Thoughts on the first Women in Computational Biology conference

15 Nov

Earlier this week I went to the first Women in Computational Biology conference at Janelia Research Campus. When I got the invite, I said yes immediately, but then I had some doubts. I wondered: why have a conference just for women? And then I worried: would it be only Ivy-league trained white women? Would this conference actually contribute to diversity in our field?

Now the conference has happened and I am back in SF, so I thought I share some thoughts.

1. While the conference was not just Ivy-league trained white women, it was still fairly white and certain groups were clearly underrepresented (e.g., Black and Latina women).

2. The conference was super interesting! I learned about image analysis, cancer genomics and machine learning. I met some great scientists. It got me excited to try new things.

3. If I were in neurobiology or image analysis, I would seriously consider applying for a job at Janelia. It is luxurious and beautiful and they have great food and amazing staff.

4. I very much enjoyed being at a women-only conference. One reason is that normally at conferences, I spend time and energy worrying that the guys in the room will be the only ones asking questions. No worries here! Or, I worry about the guys at the dinner table dominating the conversations. No worries here! Then, when a guy is giving a talk and clearly not giving proper credit to his postdocs, I wonder whether I should say something about it. At many conferences, I worry a lot, and most of that worry was absent at this conference. In addition, it was nice to feel safe to talk about women stuff. Our dinner conversation went from breast pumps to programming languages without skipping a beat. SO COOL! Being part of the majority for once is nice.

5. Being at this conference, and enjoying the safety of being surrounded by women, makes me even more motivated to help create safe spaces for my students and colleagues of color. I already make an effort to send my students to conferences for minority scientists such as SACNAS and ABRCMS. But I also want to try (again) to organize a meeting for people of color in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is still a very white field with a racist history (eugenics). I think it’d be a good idea to organize a regular conference for people of color in our field. A few years ago, I applied for money to do this, but I was not successful. I will try again!

All in all, I think the conference was worth my time and a great way to meet other women in computational biology. IMG_0603

 

2 Responses to “Thoughts on the first Women in Computational Biology conference”

  1. Molly Burke November 27, 2019 at 10:38 pm #

    Hi Pleuni! I will always remember the conference we both attended at which you took extra time to make sure that I was heard and my work was given credit when men in the room had the louder voices. I learned from this experience and I aspire to follow your model of advocacy at future (co-ed) conferences!

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