WiDS Livermore conference attendees network, share research and absorb wisdom

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LLNL Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Carol Woodward describes for attendees her career path as keynote speaker for the 7th annual Women in Data Science Livermore conference on March 13th. Photo by Amy Weldon.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) recently hosted its 7th annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference for data scientists, industry professionals, recent graduates and others interested in the field. As an independent satellite of the global WiDS conference celebrating International Women’s Day, the Livermore hybrid event was held to highlight the work and careers of LLNL and regional data-science professionals.

Hosted at the University of California Livermore Collaboration Center, the all-day event included technical talks, panel discussions, speed mentoring, a poster session and networking opportunities. Keynote speaker and LLNL Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Carol Woodward spoke about her unconventional career path. She described her experience as one of few women in male-dominated classes at Louisiana State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and how she discovered the field of applied mathematics after nearly becoming a microbiologist. Throughout her talk, Woodward gave credit to those who mentored her at every step of her journey.

“[With] the power of the right cohort and engaged mentors, the right environment — it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” she said.

Supporting others was a recurring theme for the day and a sentiment echoed by participants in two panel sessions focused on the pursuit of leadership roles and early-career paths. Attendees asked questions of panelists ranging from how to announce pregnancy to coworkers and balancing the needs of work and family, to tips for interviewing and resume building. WiDS Livermore attendee Emma Peterson, a recent graduate of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, said it was easy to ask questions that might otherwise be tricky in rooms full of mid- and senior-level men.

Panelists (left to right): Stefeni Butterworth (LLNL), Amanda Paulson (University of California, San Francisco) and Yeping Hu (LLNL) answer questions from WiDS Livermore committee member Harleen Kaur (right) during the afternoon panel session at the conference held at the University of California Livermore Collaboration Center. (Photo: Garry McLeod/LLNL)

“It can be scary walking into a room and not feeling represented,” Peterson said. “Here I know I can approach anyone, and they’ll be receptive.”

Researchers gave two technical talks, with LLNL Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC) researcher Sarah Osborn presenting on her contributions to different research projects, including a scalable approach for forwarding propagation of uncertainties for large-scale subsurface flow problems, as well as the Squirrel computational framework for identifying weaknesses within critical infrastructure.

In the afternoon, a speed mentoring session was held to encourage recent graduates and early career professionals to meet and exchange contact information with mentors from a variety of data science research areas.

While many attendees represented different organizations within LLNL, some attendees, like Julie Weber and Ramya Screekumar of Adobe, traveled to Livermore from San José and beyond. Weber said listening to experienced women talk about their career paths and meeting others through the mentoring session helped combat her imposter syndrome.

“After talking to all these women I’m reminded that, ‘Yes, I can.’ I’m not a scientist, but it’s been inspiring to watch all of these talks and see that women are out there doing really hard things,” Weber said.

Screekumar echoed Weber’s enthusiasm for seeing data-science techniques used in different applications and presented a poster about her work to develop a survey for all Adobe staff that would eventually result in the company-wide adoption of monthly “wellbeing days off.”

“Conferences are always a fun way to meet people and learn about the amazing things being accomplished with data science for the world,” Screekumar said.

Poster presenter Ramya Screekumar (second from left) of Adobe presents her research to her fellow attendees of the 2024 WiDS Livermore Conference. (Photo: Garry McLeod/LLNL)

LLNL data scientist and WiDS Livermore committee member Harleen Kaur said the poster session — new this year — was a unique networking experience for attendees representing professional fields from academia to industry.

“The WiDS Livermore conference connects women in the data-science field and provides a venue for knowledge sharing and empowerment,” Kaur said. “We hope to offer more opportunities like the poster session for attendees from different professional backgrounds to make connections and facilitate collaboration.”

With more than 90 people in attendance, including those attending online and in person, the WiDS Livermore conference was once again successful in facilitating the exchange of information and fresh ideas. Woodward noted in her opening remarks that a room full of women was a rare sight when she began her career in applied mathematics, and that organizations like WiDS are critical not only to the field but also to ensuring a seat at the table for everyone.

“It’s not just about what you are able to do, it’s what you can enable others to do,” Woodward said.

Along with Kaur, WiDS Livermore committee members are Marisa Torres, Mary Silva, Sira Neily, Kendall Luna, Eisha Nathan, Uttara Tipnis, Holly Auten and Amy Weldon. The event was co-sponsored by LLNL’s Data Science Institute, the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) and the Computing Principal Directorate. Recorded talks from the event will be posted on the Livermore Lab Events YouTube page at a later date.

For more on WiDS, visit the web and global WIDS conference site.

-Amy Weldon