Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Girl Effect Phenomenon

A long time interested in women's issues especially when it comes to education, I would always hear from non-profit organizations and charities working in the developing world that an investment in women usually brings better results in sustaining development. Let me illustrate. A woman in the developing world has usually a family to take care of. If this woman happens to gain an income, she invests 90 percent of it back into her family compare to a man who would only invest between 30 to 40 percent. 1

Also, stats prove that education in girls increase their potential wages by 10 to 20 percent (with one extra year in primary school) and 15 to 25 percent (with one extra year in secondary school). 2

I didn't know the details in these figures but having been in the midst of non-profit organizations and charities (either by working or volunteering for them), I was aware of this fact.

However I was recently reminded by this fact through my renewed interest in this issue (although never gone but a little faded over the past 5 years or so) by my involvement with CU-WISE. I was also listening to one of my favourite radio programs on Radio-Canada called Christiane Charette en direct which usually talks about news of the day ( both quirky and serious), when a topic that was discussed caught immediately my attention: The Girl Effect. I have done a bit of research and was able to trace this phenomenon to a website which I would recommend you to visit: www.girleffect.org. Founded by the Nike Foundation in partnership with the Novo Foundation, United Nations Foundation, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls (to name a few), this movement is designed to consolidate all efforts towards empowering women in order to bring sustaining development in third world countries.

But what I found most interesting was the link made by this organization. Girls in the developing world especially when they reach adolescence have two possibilities. One, they generally get married, do not get any education, get pregnant and have kids very early on and are extremely vulnerable to HIV (either by their husband, or rape if we are dealing with a warring state). Now if we change the situation and offer them the means to get an education, then the whole picture is completely different. Getting an education furthers the possibility to get an income which the families will benefit from. Furthermore, as bringer of income, the status of these women are then better respected which allows them to influence decisions affecting women; this in turn increases and encourages a better living environment for other women and girls, including better opportunities for them to get educated. This contributes to thriving communities, more money for sanitation and as more educated women have families, they are better equipped to prevent the spreading of HIV/AIDS. The end result: healthier, peaceful, stable and economically thriving communities.

And all of this because an investment was made on girls and women. What fascinated me was that I was aware of all of the potential results in investing in girls and women. However, I always failed to make this easy and logic connection.

Now imagine if this simple solution was applied to the following stats:

• Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school.
(Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries [Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005].)

• Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls.
(Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/promises/education.html [December 1999].)

Below you will find all of the partners part of this Coalition:

Nike Foundation: www.nikefoundation.org

Novo Foundation: www.novofoundation.org

United Nations Foundation: www.unfoundation.org/global-issues/women-and-population/investing-adolescent-girls.html

Coalition for Adolescent Girls: www.coalitionforadolescentgirls.org

International Center for Research on Women: www.icrw.org

Population Council: www.popcouncil.org

CARE & CARE Canada: www.care.org & www.care.ca

White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood: www.whiteribbonalliance.org

Center for Global Development: www.cgdev.org

Plan: www.plan-uk.org/becauseiamagirl & www.becauseiamagirl.ca

Global Business Coalition: www.gbcimpact.org

BRAC: www.brac.net

These groups offer many ways to get involved and I for one will try to see how I can support this wonderful initiation.


1 Phil Borges, with foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.
2 George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].

Monday, October 26, 2009

Want to Build Your Professional Network? Attend a Conference!

We've told you all about our Grace Hopper experiences here on the CU-WISE blog, but we don't talk a lot about other conferences. I went to an academic conference last week and wanted to tell you all about my experience.

The conference was called the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality, or ISMAR for short. I went because I intend to research augmented reality during my PhD, and wanted to start building my ties with the community. My first step in making it to Orlando was to apply to become a student volunteer. Luckily, I was accepted, so my hotel and registration were paid. My thesis supervisor then agreed to pay my airfare, and Carleton's Student Activity Fund will cover my food expenses. So basically I got a free trip out of the deal - not bad!

Volunteering is the single best way to meet people at a conference, especially if you attend alone. You often get paired up with another volunteer in your hotel room, like I did.

My roommate Stephanie.

