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Group photo of workshop participants and mentors

Google exploreCSR workshop promotes computer science research

15 June 2021

Sharing research opportunities for women in computer science

Funding through the Google exploreCSR awards enabled the School of Computer Science to bring 25 computer science students together to learn about research opportunities for women in computer science.

Workshop participants working in groups

Participants worked in groups to address a research problem assigned to them by their Research Leader. Credit: University of Sydney

Held in April, the workshop gave participants the opportunity to hear from research students, industry engineers, and academics on their experiences working in computer science research.

The Google exploreCSR awards aim to aid university efforts to support students from underrepresented groups to pursue graduate studies and research careers in computing. 

When applying for funding, the university had to submit a program running plan and sustainment plan to demonstrate the ongoing benefits to students. Other considerations included the diversity of partnering organisations who would support the program, how well the university understood the needs of the students, and the proposed workshop content.

Dr Caren Han, Associate Lecturer in Programming and Software Development, attributes the successful application to their sustainment plan and the experience of the academics involved. 

“The sustainment plan was an important factor, as it demonstrates we’re committed to the students beyond just the workshop”, she said.

“The academic team members have wide-ranging experience in running outreach programs, which also strengthened the application.”

The exploreCSR award aligns with the university’s longstanding efforts to support women in studying engineering and computer science, which include high school outreach programs, scholarships, and student societies.

The workshop

Over two days a combination of presentations, panel discussions and research workshops exposed participants to computing research methodologies and possible career pathways. Researchers shared their own projects and introduced participants opportunities across academia, research organisations, industry and start-ups.

In groups, participants were assigned a research problem and a Research Leader who worked with them to develop the research project in response. Topics spanned key areas of human computer interaction, computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing and data science. 

Following the workshops students regularly met with their Research Leaders to seek input and ensure their research projects progressed before the presentation night held later in April. 

The sessions allowed participants to identify their objectives, define the most appropriate methodology, implement the project, and evaluate the outcomes. At the presentation night they could reflect on their learnings and share these with peers, researchers and faculty staff.

Understanding the research process

Participant Feiqi Cao, whose team was awarded Best Research Project, said the workshop gave her a more wholistic understanding of computer science research.

“My experience in the area of research is limited, so the workshop helped me learn more about what research work is like – from both the perspectives of academics and people working in the industry.”

Currently completing her Honours year in computer science, for Cao the opportunity to work with researchers has strengthened her interest in completing a PhD.

I want to learn more about the field I’m interested in. I’ve always been interested in pursuing higher research but wasn’t sure whether it was suitable for me. Now I feel more informed, and that it’s the right decision for me.
Feiqi Cao, Honours student

Opportunities in computer science research

Workshop participant Serena Zhang, who is currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Advanced Computing (Honours), describes computer science as “the ultimate trend of the future”.

“There are so many opportunities in the field – there are constantly new developments and findings for you to learn from, and your work is deployed in real life, commercial settings”, said Zhang. 

“When I chose my degree I had no background in coding. However, I enjoyed maths, and assumed that computer science would involve a lot of maths.

“Now I’m motivated by more advanced and high-tech work such as AI programming, and using my knowledge to make a tangible contribution.”

Attending the workshop also highlighted the potential advantages of pursuing a research career.

“After hearing the guest speakers’ experiences, I was struck by the flexibility that research allows you. If you are interested in something – you can do it! It’s an opportunity to focus on your own curiosity while being responsible for that project.”

Workshop participants attending presentation

Workshop participants had the opportunity to hear from various university researchers and industry professionals. Credit: University of Sydney

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