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Women’s Research Day’s virtual format draws large (online) crowd

Women’s Research Day on Zoom.

Earlier this month, the Allen School commemorated Women’s Research Day, an annual event that celebrates the research contributions of women and nonbinary people in the school and the greater Seattle area. While this year’s event was compelled to move from the Allen Center atrium to Zoom due to COVID-19, the online format didn’t dampen participants’ enthusiasm for the program. Allen School professor emerita Susan Eggers, professor and director Magdalena Balazinska, and a virtual poster session in which undergraduate and graduate students shared their latest research, still took place as planned.

“Overall, things went fairly smoothly aside from a few technology hiccups on the day of,” said Allen School Ph.D. student and organizer Emily Furst. “We had a lot of great participation and questions during all of the sessions, and I think it might have been one of our highest turnouts ever. One great thing was that we had a really high turnout of the high school seniors who have received direct admission into the major this year. We try to invite them most years, but due to the event being virtual, they were able to attend from all over.”

During her questions and answers sesssion, Balazinska was asked about her background, advice on research, and advice to students just starting in the CSE major.

“When you’re choosing which classes to take, choose the ones you think will be the most exciting and important,” she said. “Never shy away from classes because you think they’re too hard. Now is the time to learn because it’s easier in the classroom than finding other ways. Be brave, take those classes, don’t just do the bare minimum to get by.”

Participants also heard from one of the leading researchers in computer architecture. Eggers, who joined the University of Washington faculty in 1989, delivered the keynote lecture in which she spoke about her work and what it was like to be among the roughly one percent of computer architects who were female when she entered the field. During her talk, Eggers shared her experience as one of the lead developers of the first commercially viable multithreaded architecture, Simultaneous Multithreading, which was adopted by Intel, IBM, Sun and others and earned her team both the 2010 and 2011 Test of Time Awards from the International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA). 

Susan Eggers

“I’ve had a lot of wonderful mentors but I also made sure to pass it on,” Eggers said about being a mentor herself. “As far as I can tell, women in academia do this, mentor women behind us in computer science. We pay it back, we don’t just take it.”

As the first woman ever to receive the Association for Computing Machinery and IEEE Computer Society’s Eckert-Mauchly Award, in 2018, Eggers told her virtual audience that during her acceptance speech she thanked the committee for breaking another professional glass ceiling. She spoke of her research highlights, then gave the high school students, undergrads, graduate students and industry attendees, advice on working in a field predominantly populated by men.

Eggers’ talk fit in with the purpose of the day, which as Furst explained, is to give women and non-binary people in the school community an opportunity to make connections with other researchers and learn from them.

“Whether that be undergrads finding grad students to work with or grad students making more connections with industry researchers,” she said. “It’s also a great event for the direct admits and undergrads to learn more about research in general and the different areas of research within computer science.”

While Furst hopes that next year’s event will once again be held in person, she also thinks future programs could incorporate more virtual aspects  based on the success of this year’s event.

“Regardless of the exact format, our goal will always be to make the event a welcoming space where everyone feels comfortable participating and asking questions,” she said.

Videos of the 2020 Women’s Research Day can be viewed on the Allen School’s YouTube channel here