I also met friendly conference attendees as I helped them figure out their registration or answered their questions about where to go next. This is such a superb way to build your professional network, and truly integrate yourself into a particular community.

I felt so inspired after seeing the talks over four days. There were amazing keynotes, such as Mark Mine from Disney Imagineering:


There were also a lot of cool demos from technologists and artists alike, which gave me a more immediate sense of what I might be able to accomplish. (You can click through the images below to get a brief description.)

ISMAR09-23 ISMAR09-28
ISMAR09-31 ISMAR09-39

Best of all, I was able to attend a workshop on experiential learning using augmented reality. Since I want to also do educational games for my research, this was a must-see!

Check out my ISMAR09 posts on my personal blog if you are interested in the learning workshop, the mobile augmented reality games tutorial, or a taste of some of the human factors papers presented at the conference.

The next time you hear about a conference on a topic that interests you, try attending as a volunteer and build that professional network! It will be so worth it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

People aren't very good at predicting what will make them happy

Cutting-edge research shows that people aren't very good at predicting what will make them happy. In my own experience, that explains a lot. So I'm hoping this article, titled "Psychologists now know what makes people happy", will help me understand it more. I recommend reading the whole article (which I found from more than one source, such as this one). But if you prefer a quick run through, here are snippets I found most interesting:
- The happiest people spend the least time alone. They pursue personal growth and intimacy; they judge themselves by their own yardsticks, never against what others do or have.

- A person's cheer level is about half genetic.

- Plenty of healthy people take their health for granted and are none the happier for it... Meanwhile, the sickly often bear up well, and hypochondriacs cling to misery despite their robust health.

- Life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying.

- Everyone has "signature strengths"... and the happiest use them.

- Gratitude has a lot to do with life satisfaction, psychologists say. Talking and writing about what they're grateful for amplifies adults' happiness, new studies show. Other researchers have found that learning to savor even small pleasures has the same effect.

- Forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness.

- In pursuing happiness... we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we'll feel. We should be a bit more humble and a bit more brave.
Good luck in your journey to find real happiness!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Advice for undergraduate students

I recently re-wrote last year's "Advice for Undergraduate Students" document on helpful tips and advice about University life because the transition from high school to university can be a challenging experience. It's amazing how much more I have to say after only one year of CU-WISE and grad school. I included a few snippets from the document below and I strongly encourage you to check out the entire document. It can be found on our website under "Planet WISE" here.

The Carleton Student Academic Success Center (SASC) stated that the number one academic problem students face is procrastination. I am not surprised at all as I’ve been there and so has everyone else I studied with.

Attending class is important (and please remember to put your cell phone on silent and don’t answer it in class!). A survey done by engineers concluded that there is a direct correlation between the DFW (Drop Failure Withdrawal) rate and low class attendance.

There are plenty of ways to get help in your courses other than using the Internet or relying on your notes and textbooks. Talking to your classmates, your professor, your TA, etc. is very important as well. I don’t know how I would have survived university if it wasn’t for these resources and, many times, I felt I learned the most by discussing course material with my classmates.

Many students make the mistake of putting very little effort into their assignments. They copy some, they don’t do others, and when they do them and get a poor mark, they never look at them again. This is a big mistake. Someone once told me that by not doing your homework, you effectively lower your GPA by 7.

Getting involved is something I didn’t do in my undergrad and I thoroughly regret it. It would have made my university experience fuller and much more rewarding. I know it might seem like between classes and assignments there isn’t much time for anything else, but it’s worth it to make time for activities outside of classes. Not to mention the energy you get from being involved in extracurricular activities that you love will make you more productive!

There is one textbook I would recommend for every engineering student. It basically has all the mathematical relations you will need in undergrad in one book. It’s called “Schaum’s Outlines: Mathematical Handbook of Formulas and Tables”. Mine is a second edition by Murray Spiegel and John Liu, and I still use it to this day.

Be sure to apply to all the scholarships you can. There are often scholarships designed to encourage women to continue pursuing science or engineering. Check out the list of scholarships available on the CU-WISE website.

Take advantage of the services at Carleton University. Honestly, I wish I had taken even more advantage of them.

