Feb. 27, 2019

Women lead the way at global data science conference

UCalgary co-hosts internationally renowned conference with Stanford University

It’s the biggest data science conference in the world – and it centres entirely around the work being done by women in the field.

Stanford’s Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS) draws more than 100,000 participants through 150 regional events in countries around the world, and for the third straight year, Schulich School of Engineering played host for the University of Calgary’s main campus.

"We are thrilled to be hosting this event for the third time,” says Schulich Associate Dean, Diversity and Equity, Dr. Qiao Sun, PhD.

“It gives us a platform to showcase the great work female researchers and students do, and their achievements in data science. It also gives us the opportunity to connect local industry with talent at the University of Calgary."

Local keynote speakers like UCalgary’s own Dr. Xin Wang, PhD, and Dr. Marina Gavrilova, PhD, joined live streaming talks from Stanford U for the March 4 event, including Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian computer scientist and the technical co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team at Google.

The live satellite broadcast event started in 2015 as a one-day technical conference on the latest in data science and the amazing women behind it, and Sun immediately wanted Schulich School of Engineering to be a part of it.

This year's Schulich event was co-chaired by  Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi, PhD and Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, PhD.

And not only has Stanford seen WiDS grow exponentially to include more people and more satellite conferences each year, the same is happening at UCalgary.

For 2019, Schulich shared the hosting honor with the Faculty of Science, while Cumming School of Medicine held another satellite event on the Foothills Campus.

While there is still a long way to go before the gender representation among data scientists becomes more equalized, Cumming’s conference lead,  Dr. Cathy Eastwood, PhD, is optimistic.

“In the Centre for Health Informatics, we have two post-doctoral scholars and several research associates, who are female, dedicated to learning advanced computational techniques,” she says.

“We are seeing greater interest and expertise among our female colleagues - women are becoming more attracted to data science.”

WiDS aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, while showcasing and supporting women in the field.

While all of the speakers at the conference are women, men are invited, and encouraged, to attend as well.

The original version of this story appeared in UToday.