UB-trained data scientist urges more women to work in AI – UB Now: News and Views for UB faculty and staff
Data scientist Darshana Govind believes that STEM and data science – especially artificial intelligence – are great areas for female researchers.
“It’s tough because you don’t see a lot of women in the field,” says Govind, who recently earned her doctorate in computational cell biology, anatomy, and pathology from UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “I would love to see more women join STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and data science. It’s a great field. It’s hard to be a woman in a room full of men, so I encourage more women to join AI teams.
“Realizing the potential of AI to make a difference in people’s lives by transforming healthcare is what really drew me to the field,” she explains. “Plus, it’s exciting to be part of groundbreaking research, especially when you’re surrounded by brilliant researchers you learn from every day. I was able to learn a lot of new sciences and techniques by being part of a rapidly developing field that is multidisciplinary.
While at UB, Govind conducted his research in the lab of his mentor, Pinaki Sarder, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences. Sarder is a big supporter of his work.
“One of my goals at UB is not just to do research, but also to develop a workforce, and that’s very important,” Sarder says. “Darshana did an excellent and very challenging job for her PhD and was published in a top journal.” He notes that while the situation is improving, there are still not many women working in artificial intelligence at the moment.
Govind, who now works as a data scientist at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, is a strong supporter of women in data science and AI.
“Data science and AI have allowed us to mine petabytes of data to extract meaningful insights across a variety of different domains. In healthcare, we are now able to extract volumes of medical data to optimize patient diagnosis and treatment response. This is a game-changer and we need more data scientists,” says Govind, whose PhD is due next month. “Unfortunately, there is currently a significant gender gap in this field, with less than a third of data scientists being women It is important that women play an equal role in this industry and incorporate our voices and perspectives while developing major technologies to strong impact.
“Additionally, this field is fueled by creativity and innovation, and we need as many diverse minds as possible to come up with new solutions to critical problems,” she adds.
Allison Brashear, vice president of health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, notes that “it’s no secret” that men tend to outnumber women majoring in STEM fields at the university. “Part of the problem is that gender stereotypes and a dearth of diverse role models perpetuate gender gaps in STEM,” Brashear says. “In higher education, it is of the utmost importance that we increase opportunities in STEM for women. Although progress has been made in recruiting women in certain fields, such as biosciences and computer science, we still have a long way to go to close the gender pay gap in STEM careers and ensure a more diverse body of STEM researchers in higher education.
“I commend Dr. Govind for actively encouraging more women to enter STEM fields. Now more than ever, women at the start of their educational journey need support and access to fields where they are underrepresented,” she adds.
Govind says notable women like Joy Buolamwini, whose TED Talk on algorithmic bias has over a million views, and Fei-Fei Li, co-director of the University’s Human-Centered AI Institute from Stanford, are at the forefront of AI and have played a major role in promoting greater inclusion and diversity in the field. Additionally, organizations like Women in Data Science and Women in AI have enabled the formation of large communities that support women and minorities in the field.
“That being said, we are still vastly underrepresented in this field,” says Govind, “and I think we all have a role to play in encouraging and empowering women to close this gender gap.”