On behalf of CU-WISE, I wish you all the best of luck in your studies and don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. Feel free to leave comments below.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to build your communication skills

The following post is based on a blog I wrote on the Grace Hopper Women in Computing blog here.

Communication skills are very important. I can't stress that enough. I recently graduated with a master's degree and have been looking for a job for several months now and I've seen it: employers want you to have communications skills. If you are very smart but you can't communicate or get along with others, you are of no use to them.

In my opinion, you can read about communication all you want but it still won't be the same as actually putting it into practice. What I recommend is, whenever you can, do presentations, network, write blogs or e-mails or articles... even if you don't want to. That's why I decided to become External Affairs Executive of CU-WISE. I did it because I was an introvert and I wasn't a great communicator. Not to mention I never liked speaking to someone for the first time. It drained me. But after 2 years in that role, here I am writing blogs, speaking at high schools, networking at conferences, and promoting CU-WISE everywhere I go. By the way, a great way to socialize is to wear something goofy (like a funny hat), to be a photographer (approaching people by taking their pictures), or carry something funny (like the duckies in the picture). The CU-WISE executives approached her just because of those silly things.

There are different kinds of communication norms in different kinds of cultures. That is definitely something to watch out for. I remember I met a young Iranian lady through CU-WISE and she told me about a concern she had. She asked me why the males in her classes didn't take her seriously. I asked her to explain because I never felt that way in my undergrad. She told me that when she asks a guy a question about a course, let's say about a formula or something, he always ends up laughing or joking and never answers the question. I thought about it and asked her to explain exactly how she asks these questions. She was a very kind young lady with a very low voice so I thought that maybe she just didn't speak loud enough. In the end I found out that it was in her culture to not look a man in the eyes while speaking with him and to many people here that could show anywhere from lack of confidence to disrespect. I personally feel uncomfortable when someone doesn't look me in the eyes when they are speaking to me. I would assume that they just don't respect me or the conversation we are having.

So I would like to close by reminding you all again to practice, practice, and practice! Does anyone have any comments or suggestions about this topic? About the notes?

The Fight or Flight Moment: Understanding Why We Leave or Stay in Industry

The following is a short snippet on a post I wrote on the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing blog. Check it out!

Why do women leave industry?
  1. extreme job pressure and they feel isolated, lacking mentors and so on
  2. culture not women-friendly and they are still experiencing sexual harassment
  3. compensation and they feel their careers are stalled by mid-career
What can women do?
  1. work in a company with >= 10% women in management positions
  2. get mentors, sponsors (who make your accomplishments known), role models, and figure out your career paths
  3. work in a company with more flexible career track timing, on-ramps, etc.

The “F word”: The Uneasy Relationship Between Feminism and Technology

The following is a blog I posted on the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing blog found here.

In my experience, this session started a day early. You see, the day before this session I presented a BoF about support groups for women in STEM with my fellow executives of CU-WISE (Ottawa, Canada). My group presented in conjunction with MENTE (Mexico) and WICS (Vancouver, Canada). During the question period, someone asked a question I always dread to answer. It was about feminism and how it affects student groups. What surprised me next was that the first thing that one of my fellow executive members, Gail, did was pass the microphone to me. "Oh boy" I thought, and started getting nervous because I had so much to say and I didn't know where to start.

So here's my chance, but I'll keep it short. My notes on the session on the uneasy relationship between feminism and technology are included in the ghc wiki and in this blog I am including my personal perspectives.

Let me start with a definition of feminism. It is defined as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". It is not defined as hating on men, trying to gain more power than men, or anything inventive anyone may think. So let's clear the air. Feminism is what gave you a better life: gave you the right to vote, protected you from sexual harassment, and gave you more equal pay. And women suffered and fought to give you those rights. This is how I see feminism. To me it is a gift that was given to me before I was born and it is my responsibility to appreciate it and to continue attaining those equal rights. By the way, when I say "equal" I don't mean the "same". Women and men are different, they're just not quite equal yet.

