The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Graduate School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Group Six (GW6) held its third annual Research Summit on November 5, bringing attendees together in person and simultaneously webcast. The summit featured lightning research talks from alumni and other underrepresented genders across EECS, as well as a keynote address from Institute professor Barbara Leskov and a panel of five eminent women in industry and academia. (Registration was open to all students and faculty.)
“We aimed to increase the visibility of the work that women and underrepresented genders do in the department,” says Katie Matton, one of the three co-chairs of GW6. Much of the summit was devoted to a whirlwind three-minute talk storm, where the alumni gave attendees small crash courses in their latest research endeavour. “I was really impressed with how excited people were to share their research,” says Haley Wong, another co-chair of GW6.
Talks spanned a variety of research areas, from photonics to wireless communications to machine learning, reflecting the department’s diverse spectrum from electrical engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence, and decision-making disciplines. The speakers were not only pushing the boundaries of their respective fields but also targeting real-world applications, with work focusing on next-generation technology, such as quantum computing and augmented reality, as well as quality of life, including health care, agriculture and waste management.
“It was fun to introduce to the audience, and it was nice to see what the other women in the department are doing,” says Leticia Matos da Silva, a talk show host.
In addition to technical talks, the summit also hosted a committee on research job mobility, which was the “crown jewel of the event,” former GW6 co-chair Anna Zing says, “Every year, the committee has been a smash-hit, and this year was no exception. “. The speakers were five brilliant women: MIT President Emeritus and Professor of Neuroscience Susan Hockfield; MIT Associate Professors Yelena Notaros and Sixian Yu; Principal Scientist at Google and Professor Fernanda Vegas at Harvard University; and Aude Oliva, director of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Laboratory. “It was great to have women who are so experienced” and “leading in their fields,” Mattoon says.
Throughout the painting, there was a strong sense of community among those in the room. Committee members acted as role models and mentors, advising on finding interesting research problems, staying flexible in the face of rejection, and establishing a strong support system. And when panelists shared personal stories about overcoming gender barriers and building their confidence, the entire room responded in support with audible gasps and loud applause. The male attendees were also eager to offer their support, with one student asking for advice from panelists on how to help him improve the female student experience on campus. “It was great hearing them from us and seeing the amazing work we are doing,” says Matos da Silva.
Having been a virtual GW6 summit last year, it has returned to a primarily personal environment, much to the excitement of both the summit organizers and attendees. To take advantage of this, the summit included a coffee break and a banquet dinner for attendees to socialize with each other. “We know how important these interactions with people on campus are,” says Wong.
During these networking opportunities, speakers, panelists, and other attendees flocked to chat, eat and drink, and fill the lobby with laughter and conversation. Attendees took the time to get to know familiar faces as well as make new friends. “People seemed to have a renewed enthusiasm for getting to know each other,” Zeng says.
The GW6 Summit is one of several major events hosted by GW6 each year to increase the professional development and community building of EECS alumni and underrepresented races. More recently, GW6 has partnered with the recently announced EECS Thriving Stars initiative to help improve gender representation and increase support for underrepresented races. The GW6 Summit complements a series of research summits in planning under this initiative, providing a platform for women and other underrepresented genders to share their research.
“I loved [the GW6 summit]Matos da Silva says, “Definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had at MIT so far.”