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Leading by example

Improving the number of women in STEM fields is a concern at all levels, ranging from the number of girls in K-12 who select STEM careers to the number of women who achieve leadership and senior positions in these fields.  The answer to the question “Why so few?” is complex and multi-layered and must be addressed differently for these different levels. 

In electrical and computer engineering professional societies such as the IEEE, women currently make up roughly 6% of the total membership. Not surprisingly, this underrepresentation perpetuates at all levels but is more severe at higher ranks and in leadership positions.  For example, only 3-4% of IEEE Fellows are women. 

In July, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Shalinee Kishore led a team of organizers from her discipline to host the IEEE’s 2nd Women’s Workshop on Communication and Signal Processing at Princeton University.

“The basic premise of the workshop is to build targeted mentoring and networking that can be particularly impactful in increasing the number of women in research leadership positions,” says Kishore. “A small but very active and successful cohort of senior women can serve as excellent technical and professional mentors and make a difference in a large number of budding careers. The goal of this workshop is to create a platform for exactly such interactions -- bringing together senior and junior women researchers in a comfortable, friendly environment.”

Senior women presented technical talks, while poster sessions were organized to feature the work of the more junior researchers in attendance. This year, cutting edge results were presented from the areas of wireless communications, information theory, video compression, data storage, applications of signal processing to marine life, astronomy, visible light communications, and several others.

 In addition to the technical sessions, social components were included in  the agenda, such as discussions focusing on the role of women in STEM and IEEE Communication Society, panel discussions driven by junior attendees to address their questions regarding career development in both industry and academia, but also mentoring the senior attendees who were looking for shaping the next phase in their career, e.g., advice on promotion to full professor, balancing service and work, and serving in major administrative positions.

35 women researchers attended the workshop, haling from around the U.S. as well as from Canada, Turkey, UK, UAE, and Sweden, including Ruigen Yao, a graduate student from Lehigh’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The feedback from the workshop attendees was uniformly positive: “A great opportunity to meet with other junior and professors, who are inspiring examples of ways of being women in engineering…networking with other junior and senior women was fun, inspiring, and beneficial.”

The workshop received generous support from Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, IEEE ComSoc, Centre for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (DIMACS), Centre for Science and Information (CSoI), and IEEE Information Theory and Signal Processing Societies.

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