It looks like I've already written a lot so let me finish off with something I don't usually talk about because I'm so busy defending feminism. I would like to talk about what I think feminists can do to shed a brighter light on the "f word":
  1. Join a local support group like WISE, MENTE, and WICS. I don't know what I would do without my awesome support group here in Ottawa.
  2. When you are ready, pass it on. Recruit and mentor others. Make your voice heard. Make sure their voices are heard too. Don't judge other women, support them.
  3. Help men understand feminism. Men are part of the solution and we need their support too. Marry a supportive husband. Talk to you brother or father. I know I talk about feminism with my brother's friends who are all in their 20's and in engineering. Right now they're busy going to class, reading textbooks, and writing tests, but they'll be in much closer contact with us in the workplace.
  4. Consider the possibility of scrapping the word and adopting a new one. It is much too difficult to change how people perceive it and I would rather if we spent our energy somewhere else.
There it is folks. Those are my brief thoughts and I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences on this blog. The room for this session was completely filled so I can imagine that there are a lot of women who would appreciate talking some more about it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Computer Science Education in the States

From the October 6 2009 edition of the ACM CareerNews Alert.

Computer Science Education in the States
Blog @ CACM, September 28

When the Kansas Board of Regents decided to eliminate computer science courses from the core student requirements, ACM and the CSTA intervened, sending the Board a letter recommending that they put computer science back in the core. Due to the way that decisions about computer science education take place -- at the state, rather than federal, level – organizations such as ACM and the CSTA find themselves responding to similar types of situations in other states as well. After reviewing how the Kansas education system works as well as the role of the Kansas State Board of Regents, the article takes a closer look at how and why computer science should remain part of the state’s educational system.

The move to support computer science education in Kansas came after the Kansas State Board of Regents decided to propose changes to the Qualified Admission Regulations, which ultimately determine student admission into state universities and community colleges. Previously, to meet these requirements, students were required to take one year of computer technology. However, a task force recently convened by the Board concluded that this technology requirement is outdated and that the content is being taught in other courses. Based on this conclusion, the Board is proposing to cut the computing technology requirement. It turns out that while the technology requirement was intended to be a basic computing literacy course, it allowed many high schools to develop courses with computer science content.

ACM and CSTA's concern is that if the Board eliminates the computing technology requirement students will focus only on the core requirements and computer science courses in Kansas will disappear. To ensure that Kansas' students are being exposed to rigorous computer science courses and not basic computing literacy, ACM and CSTA recommend that the Board update the Qualified Admissions Regulations to reflect core computer science concepts. Further, they recommend that Kansas establish a task force to review the state’s current science standards and how they could be updated to mirror changes to the Qualified Admissions standards. Finally, it is advised that "computer science" be added as one of the approved units in either the mathematics or natural sciences Qualified Admissions requirements.
Click Here to View Full Article

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Academia can be a really harsh environment. I once got a peer review that claimed the research in our paper was "crappy." Not exactly professional language, that! The review was so bad that we had to laugh, but that doesn't mean we didn't take the criticisms they included seriously: the next version of the paper was accepted to one of the top conferences in the field, in part thanks to that reviewer's highly critical comments.

Criticism can hit people hard: I heard one woman crying in the washroom while her friend consoled her and told her that really, the prof who had told her off was being unprofessional. Sometimes when a TA tells you your assignment was terrible, when a prof makes fun of you in class, when your paper gets rejected... it's hard to know how to deal. Venting to a friend is not a bad idea, but sometimes you can do even more to build on the otherwise "crappy" experience of receiving harsh criticism.

So here's some tips from TinyBuddha.com on dealing with harsh criticism:

10 Ways to Deal with Harsh Criticism

1. Use it. If someone delivers criticism in a nasty or thoughtless way, you may tune out useful information that could help you get closer to your dreams. Put aside your feelings about the tone, and ask yourself, "How can I use this to improve?"

2. Put it in perspective. There are over 6 billion people in the world. Even though only a small percentage has had a chance to see your work, odds are the criticism came from a small percentage of that.

3. Acknowledge it isn't personal. If someone doesn't like what you're doing, it doesn't mean they don't like you. Their interpretation of your work reflects how they see themselves and the world. Everyone sees things differently. No matter what you do, you'll only please some of them.

