirity says.  

The experience additionally sharpened her view that both men and women need to be involved in conversations about improving the environment for women to enter and excel in the technology and computing fields. “We need to enroll more men and women to the whole idea of women in computing. It’s very important to include both men and women in that conversation. It is a two-way process. One way is having conferences like this and creating a strong community of women. At the same time within your own organization, it’s important that men are sensitized to the idea that women are doing technology and it is okay for them to do it, that it’s not unusual for women to code in Python or make their own video games.”  

Smirity believes society is gradually moving away from a gender bias in the technology field, but says both men and women should support that initiative and work to accelerate that process at computing’s base level. “It’s important that algorithms are coded in ways that are as unbiased as possible because those algorithms can turn out to be biased against women if they are not coded properly. Everything is going to get automated, so it’s important that the automated systems should be as unbiased as possible,” she contends. 

Conference Scholarship Application Period Opens This Week 

The 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference is scheduled for October 2 – 4 in Orlando, Florida. The scholarship application is available here. The scholarship application period opens this week and closes March 6