Computer Science: It's a girl thing
3 April 2013
WISE recently teamed up with Intel and The Institute of Physics to offer an engaging workshop for school girls on women and girls in STEM at the Big Bang Science Fair in London. As part of the event WISE invited inspirational female role models to facilitate the discussion and answer questions from the girls. Here, Larissa Romualdo Suzuki, PhD Candidate in Software Systems Engineering at University College London shares her story…
I am from Brazil and I grew up in the State of São Paulo, in a city called Ribeirão Preto. Since childhood I have always been very curious, active and enjoyed video games and computers. When it came to choosing my degree course I knew it had to be somewhat related to technology. At the time my brother was studying Computer Science and when he realised I was getting interested in a technology career he gave me full support and encouraged me to study Computer Science. One of the coolest gifts I got was the computer he gave me. He told me “Here you go. You can disassemble and do what you want with it. Try to understand the parts of the computer and how it works”. I got really fascinated by that and I decided to learn how to program a computer.
In 2004 I started the Computer Science degree at the University Barão de Mauá in Brazil and from day one I loved it. Despite being the only girl in my class, I never had any doubt that Computer Science was a girl thing. I did several internships and academic work during my graduation course and they all made me love CS more. Surprisingly, the only girl in the class (me) was honoured by the Brazilian Computer Society as the best student. The head of the Computer Science Department, Edson Baptist, noticed my passion for computing and was my career mentor. I always liked doing research and teaching (I think I must have inherited it from my mother who teaches Portuguese / English) and I chose to pursue an academic career.
After finishing my undergraduate degree I’ve started a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of São Paulo and I did research in medical image processing. My research was creating a new method to improve the quality of mammographic images to assist in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. Once I had finished my Master’s degree I worked as a Lecturer in two Universities teaching Computer Science subjects. After one year of teaching I decided it was time to do a PhD to continue building up my career. I was accepted by several Universities and was offered many scholarships to do a PhD in Computer Science, but UCL is where I’ve chosen to pursue my PhD studies. I am fortunate enough to have received many scholarships and awards, and be a PhD student in one of the most respectful Institutions in the world which was also the first University in England to admit women on equal terms with men. Today I am doing research on smart cities, and how we can use technology to make people’s lives more efficient and create a more sustainable world.
I’ve being involved in many initiatives to encourage and support girls/women to pursue careers in engineering. My last talk was at St. Mary School, and as I expected, the girls were surprised to learn how important the work of a computer scientist is and how technology impacts on mankind and the natural world. The gender stereotype and lack of support may have prevented many women to pursue careers in engineering. I must confess I found myself a bit worried at the beginning of my degree. I thought that programming, software architecture and design was going to be too complicated for me to understand. At the end of the day, I realised that programming is not rocket science rather it is just teaching a computer what you want it to do!
My plans for the near future are to finish my PhD and continue building up my career as an academic, potentially working as a Postdoc researcher in a leading University and continuing doing research for the benefit of humankind.
To keep in touch with me or ask me questions please follow me on twitter: @lariromualdo