4. If it is personal, realize that makes the criticism even less relevant. If someone doesn't like you as a person for whatever reason, their thoughts on your project proposal hold no weight. Your job, then, is to let them make their choice--not liking you--and stop giving them power to hurt you.

5. Turn false criticism back on the critic. If someone says something harsh, seemingly without merit, realize it speaks more about them than you. Your work is not the problem--their attitude is.

6. Look for underlying pain. When someone is unnecessarily cruel, they generally want to get a rise out of someone--often as a way to deflect whatever pain they're carrying around. When you see the pain under someone's negativity, it helps turn your anger, frustration, and hurt into compassion and understanding for them.

7. Look at the critic as a child. Most children are honest to a fault, yet adults take their feedback with a grain of salt because there's much they don't understand about the world. The same can be said about your critic; he doesn't understand what you're trying to do, and therefore is missing some of the picture.

8. Define your audience. Whatever you're trying to accomplish, odds are it's meant to help a specific group of people. If you're building a web application for mothers, criticism from a 65-year old man carries a different weight than criticism from a mom.

9. Take the opportunity to develop a thicker skin. If you'd like to help many people, you'll have to listen to a lot of others who think you're doing a bad job. It's the nature of reaching a large audience--a portion will be unimpressed, no matter what you do.

10. Challenge yourself to keep going. One of the hardest parts of fielding criticism is letting go and moving forward. Don't let one person's negativity convince you to stop what you're doing. Whether you change your approach or keep doing the same thing, keep going. No matter what.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tips, Tricks and Software for Keeping Research Organized

As somebody who naturally loves to organize, this session was close to my heart. Oddly enough, I didn't really do a whole lot of organizing for my Masters research (I guess it was 'simple' enough that I didn't need to), but I'm really excited to use some of this advice as I start my PhD. One of the first things I'm going to (finally) do after thinking about it a lot is setting up an SVN server on my own webserver.
Read the rest on my blog.

Have You Ever Considered Being an Entrepreneur?

I'm going to try doing this post a little differently. I'm recording information during the actual session instead of taking notes and writing it up later. Below I have the introductions of the panelists, some general session notes, and a few of the audience questions.
Read the rest on my blog.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lessons from GHC: Landing a Job and Succeeding in Industry

As a senior undergraduate about to transition from school to full-time work in three months, I’m definitely starting to feel the anticipation and stress of the competitive job search.

So what can students do to stand out from the crowd? Find out on the official Grace Hopper Blog

I am a technical woman!

New Investigators 2: Privacy and Social Software

By the time we were ready to start, the session was full, with people sitting on the floor and clustered at the back, and more people still trying to get in the door. As a researcher, I've got to say I was thrilled to see so much interest! Although maybe they knew something about the presenters: every one of the women presenting in this session was enthusiastic and passionate about her research, and it made for a fantastic set of talks.

The three talks were:

  • Julia Grace: Enterprise Social Networking: History, Current Practices, Research Challenges
  • Clare J. Hooper: Tugging at the Seams: Understanding the Fabric of Social Sites
  • Katie A. Siek: The Knot or the Noose? Analysis of Privacy on a Wedding Planning Website

Read about all three talks here on the official Grace Hopper Celebration blog

The Hopper workout: volunteering at GHC09

I summed up my day of volunteering as a Hopper in less than 140 characters on Twitter:

@terriko terriko the #ghc09 Hopper workout: 3000 steps while doing upper body reps -- also known as filling all the conference bags with neat stuff!

But if you want more than the twitter summary, you can check out my full post, with pictures on the Grace Hopper Celebration official blog.

But here's the last photo, featuring some of the CU-WISE women... and a cactus.

The CU-WISE women - me + cactus at GHC09

PhD Forum 2

I covered the PhD Forum 2 Wednesday morning.
As the mentor for this PhD Session noted, the three talks given really show the eclectic mix that can be found in computer science. This was the first time I attended these forums, and I tried my best to fill in the feedback forms as best I could with useful comments. All three presenters did a really good job and were really well prepared, so my comments were really only of small things!
Read the rest on my blog.