WICE Workshop on Communications and Professional Development at GLOBECOM 2019: Promoting the Visibility and Roles of Women Communications Engineers

By Ana Garcia Armada - Univ. Carlos III de Madrid, Spain, Dola Saha - SUNY, USA, Michele Nogueira - FUP, Brazil and Sinem Coleri - Koc Univ., Turkey

WICE represents the IEEE ComSoc Women in Communications Engineering Standing Committee whose mission is promoting the visibility and roles of women communications engineers, as well as providing a venue for their professional growth. WICE organized a workshop on Communications and Professional Development at the 2019 IEEE Global Communications Conference (Globecom), which was held in Waikoloa, HI, USA on Monday, 9 December, 2019. The workshop featured professional training and mentoring as well as technical interactions of participants with common research interests, all in a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere where professional and technical discussions were mixed with personal experience details and advice to the young engineers.

Algorithms and learning methods for modern large-scale distributed systems: The fi rst keynote speaker was Dr. Urbashi Mitra from the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, University of Southern California, USA. She gave a talk about “Algorithms and Learning Methods for CPS/IoT Communication Scheduling”. Modern large-scale distributed systems such as cyber-physical systems (CPS) and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) often consist of components that communicate/ interact over shared networks of limited bandwidth and operate with minimal delay. In order to coordinate access to the limited communication resource, she showed some strategies to design the medium access control (MAC) scheme to optimize performance, both for a centralized scheme and for CPS/IoT nodes making arbitrarily distributed random observations.

Why a Career in Communications Engineering for a Woman: The second keynote speaker was Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham from the University of Texas at Dallas, USA. She pointed out that in many disciplines of Engineering, such as Communications Engineering, women are vastly underrepresented. She explained that this is partly because of the number of women at first-level management are far fewer than men. “Then you have to rise up the ladder from that pool and so women are already at a disadvantage”. A solution to this problem, she explained, is to engage women at a much earlier age, perhaps even in elementary school, and focus on engineering education as a subject. She shared her rich experience about why a career in Communications Engineering is a good choice for women, encouraging the young women in the audience to pursue their careers.

Best poster award winner Yun Liao (left) with WICE Past-Chair, Ana Garcia Armada (right).

Mentoring session: We held multiple parallel mentoring sessions led by experienced personnel from industry and academia. We are very thankful to Chathu Ranaweera, Estefanía Coronado Calero, Hessa Alquwaiee, Kinda Khalaf, Melike Erol Kantarci, Mohammed Atiquzzaman, Rosa Maria Delgado, Rose Hu, and Zied Bouida, who shared their time with the youngest attendees.

There were discussions about how gender stereotypes are persistent and difficult to change: people tend to think that some qualities are exclusively male and exclusively female. It was agreed that we need to continue bringing more women into engineering and to encourage courses designed for women to capture their attention as soon as they enter college. Women often want to be in engineering to help people, to have a positive impact on society and the environment, but they do not think in terms of creation and innovation, and courses and messages also need to be tailored in this spirit.

Interactive posters: The students had the chance to present their research topics in an interactive poster session and discuss the details with the attendees. They covered a very wide spectrum of topics, from video analytics, online emotion recognition and deep learning to minimizing the age of information or antenna design, also covering heterogeneous networks with relays and UAVs. The best poster award was given to the work “Deep Neural Network Symbol Detection for Millimeter Wave Communications” presented by Yun Liao and performed in collaboration with Nariman Farsad, Nir Shlezinger, Yonina Eldar and Andrea Goldsmith.

Effective negotiations: For the first time the WICE workshop featured a training session with a professional coach. The topic was “Effective Negotiations in the Workplace”. We had the pleasure to learn with Dr. Pushpalatha Murthy, from Michigan Technological University and member of COACh, in a very informative and interactive session. The main highlights were that “No” is the first step to “Yes”, meaning that negotiation is not a one-shot deal; that we should be aware that if you are underrepresented your accomplishments are undervalued; and that negotiation is about problem solving and not winning a competition. Many of the attendees agreed that this session was the best of the workshop and we should definitely continue with this training initiative.

Concluding remarks: The attendees reported that it was a very satisfying experience for them. The more senior enjoyed being able to connect with the next generation of researchers and sharing some of their experiences with them. We received very nice comments in the feeback from the students, such as: “Nice event and initiative to empower women community. Keep it up!” “Interactive session was an eye-opener for me.” “I am taking a lot from the workshop.” “Simply wonderful.” “The workshop was amazing! I learned so many things!” “The friendliness and the whole environment was really warm.” “I have learned a lot and gained some confidence for my future career.” There were also things to improve, such as including more about work-life balance and publicizing the event better to let more people know.

We would like to acknowledge the support from IEEE Comsoc and WICE. This was a wonderful event and the experience will allow us to improve in the future. See you soon at the next major ComSoc conference!

Afternoon group picture.